The Ethics of Anonymity

Before you read this, understand that I am neither a lawyer nor a philosopher, and the information here should not be construed as expert. Weigh it on its own merit. I’m just someone who likes to think about stuff.

AnonymistI got up early this morning to respond to a comment I received many days ago, replying to my September 26 article, Code of Information Ethics. The author wrote:

I’m wondering about the last point: Be Accountable. Does this imply that blogs shouldn’t be anonymous? So many of the educational blogs I read are written under pseudonyms, obviously to hide the identities of teachers who don’t feel like they can voice their opinions otherwise. It seems that it would be more tempting for a person to shirk the first three points of the SPJ Code of Ethics if they knew they could not be identified. Just something that has been on my mind as my school faces two lawsuits stemming from teachers’ (unrecorded) in-class comments, while I write a (very printable) blog with my name on it.

Coincidentally, the one e-mail that I read during a brief scan of what was pouring in from 7:00 PM last night, was a report from Andy Carvin on the Delaware Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday, that anonymity should be protected. Carvin goes on to report in the WWWEDU posting that…

(the court) determined that the statements in question weren’t construed as defamation because online forums and blogs are less credible than online content posted by mainstream media outlets.

You can read Andy Carvin’s (his real name) complete analysis of the ruling in his recent blog article Online Anonymity at the Expense of Blog Credibility?

I fully understand the author who questioned the place of anonymity within the context of the Student & Teacher Information Code of Ethics, which was adapted from the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. To consider this question, I think that we’re going to have to do something that we’re going to have to do a lot of in the coming years — think about things differently.

Several days ago, I was delivering a workshop on contemporary literacy. At the end of one of the discussions, someone asked, “Does this mean the end of expertise?” I suggested that the new information environment may not mean the end of expertise, but it may mean the end of credentialed expertise (with obvious exceptions).

First of all, we receive credentials and diplomas based on containers of information. We read the right books, attend the right lectures, write the right papers, and are evaluated by the right experts, who have read the right… and we become credentialed experts. Increasingly, though, so much of the information is out there for the taking, flowing independent of containers, that people can make themselves an expert on their own efforts to research, reflect, share, and respond — and serve.

Admittedly, the world is a whole lot more complicated by exceptions than I imply. But my point is that it is in our interest to pay much more attention to the information, and concern ourselves less with its authorship. In a time of rapid change, the best ideas and solutions may not wait for people who have followed the maze of containers, but from the free thinker who has mined the free flow of information, reflected, shared, and responded.

All this is to say that having the documented name of the author is not as important as the reader’s responsibility to weight the information’s value in terms of the goals we are trying to accomplish and within the context of a code of ethics (is the information true, reliable, harmful, etc.). We are responsible for our actions, and our actions are increasingly based on the information that we use. It is the readers responsibility to assure that the information they act on is true, and the degree of responsibility is in direct relation to the consequences of the action.

As teachers, it is our responsibility to turn all of this into common sense. But common sense is rarely intrinsic. It is common sense not to aim a bow with a notched arrow at other people. But that common sense comes from a knowledge of the killing power of a bow and arrow. We must teach our students the power that information carries to build and to destroy, so that it becomes their common sense to:

  • Seek out information that can be relied on, not just that which agrees with our own world view
  • Always ask questions about the answers that we find
  • Be responsible for our actions and the information that drives our actions
  • Love and protect the truth

Finally, we do not have the luxury of perfect freedom. We, here in the U.S., have a Bill of Rights. But we live in a time when many would weaken this aspect of our constitution. In addition, the Bill of Rights protects us from government action, not from those who have economic power over us, our employers. So as long as we must struggle in our efforts toward enlightened self fulfillment, then we should have to the right do so anonymously, so long as we do so responsibly.

Reflections from the Road

I have spent a good part of the last few weeks on the road working with educators from eastern North Carolina, to several locations in New Hampshire, to Texas, and back to NC. Each of these events has been extended workshops, rather than short addresses or presentations at conferences. As a result, they have been an opportunity for me to learn from teachers about their world of the classroom, and their insights about teaching in a time when information and communication are changing so rapidly.

Here are just a few reflections on what I am learning.

First of all, I am both reminded and surprised at the amount and consistency of frustration that teachers and administrators across the country are experiencing with high stakes testing. They see many elements of NCLB as barriers to their personal goals as educators and their vision of the profession.

It is important to note that these are teachers and administrators who have selected themselves to attend workshops called “Integrating Contemporary Literacy into the Curriculum”, “Blogs, Wikis, & Web 2.0”, and “The Three-Ts of Teaching in the 21st Century”. But I ask you, are these the educators you would want for your children, or the ones who remain in their classrooms working hard to assure rising test scores. Still, the extent of their frustration and their willingness to express their frustration surprised me.

