Online Learning – Questions Answered

Well… It wasn’t suppose to happen quite like this, but Online Learning is going to be a significant part of the learning landscape for the next little while because of the Covid19 pandemic. There has been lots of resistance over the years from teachers that feel online learning undermines the profession, but now that it is the only way to reach our students, it has now become necessary like it or not.

As we try to migrate (in a HUGE rush) to using online learning tools, the decision on what tools to use comes down to two main things, Student Privacy and Teacher Safety. We need to ensure that nothing a student does is accessible to anyone outside of the school district and secondly we need to ensure that teachers are not putting themselves at risk by providing a digital learning experience that cannot be controlled or monitored for appropriate use. The safest way to look at any digital resource and ensure that you are doing what is “right”, is to ask yourself, “Has this approved by my school district?” If the answer is “No!”, don’t use it. If you are not sure, inquire. If you would like to use it, ask your district to put it through their vetting process to ensure it is appropriate to use.

Although the above is pretty straight forward, I still get “What about this…?” questions all the time, so I will go over some of the most frequent questions I have gotten and am getting now as we venture into this uncharted territory. Keep in mind, my answers to these questions may not be universal, so if in doubt, check with your administrator.

Can I use my Google Drive?

No! Do not use your personal Google drive or any other cloud drive (Drop Box, One Drive or other). These personal drives are super handy and I have my own personal account with Google Drive, One Drive and Drop Box, but I do not use any of them for teaching. The reason for this is that these drives get scraped for data about the user and once that data is scraped you essentially lose control of what gets done with it. We don’t want student information being scraped full stop.

Why is using the school district Google Drive OK?

Using the google drive your school district has assigned to you is fine because… They assigned it to you to use. With Google Apps For Education or GAFE, student data is protected behind what Google refers to as the Vault. Student files are not available to Google’s data scraping algorithms and therefore student information is not harvested. Your school district has done all the legwork to set up the GAFE ecosystem, so you can use it without worrying about your student data.

Can I receive completed assignments by email?

Yes, you can collect student assignments by email as long as you are using your school district email account. All communication between you and your students, their parents or their guardians should be done using your school email account. Personal accounts can put student data at risk AND puts the teacher at risk if some communication between you and a student or parent goes sideways.

Can I create a Facebook group to communicate with my class?

No no and no. Do not use Facebook as a platform for conducting your class. Nothing about using Facebook groups meets privacy or safety requirements of an online learning environment.

Can I share folders within the GAFE environment with my students?

Yes and No. If you are working in a GAFE environment you shouldn’t need to share folders. Create an assignment and let the Google Classroom manage the assignments and folders. If you start sending out folder links to students it is onerous to manage AND once you send that link to a student, you risk losing control of what goes in it and who has access to it.

Can I create a website for my students to access their lessons?

Yes you can create a website to post your lessons on BUT… Do do not require student to log to access them and do not provide a chat or comment feature on which kids, parents or strangers can communicate. If anyone wants to communicate with you, provide your school district email address. If you are interested, Weebly is super easy to set up.

Can I use my twitter account to communicate with kids?

Yes and No. Technically there is nothing wrong with pushing information out to kids and parents via twitter, just don’t follow kids or parents back. My advice is to only use it as a means to broadcast information. Twitter should not be used for two way communication.

Can I require a student to create an account for a resource I want them to use?

No, you may not unless it is a resource that your school district has approved for student use. There are grey areas around this issue, but they are complex and convoluted and it is best to steer clear. I you think it is a fantastic resource, get your school district to approve it.

Can I video conference with my students?

This one is different district to district so check with your administration, but common sense and caution should steer you away from video conferencing with students. Just think about it this way. Do you really want to see the inside of your students bedrooms? Remember there is no unseeing what happens on the other end of that video feed. Sure 95% of the time nothing bad will happen, but do you want to be part of the 5%?

As you go forth and venture into the online learning space, simply ask yourself two questions

  1. Is my students’ data/information at risk?
  2. Am I putting myself at risk?

If either of these two questions come with a yes or even a maybe, take a pass.

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