If you can’t beat em’, join em!

Picture it – a beautiful autumn day in New York in 2009. There I was – getting married!  I had all my friends and family with me, and my girlfriends who were very important to me as my bridesmaids, and of course my now husband. We were in the limousine, on the way to the church. “A  quick toast…. Thank you all for coming, I am so honored to have you all here, and all the effort everyone has put into making this special day happen. And please do not post any photos of me on Facebook unless I look amazing!” Yes, its true, that was me. I admit it – I guard what images of myself go up like a hawk. I’ve gotten burned so many times with people tagging me in photos. Why would you put up and tag a photo of a person anyway when they are stuffing their face at the buffet? That is just mean. I’ve signed up for a  Photo Tagging feature on Facebook where you have to approve photos that other people tag.

My feelings about privacy online have evolved over the past few years. I used to be quite diligent about never having anything online and making sure my name was not linked to things, for example on my first travel blog way back in 2001 I was careful not to put my full name and match it to a picture. Last year I then decided to make a classroom website, and I had to get parental permission in order to share work / photos online. My website does not come up in a google search, and I’m careful to not share any details about the students. Out of all the 22 parents in the class, all but one signed the permission slip. One particular mom wrote me an email about her strong feelings that she didn’t want her daughter’s work or picture online as a predator could perhaps find it, then come to the school and try and kidnap her. I respected her wishes but I was at a loss for really what to say to her. At the time, I was doing some training in Integrating Apple Core Technologies in the PYP, with Makky Fung, from the Canadian School of Hong Kong. We spoke about this situation at length and she gave me some very useful advice – she suggested to call the mother and father in for an informal chat and to reassure them that I would not use their daughter’s picture / classwork in a way that she could be identified, and to actually show the parents on the Interactive White Board what happens if you do a Google search for the website. When we spoke, I listened to their fears and tried to reassure them, although I couldn’t be exactly positive a predator wouldn’t try and abduct their daughter from our class website, I was pretty confident it wouldn’t happen. They were very receptive and agreed to sign the permission slip, which worked out well for our class community.

I suppose my feelings have changed – I used to be wary about using my first and last name and image,  I am now much more open to sharing myself online and I have endeavored to create a positive image of myself as an educator. But don’t try to tag me in a photo, I’ll have to approve it!

4 thoughts on “If you can’t beat em’, join em!

  1. Dear Heather, I like your bolg. I also faced the same issue. As a Coetail course we had to make a digital story. I really worked hard in making that story. I picked a student from my 5th grade. When I was all done and I was about to upload, I realized that I should have asked the permission from his parents. I was too tensed, what if they refuse it. But, my luck worked and they approved it to upload on You tube. Even on facebook, I feel scared sharing my photos. I think we should have some assurance about it so that we can use it without fear. Madhu

  2. Thanks for the comment, Madhu. I know what you mean about being a bit scared to share photos, especially on Facebook. You never know with them – they seem to change their stance on privacy so often! I agree, I think we should have some assurance regarding Facebook so we can use it without fear. I suppose on the other hand, we could just not use Facebook – but then how would we keep up with all the gossip?

  3. Heather…Thanks for sharing your personal and professional stories about this issue. I’ve also (mostly) gotten over the apprehension to put my first and last name out there regarding my professional name so to build a positive ‘digital footprint’ for myself. But now your experience with your classroom website has me thinking about how I will approach this in my own classroom as I work to increase the opportunities for my students to publish, connect and collaborate out in cyberspace. This raises some questions that I need to investigate at my own school regarding student websites and parental permission. Recently, I had middle school students do an online story activity. In my verbal and written instructions I told them not to use their full name (since their story would be added to the website gallery) yet several of them did. I think I’m going have a conversation with them about why they were okay with that (or if they even thought twice about it). I’ve also noticed that many of my students’ online portfolios/blogs that are set up by the school include their first and last name in their link and their blog title and these are public. I’m wondering if this is a default in the set up but I haven’t heard any concerns from parents. I’m also curious about the parents’ perspectives about online safety from a cultural standpoint. I’m coming from the United States where the fear of online predators is regularly reflected in the daily news. Now, in an international school, I’m wondering what the international or regional (since many of my students are from Asian countries) perspective is.

  4. Hey Diana, Thanks for the comment. I think you are in a good position to revisit your school’s Acceptable Use Policy to see exactly where it stands regarding first and last names being used. That would fit in perfectly with the Course 2 final project for you! I teach little ones (6-7 year olds) so my students are a little bit easier to manage then your middle schoolers and I’d be interested in hearing from you what your students say regarding their use of their first and last names in their online story activity.

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