Black Monday: Bloggers on Trial

I cannot have a funday Monday today because my heart is heavy.

  • Al Upton's project with 8 and 9 year olds has been ordered to close by the Department of Education and Children Services in Southern Australia.
  • Intrepid Teacher, Jabiz Raisdana has resigned because of parental complaints about some copies of Flickr artwork that was created by him.

While these are two totally different issues, my heart is still heavy. I would like to address my thoughts on both of them.

A) Al Upton
Al has distinguished himself as a safe, effective teacher who models best practices with 8 and 9 year olds.

I can see parent concerns as well with this age and it is a balance. As Al says, parental concerns and SAFETY must be handled first!!! We cannot ever put children at risk and sometimes to parents PERCEIVED risk is far greater than the actual risk.

We have to always err on the side of caution as Al did with taking the site down.

WE also have to remember that parents have a general distrust of the Internet. Most of them just do.

What I do:
This is what I do with my publicly blogging 9th graders (15 year olds):

  1. I sent home a permission form for EXPLICIT permission to blog publicly. Those students whose parents wouldn't consent to a public blog were given a semi private alternative on
  2. The students who blog publicly use pseudonyms.

This is what I do with the horizon and flat classroom projects (16 year olds):

  1. We use permission forms. (
  2. Students can only use first name and last initial.
  3. The spaces we use ARE public.

For my 8th grader and younger we use private spaces on either Ning or classblogmeister. That is the age my school has set and 10th grade is when we allow the projects to go completely public. The wiki is public for 9th and 10th graders.

What we should do:
We should clearly state to parents our policies on public and private spaces and inform them about those spaces by age. They also need to understand that if it is private… that means the teacher and students ONLY (and administrator should they choose to be a part.)

We should monitor public spaces closely via RSS.

My hope for Al:
My hope for Al is that they will allow him to have a private space for his 8 and 9 year olds (at a minimum) — if he is able to restore the mentors project, then we could do background checks or something…

I believe that we're going to need some sort of “open ID” or “universal check” for educators. This would allow us to facilitate educators who can move around to various projects who meet a certain standard level or background check.

How could we do this? What can we do?

I don't know… but it sounds like a great thing for ISTE or another organization to establish… a criteria for approving an educator and their practices and they understand and have completed a level of training for interacting on global projects.

This would ensure safety and ubiquity, but also that we can collaborate and work together at all grade levels. This is something we need to discuss and do.

Let's talk about an Open Educator ID system. It just makes sense.

Intrepid Teacher's issue
This one is a bit more troubling. I'll let Jabiz speak for himself:

Let me clarify that Intrepid Teacher is Jabiz' personal blog. These were links from the personal blog NOT from the classroom blog:

“A member of the parent community at my school followed the link I had supplied here at Intrepid Teacher and found some material on my blog that they considered objectionable and took the issue to the school board. I was immediately asked to resign. The administration felt that I had given students direct access to material, which they felt was inappropriate. This material was a series of works of art I had done as part of an independent online art group last year. In order to avoid further trouble, I have since removed the prints in question.

The dilemma my director faced was not whether the material was inappropriate, but the fact that I had consciously made a link, which in their eyes encouraged students to view the prints.
I have to reiterate that I never made a direct link from my student site or invited or encouraged them to view my personal or professional sites at any time. I think this fact warrants repeating, because this perceived link was the main issue for which I was asked to resign. As a matter of fact the image itself was not even on my personal blog, but on a Flickr page.”

The bottom line is that unfortunately Jabiz does not have freedom of speech and we are seeing this in many places… not just the Middle East.

We and our students must understand that we cannot post ANYTHING unless we are content that ANYONE can view it.

However, I will say that it bothers me to think of a parent ferreting something out on his personal blog and calling him into question. The truth be known that every single one of us writing could have something found about us that someone doesn't like and we could be called into question for.

What I do:
My blog is rated “G.” G for the comments, G for the content. My opinions are that of my own, however, I NEVER blog about individuals here at the school and remain a professional about it.

I'm careful about my flickr photos — but really I just have them for the school only.

I will not add my students to my facebook page… I connect with other educators there.

