Miguel Guhlin tagged me a few days ago in a blog post that he had written. It ends up that Miguel had been having a discussion on twitter that turned into a couple of blog posts. That’s the backstory of this post.
Miguel and I have had several discussions on twitter about privacy through the summer and now down into the fall. I still feel strongly about this issue. As I’ve mentioned in other posts on this blog, I moved my own websites to Iceland this summer, I’ve given up my gmail account, dumped a few online services and changed some of the software I am using. I know that this doesn’t fully protect me online. To be fully private these days I think that you basically need to get offline or go to some pretty extreme measures.
But that doesn’t mean that you should stop working, piece by piece, to protect your privacy.
The same is true for your students. For the past number of years I’ve promoted openness and connections among students. We’ve been encouraged as professionals to share our stories, our journeys and our resources online. I don’t want this to change. I’ve been outspoken about having open communities for students and about how we are not risking their safety by working in these ways. I feel comfortable doing this in my classroom since along with advocating for openness, I also believe strongly that we need to teach students to be safe online. Openness and safety are two pieces which it would be irresponsible to separate.
These days, I believe that we need to teach privacy as well, alongside of safety. It is early in the school year, but I fully plan this year to teach my students that their online activity is being monitored. I plan on using plenty of news stories to show them the context of the revelations that have been established over this year. I think that not teaching privacy skills to students will soon be looked on as being as irresponsible as not teaching safety.
But the issue is much bigger than I am. I am a single grade seven and eight teacher in a very large school division. My division has been very generous to me and my classroom. I have access to a lot of technology. Unlike many places around the world, I have pretty lightly filtered internet service and access to a lot of tools. But, similar to many schools around the globe, the hardware that we use is pretty locked down. Dell laptops that we can’t install any software on. Microsoft office and Internet Explorer. While I think that this sort of a system lacks imagination, I believe that in a division as geographically spread out and isolated as ours the people in technology leadership positions are working hard to ensure that the lights stay on. Pragmatism has won out over vision.
But what this means is that my students are locked into a system which ensures that every move they make online is tracked and monitored. The school records their activity on the division’s servers and the software / hardware ecosystem they work within ensures that they are tied into the global system of monitoring. They have little choice about that if they choose to use division provided hardware and software. In response to this I encourage my students to bring their own machines from home and I encourage them to to use open source software and hardware, going as far as burning DVDs and handing them out from my classroom. I believe that the hardware and software that our students choose will impact their safety and privacy and that we need to help them see these things as a choice.
I definitely err on the side of working in public compared to private. But I also prefer that we work in ways that keep our data private and that we teach these skills to our students. As long as we are willing to learn and experiment and make steady progress, there are choices we can make that continue to move us in the direction of open where we want to be and private where we want to be. For example, I publish this blog openly under my own name and even with my picture attached to it. This is obviously open. On the other other hand, I don’t believe anyone should be watching where I surf, what books I buy and who I send email to. I can make these choices as an adult and I think that our students should have this same opportunity.