Another thing that has given me pause to think came out of a recent set of workshops I facilitated on Video Production. As part of the workshop, I asked the participants — elementary school teachers, in an extraordinarily technology-rich school — to interview each other with video cameras. They were asked to pretend that they were teachers in the year 2015, and to talk about how the job has changed since back in the year 2005. Almost without exception, the teachers described schooling as something where learning happens independent of the teacher — literally and geographically. The teacher works in Utah, for example, while students can be all across the nation.

Now I know these teachers, and I know that given more than 2 minutes for such an interview, their vision would extend far beyond notions of distance learning for 4th graders. Yet it disturbs me a bit, as an old school teacher with admittedly romantic notions of what teachers and students do, that all of this technology is leading people to think of education as something that involves plugging in. I personally do not think that this is where formal education is going, though certainly a large part of life-long learning will be virtual, in all its degrees.

But teaching children involves adults leading them by the hand into their future, fully aware of the the tools and times that we live in, and availing ourselves of all the opportunities and responsibilities.

I recently heard a quote that I’ve taken to heart. Ray Kurzweil said…

I am an inventor.
As an inventor, I am interested in long term trends.
Because an invention must make sense in the world in which it is finished,
not the world in which it is started.

Winston Salem

Code of Information Ethics

I’m sitting in my hotel room in New Hampshire, trying to get ready for a week of workshops and an address to ed tech leaders here on Wednesday night. But I can’t seem to switch off e-mail and I just received my three-times-a-day news alert from a local radio station in Raleigh. One of the two “Top News” stories of the hour (9:00 AM) is:

Evacuees Stuck In Traffic As They Try To Return Home
People who were caught in traffic jams evacuating Houston before Hurricane Rita are in heavy traffic this morning as many of them return to the city.

Surprise? OK, it’s all a terrible thing, to live with hurricanes, tornados, winter blizzards, and we’ve just watched a city be destroyed by a storm that we’ve been waiting for for years. But to what degree does a journalism industry stir up controversy.

Now I’m not ranting here, because filling our increasing appetite for news, news, news, is a challenge. But I suspect that this whole issue would be worthy of some discussion in blogging classrooms. Students, who blog, in many ways, are becoming journalists. They are taking what they learn or observe, reflecting on it, and then reporting their impressions. What are the ethical considerations as we empower students to cast their thoughts out on a world of readers?

I would direct you to the Code of Ethics for the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). There are four major sections:

  1. Seek Truth and Report It
  2. Minimize Harm
  3. Act Independently
  4. Be Accountable

This document may make an excellent focus for discussion. You might also take a look at the Student and Teachers Information Code of Ethics, which is part of Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century, and adapted, with permission, from SPJ’s code. This document, which is in MSWord format, is designed as a springboard for schools and classrooms to use to fashion their own information code.

Now I’ve GOT to get back to work.

Might we be Starting to Keep Up

Last week, I took the opportunity of working in the Columbus area to meet with the publishers of my book, Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century, Linworth Publishing. The night before our meetings, several of us had dinner at a very nice restaurant, and during the conversation got into a discussion of blogging, RSS, and podcasting (SURPRISE).

The next day, Donna King, one of the Linworth people, came in talking about having told her teenage son about what she had learned about blogging and podcasting, and that he at first said, “Mom, this is kinda strange, you telling me something about technology that I didn’t know.” She continued to talk about these ideas, and finally he said, “Stop! Stop! I can’t take this any more!”

Might we come to a time when there is no more digital divide between the techno-young and techless old? I think so. When we, as adults, working in an industry (and world) that is changing rapidly, master the digital literacy skills to become true self-learners (life-long learners), then we may be able to keep up. When we have to wait for staff development, then we languish behind.

Pretty weird coming from a staff developer.

Interviewed on Talk Radio

Last night I had a wholly unique experience. I was interviewed at a talk radio station, one with a giant picture of Rush Limbaugh on the wall. The show was called Viewpoints, and the first sentence was, “Why should we be bringing technology into our classrooms, when our kids aren’t learning the basics?” But by the third sentence, it was clear that everyone was on the same page, in terms of preparing our children for their future. It was an entirely enjoyable experience.

I did end out with a note pad of points that I wanted to insert into the conversation, but never got around to. 50 minutes can go by really fast.

  1. Kids don’t really need us to be getting experience with technology. They’re getting that on their own. They are learning to play the technology. They need us to help them learn to work the technology.
  2. “The future is here. It’s just unevenly distributed.” William Gibson
  3. The challenge with overwhelming information is not, how do I manage all of this information?” The challenge is “How do I get my message through the storm of all of this information?”
  4. In the entire day of staff development, here in Carteret County, we almost never used the term technology. It was always information, communication, processing, analyzing, expressing ideas, broadcasting. Technology was in the conversation, but no more than we would mention words like pencil or paper.

