Teachers in need of instruction?

Thanks Jeff for pointing out this story about a teacher who somehow thought it was a good idea to send naked photos of herself to a 15-year-old student!

I find this incident very hard to wrap my head around. Outside of the obvious inappropriateness of the act, did the teacher honestly think that a teenage boy would keep naked pictures of a teacher a secret? Imagine being in high school and getting a hold of some compromising pics of a teacher. Imagine your classmates getting their hands on them. What percentage of them would just keep those photos to themselves as opposed to having some sort of “fun” with them?

That’s what I thought.

I was in Teacher Education for a while, and I don’t recall ever covering the inappropriateness of sexual relationships with students. I am sure it was covered elsewhere, but not in the classes I taught. Perhaps during those ethics classes (or wherever they talk about such issues) we need to address the fact that sexting counts as acting inappropriately? Show news stories such as this to scare the heck out of those even tempted to do so? Again, I find it odd that it would even be necessary, but given the viral nature of texts and other digital communication, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to offer these gentle reminders to instructors.

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Cornfed Citizen Safety

i work on the webImage by glsims99 via FlickrDr. Kris pointed me in the direction of Net Safe Kansas, a new website based in Kansas looking to protect their state’s Internet users. Maybe it’s a Kansas thing, but apparently Internet users there are ridiculously uneducated and can’t do research for themselves. On top of that, the website creators believe that their oh-so-exiting website will draw children in to read all of their rules. I was bored … what 12-year-old is going to stick around to read these things? (My comments on these “rules” are in italics.)

• Don’t believe everything you read online, especially from someone in a chat room. It’s extremely easy to lie online and predators will tell you anything to gain your trust. For example the “14-year-old girl” you just met online might actually be a 40-year-old man trying to gain your trust. Or the “14-year-old girl” you just met online might actually be a 160-year-old boy from your neighboring high school fulfilling a dare from his friends.

• Choose a random user name or screen name. Make sure it doesn’t reveal your name, age, school, location or interests. For example, the user name “CutieCougar94″ might reveal to a predator that this person is likely female, a student at a school with a Cougar mascot and born in 1994.” Or people of my generation will think that you’re a cute older woman looking for a younger man and that you quite possibly graduated in 1994.

• Don’t respond to messages that are mean or in any way make you feel uncomfortable. It is not your fault if you receive a message like this. Tell your parents right away so they can contact the online service provider. Messages that come to me that make me uncomfortable aren’t always illegal … if it’s not illegal, the online service provider can’t do anything anyway.

• Stick with friends. It’s always safer to chat with friends you know in real life. Strangers online are bad news. I was 22, online talking to strangers and met my best friend. Strangers online aren’t always bad news. You can safely meet some incredible people online.

Then they have a “NetSafe Kids Pledge” that made me laugh … and then I felt kinda bad for laughing at the ridiculousness of it … for about 37 seconds.

NetSafe Kids Pledge

1. I will turn off my computer monitor right away and tell a trusted adult if anything makes me feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused. There are TONS of things on the internet that confuse me. If I turned off the monitor every time that happened, I’d never learn anything. (I do understand what they’re getting at, though.)

2. I will tell my parents or guardian if anyone online asks me my name, my address, my telephone number, or the name and location of my school. Or I could just tell them no or ignore them or block them.

3. I will never share personal information such as my address, my telephone number, my parents’ or guardian’s work address/telephone number, or the name and location of my school without my parents’ or guardian’s permission. Why would a teenager share their parent’s work number with a stranger online?

4. I will tell my parents or guardian if anyone online asks to meet me in person.

5. I will never meet in person with anyone I have first “met” online without checking with my parents or guardian. If my parents or guardian agrees to the meeting, it will be in a public place and my parents or guardian must come along.

6. I will talk with my parents or guardian so that we can set up rules for going online. The rules will include the time of day I may be online, the length of time I may be online, whom I may communicate with while online, and appropriate areas for me to visit while online. I will not break these rules or access other areas without their permission. Seriously? I was a good kid growing up. Straight-A student, top of the class, blah blah blah, and I wouldn’t have set up rules like this with my parents. Do you know any teenager that has?

7. I will tell a trusted adult if I come across anything that makes me feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused. I will not download anything from anyone without permission from my parents or guardian. Stay away from Wikipedia.

8. I will not use rude or mean language on the Internet. *bites her tongue so she doesn’t say something inappropriate*

9. I will never respond to any messages that are mean or in any way make me feel uncomfortable. If I do get a message like that, I will tell a trusted adult right away so that he or she can contact the online service.

10. I will always remember that people online may not be who they seem. Because I can’t see or even hear the person it would be easy for someone to misrepresent himself or herself. For example, someone indicating that “she” is a “12-year-old-girl” could in reality be an older man. Hello stereotypes.

