The OCT Advisory – my view

On Monday April 11th, the long awaited press release of the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) electronic communication and social media advisory was released. I was attending the OCT live presentation on Tuesday in Toronto, and viewed the advisory print document and watched the video to be well informed for the session.

My initial impression of the print document was that it was a well written, solid framework to guide educators into this new territory. I was very impressed with the video production as it captured a positive spirit for leveraging these new tools within our education system. I did feel that some additional clarification was required in the area of Facebook use, and planned my comments and questions for the live session.

It was interesting to watch the press and media take on the documents and follow the reactions via Twitter. As one would expect, reaction varied widely, tending towards the ‘too cautious’ end of the scale. Tuesday morning, I was able to have a conversation with Chris Vollum, an excellent speaker who has significant experience presenting social media sessions to school and parent audiences across the province and at many WRDSB schools. Chris, who was interviewed as part of the video, had a positive reaction and felt the overall message was positive. I also had a good phone discussion with Jane Mitchinson who has provided extensive leadership in technology and social media use within our Board.

The session was well organized, with the agenda organized as: presentation, table discussion and Q&A.  I captured some of the important highlights and shared them on Twitter:

  • Opening remarks: OK to use social media in responsibly and ethically — key factors: care, trust, integrity and respect
  • The intent of the advisory is to clarify responsibilities while capitalizing on the potential of these tools
  • Social media tools can be appropriate, useful and powerful
  • OCT: ‘off duty’ use of social media tools matters – what does appropriate use look like?
  • Online behavior by teachers should reflect the same professional ethics as used in the school setting
  • Private vs. Professional: onus on members, off duty conduct matters, exercise caution, act professionally at all times
  • The internet is part of a teacher’s off duty realm
  • Any online presence should respect professional integrity, even in the somewhat less formal social media environment
  • Reviewing some examples of professional misconduct -I note that these examples would be inappropriate online or offline
  • Teachers: model good behavior, advocate proper use (digital citizenship) be courteous and professional at all times
  • Facebook – caution re ‘friending’ – but no distinguishing of friend=contact, it is all about the security and privacy settings – education!!
  • My comment: follow the Grandma rule— if you don’t want your Grandma to find out, don’t put it on Facebook
  • You can’t judge social media from outside
  • Board hosted email should be used for communications with parents (not personal email addresses)

The table discussions were interesting. We were given 4 scenario questions to consider. All were great questions  with pros and cons and certainly generated excellent discussion around the different viewpoints — risk factor(s), legal implications, empathy, professional approach.

In some ways, I enjoyed the Q&A best. Many good questions were asked, and gave further indication that there are multiple factors to consider in almost all situations. I did take the opportunity to raise a few points during the discussion:

  • Digital citizenship and character development programs are essential for teachers and students
  • Staff and students need authentic experiences with social media tools in a real world context
  • Your digital footprint represents your online presence – how google-able are you?
  • Your digital legacy is your digital reputation – how will other perceive you and remember you?
  • Social media tools offer many opportunities for connecting, collaborating and sharing – embrace & capitalize
I did ask specific clarification around the ‘teachers should not friend students’ point.  In the Facebook environment, a ‘friend’ is a contact. How any 2 contacts interact is dependent on security and privacy settings, and the relationship — a professional context suitable to the educational environment.  I sited examples where teachers might ‘friend’ students, but have suitably locked down profiles and interact with students in a Facebook group setting.  Panel members who addressed my question indicated that there is no issue with this if it is done properly with appropriate settings and professional conduct. We all recognized and acknowledged  the need for people to know, understand and use appropriate settings (Digital Citizenship).
I took the time to meet the panel members after the session. I appreciate the work done on this document, and the importance of the framework established and congratulate the team that worked on the preparation of this document.
What if I could change one thing? – The one thing that I wish could be changed is the manner in which this was handled by the media. They really grabbed a couple of small pieces of information and cast a giant negative spin on things — so much for fact finding and balanced reporting. Unfortunately, this is all some people will remember.
Next steps: Embrace change! Given the great potential of these tools, it is important that those comfortable in leading, continue to learn and share best practices and experiences. Boards and federations need to make sure Digital Citizenship and Character Development programs and other training supports are in place. Pre-service teacher programs should provide a good grounding in Web 2.0 and social media tools. Teachers need to be familiar and comfortable with these tools before using them with students.
Related Links:

OCT Backgrounder
OCT Advisory
OCT Social Media video
Viewpoint: Pipedreams (blog)
Viewpoint: Off the Record (blog)
Viewpoint: The Clever Sheep (blog)
Viewpoint: Jane Mitchinson (blog)
Viewpoint: People for Education
People for Education’s Online Community

~ Mark

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6 thoughts on “The OCT Advisory – my view”

    1. I agree, you gave an excellent summary of the release. In particular, I am glad you brought up the ‘next steps’, especially as it relates to new teachers and preservice programs. Training and awareness of proper use is of the utmost importance. Yes, the unfortunate thing is how the media has portrayed this release – especially when there are already so many parents, community that are not fully aware of what social media is.
      I look forward to attending the OTC information session when it is in Hamilton.

  1. I agree with you Mark that the media (as it seems to like to do) latches on one point and sensationalizes it. Any devices can be used inappropriately–including a piece of paper and pen, but to say that social media and the internet puts students at risk and teachers open to attack is over simplifying the risks of the technology. Society has evolved to view these tools as essential and/or convenient. If we are worried about inappropriate communication, maybe teachers calling home should be nixed–you never know if you’re having your conversation taped and edited. If we bow to every potential scenario, how can we teach? Checks and balances are critical to ensure that students are treated in an appropriate manner, but I believe that the internet and social media can help due to its full disclosure capabilities–I read what my colleagues post on FaceBook pages–a much harder feat when behaviour is happening behind closed doors. Are there people–even teachers who act in appropriately? Absolutely, but it didn’t begin with the invention of social media; it has only provided a way for more open communication.

  2. This is a great review. Thanks for your work before hand and your effort in writing it. I was surprised by some people’s reactions. I am glad that the advisory had a tone if caution; what did people expect a technical how to guide? Yours is so good, that I no longer feel the need to write one myself.

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