Thursday, July 19, 2007

Student safety, or can we ever publish anything about students ever again?

Last Tuesday, the Women of Web 2.0 brought on Linda Criddle, author of Look Both Ways, for a show about internet safety. Overall, the conversation was very good; I especially like Criddle's emphasis on empowering users to be in control of their personal information and the choices they make online. She also spoke out against fear-based appeals, rightly noting that they simply do not work.

However, she also advocates for what seems to be the complete removal of any and all reference to students from the public spaces of school websites. Names, pictures, examples of work, practice schedules, all verboten for fear that someone will misuse the information--identity theft, predation, etc. The bottom line: we are afraid.

The truth is we have been publishing student information in public forums for as long as it has been possible to publish. But wait, internet safety advocates will say, now the internet lets anyone with access know about and prey upon our children. And I suppose it is easier for the bad people these days. But taking information about the start of football season off the school website only to have it published in the local paper, which has an online presence, doesn't change anything. Except maybe liability.

How sad to think that what we truly fear is not something happening to our children but instead that we will get sued.

Last night I was listening to NPR and happened to catch From the Top, a showcase of rather gifted young musicians. During the course of the one hour program, the listeners learned about these students, including full name (one name was even spelled on air as part of a joke), state, high school, musical instrument, and a quaint biographical story. Basically, enough information for someone with malicious intent to begin grooming that child was provided on air during a national broadcast of a weekly show. And to make matters worse, on the web page for last night's show visitors can also find pictures of the students, again complete with full names.

I had never listened to From the Top in this way before. Prior to the WoW show, I had always seen the broadcast as a celebration of student achievement. Now I see it for what it really is, a buffet of vulnerable youth just waiting to be exploited.

My point in all this hyperbole? That From the Top is a celebration; that schools want to showcase their students' achievements; that while we do indeed need to teach about privacy in this new, transparent landscape, we still need to live our lives; and that while we live in a world with some bad people, our students are doing really neat things and they deserve the recognition and rewards that come with the risks inherent in learning new things.

1 comment:

Linda Criddle said...

Matt, you got my recommendation a bit wrong, so let me clarify. I am a firm advocate of celebrating the successes of young people. I also believe that posting teams and times is valuable and community building. My recommendation however is that the level of access to this information be considered.

How to Make School Web Sites Safer:

In order to improve the safety of Web sites maintained by schools and organizations, administrators should consider implementing a two-tier information access policy or reducing personally identifiable information.

I recommend the two-tier approach as it allows the school’s community to openly share student’s successes, post team members and game times, etc. without exposing youth to any more risk than they’ve had in the past.

The Web site’s first tier should be public and show information like:
• School hours, location, emergency school closures, etc, any general policies and procedures, and low risk information about game times, events, etc. where no child is specifically profiled unless their information has already come into the public domain – national award winners etc – and then it should not include more information that is already public.

The Web site’s second tier information should appropriately limit access to students, their families, teachers, etc.
• Second tier information includes anything that could be used to identify an individual, like names, clubs, photos, biographies, practice and game schedules, event times and honors, principals’ letters etc.

There are two ways to provide access to the second tier of information.
1) Require an ID and password
2) Use an approved list of e-mail aliases that is created/reconfirmed at the beginning of each year to include relevant parent and youth email accounts (this allows those on the approved list to automatically view information without remembering a password).

In the past, school newspapers were sent home to families of students. My recommendation is that that was, and still is, the appropriate community to share with.

The University of California Santa Barbara is one example of two tiered functionality, and many other universities have also taken this route. Their main pages can be viewed by anyone. However, drilling into registers, directories, events, class notes and so on requires authentication. This way they have all of the benefits of community, without incurring unnecessary risk.

It’s time for K-12 schools to consider the same course of action.

Linda Criddle