Wednesday, 4 September 2013

When fear drives the bus

I wish I could explain the extent to how boneheaded I've been.  I'll try.

It was the first assignment I had given out in a new teaching job: a friendly letter to the teacher.  I required students to type out all the necessary components of a letter: names, addresses, greetings.  And I wanted each student to tell me in this letter about themselves, their family make up, what they like to do.  But I wanted to take the assignment one step further.  No one was going to print this letter out.  No.  We were going paperless.  Each student would upload the letter to my webpage and I would mark the assignment from there.

I was called into the office the next day.  Seems the webpage was an unprotected site.  I had created an online predator's dream: names, addresses, descriptions.  Needless to say the site came down quick, fast and in a hurry and some trees paid the ultimate price for this assignment's submission.

Now this was before we had hand-in boxes and SharePoint levels of access.  It was a time when we were all just figuring things out.

But it scared me.

I was reminded of how I have to tread slowly in my use of technology as I teach.  Maybe my passions were quelled, my excitement abated.  The experience may have even stalled me from the tech immersion direction in which I may have been headed.  Paper just seemed so much...safer.

I am wondering if that feeling, that fear of putting the wrong things out there, is more common than we think.  I have seen student blog sites locked down tighter than Knox.  I have heard Facebook spoken in schools as if it was a dirty word.  And I have known districts to move at a snail's pace when it came to addressing social media and education.

And now you know I can empathize.
Unfortunately, there is another growing fear in Canadian education: FIPPA fear.  FIPPA (Freedom of Information / Protection of Privacy Act), especially in British Columbia, is a tight policy that includes stringent rules around public bodies storing their clients information outside of Canada.

Storage and access must be in Canada

from: Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act
[RSBC 1996] CHAPTER 165
Every cloud based service and their dog stores their data outside of Canada.  It's much cheaper and allows some of the smaller companies to even survive.  So that means that Google Apps, Dropbox, Khan Academy, Edmodo, Edublogs, Prezi and pretty much every other educational tech offering are off limits to BCers without parental consent in the prescribed manner.  But even with consent, there seems to be a feeling of: "I gotta watch myself here."

Trepidation may lead to "why bother, it's too complicated."  My experience has been that because of this trepidation, I've had to push myself to move ahead and often I have felt alone in it.  I wonder if there are others out there that feel the same.

"We can do it ourselves" is often the answer to FIPPA.  Is it the best answer?  Are we, the Canadians, leading the world in cutting edge tech offerings for our students?  Now, I am not advocating changes to FIPPA nor am I saying that thoughtfulness when considering the incorporation of tech initiatives in schools is a waste of time.

What I am getting at is that fear shouldn't be behind the wheel.  In fact, if we pull an ostrich-head-sanding maneuver, we're actually being negligent.  Students are signing up for social media sights faster than ipod touch users take to unlocked wifi.  They need guidance.  The discussions about digital citizenship, social media, and learning management systems need to happen.  Districts would do well to walk in the teachers' shoes and ask: "what do you need?" and "how can we make that happen?"  And collaborative mentorship guiding teachers to use technology properly and safely is paramount.  The fear of technology in whatever form it takes can be faced.