Saturday, April 25, 2009

Shadow of Privacy

Is there such a thing as privacy online?

First of all, what is privacy? One definition given (on-line) is:
a. The quality or condition of being secluded from the presence or view of others.
b. The state of being free from unsanctioned intrusion: a person's right to privacy.

There has been much talk about individual digital footprints, but what about our digital shadow? Our footprint is left from online activity that we initiate ourselves. We sign up, post, upload, share and on and on. What about all the times we are the "stranger in the background of the picture?" What about all the times someone forwards an email message to everyone in their list of contacts? I come from a small town, and I must have the names and email addresses for about half the residents there through forwarded emails. That means that they also have my name and address which are being sent to people all over the world on forwarded email messages that go on forever.

In reality, there is no such thing as privacy online. With effort and constant vigilance, a person might be less in the view of others. However, if one chooses to surf the internet, use email, have a blog or a site on Facebook or otherwise engage in ‘social networking’ you have compromised your privacy.

According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, if you have signed up for Internet service, you have an ISP. Your ISP provider can connect your IP address with information you provided at registration to reveal the person behind the IP address. Your search history can be tracked and stored using your IP address. It is possible that a search engine could reveal the IP address behind a particular search or series of searches. If your ISP revealed the account information behind the IP address your identity could be linked to your search history. Google has a collection of videos with advice for protecting your privacy online. They assure the public that they do not/cannot trace or record your IP address, but there are always others who might.

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse also gives this tip: It's a good idea to avoid using the same web site for both your web-based email and as your search engine. Email accounts will always require some type of a login, so if you use the same site as your search engine, your searches can be connected to your email account. By using different web sites for different needs -- perhaps Yahoo for your email and Google for your searches -- you can help limit the total amount of information retained by any one site. This makes me wonder about Gmail, Google Reader, Google docs, and iGoogle. Should we be using all resources from the same web site?

When you post information or pictures on one of these (social networking Web) sites, remember that if you want to remove it later there is no law protecting your decision. Unlike a note passed in class, which can be torn in a million little pieces, an Internet posting may not be so easily destroyed. Currently, companies are required to honor posted privacy policies. If a site’s privacy policy says it will remove information and the site refuses, you should file a complaint.

Does ISB’s AUP take this issue into account?

The ES AUP says, Suggestions for appropriate use
· Network storage areas are treated like school lockers. They are respected as belonging to individuals, but are open to inspection by ISB administrators.

· Passwords (to prevent access by unauthorized people into computers) will only be installed on computers when there is a good reason. The Network Administrator will be responsible for installing and keeping a record of all passwords.

ISB’s ES AUP makes no direct reference to privacy online. There is a slight reference to the use of passwords. This policy clearly needs updating.

Mass Collaboration--Are we preparing our students?

In a world of mass collaboration people combine their different skills to explore and solve problems. According to Charles Leadbeater in his newly published book, We-Think: The Power of Mass Creativity, there are five principles for successful mass collaboration: core, contribute, connect, collaborate, create. These creative mass collaboration communities have a social structure. The core group tends to do most of the work, and in the end makes the big decision regarding goals/purpose and projects. There is also the larger crowd of contributors who are less intensely engaged with the project. However their smaller contributions may be as significant as the work done by the core. People thinking in different ways contributing their diverse viewpoints are likely to generate more possible solutions. The larger the group and the more diverse perspectives involved, the greater the benefits. People with different ideas must have a way to connect that allows the free flow of these ideas. Taking this to a virtual world where an open discussion forum, wikis, nings, and even twitter allows these connections to be made. The actual collaboration itself is what presents the greatest challenge. How does a large community of diverse thinkers with diverse knowledge, ideas and values make the most of its diversity without being overwhelmed by their differences? The fifth principle is creativity. The many differing points of view and skills and the ability to think independently come together to form a mass social creativity. Although the lines between expert and amateur, audience and performer, user and producer may be blurred, it is not a free-for-all: it is highly structured.
Wikipedia and Linux are examples. The constant trialing, testing and refinement help to guard the integrity of the project.

How do we prepare our students for a world of mass collaboration?
One of the main reasons I wanted to take these technology courses was to learn what I need to be teaching in my third grade class today to help my students become active and involved members of the society of the 21st Century?

I can see that preparing them to work in collaborative groups is a first step in this direction.

Working collaboratively is not an innate ability. Most children need a great deal of guided practice to be able to develop this skill. The co-operative learning strategies and desired outcomes serve as a basic foundation to prepare students for mass collaboration.

Students practice sharing their ideas verbally with a partner or discussion group learning to listen to what group members say and, take the ideas or thoughts of others and build on them. Working together to solve problems, again having to talk things through, listen to what others are saying and to be able to verbalize their own thoughts. Most importantly, students must learn how to listen respectfully to ideas with which they might not agree and hopefully learn to use diverse opinions as building blocks for new ideas.

My class has been learning to write informational reports. Since we have been studying crayfish in science and have had twelve live crayfish in the classroom for the past six weeks, the students have just finished a collaborative research project about the crayfish. Each student worked with a partner to become the experts for a portion of the research. The whole class then compiled their research results and now each person is writing his/her own report using that information. I can say that this collaboration made the research portion of the project go very well. I was worried that having everyone research the same topic might result in a lack of interest for some students, but having the living creatures seemed to keep a high level of interest and engagement and the students had free choice of the research that they contributed. This research was also used to create a collaborative class Voice-Thread.