I won't add my own children to my facebook page… it could lead people to them… I have a private account with another e-mail address for linking with family (particularly my own children.)

I understand that if someone really doesn't like me that they will find something here that they don't like. They will. I don't know what Intrepid Teacher could have done to change things. I really don't.

What we should do:

Make sure that we are careful about telling students about our online “identities” and personal blogging spaces UNLESS we are completely OK with them viewing everything we write to or link to on that page.

My hope for Jabiz
A school who will understand his talent and desire to be more and will respect freedom of speech.

Separate Accounts / Separate Identities
I think that this is leading to totally separate accounts for school work and private social-time work. We're going to have to have “split personalities,” I'm afraid and have two identities… one for all school accounts and one for all personal accounts.

So, I'm going to need two blogger accounts (what a mess that would be), I guess. And Ning ID's for school and personal.

A blur
And yet, the lines blur. I'm a part of Classroom 2.0 and apply that in my classroom, however, I participate there in my personal time. I twitter on my own time and yet pull things from there into my classroom.

I truly feel that the lines between school and work are blurring incredibly and the idea of a “split” personality is one that I cannot really comprehend.

However, if You are a teacher and you want to have anything “PG” rated on any of your “personal” work… you should definitely get another ID for those activities and consider using a pseudonym.

Transparency or keeping your job?

I know we all like transparency, however, the truth is that freedom of speech seems to becoming more of an illusion… especially for teachers.

And with our kids documenting everything they are doing… here in the US … we're going to have a hard time finding anyone who could run for president in 30 years… with all of the “dirt” on youtube.

We have a lot of issues to think through and discuss.

My applause!
This is why I applaud Al and Jabiz.

They are up front and open and willing to allow themselves to be scrutinized, knowing that many will throw stones and many will offer support.

What we need here is to learn from their openness so that their pain and heartache is not wasted.

We need to determine:

  • What are the practices we need to put into place to facilitate the movement of teachers as mentors and advisors on global projects at all grade levels? What organizations can help us? (That is what we have them for, after all!)
  • What practices can we put in place to have personal lives and be able to “live” on the Internet as human beings while again knowing that as teachers, our students look up to us and our parents often look at us with a harsh eye?

So, I hope we will discuss and add our thoughts to this. We must get past the fact that we like them and would trust them with our own children to see the issues at hand!

And remember this… it is not about “blogging.” The safety of our children COMES FIRST! Doing the right thing by them COMES FIRST! We as teachers have administrators to report to and we must be under their authority (or we are fired or quit and find a place where we fit better and that happens too!)

However… we must understand that we MUST create safe, effective spaces to effectively EDUCATE our students for their FUTURE and for their CURRENT SAFETY.

It is not an option to just cordon ourselves off from one another and pretend that we are not interconnected. For, many of these students by age 10-12 are online together in a melting pot of cultures and societies with no guidance at all in a place called myspace and to leave schools out of the picture in the educational process is IRRESPONSIBLE.

What do you think? What are your ideas?

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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L Lindemann March 17, 2008 - 8:35 pm

Hi Vicki, I’ve never commented here before, but what you have said has really struck a chord with me today.

I teach in the UK and I am leading this type of “split” life. Two Blogger accounts is a pain, two Yahoo! identities even more so, then there are my two Flickr accounts etc etc.

The thing that always seems ridiculous is that I can’t use my own name on personal stuff (maybe if I was called Jane Smith I could get away with it, but I’m too easy to Google)

I don’t see any other option. Although I don’t put anything online that would cause problems if my students saw it, I think I need to keep my personal and professional lives separate: for example, if one of the blogs I link to from my personal site posts something risque, that could cause a problem professionally if a student sees it.

I’m finding your blog is a source of helpful advice for me, thanks!

Mr W March 17, 2008 - 8:53 pm

I’ve been horrified and shocked by the blinkered reaction to these cases, especially Al Upton’s.

However, I’m not convinced that you could find an organisation that would be acceptable on a global scale for administering an OpenTeacherID.