2¢ worth.

My Blogworld as a Social Cell

Sitting here in the Charlotte Airport, a conversation from the Duke CE Roundtable returned to me, as I plan for this week’s presentations about the Read/Write Web. Again, most of the attendees of that event were corporate educators with a handful of higher ed folks and me. Several of the corporate folks were struggling with ways of using technology to provide professional development, and someone said, “These people will not join one more portal!”

At this statement, it suddenly occured to me an important difference between between the traditional web (can’t help but smile at that)
and web2.0. Online communities, as powerful as they are for facilitating collaboration and knowledge building, suffer one important limitation. They have borders. Portals are often designed as closed environments with walls that prevent outsiders from coming in. Even the original collaborative tool, the mailing list (listserv), is a closed environment in that there is a gatekeeper who has to let you in, even if it is a software-based subscription.

The Blogsphere does not have this limitation. As we write and read blogs, subscribe via RSS to the blogs we want to pay attention to, read and respond to their postings, and have our postings and comments responded to, what forms is a social cell of idea exchange and building and personality sharing. Factor in the social bookmarks, and news feeds, and we find ourselves in side of a rich social community of people who have similar interests, or interests and perspectives that we find valuable to our goals.

Significantly different from portals and mailing lists is the fact that that cell forms almost organically. Back in December 2005, I subscribed (my first use of RSS) to three webloggers — people who I knew could help me to understand this new information environment. They talked about the ideas of other bloggers, with links to their sites, and I added new people to my aggregator. After a while some of them dropped of, and others were added as they got mentioned in my readings. My aggregator does not merely grow, it undulates ;-). It gets larger then it shrinks. It intersects with other peoples cells for a while as their ideas help me do my job, and then we disconnect, and my cell heads out into other directions.

Right now, it is fairly small, because I have so little time to read. But when I get a couple of these programming jobs out of the way, I have two or three topics that I will go to Technorati with, find people who are talking about them, and then grow my network — and learn.

Bottom line is that my online network is now organic. It evolves as my needs change, and how I process the ideas inside of my cell, affects other people and how their cells evolve.

Does this make any sense?

More on Leaking Schools

I keep relapsing into old topics, pulling reader comments to the surface. I’m simply amazed at what others have to say, both in support and opposition to my positions. It’s the nature of the great conversation, and if change is happening five years from now, it will be because we were talking about it today.

A teacher in Downers Grove (Downers Grove Summit) commented on one of my recent articles, Our Schools are Leaking. He says…

I see the same things you observe. Students are more “connected” than ever. Still, I had an email yesterday from a counselor here at DGS (site of this summer’s tech summit) in which she explained that one of her students was extremely worried about not having access to a computer at home, and that the student was considering dropping my chemistry class because of it.

Shock horror! I require my students to view and use my class website daily!

The greater majority of my students value and use my blackboard (c) powered website. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have the extra mode of communication with my students and their parents.

I do worry a bit about those without the tools and access at home, yet I still require the use of technology here at DGS because it is so readily available here in classrooms, computer labs, library etc. I think I would be short sighted if I didn’t require the use of technology.

I agree that we owe it to our children and their future (as well as our future) to integrate the use of digital networked information into the learning activities of your students. But this doesn’t solve the problems of students who do not have convenient access to the tools they need to properly engage in those learning activities.

I would suggest that you (the school) explore ways to get a computer and Net access into the hands of that student. But this is not to say that this is a school problem. It isn’t. It’s a national problem. During most of that student’s life, virtually all of the information that he or she needs on a daily basis, will be networked and digital. Anyone who does not have access to digital and networked technology and the skills to use those tools, may as well not know how to read. We’ve decided that every child should know how to read. For the same reason, we should be making sure that every child has access to information and communication technologies.

The commenter continued…

The world of technology is changing. The types of work and types of careers that will be available to my students in their lives after school are becoming more and more technology based. I submit, that any and all students need to be given access to technology, and further, should be required to learn how to use it effectively and appropriately. Ultimately, any other course of action greatly limits their options in the future.

A few months ago, I was talking with the principal of my son’s high school. I was shocked to learn, after a rather lengthy conversation, that the school no longer offers auto shop. They can’t afford it. Auto Shop was a staple of my high school experience. I didn’t take it, but I lot of kids did, and there is no smaller need for automobile mechanics today, than there was in the 1960s. What else are we going to drop, because we can’t afford it, and what price will our future pay?

