Friday, March 13, 2009

Privacy for our Students

The student body at many independent schools includes some famous people's children, or children and young adults who are famous themselves. Privacy is important for all minors, but especially those who are targets for the paparazzi. As we move into global collaboration and communication, the privacy issue gets difficult. How can we protect our students but still participate? I do not want to compromise their privacy.

In my blog for my students (and also in the student led blog about campus happenings which I advise), we sometimes have a Picasa or Flickr slide show. When I look at my pictures, I have to compare each child with the photo release forms their parents filled out for the school. I cannot put any captions on the pictures, and if I mention a student in a story it can only be the first name and first initial of the last name.

I recently had a privacy problem with Flickr. I put up a slide show of the students and I marked all the privacy settings so supposedly nobody could tag or comment of the photos. I didn't want anyone to tag their friends. After about 7 emails so far back and forth with customer service, I am still left wondering how somebody was able to make a comment (the customer service was really unhelpful, by the way - I could tell they didn't really read my problem carefully).

If we make a wiki, or something else interactive and public, the student cannot use their last name, even without any pictures attached. But their school email addresses have their last names. If a screen name includes an email address, the students are compromised. We don't want to attach their last names to our school in a public way. We can get around this by using the Moodle version of the wiki and forums, which is good, but not public. And therefore, the conversation stays in just their class community, presenting pros and cons.

The athletes don't seem to care. The kids could get written up in the LA Times sports section, with their last names and schools, and in that case it is good - good for colleges to see, and fine with the parents. I suppose when they decide to play football, for instance, they understand it makes their lives more public.

In LibGuides, there is a cool tool that allows you to have a box where students submit links to other students. I put it on my 7th grade LibGuide for Middle East culture. When kids fill out the information, their full name is essentially put on the Internet. I have not yet asked LibGuides if there is a way to customize this, but I sign in every day and delete their user-submitted links, which I then add to the Google Custom Search for the project. That takes away form the visible collaboration with students that I am trying so hard to achieve. I told them not to write their last names, but they still do it. They are 7th graders, after all!

The kids can have aliases in other tools like Glogster, for example, but that is a lot for a teacher to keep track of, if the teacher wants to grade on participation. I suppose we just need to do a great job on educating our kids about the importance in privacy, and how to achieve it in the online world.

Our band teacher posted a YouTube video of our middle school students playing a rock song. The 12-year-old female guitar player was especially fantastic and cool. The teacher didn't put any names up, he didn't mention the school - so all was clear. But wouldn't it be great to be able to give these kids credit? It is so sad that it is so anonymous, though I completely understand why it has to be this way.

As independent school librarians we have to be particularly vigilant to work with our educational technology specialists and together teach how important maintaining privacy is. But no matter how much we teach it, sometimes the 2.0 tools will test our rules.

Librarians have a history of protecting the privacy of their patrons. How can we reconcile the need for privacy and the desire for collaborative and social use of these new teaching tools?

What privacy issues have you encountered, and how do you resolve them?

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