Safety vs. Panic

Safety vs. Panic

For over a month, my students have engaged in working on a few different wiki projects (Utopias, –Isms, and Book Discussions), but the excitement climaxed when they started collaborating with a group of 8th graders from Wallingford, CT. The students started to create their own spaces to talk about the issues that were close to them as well as some issues related to the projects that they were collaborating on. Daily, I would have students come up to me and tell me about a conversation that they were having with a middle schooler on the other side of the continent. This, needless to say, was unassailably cool.

Last night, though, every student from Wallingford was removed from the spaces that they formerly had called home. The following were the reasons given for this total reversal of technology integration and collaboration:

A parent has complained about wiki and even contacted the State General Attoney to see if it violates anything. Her grievances about the wiki were the following:

1-there were three personal pictures — all on the map of the home page
2-some kids used their real names on pages or as a username
3-in my post on icon I identified that where I live and that I teach at a “blue collar school”
4-I had pictures of the school and the rooms which could provide a blueprint for a killer
5-some kids put personal descriptors “I am five feet tall with brown hair named Sam”
6-on my “lesson plan blog’ One thing i wrote down last Thursday was something like “Myspace words of Wisdom” which she interpreted as me telling the kids about how they should join. I actually had a heart to heart talk with the kids about what they were including and the problem with the public sites. We just had two students in CT have full scholarships revoked after the University saw their MySpaces.
The other part of this is that the school system looks down upon “outside” websites run by teachers.
So because the attorney general is now possibly involved, that implies risk to a minor, and that’s frankly not something I am going to play around with.

The question I kept thinking about after reading this e-mail is, “Who failed?” Was it the teacher who didn’t set up enough rules and guidelines for the students that were written down? Was it the parent who failed to work with the teacher and understand the nature of the collaboration? Or, was it the students who couldn’t grasp the public nature of the internet?

Because of one or a combination of these factors, these students are being shut out of an avenue for self expression and learning. What can we do so that this doesn’t happen to us?


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  2. As a teacher who is currently working on developing a weblog for one of my classes to discuss the book we are reading, I learned two things from this. First, I will not allow students to use their real name in any form on a public web site. Second, no pictures ever. It also reaffirmed my decision not to have a MySpace page, even though if I were not a teacher I would definitely have one. I had one for a time and loved it but it is just too dangerous for a teacher.

    I think the teacher should have taken more precautions; I hate to say it but I can see the parent’s point. There are a lot of predators on the web, and kids have no idea–they just literally cannot understand the implications of a public web site. Look at all those kids who post themselves committing crimes, etc. They just don’t get it.

    So caution is the word, this is new territory and it needs to be explored, but carefully and with the safety of the kids in mind.

    P.S. I sincerely hope that the attorney general doesn’t get overzealous with this, that is a scary thought. None of the above sound like criminal actions to me.

  3. The kids all have a much higher chance statistically of being in a car accident on the way home than being approached by a real “predator”. So according to Jason’s thinking we should not allow them to use cars? Better not have students involved in sports at your school. Have any of your student atheletes gone to the hospital with an injury? Broken bone? Required stitches? Did you know that there have been students killed during sporting events? And some have been maimed for life? Then NO school sports. To quote a post on my blog from last year: “30,000 people are killed in auto crashes each year and many tens of thousands more injured.

    Air crashes kill and injure hundreds or thousands each year.

    People die or are injured by the thousands in swimming accidents (50,000), and playground equipment alone causes over 200,000 injuries to children each year.

    Why do we even still allow people to drive? 200,000 playground injuries a year is almost 4 times the number of students in my district’s 93 schools. So why do we not cut student access to playground equipment? The equipment at my school is also considered a city park available 24/7/365. The reason we don’t cut access to these resources is because they are deemed too valuable to give up even though people are killed and injured by them. Without training these statistics would go off the charts. To keep our kids as safe as possible we teach them how to cross the street but that doesn’t guarantee they won’t get hit by a car.”

    Aren’t these educational tools as valuable as playground equipment? Are students approached in parks and other places by “predators”?

    Just a thought.

