Saturday, November 22, 2008

Avoiding Web-Publishing Pitfalls

Words of caution from Maya Payne Smart, excerpts below:

Praise Locally, Criticize Globally
Teachers may be liable for information they publish that is untrue and harms the reputation of organizations or other people. Bud Hunt, instructional technologist for the St. Vrain Valley School District, in Longmont, Colorado, advises teachers to describe positive programs in great detail while leveling criticisms more generically. "If I disagree with something a colleague does, I'm not going to make that fodder for my blog," Hunt says. "I'll address the broader issue without calling him or her out." Hunt cites his fellow educational blogger Doug Johnson, who describes this strategy as "praising locally and criticizing globally."

Fess Up
Hunt also recommends that educators blog using their real names to promote accountability and lessen the likelihood of launching online character assaults. He discloses his name, workplace, title, and other details on his blog but makes it clear that the views expressed on the site are his own and not those of his employer. "The lines between personal and professional lives are changing right now," he says. "It seems that 8 o'clock to 3 o'clock never worked for classroom teachers and, as our digital tendrils stretch into all elements of our lives, it becomes a challenge for folks to figure out where their personal interests begin and their job ends."

Don't "Out" Others
Teachers also may inadvertently break the law by publishing private or personal information about students, colleagues, or others online. This can happen when a teacher mentions private facts such as a student's grades, an administrator's medical or financial condition, or other information that hasn't previously been made public. Similarly, some states prohibit publishing photographs of others without their permission.
The Goochland County Public Schools, in central Virginia, made teacher blogging mandatory in 2005. The district promotes privacy by distributing a permission form each year to obtain parents' consent to publish photos of students. Teachers also take care not to name students, reveal their personal details, or allow others to. For example, when parents submit blog comments along the lines of "Why did Johnny fail the test?" teachers delete the comment before it appears on the site and respond via email to protect the student's privacy.
When teacher publishing is done right, the rewards far outweigh the risks. "All the comments from parents and the community have been very positive," says John Hendron, the Goochland district's supervisor of instructional technology. "They embrace the transparency that the blogs bring to classrooms. They enjoy knowing what's going on." The key is to remember that the Web is a public space, and that you should publish with your audience in mind.

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