I’ve been thinking quite a bit about AUP’s lately. Our school district is at the very beginning stages of reviewing its current AUP and I am happy that that process is beginning. Like many school districts around the country, our current AUP is outdated, was designed prior to the web2.0 explosion and its noble purpose was to protect our students. We are however, at a time and place where we need to rethink its effectiveness and question whether it is hindering or helping our ability to adequately educate our students. Which brings me to how I started this entry, I’ve been think quite about about AUP’s lately.
Karl Fisch recently wrote about this. In his June 22nd post, he wrote about his school’s current protocol of using the first initial and last name to identify student work on the web. He noted that with all of the information available about students, especially high school students, in newspapers, television reports, a student’s current presence on the web, then it isn’t too hard to determine the student’s full name and identity. Then he added this…
But the reason for this post is that this got me thinking again about the whole idea of a student’s digital footprint. I talk a lot about how we should be discussing this idea with students and that whatever they publish – whether on a blog or a wiki or Facebook or MySpace or Twitter or. . . [fill in your favorite site here] – that it very likely will be able to be found later by a potential college, employer or spouse. I also talk about how we shouldn’t just be talking to students about not putting potentially compromising stuff out there, but that they should also be building a positive digital footprint, so that when they are Googled – and they will be – that folks will find really good stuff about them, that they should think of this as part of their digital resume/portfolio.
But if that’s a reasonable thing for them to be doing, then isn’t a policy of first name last initial (or especially the unidentifiable display names) actually counterproductive? Shouldn’t we instead be asking our students to use their full names to build their B-D (Birth-Death) digital footprint/resume/portfolio? I’ve long argued when talking about Internet filters that we should educate our students on how to be safe, ethical and effective users of the Internet instead of blocking everything, but now I recognize that I’ve completely blown it in this area.
In addition to being incredibly introspective, Fisch’s greater point about teaching our students how to build their digital footprint triggered my thinking on this. I questioned, if we think that our students will need to know how to collaborate in a digital world, should we not take on the responsibility of teaching them how to instead of allowing them to learn through their own devices? I think back to the late 1950’s and 1960’s and the space race. Due to Russia’s success with Sputnik and America’s belief that it was behind their nemesis in their area, an emphasis was placed on teaching math and science to students. A need was identified and we responded. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, schools began teaching health education, including educating adolescents about the relative dangers of sex, drugs and alcohol (okay I played off this for the title). This change was partly due to the proliferation of these activities (and increase in sexually transmitted diseases, drug abuse, and later drunk driving fatalities) in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Again, we identified a need and responded to it. Fast forward to 2009. Do we not have a need? The world is flattening. There is a need. What is our response? At this point, it is to block and leave our kids to figure it out on their own. That is irresponsible. We didn’t do it with Math and Sciences or Health Education, so why are we doing it now?
At our PLP Bootcamp in Philadelphia earlier this month, Will Richardson shared his concern that his children would not be “googleable”. He wrote about this concern in a November 2008 article in Education Leadership:
As the geeky father of a 9-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter, one of my worst fears as they grow older is that they won’t be Googled well. Not that they won’t be able to use Google well, mind you, but that when a certain someone (read: admissions officer, employer, potential mate) enters “Tess Richardson” into the search line of the browser, what comes up will be less than impressive. That a quick surf through the top five hits will fail to astound with examples of her creativity, collaborative skills, and change-the-world work. Or, even worse, that no links about her will come up at all. I mean, what might “Your search did not match any documents” imply?
Well, my kids probably think I’m geeky, so if being geeky results in them being collaborative, networked digital citizens, I’m okay with that. Ultimately, however they, along with 5,500 other students attend schools within the district which I work, so I know that our current AUP will not serve their needs, thus the need to change.