  4. Follow-up point. Does your local paper publish student sports stories? Are student names and pictures SHOWING THEIR FACES!!!! put in the paper to accompany the stories? Look through some of those stories and note how much personal info is divulged at times (friends names, where they have a job or where they volunteer their time, where the next away game when they won’t be around family members). What time games are (so a predator will know where you are), parents names (could find your address and phone number in the phone book). And most newspapers now put their stories online and all that info is out there for anyone in the world to see and use. How is this different than academic use of LESS INFORMATION about the student? But let’s ban that!? Predators don’t read sports pages or online newspapers?
    Sorry, you hit a chord here with me.

  5. Just found this via Bud. This is powerful stuff. Thanks for being so open and sharing your thoughts, letting us into your classroom. I am tremendously disappointed in hearing a story like this, but in some ways, not surprised. I was wondering last week when something like this was going to happen to someone. It comes back in many ways to waht we believe “school” is like. So many people believe that classrooms should be the way they always have been. We need more stories like this, and more stories of success that we can pass along to show the possibilities of these projects.

  6. Brian — Good info, and thanks for sharing your passion. Jason’s a good teacher looking to honestly explore putting his students into an online writing situation. I trust him and his judgment. That said, he’s in the middle of learning how to place his students into online environments. Let’s not shut him down before he gets going.
    Jason — the teachers here have all found ways to safely involve their students in online writing situations. Brian’s an elementary school teacher, Clarence is in Canada and teaches what we’d consider middle school or junior high, like Ben (or do you prefer Benjamin — don’t mean to be overly familiar). I work with high school students, as you know. All of these teachers should be in your aggregator as you begin to think about “good” and “bad” online writing. The passion and frustration that you’ll see here and elsewhere is due to the fact that this is a conversation that some of us have been having for multiple years. Don’t confuse passionate words for a disinterest in your involvement in the community. We all have a great deal to learn from each other, and we’d all agree, I think, that students can be safely online. In fact, I’d state that most of us would say that not only can we do this work safely, but that we really must be.

  7. Got here via a tweet by Bud.

    Lot’s of points to comment on, but I’ll try to focus on the post question: “What can we do so that this doesn’t happen to us?”
    Tell them. Teachers/project designers; students/protagonists; parents/school authorities and website lurkers. All of them. Whoever is involved in the project should have a clear sense of the value students expression bring to the learning process.
    Evidently students were happy and teachers too. Yet, it seems to me the project was not exactly a classroom without walls. Fear appeared in those who probably felt left out -without a place to express themselves about this. So they went to the authorities and tried to find the force of a law to demand a place for that denied chance of expression. So they affect ours.

    For those of us who have understood the value of technology integration, not publishing out of fear of the consequences is simply not an option. But we very well understand that the benefits outweigh the risks. If problems come up, we will analyse, share in blogs and resort to the network to solve them quickly. Closing down a class wiki? Never. We learn and continue.

    There is nothing to complain about parents being so concerned with safety. We should share with them what we have learnt and encourage their posting questions in blog comments or perhaps a wiki page within our class project. I’m beginning to work on that here:
    I haven’t had any complaints from parents so far, but I expect some will crop up. I teach English as a foreign language. Students post homework late in the evenings and not all parents understand what they are saying. I’m sure there will be room for misunderstanding. I will just try to avoid snowball effects and keep up the work.

    My policy is not to reveal students private info in a wiki or class blog. Thank you for the link to the Blooging Rules. Let me share mine:
    A work in progress, of course. I keep reflecting on these things.

    Please keep up posting on this. Love to know how the incident was solved.

  8. Thanks Bud … not meaning to ride anyone’s tail… sorry if I seemed harsh to Jason … you are right just frustration on my part – more on how this situation effected Jason’s outlook than on Jason’s response itself.
    Learning really is messy sometimes!!!

  9. readerdiane

    My 7th grade classes have scrambled user names. I have put pictures up without names. I feel lucky that no one has given us grief. I do have two parents who have requested that their child not have their work uploaded or identified in any way. I have respected those requests. Their child is protected but they aren’t interfering with other students.

    School districts also put student information in the paper with pictures when students win contests or do other amazing things. I hope that as a society we aren’t restricted from acknowledging the great things kids do.

