Do you feel like somebody’s watching you?

March 15, 2009

blinkingeye2_biggerblinking eye by Steve Dembo:
with permission from “Turning Twitter into the Daily Prophet”

“I always feel like somebody’s watching me
And I have no privacy, whoa-oa-oa”

Rockwell Lyrics, Somebody’s Watching Me

At a recent visit to my banker, I noticed he can see my debit card history and exactly how much I spend at the liquor store. I just recently learned that my University of Alberta online instructors  can see how much time I spend on the Blackboard eClass system, how much time I spend in the chatroom and how many e-mails I send to others in the course. The computer tech at my school recently let it slip that he’s observed my high e-mail usage and joked that I use more space on the server than almost anyone else in my school. It’s not a stretch to realize that the far-reaching consequences of this kind of surveillance could be more than just embarassing. At what point is it an invasion of privacy?

I predict a new sci-fi thriller on the perils of loss of privacy on the internet in an Orwellian dystopian future. If I was a better writer, I might like to write that novel; then use it to cause students to think about the long-term consequences of their online actions today.


As Palfrey and Gasser state so eloquently in Born Digital many young people are more focused on the importance of their current online social life than the long term repercussions of their online activity. (p. 53) “Young people use the internet to  connect to one another but may not realize that they are also connected to a large number of corporations and institutions.” (p. 66)

Parent and teachers have far more to offer young people than they may think when it comes to teaching them about how to protect their identities online. The first challenge is to know enough to be credible. But once the conversation starts, everyone will be better off. (p. 73)

Do I know enough to be credible? In some ways my 21 year old knows more than me about how to guard her personal information online, and chides her friends when they “give away” too much information.

All this has made me think about the difference between how some digital native may approach building their digital identity and how some educators may approach building theirs.

  • Digital natives build their identity mainly to connect socially with others.
  • Educators connect to learn more and possibly to advance themselves in their profession.
  • Despite the challenges presented by inconsistent and fluctuating privacy laws and regulations, both may aim to increase their online profile.
  • We both need to make that leap of trust and hope we don’t present a risk to our own  safety, risk of fraud, or that our health and financial histories could one day be used against us.
  • Educators know there are actions we can take as individuals to mitigate the risks.

I think we all know we’re going to be targeted for advertisements to a greater or lesser extent, and  media awareness education and initiatives is one area educators can easily focus. Canada’s Media Awareness Network continues to be a current and invaluable resource to Canadian educators.

Some online services like Google, seem to be responsive to our desire for greater privacy online. This is evidenced by the 3-part Google Privacy Video Series. I finally understand what cookies are after being online for almost 20 years! I learned Google Chrome includes an incognito mode, and improved phishing and malware help.

Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs Privacytown is a refreshing, well written, humourous, engaging and comprehensive resource. Among it’s many sections, it includes the The Privacytown Protection Guide outlining the role of the individual, government and business in protecting privacy.

The Privacy Overview begins by explaining that Personal Information is also called “pi” in the “privacy biz”, then goes on to state “everyone wants a piece of your pi”. I was already hooked, and laughed at this statement:  “Privacy isn’t exactly a recent concept. In fact, you might argue that it is the world’s oldest obsession – – – well, maybe the second oldest.”

Doug Johnson offers some sage advice to bloggers in his article “Lighting Lamps” in Bloggers Caf é of the June/July 2008 issue of ISTE’s Learning and Leading with Technology. His tips are sure to keep your professional profile intact, and could also save young and old alike from personal embarrassment somewhere down the line:

  • Write assuming your boss is reading.
  • Gripe globally; praise locally.
  • Write for edited publications.
  • Write out of goodness.

In all my online transactions I also try to follow the advice from my local teacher association; “don’t write anything online that you wouldn’t say in front of a room full of people”. While building my online identity, this has become my personal mantra.

All Canadian educators need to know the implications of Canada’s new private sector privacy laws in the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).  Useful information for individuals related to this new law is available here. Canadian Educators are also bound by their provincial freedom of information and privacy acts (in Manitoba it’s FIPPA).

Those of us in charge of school library automated circulation systems need to keep lending histories and overdue notices confidential.

And according to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, although “many young people recognize the risks associated with their online activities, they lack the knowledge and tools to mitigate those risks”. Privacy statements are difficult for students (and some educators) to read and understand. As well as teaching students media awareness, educators can complain to the Privacy Commission of Canada for increased legislation for privacy and other terms of use to be written in plain language. Or we can teach our students how to lodge effective complaints.

Working with other educators in a school, a teacher-librarian can help guide students to protect their personal information and online reputation to leave a positive digital footprint for a bright future.


