Permission Publishing with Students

PRIVACY and duty of care are  a right of students. As the number of teachers and students continues to grow from the grassroots,  do we need better policy, as we do more online?

At worst, students online should have their identity protected – and there should be an acceptable use policy in place to even access the internet. This policy needs to be in ‘plain’ English – so students can understand it – and make it better. If the network policy was written by the IT guy, then its probably more about ‘what you won’t’ do – and not what you don’t understand not to do.

We need to be very ethical in our use of social media publication today. The growth of ‘youth online’ in the last few years is staggering – and reports vary widely due to the almost un-definable meaning of ‘online’. Five years ago, reports suggested that “Most children (79 percent) and parents (95 percent) agree that parents are knowledgeable about kids’ online activities.” This kind of statement seems odd, considering five years ago, the media focus was on cyber-stalking, cyber-crime and collapse of language via MySpace.

Today, teachers are ever more interested in making sure that students are ‘digital-citizens’, equipped to move fluidly over the landscape of social media, as though it is some permeable layer that promotes a transfer of knowledge. Some are doing it amazingly – and demonstrating both disciplinary and digital literacy attainment, however this is not universal. Many are not seeking effective, ethical permission to do so – and when promoting their blog, seem to ask ‘everyone’ about what they ‘think’ – when perhaps they need to be more specific.

In a recent research paper about ‘blogs’ verses ‘peer review’, Wardrip-Fruin (2009) comments

I soon realized that blogs also contain raw research, early results, and other useful information that never gets presented at conferences. Of course, that is just the beginning.”

It is an interesting approach – public comments as peer review – and the changes that it brings in academic work. Wardrip-Fruin goes on to say

“blog-based review form not only brings in more voices (which may identify more potential issues), and not only provides some “review of the reviews” (with reviewers weighing in on the issues raised by others), but is also, crucially, a conversation”

We need to be very clear when their online work is conversational vs scholarly – and be very honest about this to ourselves and students. We can’t say ‘we are always assessing’ – that is not enough when we’re talking about the internet. Students work online because they are told to; they use friend-networks because they want to.

We need to find ways to represent the boundaries and intersections when using blogs, wikis, podcasts etc., in this context.


Green work for conversational discussion (that doesn’t make it outside the institution), orange work for collaboration with other institutions and students (closed to the public) and red work – where it is likely that their work or part of it will be seen, or referenced in future published material, scholarly activity – or just Google-able.

Teachers need to demonstrate visible compliance with school policy and keep appropriate records to ensure professional development is focused on realistic ability and activity. Those responsible for curriculum must demonstrate understanding where this activity intersects with their ‘job’, and be proactive – not reactive by passing the risk to others. Leadership in this regard might be through the development of a policy where teachers need to spend some time on ‘green’ activities – and demonstrate attainment before moving further.


This approach may lead to new ideas on network policy; new ideas on the induction into these spaces and better classification of  ‘tools’ and professional practice. We need to ensure that those teachers who wish to enter the ‘red’ zone are themselves aware of the implications of poor practice, privacy and the nature of public comment. We need to create guidelines and resources that model and reflect this through school leadership channels.

Students in a grade 3 class undertake a green project using ‘voicethread’. Parents receive a ‘green publishing’ notice that clearly outlines the scope of work and what happens to it after the project ends – what data is going to be collected, where it will be kept – and how it applies to the assessment.

This would ensure that the teacher is aligning the outcome, the activity and the assessment – and is fully aware of its ongoing ‘reasonable use’. Consideration must be given to who owns the data’– and how in the future the students will have access to it (if at all). Parents understand how the school is managing their child’s digital footprint – and the student understands how to behave and approach the work in context.

We cannot today, simply ask parents for ‘blanket’ permission notes or rely on IT-Centric Network Policy to ‘cover’ ourselves. We need to rethink, and re-design the ‘classification’ (and associated technologies) – using simple systems – that clearly communicate how we are protecting and respecting the rights of the child.


2 thoughts on “Permission Publishing with Students

  1. The interesting thing about permission forms is the more you use them the less effective they become. I would argue that requiring a separate parental permission form for each project is an unnecessary burden that teachers (hopefully not all) would use as an excuse to just avoid web based projects all together. One well written broad policy in the handbook should cover the permissions and a policy in the teacher handbook should cover the teacher side.

    But then again writing these documents is an undertaking of mammoth proportion. Administrators, IT staff, and teachers often view the safety issue from different ends. Administrators fear being sued, IT guys just want the network up, and teachers feel handcuffed by the stupidity of some filtering choices.

    • I kind of see as being more like a set of ‘licenses’ that people might use; a little like creative commons. Teachers would select from policy; so more select the appropriate from a template. These things should be provided for at the outset of the course; ensuring that the curriculum (and technology used) is aligned and measured. As we give student’s their ‘log ins’, then parents could be given a report on the technologies and ‘levels’ of digital exposure up front. This would then be centrally driven and supported by leadership – and may well be a way to finally engage them (and policy) with 21st Century Pedagogy. I am not sure teachers are qualified to write legal disclaimers.

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