Can I really protect learners online? Or should they do it for themselves?

After reading Jonathan Worth’s “does my data show in this” and listening to the IT security expert Ben talk about our data being used for less charitable purposes by companies and individuals, I freaked out for a good while. How much responsibility am I really taking on when moving my class online? What is the real extent of my responsibility on student online behavior in the scope of the class?

I keep wondering if the prompts I could give for blogs, or the products of projects, like videos, are a safe way for the learners to express their enthusiasm or interest online. At first, I though my topic of immunology is quite safe to academically explore and apply to larger society problems without harming the learners. Then the worst case scenario popped to my mind as I was trying to figure out a Threat and Risk Assessment Matrix for a potential online student.

A learner from a family or social group strongly against modern medicine. A person who lives in an area where medications are worth ones life, or life of someone else. Learner who misunderstands key issues in their posts or videos and still wants to be a doctor. Suddenly the stakes are much higher. Would the online material be read by disapproving relatives, who start shunning the learner, who is now viewed as rebel and trouble maker? Will someone think the under privileged person has the medications they are talking about, and proceeds to violently rob them? Will the future doctor be denied a job, because 14 years ago they did not know how vaccination worked?

The truth is that I don’t know. Somehow allowing children to use internet and make permanent marks of themselves without any supervision, is not something all parents frown upon. It seems like allowing a 13-year-old to get a tattoo. Some are smart about it and leave a small mark. Sadly the few who go in with both feet and without their sense, can end up with a rude word on their forehead.

Just like teaching manners for offline world, manners for online world need to be emphasized. I find┬áteacher’s responsibility increases in online world compared to the in-class teaching as anything learners produce is permanent on some level. The guardians and parents are in key position, as internet usage starts earlier than I ever expected in ones life. Especially when the personal dangers to individual learners can’t be fully known by teachers, it becomes important to increase awareness of the dangers at home and in the society at large, in addition to schools and universities.

Personally I lean towards creating a positive online presence and being very aware of the content we create, opposed to closing myself off from social media for example. However I can understand how one could perceive this as reckless behavior. To make everyone feel welcome in my classes, I need to find ways to keep students anonymous to an extent. Also spending time on online security in the beginning should pay off in the long run. Just mentioning, that posts online are forever and be smart, is not enough. We need proper examples and “right-here-right-now” advice on the technicalities of online security.

I would be very interested to hear how teachers can effectively make students aware of the dangers without it sounding like preaching…. Maybe some nifty activity could drive the point home most efficiently? Figuring this out is just too important for me to ignore.

3 thoughts on “Can I really protect learners online? Or should they do it for themselves?

  1. Jonathan

    Hi ,

    One of the ways I try to visualise the reach of [in this case] a tweet is to use Tweetreach. I then offer the example where one of my [very humorous] students made a joke via twitter in class. We were all tweeting our notes and the joke, had it been offline, would have been very funny but online it reached thousands and not only reflected on him but on the rest of the class. We went through the TAGS explorer (see the walkthrough on CCourses) and drilled into our twitter-network to find employers and professionals who we all wanted to work with. After that the class’s online attitude changed – we kept the fun, but we kept it in the room. Its not a solution but I hope that it might help.


    1. mari Post author

      Thank you Jonathan! This was actually really helpful example. I have had trouble viewing the interview with Martin Hawksey (possibly due to slow internet connection), but will try again today to get to the bottom of this TAGS -thing. I checked out the Tweetreach and found it to be very interesting. The graphics it produced were very informative and even I was surprised, how the tweets really spread. It eerily reminded me of studying epidemiology and the spread of infectious disease… Maybe that is the connection I could make with immunology students and twitter? -Mari

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