Digital Natives, Immigrants and Pioneers

January 25, 2009

I’m a Digital Immigrant according to Marc Prensky’s description. I wasn’t born into a digital world and none of my early school experiences included the use of technology. However, I’ve been a public school teacher for over 23 years with a deeply entrenched belief in social constructivism; the belief that students learn by connecting new knowledge to previous knowledge as well as by discussion and interaction with teachers, mentors and peers. So just knowing  my students’ interest and engagement with technology, plus my own interest, made me want to explore using technology as a teaching tool. I followed the work of digital pioneers like Kathy Schrock (who defined the term digital pioneer) and Jamie McKenzie for over 15 years and that allowed me to understand how by using good questioning and inquiry learning strategies , students can develop critical thinking skills while improving both  skill and ethical use of technology.

A deluge of books and information has become available on our new generation of students, dubbed “Digital Natives” by Marc Prensky. The ubiquitous nature of today’s technology and our students’ continuous use have resulted in today’s students thinking and learning differently.  Here’s TeacherTube’s Top 100 Video – Pay Attention which explains the nature of the digital immigrant in a school setting. Chances are you’ve already seen it.

TeacherTube’s Top 100 Video – Pay Attention:

and here’s a glimpse into how Marc Prensky thinks including some insights into how teachers and students can partner to teach each other.

Marc Prensky@ Handheld Learning 2008

In Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Prensky calls for radical changes to education; a “major translation and change of methodology” to meet the needs of today’s students.

Most recently I’ve become aware of the work of many, many other digital pioneers in the education world developing new insights and understandings of what is important for today’s students. Examples of this work are found in exemplary standards defined in the ISTE National Educational Technology Standards and Performance Indicators for Students and  Teachers . I’m now also following the work of  Web 2.0 digital pioneers like Joyce Valenza, Vicki Davis and Darren Kuropatwa who are able to demonstrate that their students are meeting ALL the ISTE Indicators for Students AND that their students are also engaged, interested and having fun!

I couldn’t be more thrilled with the recent release of the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner. One look at the common beliefs and I’m hooked:

  • reading
  • inquiry
  • ethical behaviour needs to be taught
  • technology skills are crucial
  • equitable access

So why are changes happening so slowly in education? One obvious answer in my situation in an adult high school is that not all our students are Digital Natives. Some of the students are older than me. I also found insight into these questions in the 2008 publication of Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser.


What I like best about Palfrey and Gasser’s discussion on learning in the digital world is that they dismiss the debate about whether technology is creating a dumber generation by stating there is “no definitive evidence that Digital Natives are smarter or dumber than other generations, they are simply coping with more information” (p. 244).

The authors also assert that the radical transformative changes advocated by Marc Prensky and others to meet the needs of Digital Natives are not necessarily wise. Rather learning and teaching have enduring qualities that have nothing to do with technology, such as students learning by dialog, questioning and exchanging views. The authors emphasize that it is the “participation gap” that educators need to pay the most attention. This includes those students with the least access to technology outside of school that need to somehow gain the technological skills needed to participate in today’s society.

This prompted me to reflect on the students in my unique setting. As Christine Greenhow asserts in “Who Are Today’s Learners?” [Learning and Leading with Technology, Sept/Oct 2008 ] it’s important to know our students out-of-school access to technology. Just two years ago I conducted a survey with the students attending my school and one of the indisputable findings was the varying levels of access to internet accessed computers by the students in our different programs. These are the results when comparing out-of-school access from least to most:

  1. English as Additional Language Program
  2. Basic Ed. program (gr. 1 – 8 )
  3. Intro and Advanced Courses (gr. 9-11)
  4. Grade 12 Courses

The implications for me and my school staff seem clear. We need to provide more opportunities for students with the least amount of access to technology outside school.

I can plan and make changes in my own library program:

  • I’m happy to report students will be able to access the internet on their own laptops by the start of next semester, which should free up more of our school networked computer workstations for those students without their own laptops.
  • I can continue to advocate for  increased access to computers in the library.
  • I need to continue to help promote rich and meaningful opportunities for online research as well as provide students with the means to verify information.
  • I need to begin helping students better learn to organize the increasing amounts of information coming their way by using RSS feeds and social bookmarking.

I can appreciate why many advocates for educational reform are calling for dramatic and radical changes. Today’s students don’t freeze in time while their teacher’s take the time to discuss today’s changing needs. I also appreciate that care and balance is necessary for educators to learn and plan how best to meet students’ needs.

For now I take inspiration from Palfrey and Gasser in Born Digital:

“There’s never been a greater need for reference librarians than there is today, when Digital Natives are relying so heavily on Google, Wikipedia, and the places to which those sites point them.” (p. 252)


“The role of libraries is increasing, not decreasing.” (p. 253)