  10. I’ll just reiterate the views of Brian, Bud and Clarence, what’s the problem? There is just no proof of a wrong doing occurring because someone’s picture (even if it is totally identifiable) See my post here:

    There are just too many great things happening to be swayed by the paranoia and ignorance of those who see predators lurking outside every school.

    I am living dangerously by posting my name, picture and other information (you could find out where I live by using any online phone directory) in a zillion places online? I don’t think so. Not that kids need their pictures and other info plastered everywhere but sometimes it makes sense.

    I too don’t mean to sound snarky but sheesh… we’ve got to take a stand against those who really don’t know the facts.

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  12. I have been blogging with my 7th and 8th grade students for about 2 years now. They love it and I feel I get better writing out of them because they think it’s cool to do it on the computer. I do have the students use their real names (first name, last initial – sometimes an extra letter if I can’t get that username for them)but I’m thinking about letting them create usernames next year for more privacy and it will be a good lesson on creating good usernames!
    Ben – I’m sorry this happened to your class, as a result of the parent in CT. This is just online penpals and penpals have been around forever. The point Brian made about newspapers is so true! I see my kids in the paper for sports all the time – the name of their team, their names, coaches names, where their next game might be!
    I have always wanted to do a collaboration project, but I haven’t because of the responsibility to the other classroom and I’m still learning how to manage blogs and wikis in my own classroom : )
    I’d also like to point out that I have a MySpace page. The kids think it’s cool : ) All I have on there are things about my favorite sports team (Boston Red Sox), bands that I like and some of those web surveys about Reading, language arts and the red sox : ) I don’t even have a picture of myself. I won’t add students as friends, though.
    Good luck to you and your students!

  13. Dean, thank you for your insightful comment. The teacher who I was talking about on my blog post is actually collecting all of the references to his kids in the local paper as evidence for why his wiki really isn’t a security risk. Steve Dembo ( has actually talked a lot about how kids should be creating life feeds, and that our entire idea of privacy for students should change. I don’t know if I am completely convinced, but I think that there is a lot of merit to rethinking the ways in which we talk about student content and online identity.

  14. Ben,

    It’s really about getting in the pool. Some of us dive in very quickly and explore, experiment and have a great time. Others watch from afar and see dangers. Still others dip their toe in and take it slow. Either way is fine but those who are just watching ought not to be the ones making the pool rules.

    I’m glad that we are all rethinking online identity and activity. Again, caution and good judgment are still critical skills that need to be taught in a real context.

  15. I also think that the idea of online role models are crucial. If acceptable use of collaboration is banned, the only uses left are unacceptable. I don’t think that locking out the possibility for any type of learning is okay, but you are absolutely right about making sure that everyone gets in to the pool at their own rate. I have been working on a few theories for making parents, teachers, and students more ready to enter the pool you describe on my Discourse about Discourse podcast at

  16. Because I am on a kick to point out the flaws of parents, I want to blame the parent.
    My experience with three separate years of clasroom blogging, has taught me that no one is really teaching our students how to be safe on the internet. We have plenty of public service type announcements about avoiding drugs, alcohol, and gambling, but no public service drive to keep kids safe on the net.
    Classroom blogging offers the teachers a chance to promote academic and formal wriitng for an actual audience, involving parents, and teaching about on-line safety.
    If the parent had concerns, she should have worked alongside the teachers to make the process safer.

  17. “So because the attorney general is now possibly involved, that implies risk to a minor, and that’s frankly not something I am going to play around with.” I totally understand, but that really is part of the problem. I don’t mean to criticize, because it’s too easy when you aren’t personally involved. But I don’t think what the students were doing implied any risk to them.

    Media sensationalism has led to society becoming paranoid. These students were doing something that they should be commended for, not slapped on the wrist. If there were concerns about internet safety, then they should be addressed by talking to the students and teaching them about being safe. Not by hiding them away.

    An analogy if you will permit me. You take your students to a museum on a field trip. While there, some stranger walks up to your students and begins talking to a group of them. Nothing serious, just asking who they were and what they’re doing. Nothing but the best of intentions. A parent sees this happening and calls to complain. The school responds by banning field trips, locking the students in the classroom and petitioning that the museum be closed because it’s a dangerous place where predators could gain access to children.

