Safer Out In The Open

Reduce your digital footprint.

Make all of your online profiles private.

Restrict the photos you post of yourself online - they can be used for purposes you may not like.

Ensure your Bluetooth is turned off to avoid "data slurping".

Be aware that mobile phones with cameras and voice recorders may be in your school and classroom.

Try and ensure that you know the true identity of everyone that you chat to online.

These pieces of advice were part of the “Cyber Safety For Teachers” presentation from our CEGSA AGM. Without being a basher of the presenter, there are a number of problems with talking about the topic of cyber safety from a negative, glass-half-empty perspective. We were given a handout at the end for which I cannot find a web pdf link, no matter how hard I search. It sets the scene for teachers online in the following way:

There have been many reports of students bullying and harassing other students using digital technologies. As technology rapidly changes opportunities for such antisocial behaviour increase including the use of sms, websites, and even the use of mobile phones to record bullying incidents which are then posted on websites such as YouTube and MySpace.

Unfortunately there have also been incidents where teachers have been bullied and harassed by students, as well as ex-students and parents.

Teachers need to aware of the risks inherent in their daily contact with digitally aware and capable students, and take steps to protect themselves.

It seems to be the recommended method to deal with these issues is to ensure that as little of ourselves makes it onto the web because it can all be used against us. Close it all down - don't give the sneaky so-and-so's any opportunity to misuse your personal data against you. After all, who wants to Google their name and see the first hit defaming their professional or personal reputation?

But I would suggest that perhaps the opposite advice is actually a safer option. Being open about who you are, what you stand for, publishing your ideas, your work, your interactions with others means that the web stores a pretty comprehensive and weighty body of evidence that would easily counter any scurrilous content authored by others with malicious intent. So, expanding your digital footprint can therefore work in your favour and it is from that digital footprint that we can verify the identity and intent of those with whom we choose to interact with on the web.

I know that there are those who feel safer behind an alias or an avatar. I would venture to say that particular choice is made more out of fear of non-online retribution in many cases (but I'm happy to be corrected).

It's from that open identity that we find our global collaborative partners, build digital collegiality and share our best practices and resources. And hand in hand with that open identity comes open dialogue, open exchanging of views.

Teachers shouldn't be running scared of the online world.  If they decide to make it part of their professional existence, they can take control of their online identity and the worst efforts of others will be much easier to deal with.

Original image: 'identity card' 
identity card
by: Simone Petralia
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9 thoughts on “Safer Out In The Open

  1. Sharon Peters

    Graham, thanks for the post – I am in absolute agreement with you. It is naive to turn a blind eye to the fact that our students are out there using the web every day, communicating and sharing materials (i.e. photos).

    And you can believe that our students will and do look up their teachers’ profiles and online activities. They were certainly doing that as long ago as five or eight years ago when I was working in a computer lab with students daily. We are ALL now potentially under scrutiny. Very likely our potential employers are also doing searches.

    The question becomes, how ARE we conducting ourselves online? If we have a digital footprint that demonstrates we are active social participants who are conducting ourselves with professional conduct, all the better for us.

    The bottom line is that we are models for our students – offline and online. I have heard school administrators state frankly that if they cannot find a potential employee online – if there is no digital footprint – that they take that as a warning sign.

    We should be modeling online behaviour and we should be including opportunities in our curricula to build positive online communication and collaboration skills.

  2. Mike

    As soon as we start training to be teachers, we are hit over the head with the need to provide positive teacher role-modelling and authentic learning experiences. This “under a rock” mentality does not sit at all well with me. It’s hard to imagine how anyone with an interest in education could have a problem with your argument Graham.

  3. janning

    Just like lots of the kids I have two on-line profiles – my public and professional presence and my private and personal one. It’s not hard to keep them separate 🙂

    I agree with you Graham – being able to explore the public personas created by many on-line educators has made it possible for me to identify and tap into a valuable professional learning network.

  4. blb

    As a student going into the education field, would you suggest to only keep a professional rapport when being online. I know that know a lot of the items I have on the internet may not be appropriate for a prefessional atmoshpere. Should I be sure to delete items on my blog before being hired into a school?

  5. John Larkin

    I agree Graham. I have everything out there online. Of course I am sensible and responsible with what I publish. I had an online presence six years before I my return to teaching in a secondary school. There was no way I could take it all down. Too much history.

    In fact, with the advent of my return I began adding additional material to the site at an accelerated rate. I returned to blogging after an absence and I use the site as an exemplar to the teachers and students at school.

    I agree with yourself, Sharon and Mike. Model exemplary work and contributions online. Create a digital footprint that you can be proud of and proud to share.

    Cheers, John.

  6. vawnjordan

    I know there are scary things happening to teachers out there but I agree with you! Post what you believe in. Be genuine. Think. Act. Be a guide and a model. We cannot let a group of people sabotage a great place to share and communicate important ideas.

  7. Graham Wegner

    @blb. I’m not very sure of what advice to give you considering all of my online digital footprint has been created as an adult professional. It would seem to be me that keeping one’s personal separate from one’s professional is going to become more increasingly difficult.
    @everyone else – it’s nice to hear an affirming echo back. That term doesn’t always have to be of a negative tone.

  8. mrsdumicich

    We are considering this very issue in our school at the moment. Fortunately we have a Principal who is very supportive of Web2.0 technology and teaching students to use technology to their advantage, not hiding away from the unknown “baddies”. So the aim is at the moment to create policy that both allows digital expression and education within the school and keeps the naysayers happy……not easy but I am sure it is do-able. So lets allow teachers and students to create a digital footprint that will do them both proud I say!!

  9. Corrina Gideon

    When I first began my blog (only a short while ago!) I struggled with the decision to remain private or go public. I made a pseudonym and created an avatar, and then I changed my mind. I’m not saying my heart didn’t beat a little faster, but what I ultimately decided is that the activities I’m involved with online are important to me and I want to fully ‘own’ my participation.

    The internet is the most powerful medium of change within my lifetime. We have only begun to scratch the surface of the power it can bring to the world of education! I think the best way to set a good example for my students is to show them – by example – how to navigate and use the social power of the internet for the good of us all. How can I help them do this if I’m not “out there”? What message would I give them if I showed them my contributions but it was not my name or my face that they saw?

    Of course, the safety of children is paramount, and the serious nature of risks to unmonitored children online must not be taken lightly. However, it seems to me that reacting in fear by lessening the online presence of those of us who desire to do good things would be unwise. Aren’t we better off maintaining a strong presence so that students can look at us and see hope and possibility? We could make an analogy here, to the concept of “neighborhood watch” – only now, our neighborhood is considerably much larger!


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