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Help for teachers, students navigating world of social media
When Heritage Woods secondary school opened in 2006, it was heralded as a model for the future. With Wi-Fi installed from top to bottom, students could access the internet anywhere and teachers were on the forefront of using and developing online learning tools.
That was then, a time when Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were barely known. Hardly anyone came to school with their own smartphone or tablet, and nobody understood how quickly someone's privacy or reputation could be destroyed with a thoughtless social media post.
Things have changed in the intervening years and today, the internet is ubiquitous throughout School District 43. Kids bring their own smartphones to school, the web is integrated in learning, fibre optics have enhanced internet access at high schools and traditional but costly textbooks are being replaced with photocopies, PDFs or web links.
But with increased freedom and access come new challenges in protecting children's privacy, guarding against plagiarism and protecting copyright.
To address these concerns, SD43 is rolling out a new digital technology code of conduct for staff, and students.
"The last time we had an update to this policy [developed in 1997] was in 2005, and Facebook wasn't well used until 2007. [The policy] wasn't designed to deal with the social media reality both our teachers and are students are grappling with today," explained Stephen Whiffin, SD43's manager of internet systems.
Whiffin said even parents have to take more care, and their rights and responsibilities are laid out in the new administrative policy that was approved Tuesday night at the district's board of education meeting.
According to Whiffin, the development of online tools requires not only an understanding of how they work but what their impact could be on student privacy and other issues.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION IMPLICATIONS
For example, there are numerous tools such as Dropbox, Animoto and Edublogs that teachers can use in class to share documents, create work and encourage students to write. But because the content is stored outside of the country, in the cloud, Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPA) rules apply and parent permission is required before students can use them.
"It does create a new standard for us," Whiffin said while also noting that schools can't be everywhere and parents will also have to deal with issues that may start at school but end up at home.
"We have a shared responsibility there," he said, suggesting that parents could use the new digital code of conduct to start conversations with their kids.
All this is laid out online in new administrative policy that has been put into a user-friendly Digital Citizenship resource . There, teachers, students and parents will see a detailed list of their rights and responsibilities, links to the latest tools and resources, web links to laws that govern the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the School Act and the Copyright Act, plus behaviour expectations for School District 43.
LINKS FOR HELPFUL INFORMATION
As well, there are links to organizations that inform and protect children about their online safety, anti-bullying resources and help lines for children in addition to videos that show how children use the internet and what the impact might be.
The district is also launching a social media education series for teachers, including two workshops and two online presentations, and will be rolling out a new education series to bring educators up to speed on the digital code of conduct
Whiffin said he hopes this new code of conduct will clarify everyone's rights and responsibilities and will be relevant even as technologies change — because by this time next year, there could a new bunch of social media tools for teachers and students to use.
"The challenge we are dealing with," he said, "is that the tools are changing all the time.'