    I know that sounds ridiculous and is taking it to the other extreme, but I think you get my point. I believe the reaction in this situation is doing more harm to those students than good.

  18. PB

    Just an update on this…I am that teacher from the town that can’t be mentioned because someone will track down what school I teach in and come and kill my kids. Sorry to be blunt but it has been a long week and..well…

    I decided to call the police officers in my unnamed town that give all of the kids the speech on internet safety. I was looking for the officer to take a look at the site and declare it safe. I surprised to learn that they did not actually know much about the internet and was told that my name would be forwarded to another officer. I am still waiting for that call. I then called the NEOA (Narcotics Enforcement Officer Association. They also do an “stay off drugs” speech at our school with a heavy emphasis on internet safety — I am not big on adult speeches about staying off drugs, but they do an excellent job. The man at the NEOA said that he would be more than happy to forward my site to the expert computer dude, but I should really try to get someone on Wallingford to approve the site. He recommended the head of the Counseling Department(not what it is called, can’t remember name) who actually hires the NEOA to come to the schools. He then said that no one there has the savy but that I should call the Attorney General. Called the AG and was given an investigator’s voice mail.

    I just applied for a podcasting grant from our district and asked whether or not we could use the podcasts with anyone other than the kids who recorded them…you wouldn’t believe the answer…in short, there was an implied no in the answer, but since there is no official policy he told me to apply anyway. I wrote the grant to use podcasts in conjunction with the wiki. If it accepted, end of story. If it is declined, then I start breaking out all of my evidence about how our website for the school system and local newspapers give out a lot more info than my wiki ever did.

    So that is a quick update. Of course, just like everything else that gets banned, the wikis went underground. More kids created their own wikis in response to this than they did while my class wiki was active. So now instead of one wiki in with the whole team involved(not to mention me), there are now many wikis splintered across the wikiverse.

    By the way, for anyone that commented in this blog and left their name, in this mother’s eyes, you are just as guilty as me. I just randomly picked a name (CF) and within thirty seconds found the school and grade.

    Rock on folks,
    Anonymously yours,
    in a town/village/city,
    in a state/country,
    in the Eastern/Western hemisphere,
    somewhere on Earth.
    PB (shhh…my real initials)

  19. Thanks for putting up such an important post. You ask “who failed?” I wonder if it’s possible that everybody and nobody has failed. Everybody has failed because society has not been able to do anything to keep itself safer. Nobody failed because your classroom is part of society. Particularly when it comes to Web 2.0 the class is controlled by society. Until society improves itself there’s no way to make sure that people are safe. But, that doesn’t mean that we should stop communicating.

  20. PB — Thanks for sharing what you can as you go. Keep fighting the good fight. I hope that eventually you’ll get the support that you need so that you can go public and support your students standing tall. I understand you’re in a crummy place right now, and if there’s anything you need, don’t hesitate to ask. My complete contact information is here to save you the Google search.
    Unfortunately, I don’t believe that mother, well intentioned as she may be, understands the situation. We can be safe in public so long as we’re mindful and careful.
    Of course, I can’t assume that I understand your particular situation, but I can tell you that there are plenty of folks who misunderstand what it means to go public.

    Bud Hunt
    c/o Olde Columbine High School
    1200 S. Sunset Street
    Longmont, CO 80501

    Daytime Phone Number: 720-494-3961

  21. Andrew:
    Thanks for commenting on my post, and for thinking that it is “important.” I think the important part is to find solutions for creating a place in society that has the greatest potential to be safe. Although we are part of society as a school, we are still set apart. We need to focus on both the flaws and insane potential of collaborative tools. I am putting together a podcast right now that talks about creating a formula for transparency. Check it out in about an hour or so and it will be up.

  22. Dan

    As a parent and educator, I cannot but agree that we need to assist our young charges in writing to the widest possible audience. The caveat, however, is that when a child is passed to me by a parent, I take responsibility for that child, no matter where s/he goes online, no matter what s/he does online. That is a large responsibility and IF, as Bud indicates, we can be sure the child is completely safe, then we should take them there. IF we can’t guarantee safety, then we have a problem and a risk. The risk is NOT like someone driving a car having an accident… the TEACHER is driving the car full of passengers. This task is not taken lightly by any of us. But it is our task as teachers, and there are risks.