Extra Credit

I just want to double-click on something that John Pederson wrote in a comment on yesterday’s 2¢ Worth, Technology & Information. He says that…

We need to get beyond “Integration of technology” and just start using it. We are only hurting ourselves when we talk about technology like it’s extra credit.

You’re a man of powerfully few words, John!

Information-Rich Classroom

1975 ClassroomI received an e-mail yesterday from an educator in Charlotte, NC, where I spoke to district principals this summer (the stockcar theme was great fun). I thought that I would pose my response as a blog entry and invite others to chime in.

(obligatory kindnesses) …You were the first person I thought of when I was faced with an enormous task. Our school may have the opportunity to build a new technology/science/media building. I have been asked to come up with rooms that would support current and future technology. My question to you is, what would your “Dream” classroom look like?? Smartboards, elph camera’s, SmartTV’s, mounted projectors??? I just don’t know where to begin!~!

You can imagine that this is candy to me. First of all, as you might have attended one of my presentations, my focus is on the information, not on the technology. This means that your students must have access to a broad range of networked digital information, both personally, and as a group. You too, must have this access. You both must have the ability to share with the rest of the class (not to mention the world) this information, and derivatives of the information produced by you or the students. You must be able to also collect analog information from the “real” world and digitize it for use with digital processing and display tools. It’s about access, using, and communicating information in an increasingly networked and digital world.

With all that said, you might check out the New Century School House project, where teachers have been describing their ideal classrooms for years.

Anyway, here is my technology shopping list for a single classroom:

  • permanently mounted projector and interactive display board. (you might consider wireless projectors, but I do not know much about them).
  • Notebook computer for each student and one for the teacher. At some point these will be TabletPCs, but I’m not sure if they have evolved enough yet
  • Electrical outlets such that all students can have powered notebook computers at their desks
  • Reliable hi-speed, wireless access to the school’s network and the Internet. Internet access should employ filters that can be circumvented by the teacher
  • A box of low-end still digital cameras, one for every two students
  • One high-end (5 Megapixel) still digital camera
  • A flatbed scanner
  • Two digital video cameras
  • Three mid-level microphones compatible with the student and teacher notebooks
  • Class management software (Blackboard, WebCT, Moodle)
  • Logically organized network storage for student work that is accessible from outside the classroom
  • Software facility for class publishing (blogware, podcasting, web publishing)
  • Full range of productivity software (word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, image editing, video and audio production

Additions? or Comments?

The Long Tail: a 3rd & 4th Perspective

Both Tim Wilson and Will Richardson have commented on the Long Tail in recent days, each expressing a different perspective. Tim states (in Jargon watch: The Long Tail) that… (1st perspective)

…there are a lot of great thinkers out there blogging and working in the long tail. If you restrict your students to using a traditional textbook they will never find the gems out there in the tail where so many fresh perspectives and new ideas can be found. We don’t need to wait for information to show up in dead tree form anymore. This blog is great example of the long tail.

Will offers a more cautious view (read The Long Tail Problem in K-12 in full), and I snip viciously here. (2nd perspective)

If we are going to help teachers see blogs as “research safe,” we’re going to have to give them some tools by which to assess those blogs. Right now, I would teach teachers and students that they should

  • try to find out who the blogger is….
  • find out who is linking to the site…
  • spend some time reading a range of posts…
  • spend some time looking at the comments…

I want to offer two more perspectives. Although I agree whole heartedly with Wills cautions (see also Terry Freedman’s recent post on Evaluating Information) and equally with Tim’s enthusiasm over the growth of content and perspective, it seems to me that there are two levels of value here (3rd perspective). There is, and always will be, value in well founded and supported facts, information, and knowledge. Some problems, only the “truth” will solve.

However, in a time of rapid change, sometimes the test of trial and time are too slow. Often, the best ideas are going to come from thinkers who lack the perspective, credential, and backing that we would logically like to see. Yet the ideas, coming in from a backdoor (the basement, or upstairs window) is just what’s going to help us solve this brand new problem.

So I would urge teachers to pay attention to enthusiasts’ conversations in the blogosphere, and selectively expose their students to these ideas. Then ask the students to research the idea and its context and try to provide their own grounding as a knowledge building project.

Another angle (4th perspective), and the one that I most often approach the Long Tail from in my presentations is that this is a new market. That long tail represents information products that there were no buyers for five years ago. But with todays expanding digital bazaar, people, who could never write a best seller, produce a blockbuster film, nor perform a hit album (oops, CD), are now making at least part of their living buy producing information. This sort of cottage level information industry may play an important part in our students future, meaning that communication becomes much more than just a basic literacy skill.

Just 2¢ worth!