When was the last time you read the technology agreement that your school put in your mailbox on the first day of school? Did you read the fine print and really understand what you were signing? More importantly, you were probably more anxious to use the Internet, get access to the network or use your new email address. Many of us have done it. Like others before you, you just wanted to use the technology, piece of software, online program. So you said “yes” to the promise of access. Be it written in simple language or more complex legalize, we continued to think it was safe to use because we did not meet any devastating consequence.
My students are interacting with me using an online Learning Management System that mimics Facebook. This is the online space where they will find their assignments, discussions and where they will be able to chat with each other and me during their blended learning experience. The high school calls this their “safe space.” Because the space mimics Facebook, the space is teen friendly and the students have been navigating around with ease.
Every year they sign a technology agreement, along with their parents that give them permission to use the computers in the classrooms and the library, called the IRC (information resource center). The technology agreement also covers the use of the Learning Management System at school and at home.
This week I was exploring around, trying to understand how to use the system with my blended/hybrid learning class. I clicked on the “reports” button that revealed an option where I could see all of the deleted and non-deleted content that my students had entered over the course of the semester. Next to the reports tab was the “Suspicious Activity” tab. This tab revealed all of the entries, deleted or not, that were of a suspicious nature. Apparently student entries are filtered through a lexicon of selected words.
Amongst the student entries, words like slaughter, murder, kill and bomb. There were more obviously offensive, derogatory words as well, referring to homosexuals and curse words, like the “F” word and the “N” word. These entries were made in the portion of the LMS called “chats” and some were made in the “dialogue” section. These sections are for students to chat with each other and with me about assignments, their interest and concerns about the class work.
I was surprised that some students would write on this very public forum, offensive comments to each other, even in fun. Some of the statements gave me an inside view on the naïveté of teenagers. When I discussed the responsibility of their use, what it means to sign the technology agreement, many students were shocked and felt as if their “rights” had been violated. The conversation shifted to feelings of deception. This LMS looks like Facebook, a place where they construct their own space, where they could say what they believe they have the freedom to say. They were already so comfortable in an online environment, that they didn’t realize that this was a monitored, school site with filters. They were surprised that all of their entries were non-destructive. They asked incredulously, if Facebook had the same “rules.”
Interesting observation; even though students have this deep connection with technology, they still don’t understand the rules of citizenship they must observe in this virtual space. As educators, should we help them understand what their role, rights and responsibility is in this space? Should we teach them censorship or have them challenge the right to public speech?
In these spaces should we also have a conversation about digital citizenship in the same way we discuss classroom citizenship in real classroom spaces? This is a growing part of our “new” education as online instructors. Their connection to what is right and wrong, what is “allowed” is still not clear to them. What is our responsibility?
Sometimes, it is not clear to me.