Education, Social Networks, and Privacy

In this post I want to consider privacy from a bit of a ‘weird’ point of view: What information do you want students to reveal to each other and yourself, and what do you want to reveal to them? What ethical responsibilities do educators have to their students concerning their disclosure of information to one another?

In many classrooms, instructors and their students develop bonds by becoming vulnerable to one another by sharing personal stories with one another. ‘Vulnerability’ should be understood as developing a rapport of trust that could be strategically or maliciously exploited, though there is not an implicit suggestion that vulnerability will necessarily lead to exploitation. Some of the best teachers and professors that I have ‘revealed’ themselves as human beings – once I saw that they were like me I felt more comfortable participating in the classroom environment. With this comfort and increased participation, I developed more mature understandings of subject material and my personal stances regarding it. The rapports of trust that I developed with faculty led to the best learning environments I have ever experienced.

Continue reading

Education, Web 2.0, and Privacy

I have a lot that I could talk about here, but rather than working through philosophical arguments for the value of privacy in education, I want to constrain myself to establishing some key points that educators should be mindful of when using Web 2.0 applications in the classroom. I begin by listing a series of factors that organizations should consult to determine if they are collecting personal information, and then follow by talking about the value and importance of privacy statements. I will conclude by providing a brief (and non-comprehensive) list of personal information that educators probably want to keep offline, unless their University can provide granular access to the information.

Is this information personal information?

Pretty well all Web 2.0 tools gather some kinds of data from individuals that use them, be it in the form of email addresses, Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, telephone numbers, messenger names, or social networking information. Before deploying any Web 2.0 technology it is important for organizations to determine whether they are capturing what is identified as ‘personal’ data, and can do so by reflecting on the following factors:

Continue reading

Wikis and Education

Wiki means ‘quick’ in Hawaiian and is commonly used to refer to relational databases that allow for collaborative content creation and revision. These databases have some similarities to blog structures, insofar as they allow a group of people to comment on content, but are distinct from blogs insofar as they upset blogging’s authorial structure by letting readers make modifications to articles’ content. Whereas in blogs, readers can comment on content, in a wiki the readers can modify and come to ‘own’ the content. Wikis have been called the simplest kind of database, and this is (in part) due to ease of inserting and modifying content. All wiki’s use the following process for content generation: Edit >> Write >> Save. That’s it!

In situations where students are increasingly learning online, wikis can provide a space for them to work with one another to address/confront common problems and challenges. This can mean that a group of students use a wiki to write an essay so that they can all contribute to the project (and track each others’ modifications) without needing to find a time and space to sit down and talk with one another at length, to creating a set of class notes that reflect what occurs in lectures, to establishing a coherent content management system that lets students track how the courses they take throughout their academic degree interrelate with one another. In transitioning from analogue technologies and environments to digital wikis, students can (at least partially) overcome the challenges of space, scheduling, particular content retention, and tedious subject cross-references.

Continue reading

Brief Thoughts on Blogging and Education

Blog/WebLog: a web page containing brief, chronologically arranged items of information. A blog can take the form of a diary, journal, what’s new page, or links to other web sites. (Link to “Weblogs in the Classroom)

Blogs and blogging are one of the most prominent of social networking technologies. They allow bloggers to centralize content in particular places (posts) and then have others comment on the post’s subject matter. In essence, while the authorial voice is still projected by the blog’s owner, the owner can receive near instantaneous responses and feedback. In containing topics to particular posts, and by preventing viewers from altering the original text, the poster retains some of the authority that traditional authors hold, though bloggers’ ‘strong’ voices are diminished/enhanced when posters contribute their own thoughts, ideas, and challenges to the posted content.

Continue reading

Webcams and Teleconferencing in Education

While webcams and teleconferencing may not initially appear to be Web 2.0 technologies, I would suggest that they important to the current 2.0 paradigm and, as these technologies develop, will become increasingly critical in whatever 2.0 unfolds to. By drawing in content from divergent areas, by crossing boundaries that were previously insurmountable for reasons of cost and time, and by demonstrating and expounding upon the digital connectedness between people, the ideals of student based learning becomes possible. I want to explicate that statement a bit, and then turn to the more ‘technical’ aspects of this post’s technologies.

Student-based learning is largely dependant on sudents having a hand guiding their learning. This is commonly translated into blogs and wikis, where the authorial voice is upset. A central issue with these kinds of collaborative/2.0 tools is that both are grounded in text – text is limiting because we cannot communicate using facial gestures/hand motions/intonations/etc, whereas webcams and teleconferencing both inject these essential dialogical elements into the discourse.

Continue reading

Email and Calendaring

The University of Guelph will be moving to a new email provider in the next month or two and along with that movement will come (over time) a unified student calendaring system. I want to discuss the role of email, unified calendaring, and how they impact TAs.


Email is the best-known electronic tool amongst TAs. It has been used for years to communicate with students, set up meeting dates, and answer rudimentary questions. The benefit of email is that it allows for relatively confidential communications between TAs and students – others cannot read the message unless either the TA or student break confidentiality. Email is not terribly well-suited for drawn out conversations, however, nor is it very good at developing content amongst a series of participants. It does, however, allow students and TAs to be accountable for what they say, which can be helpful in times of grade challenges that were supposedly made through email. For this reason TAs should ensure that no student information is deleted for at least one year after the course.

Continue reading