Category: Online safety

Building Trust in Your Online Community

I found a great post on the Social Media Today blog that applies as much to teachers who build online communities in their classrooms as it does to companies and brands that build these same networks. So here are there tips they have given, with my spin on them for education:

1.) Lead by Example – As a teacher, our jobs are to instruct students, no matter whether they are present in a physical classroom or in an online space. It is an essential part of our jobs to model what we would like to see. This means we need to be present in our networks writing, taking pictures, making videos or doing whatever it is that we expect our students to do. This is especially important in education as we often are beginning new communities each year.

Building Trust in Your Online Community

2.) Get Personal – Online communities are unique, privileged spaces in education. They often give us an opportunity to get to know each and everyone of our students in ways that would not have been possible just in a classroom. This is often especially true of those quiet students who want to sit in our classrooms and not share of themselves. These are the students that often blossom the most in these communities. Be willing to share of yourself. Share your stories and your life. This doesn’t mean that you need to share every detail of your life, but be willing to be open.

3.) Be Honest -Honesty goes along with openness. Be willing to share your opinions about things. This doesn’t mean that you need to be openly political or openly controversial, but it does mean that you need to be willing to share your thoughts and opinions about things.

4.) Accept that You’re Human – Teachers work a lot of hours and yet we cannot be everywhere at once. Despite our best efforts, we cannot see everything and be everywhere in our communities. We need to put in our best efforts, but we will do things wrong. Learn for mistakes and move on.

5.) Be Knowledgeable and Share: Think about the content that you actually post on your classroom blog or in your communities. Is it interesting? Is it things that you  find online that you think the students in your class might find interesting? Your communities need to be so much more than spaces to simply post homework and assignments for your class. Share the things you find online. Share of yourself and of your passions. Make your presence in a space one that has personality and share what you have.

6.) Maintain Consistency – This is true in all ways. The community discussion standards that you build in your communities need to be enforced for everyone present. Maintaining consistency will allow your students to be comfortable in your space, understanding what happens there and able to concentrate on what they are being asked to do.

7.) Let it Go – Using social media in your classroom is not a magic bullet that will automatically engage every single student all of the time. Some students feel more comfortable with certain tools compared to others. While I believe that students need to experience all of the tools we can give them, I do not believe that they all need to be experts in all of them. Is there a possibility of platform choice being built in to assignments? Is it possible that some students need time off from some types of communication? Be prepared to see cycles between students and even within the contributions of single students.

8.) Don’t Give Up – Building an online community is not easy work. It is probably not something as teachers that we thought we would have to do. The skills are new and emerging and we all have plenty of learning to do. Don’t give up on yourself or your students. If you are having a tough time with students, step back and think about ways to re-engage them in your discussions. Do they need a different tool? A different timeline? More choices? How can we change what we are asking them to do in order for them to grow into their roles.

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Privacy? I Give Up

While we’ve all known for years that pretty much everything we do on the internet is public and watched by someone, the Snowden revelations a few years ago offended me. I was offended that we had sunk that deeply. I was also offended that so few people seemed to care. “If you’re not doing anything wrong, why should you care?” I read over and over again. In my mind, this misses the point.

So I worked hard to try to do something about it. I wanted to maintain some modicum of privacy. I went so far as to transfer my domain, blogs, and email to Iceland, a country that I found after some research has some of the strongest privacy laws in the world.


But now? Today, I’m declaring that I think the task of maintaining some privacy online, for average people, is impossible.

While I’m not a coding or programming ninja or guru, I do OK in the tech skills department. I have no trouble maintaining websites, customizing them to do the things I need, and running and designing scripts and programs. I’ve fought hard to learn some of these skills. But in the end I think this is largely fruitless. If I want to use the “modern” web, which interacts between my desktop and online environments and if I want my phone to simply talk to my calendar, you need to give up your privacy. Data leaks between all of our environments and applications. If we aren’t prepared for each of them to be an isolated silo, the task of privacy is a dream.

I’ve been an advocate for privacy, for making informed decisions with kids for years. I’m a large fan of open source software as well. None of this changes. I still am a believer in privacy, but I simply don’t think it is possible right now with the hardware and the software that we have. I hope that some day it is. Until then, I need to make friends with the web as it is.

That starts with moving over here. I’m going to be leaving this webspace behind and move over there. If you’ve got this place bookmarked, it will need to be updated. Thanks.

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Stalking in English Class

We’ve been stalking people in english class.

Wanting to teach the kids in my class about concepts of digital footprint and online safety, I used three people well known from the edusphere as examples: Will Richardson, Jabiz Raisdana and Jeff Utecht. I introduced these three friends to the students in my class by giving them only a photo and a name. I simply told the kids in my class: find out all you can about these three guys.

The students made a list of places to search. They started with simply Google and then soon expanded to other places such as flickr, youtube, twitter, wordpress, linkedin, delicious and facebook. They expanded into a Yahoo domain search and searching other sites such as Soon their lists of information began to grow. These are some of the things my students learned:

Will Richardson

Jeff Utecht

Jabiz Raisdana

In two periods (about 90 total minutes of research time) my students managed to find quite a lot of details about these three gentlemen.

When we turned from discussing digital footprint to instead looking at online safety, my students were at first shocked and quite horrified at all the information that Jeff, Jabiz and Will had chosen to share online. Then they looked a little deeper. We discussed safety and what safety meant. In the end, my students were amazed at the amount of information shared but felt that overall these guys were being safe. They were concerned about them being able to find a phone number for Jeff online and they were also concerned about Will’s kids and the amount disclosed about them; but they also had to admit that they were not able to find any contact information, school name, etc.

This turned into a great experience for all of us involved. I gained some deeper insight into how my students search online and what kinds of information they can find. We brought many skills together that we had been working on for the last month. We got to talk about safety and digital footprint; two vital concepts for for kids of this age to understand.

Now we can concentrate more on making connections with people around the globe.

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