So, it seems that NetSafe Kansas has a good idea … but it almost feels patronizing to go through their website. I am pretty sure that there are Kansan citizens who KNOW better than the website assumes. Also, the fact that their kids & teens pages are still geared towards adults doesn’t make it any more marketable. The bare bones of it might one day be improved, but spreading more “stereotypical” internet information doesn’t help anyone.

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Classroom Surfing

Slightly OT, but highly relevant to my career and generally related to this board. A recent NY Times blog post about college students surfing the net during class caught my eye. Written by Yale law professor Ian Ayres, it addresses the issue as to whether students should be allowed to browse online while in a lecture class. It’s a tough topic, but one that I have been forced to think about and form opinions on, as it is relevant to my own classroom experiences.

Personally, I allow internet browsing, under certain circumstances. I see it as identical to sleeping, doing the crossword puzzle, or day dreaming in class. No, the student is not going to learn as much if they are not paying attention, but that is not my responsibility. It’s theirs. If they want a good grade, surfing is not going to get them one.

Here is where I start to put limits on the surfing: if it is distracting other students. In the same way I ask students to stop talking during lecture, or when I wake up a student who is snoring, I do ask students to stop playing on their computers if what they are doing is distracting either other students or, frankly, me. And I tell them why I am asking. I literally stop lecture and ask them to cut it out because it is distracting. They usually do and often come down and apologize after class. And I accept the gesture.

This has not really been an issue yet, but I would also tell students I do not want them to surf in a seminar-type class where participation is crucial and respect for fellow students comes first. Surf all you want when I am talking. I am getting paid to do this, and I have enough tough skin to not take the behavior personally. But when a student is brave enough to express an opinion, that person deserves attention and respect. Blow me off all you want — your grade will suffer, and that is the consequence. Do not blow off your colleagues. That is not OK. Ever.

Sometimes, however, a computer in the classroom is a good thing. People ask questions I can’t answer (gasp!). Then there is some research-data-computer-addicted person there to save the day (see this Doonesbury comic also referenced by Ayres). We all just need to make sure that the answer provided is from a reliable source. I use this teachable moment to talk about why we would trust the answer being provided by the site. Students don’t think about the quality of their references often enough. This helps them think about polishing that skill.

Bottom line is that students have always come to class and then never paid attention. If you can’t deal with that fact — don’t teach. But we also need to consider how the method of not paying attention is affecting the rest of the students. Because they are who comes first. Build rules around that and I bet your classroom environment will be conducive to learning. Just not everyone will take you up on it.

Interesting (scary?) Thought

I was chatting with a student who is also a mother of a 4-year-old. As we were walking to the bus, she commented on how she was nervous about the role the internet is going to play in her child’s life. After all, she didn’t have computers growing up. What should she expect?

Then, she said something that I found very powerful. She said that there was no sense in her prohibiting computer use once he gets a little older because “by the time he is old enough to surf unsupervised, he will be able to hold his computer in his hand. I can’t see what he will be doing!”

Wow. She’s probably right. We have no idea where technology is going to take us. I mean, iPhones and other devices already have internet capabilities. It’s going to be mainstream in no time.

Bottom line is, we can’t focus on restricting access. We need to focus on teaching young persons how to use technology smartly and respectfully. Integrating this education into schools is going to be essential.

Better than class outdoors!

Brandon Hall Research announced in its newsletter that it held a meeting in Second Life. Benefits included a “novel environment” that energized and inspired creativity, being able to hold a meeting in a plesant setting (they chose outdoors with picnic tables), and seeing physical representations of those who they had only heard the voices of. Downsides include lack of practical meeting tools and inexperienced meeting goers finding it difficult to navigate.

Now that the weather is getting nicer where I live, students are starting to plead “can we have class outside?” I wish. I really do. But there is no way I could compete with the distractions of the sun, birds, and passers-by. Can you imagine having class in Second Life? Distractions could include:
1. Students changing outfits (or disrobing) in the middle of class.
2. Forget paper airplanes — students themselves would fly around
3. All avatars would look hot and sexy, distracting the teacher.
4. Sex everywhere. Boring lecture? No problem. Just hump the avatar next to you…

So, the idea needs work. The Brandon Hall group even admitted that someone jumped into a nearby hottub at the end of their meeting.

An Offhand Remark

I teach a college level course in Human Sexuality and my guest speaker today was from a local organization that goes to different schools to talk to middle and high school students about sex and relationships (it’s this last part that makes the program particularly unique). During the class, the speaker discussed some of the activities and topics that they address in secondary education — one of them being the importance of setting sexual limits with partners. So, the speaker asks the class: “What is a good way to talk about sexual limits with someone that you are with?”

Without hesitation, someone in my class yells out “Talk to them about it on MySpace.” Another said “IM them.” It was the first time that my own students (who are “older youth,” given that they are college students) were offering online solutions to relationship problems. It made me realize that my “target population” is no longer only in secondary education. They are right in front of me.