Here in Scotland, we have to undergo extensive Police Checks before we are allowed to be in contact with pupils. Why would I want to be vetted again by an organisation that is based in another country and about which I have no knowledge and/or confidence when I have already been cleared by one of the most rigorous systems in the world.

I agree with the principle… but wonder about the practicalities…

The other problem as I see it is that there would be nothing to prevent ‘undesireables’ from setting up their own spurious checking agency. We’ve all seen realistic messages from our banks being sent out by spammers… without the backing of a law enforcement agency (and I’d prefer Scots’ law to American any day!), there is unlikely to be a worthwhile or workable system.

Surely we’d be better served by giving children the necessary skills to keep themselves safe… responsible use is always going to be the best and easiest way to keep our children safe online…

Vicki A. Davis March 17, 2008 - 9:16 pm

@l lindeman – Thank you for opening up about this issue. Really — thinking about that I am responsible for the sites I link to– that scares me and it is somewhat unrealistic to consider having to be responsible to that level.

We need to talk about these issues and at some point there need to be some ways to deal with it. For now, there is no cost for having multiple accounts, but what happened if blogger gives each person ONE blog and ONE account — will we want the school to pay and us have our free account? Things will get interesting when money is involved. Eventually, schools I think will have to look at this if for no other reason than money.

@Mr W – Although the checks you go through are complete, people outside Scotland don’t know what it is like and how could we make it easier for example, for you to work with a class in Australia or somewhere else in the world. I don’t know the answer but I do know that we need to consider this before projects move to a more global scale. How do we handle the verification of the safety of an educator to be online with our students?

(And if we’re making educators live split lives then how much harder is it to verify their safety.?)

ACTE March 17, 2008 - 10:01 pm

Hi Vicki, I think the OpenEducatorID is a great idea, especially if it stuck strictly to criminal background checks. I wonder how the system would take into account a school or school district’s problem with someone like IntrepidTeacher. Would he be prevented from teaching anywhere again because this incident would lead him to “fail” an OpenEducatorID check?

Great blog!

Vicki A. Davis March 17, 2008 - 10:04 pm

@ACTE — That is a great point and I don’t know. What I do know is this: a) there should be a certain set of guidelines that teachers who participate know and understand including the sharing of personal information and such and b) criminal background checks should be part of it.

Additionally, it should be airtight somehow so that only organizations can issue the ID’s who are “vetted” somehow. I don’t know. I hope by tossing this out there that some one who knows more about this sort of thing than I will jump in and begin to give us suggestions.

It is going to be an obstacle, particularly at the elementary and middle school levels.

alexanderhayes March 18, 2008 - 12:52 pm

Symposium Of Reason : Blogging In the 21st Century

May 2nd, 2008


Venue tba

In for a virtual chat cool cat ?

Vicki A. Davis March 18, 2008 - 12:53 pm

@alexanderhayes– Sure, let me know more!

loonyhiker March 18, 2008 - 10:21 pm

I love how you broke this down into things we should do and your hopes for the individuals involved. Great post!

cam March 21, 2008 - 9:27 pm

In Arizona there is alot of talk about background checks these days. There is a company, Crimshield, that has been on the news several times here that has an online verification system for the background check credentials of those who have been through their extensive check. I have learned by sad experience that most of the “quickie” online background check services are entirely unreliable. These guys have it figured out! I highly recommend that everyone check out — especially the school districts.

I wont let anyone on my property unless they are Crimshiled Certified and have a verifiable background credential online. This is a growing trend in our area… I hope other parts of the country catch the vision as well.

Marie March 25, 2008 - 6:03 am

you have verbalised very clearly many issues related to privacy and how exposed we can become by blogging. Regarding blogging in schools, yes there definitely needs to be clear guidelines to minimise risk. We are living in the 21st century and schools cannot ignore communication channels that are being utilised by their students.


PiLibrarian March 26, 2008 - 2:55 pm

I think that to a certain (large?) extent adults all have ‘split’ lives, in that our professional lives and personal lives are kept separate. I have several Google accounts, in part because the personal me and the professional me follow different topics and blog about unrelated things. What I want to share with the school audience is different with what I want to share with my ‘hobby’ audience. Neither is inappropriate for public consumption, I just don’t want them mixed.

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