I've been unloading thoughts about online safety this past week. I won't claim that this post is a Forrest Gump-like attempt to be "all I have to say about that," but perhaps I can put the topic to rest for a bit. A lot of these thoughts were pushed forward by a webinar I sat in on. It was not, as billed, about making one's "Internet Use Policy Social Media Proof." Instead, it was the most twisted promotion of an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) I have ever seen mixed with a commercial for a web security system.
Risks of social media included "inappropriate language" (guess the presenter has never been to a library) and big screens on newer handheld devices (no explanation...not sure why size matters in this context). The "Information Security Manager" from Duval County Public Schools bragged about how every Monday, he goes to the schools to find the top 10 violators of their AUP to suspend for three days. Substitute teachers are never given access to the network. Want to allow your students to use their cell phones to capture images of a lab in progress? That will earn you a disciplinary review by HR. Teachers are also forbidden from commenting on blogs...unless they have prior approval of comments.
I could go on, but for those of you with strong stomachs, you can go watch the recorded webinar. I have several problems with the Draconian approach to an AUP---but I especially object to the district thinking that it has the right to reach into teachers' homes and tell them what they can say and do online while there.
You also have to love the conclusions posted:
I am especially fond of #1. That's Teacher with a Big T! Starting from an assumption of positive intentions is definitely not a norm in Duval County Public Schools. Apparently, we teachers go to college so we can get into classrooms and access Child Porn (there go the caps again). If you work in that district, it is assumed that children need to be protected from you and that you need to be trained on what the IT staff believes is acceptable.
The big takeaway from all of this: Teachers, wake up!
IT security has its place. There are all sorts of sensitive data about students and staff which do need to be protected. There are networks to tend. Malware is a real threat. Bandwidth is a commodity that does have to be managed. There are federal regulations to meet---but they are actually very minimal. The FCC only requires them to filter out "potentially harmful images," and that is only for students---teachers have no restrictions in terms of access (as far as the feds are concerned).
Your IT department should not be deciding for your students or you what "inappropriate language" is for the content you teach. Your IT department should not be the TSA of your school district---telling your school board that every teacher is a threat to be groped in a security line. Your IT department, staffed by people who likely have not had their own classrooms, should not be defining what your role is as a teacher (i.e. we're all pedophiles). Most of all, your IT department should not be developing policy that tells you which websites you can access at home, who you connect with, and how you participate in your (online) community.
Wake up, teachers, before it is too late. Wake up, school boards. Wake up administrators. Quit assuming that your IT staff knows best when it comes to curriculum decisions. Stop allowing them to frighten you into thinking their ideas are more important than the needs of student learning---or that there is a Boogey Man waiting to steal children at every Web site. It's time to quit excusing yourself from discussions about Internet security because you think you won't understand the technical part---make IT explain it to you. Your unions will not help you with this. It is up to you to stand up for yourselves and for the students in your classroom.
You can do it.