Social media in B.C. higher education

I’ve been exploring the issues around using social media in education and, there are days, like today, when I wonder if the benefits really outweigh the risks.

I’ve began exploring the use of social media in education when I was working at a small northern college with innovative teachers and a limited edtech budget. At first we were like kids in a candy store; we loved the options for collaborative document construction (like Writely which later got swallowed and regurgitated as GoogleDocs), for social photo sharing on Flickr, for online drawing and mindmapping options. But then 9/11 happened and the Patriot Act and we started to become a lot more cautious. Then the college embraced federal privacy laws to protect student privacy and the issues became increasingly complex.

As I’ve begun to teach online in B.C., I’ve talked to B.C. educators who have concerns about the B.C. Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy regulations (which some call the most stringent in Canada). Many of the teachers I’ve spoken to believe that social media is part of reality for their students and that it is an important tool they want to use. So preventing them from using cloud-based tools can seem as though it’s putting hobbles on teaching that limit their ability to engage their students and improve the learning that takes place within institutions.

Provincially, BCCampus has been working with educational institutions to explore their legal obligations and the possibilities for addressing the push towards using these powerful web-based or app-based tools, recognizing that these free or low-cost services are commercial ventures that exist to harvest the online proclivities of their users. A thorough consideration of the issues was released in 2011  Background-Paper-Privacy-and-Ed-Tech T. Klassen (you can review the conference proceedings here – Various workshops and in-depth discussions have taken place with the most recent being a workshop session during the ETUG Fall Unconference. I haven’t heard the outcome of that one yet but hopefully we’ll see some further ideas to help teachers work within the boundaries but still be free to explore new ways of teaching and learning.

So what are the educational institutions in B.C. doing to help their teachers? Some limit their support to ensuring that teachers know the risks of abrogating legal obligations under FIPPA, and under related copyright legislation. Some, like Royal Roads University on Vancouver Island, take a more pro-active approach and have set up a campus-wide policy on obtaining informed consent from students to enable rich resources to be integrated into the learning activities offered in various classes. They’ve organized a Cloud-based Learning Tools Notification site that explains the permissions students are asked to give and ensures that teachers provide learning options to any student who wants to opt out of using cloud-based learning tools.

But, I’m not sure it’s as simple as obtaining “informed” consent from students and ensuring that teachers learn to design alternative learning activities for students who opt out. Is is reasonable to assume that teachers (or any of us?) can keep up with the constantly morphing terms of use and privacy protections that are part of the cloud-based services? And, I’ve yet to see a detailed consideration of the negative impact of time wasted floundering through unexpected twists in learning each new tool (and how they work changes fairly often too). I’ve stopped using some of my favourite tools because I discovered they were trying to encourage (force?) me into paid services by limiting something I thought would be a no-brainer – such as being able to delete something I’d created.

But the final reason I have been feeling less enthusiastic about the benefits of free cloud-based services is because of a recent article in Wired magazine “The Laborers Who Keep Dicpics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed” – did you read it? Turns out our love of socializing on the internet has spawned an international distributed ghetto of workers who suffer hours and hours of watching porn or filtering hateful content and messages so that we’ll interact and collaborate in a positive online environment. Sigh! Talk about unintended consequences.



About Cloudsyl

Now a mid-Island observer of the Cloud
This entry was posted in NewDirections, Social Media, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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