    As a parent, I watched my kids teachers to be sure things were as they should be, and I wasn’t afraid to intervene and ask questions if something didn’t seem right to me.

    That is every parent’s perogative. However, as both parent and educator, I am aware it is a new world out there, that not every parent can educate their kids about Internet safety, and that is also part of my job.

    So.. are there easy answers? No. Are there issues? You bet. Is Bud right.. it can be made completely safe? I doubt it.

    Loading our “Web 2.0 car” up with kids and journeying out onto the superhighway is not without risk to driver and passengers. But staying home.. not good either!

    Good conversation.

  23. Just one question out of curiosity. What if a parent called up and demanded that their child be given full credit for their collaborative work online? Because it’s entirely possible that colleges will Google their student and they want to make absolutely sure that the college can find the work they’ve done? How would you (or anybody) handle a parent that REQUESTS that a photo of their student accompanies their published work online so that they can get the recognition they deserve and take pride in it?

    Would your school bend over backwards to comply? Would they put a wiki back up and allow their teacher to provide guidance?

    And if not, why the double standard?

  24. A

    I am one of the students whose wiki-adventure was shut down due to parents complaining.
    It seems absolutely ridiculous to me. All of us kids were very, very annoyed (to say the least) about this and, as my teacher said, we took it “underground.” We created new spaces, and now there’s a sort of interesting network of them.
    This whole situation really, I think, just made a lot of priorly existing problems worse. It’s getting closer and closer to the end of the year, and people are getting antsy. Doing this seemed to sends the message of “You’re too stupid to use the Internet without getting into trouble. We care about parents’ concerns more than we care about your learning.” I just don’t understand why one parent decides what many students can or can’t do.
    It just leads a lot of people to say more and more, “I hate school.”

  25. Completely safe? Nothing, offline or on, is completely safe. But being online can be as safe as these other activities. There is risk, minimal as it may be, in most activities that we engage in at school. I’ve got scissors in my classroom, and there’s a parking lot where people drive cars to and from the school. We’ve got a welding shop at one end of the building. There are risks there, too. But in welding, folks have figured out how to mitigate those risks as welding is a lucrative field for many folks. The benefits outweigh the risks.
    With online schoolwork, the perception of many is that the risks aren’t worth it. That’s an incorrect perception, as is the idea that we can be %100 safe in anything that we do.
    Dan’s vehicle analogy is a good one to further. If I wanted to tomorrow, I could check out a vehicle from my school district and take up to 15 students on a real field trip, into the real world, full of its own dangers. It is not so easy, due to fear, to take fifteen students online. That’s sad.
    We’ve got to change our perceptions. We can do better.

    That’s sad.

  26. A-
    You have written probably the most poignant response to this situation. Clearly you have a great inside perspective, but I think that you are absolutely right about creating an environment of disengaged students rather than authentic learning when we take the tools out of the classroom. The question is, though: How do we make the parent’s concerns into learning for the 21st century. How can we frame it so that all parents are on board with collaboration and social networking?

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  28. Steve:
    I think you are absolutely right to look in the other direction. What if all of our parents were advocates for our collaboration and web 2.0 technologies in the classroom? What if they demanded that their students be prepared for a 21st century work force? What if there was so much overwhelming support for technology realization that schools couldn’t reassure the parents except by implementing pedagogically sound 1:1 programs?

    I guess that is more than one question too.

  29. Dan:
    I appreciate your extended metaphor. I think the real question is: What is safety? Is safety being kept away from anything controversial or revolutionary? Or, is safety being taught how to interact in all situations and being given a set of tools in order to handle any unwanted advance or unnecessary connection? I vote for the latter. To use your metaphor, I think that all of the passengers in our “Web 2.0 car” should have to go to safety town before they get on board. (I hope that safety town wasn’t just something they did in Ohio. It is a road safety course for little kids.)

  30. Sorry if I’m arriving in this conversation a day late and a dollar short… but your snippet from the Wallingford post included “We just had two students in CT have full scholarships revoked after the University saw their MySpaces” — can you give me any link to that story? I missed it …

    I am impressed by the thoughtfulness and coverage of Claudia’s (see post 9) safety/privacy/practice rules for blogging and wiki-ing that she linked to. What great resources!

