Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Dangers of Constantly Changing Technology

Parents last week received a letter from the district describing an unfortunate incident that took place at the high school. To protect the privacy of those involved, details were left out and names were not mentioned. For those of you that are not parents in the school and didn't receive the letter, here is basically what happened.

Some of our students were taking inappropriate photos of their classmates and sharing them with others.  (An important distinction: While the photos were inappropriate, they were not obscene.) They were using an app called Snap Chat. Luckily, our administrators were able to quickly get a handle on the situation and apply an appropriate amount of discipline as allowed by our policies. (Another important distinction: As much as people may wish to know exactly what discipline was administered, FERPA and board policy do not allow us to make this public.) Our administrators took the additional step of holding class meetings with the high school student body to not only remind them of the dangers of harassment, bullying, and cyber bullying; but also to remind them that the consequences for actions such as these can have implications that reach far beyond  high school.

I found that statement, well, interesting. I can remember my days as a principal handling discipline issues. While visiting with parents and students about the discipline that was being administered, I would often mention that the discipline was meant as a teaching tool. "You see", I would tell them, "I would much rather you learn this lesson while you are here with us in a protected environment. This suspension (or whatever sanction had been imposed at that particular time) may seem like a big deal now, but it will pale in comparison to the consequences when you get out into the real world."

My how the world has changed in just a few short years! We now live in an age where students tweet, blog, Facebook, etc. Whatever we post has an infinite lifespan. If we post something hateful, hurtful, or embarrassing you just can't push the delete button or erase it with the click of a mouse. It is there forever.

So what is this Snap Chat? Well, I am sure you have all heard the term 'sexting'. This is when young people take pictures of themselves, often times obscene, and then share them with a boyfriend or girlfriend. What is meant to be private usually is not because the receiver is likely to share that photo with others and before you know it, that photo goes viral. Snap Chat is an app that was designed for sexting, but doesn't allow the receiver to send it because after a few moments the shared photo vanishes. So people think they are safe because you can't save the photo, forward the photo, or even see it again after a few moments. How naive! I need to explain something to all my young readers out there so please pay attention: If a couple of college kids who are bored in their dorm room can figure out how to make an app like this, then certainly a couple of others can figure out a work around! Heck, I'll bet someone reading this already has it figured out.

Here is something that will really blow your mind: The evolution of Snap Chat was first brought to our attention that very morning during a story on the Today Show. How ironic that very afternoon we would be dealing with it in our own school.

In light of all this, we continue our discussions about going to a 1:1 laptop environment in our high school. I'll bet this adds another layer of concern for parents. After all, won't a laptop just provide another possible way for kids to get into trouble? Perhaps, but lets be realistic. If a student engaged in malfeasance prior to going 1:1, it likely isn't going to matter if they have a laptop computer. Likewise, students who doodled in the margins of their notebooks will probably continue to do so no matter what tool we provide them. I made this same argument last week. 

What we are saying is that it is critically important to teach our students how to function in a world that moves at lightning speed and is constantly changing. The educational model that is currently used in most schools in the United States has served us well for over 100 years. That model did an awesome job of preparing people for the industrial age. Go to school and learn your basic facts. How to follow directions. Understand your proper place. This was exactly what we needed because in that era you would graduate from high school and go to work in a factory. Look around, that world doesn't exist anymore. Think about this, if we don't move to a laptop environment, which is very controlled by the way, who is going to teach our youngsters about digital citizenship, and how to function in this era? How about this: When youngsters turn 16 we don't just hand them the keys to the car and say, "Here you are, go figure it out". 

Why on earth would we do that with technology?

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