Sunday, June 26, 2011

Building Fences

Well, the time arrived to replace my fence.  I’ve been putting it off for a few years but got a good start on it this weekend.  I am Fence Panel - Private Keep Outthankful for my three sons, they were a huge help in digging post holes, putting up panels, and cleaning up the mess.  It’s a lot of work to disassemble an old fence and take all the old boards, posts, concrete, rocks, clay, and dirt to the dump.  We’re on a corner lot and it’s a weird feeling to take your fence down – you kind-of feel a little exposed in your back yard!

There is another type of fence that teachers, schools, and Districts are required to build with technology – walled gardens so to speak.  We need digital places behind “fences” that are safe, secure, under our control, etc. where students can store their work, communicate with each other and their teachers, write and comment on each others work, etc.  Teacher’s also need digital spaces that have similar attributes so that the work they ask their students to do using digital tools is fully under their control.

However…  there are tremendous benefits to students and teachers to be able to use digital spaces that are outside of British Columbia (BC).  There are tools that schools and Districts simply can not economically replicate internally that provide great student learning experiences.  Tools like Twitter, Prezi, Diigo, Delicious, to name a few.  As well, it is well known that when students write for a broader audience (ie, beyond their teachers and fellow students), they typically will work harder and longer at their writing.  Tools that could involve storing personal information require good privacy process to be used legally in BC.  Note that this requirement applies whether the use limits access to specific individuals or is publicly accessible – the requirement is triggered when personal information is stored outside of BC.

If you’ve read some of my previous posts (eg, Student Spaces) you’ll know that I advocate for a both-and approach.  Districts should provide safe walled gardens to support teaching and learning AND they should create and support the mechanisms for the legal use of tools where personal information is stored outside of BC. Another factor teachers need to always consider is the age limitations imposed by a digital tool’s terms of use.  For example, Facebook states that its users must be at least 13 years old and Prezi states that users have to be at least 18 or have their parent’s consent.

Informed consent is needed when an online service states it is required or when personal information is stored outside of BC.  Consent must be voluntary, in writing (can be electronic), and the individual must be able to rescind their consent.  For students, it is advisable that the consent is given by parents and their children.  This makes it challenging for BC schools and Districts but not impossible.  We have some work to doInformation Security in our District to be sure we have acceptable processes in place for teachers and students to use when signing up to use digital tools that are outside of BC.  We intend to provide clear procedures and forms this coming school year to serve this purpose.  A small group of Districts met recently with a privacy lawyer and a BC privacy commission analyst to try to gain a shared understanding of the requirements.  You can view the notes from that meeting here.

What privacy requirements do you have in your jurisdiction? How do you support your teachers and students in using external digital tools?  For BC folks, what procedures and forms have you put into place for your schools?