  31. Parent complaints shut down online space. Students thumb their noses at parents, educators, and other authority figures and create private, secret spaces so they can continue conversations they value (see Comment 30). Is that the result the adult(s) wanted? Probably not. Information wants to be free. Communication in this new era is impossible to shut down. Take that, all you lock-it-down antiquarians!

  32. Scott:
    Free information is a radical idea (one I happen to agree with). Most people are used to the framework that information can be accessed from only a single source and that shutting down that source will eliminate the problem. If you shut down a printing press, no more papers. We cannot work within this framework anymore. I don’t think it is the information that wants to be free, but the people. The people will seek out the information in any form they can find (and they will accept faulty information if the true variety isn’t available). It is my hope that parents and students start to recognize that learning cannot be a passive act. It is the seeking and the finding, the collaboration, the aggregation that is so meaningful. Shutting down a collaborative space can’t change that.

  33. PB

    …here is an update to the update…
    Got a message from our local PD’s youth officer that basically said no one in the department can look at the wiki to determine it’s threat. It has been driving me crazy that the people that come and talk to our kids about internet safety don’t know anything about the internet.

    Finally talked to the investigator at the Attorney General’s office. Very nice guy…spent a lot of time with me. Basically there is now way they could say that I am doing anything right, or wrong, because there are no “rules” in place to determine what is right or wrong. He said that I could post a kid’s picture with name, address, phone number, etc…and there is nothing they could do. He said that it all simply comes done to what the Superintendent wants to do.

    I got an email from out head tech guy today. He wanted to basically know what issues the parent had. I am reading way into his words here — but I get the sense that he might start the conversation with the Super and ass’t super about how these type of School 2.0 things are catching on and how they better have an answer before parents call. He is working on approving a bunch of podcasting grants and he might be thinking that the system needs a policy…needs to take a stand on this before a podcast is let out of onto the web. I worry that the entire conversation at the top will revolve around safety issues and not include any of the benefits of using 2.0 tools. As the investigator from the AG office said, you can’t protect against someone taking one of my kids, forcing them to give up the password to the wiki, and then posting lewd stuff…I hope they don’t focus on the extreme cases. The crazy what-if questions are a killer.

    To be continued….

  34. Herein lies one of the big issues of bringing teachers onboard to using these powerful tools with students. Most teachers are wary anyhow – how many are going to not only take on technology they are not comfortable with, but buck up against even the most token resistance – much less what we are seeing here?
    After making that negative point however, I will re-state that I continue to see cracks in the wall, and even some holes. I have teachers at my school, and that have taken inservice trainings I’ve taught and attended conferences I’ve been to that are some of the most reluctant adopters that seem to be newly intrigued and interested in finally looking into trying something new.
    So overall I’m more optimistic than I have been in years – and I’m almost wondering if in a small way we have NCLB to thank for that. Are teachers AND PARENTS maybe trying to come into the light of a new day after so many years of test prep and misuse of evaluation? I think there is hope.

  35. Dennis

    At the heart of the matter is the fact that people are often afraid of things they don’t understand. The knee jerk response is rather than promote on-line safety, pull the plug. I’ve had a computer in my classroom since 1983 and internet access since the early 1990s.

    I’ve often wondered if the same fears and arguements came up in the early days of the last century when schools started to install telephones. Any improper behaviors, threats, and interpersonal connections that can be made on the internet can also be made by phone. For some reason, phones no longer scare too many people .

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  37. gls

    I teach science and social studies at a day treatment facility for kids out of school due to long-term suspension, expulsion, or even adjudication. Because of the work we do and the source of our funding, confidentiality is mandated. Still, I was able to get a blog going for the kids and they were, for a time, excited about it. I’m afraid I didn’t do a good enough job promoting it. All that being said, I think in future wired teaching endeavors, I will apply the same standards: no names whatsoever.

  38. GLS-
    I have found that the only way to sustain interest in blogging for a class is to keep bringing the student work into the classroom. It can’t feel like something more to do, but rather something integral that enhances understanding and enjoyment of the material. Also, providing time to do blogging in the classroom is important too. (My two cents) Thanks for the comment.

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