Thursday, January 26, 2012

Six Ways to Survive Under 13 Guidelines that Threaten Academic Freedom K-6


Is your child's school a digital prison?
Lately I’ve received about an email a day from teachers in my geographical area concerned their district will stop them using Web 2.0 tools that stipulate no one under 13 can register for the site; and frankly, I’m worried for my own children who may soon be attending schools with a serious lack of Web 2.0 tool usage.  The idea of these policies makes me very nervous for the academic freedom of teachers and students. This post is meant to help administrators and teachers understand the “no one under 13” policies and how to comply while avoiding creating digital prison.

The under 13 policies most Web 2.0 tools post are to comply with the FTC’s COPPA rule. COPPA basically says the following: Websites can’t target children, collect information from them, and then market to them without the parent’s permission.

In this case, how can any child under 13 log in and create an Animoto, Voicethread or Google Doc? Why, any child can use almost any Web 2.0 tool with parental permission, of course. Most school districts have a broad statement about Internet usage in the student handbook. Parents sign the agreement giving their permission for students to use the Internet as teachers and administrators deem appropriate and as described in the district’s Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). In addition, COPPA allows . . . schools to act as agents for parents in providing consent for the online collection of students’ personal information within the school context” (COPPA FAQs).

What can my district do to make sure we are complying with the rules of the services we want to use?

1. Check to see if the service you want to use has an education portal. Strangely, many sites whose Terms of Use clearly prohibit users under 13 have education portals providing extensive protection for children. Often, via the education portal, the prohibitive policies are more favorably defined. Voicethread, for example, explains their policy this way, “If you are under the age of 13, you must use an account created by a parent or guardian, and you must have the explicit permission of a parent or guardian to use the Service.” Voicethread has an education portal, and while the service is free, they do sell managed accounts to school districts everywhere; accounts for elementary school children are created by districts via data uploads.

2. Call or email the company and ask them to clarify their policy. As Alan November reports here, companies can revise their policies to prohibit only children under 13 who do not have permission to use the site, which is what they are actually required to do. If the company you're interested in has gone overboard to forbid persons under 13, ask them why. If they don't have a reason, ask them to update their policy.

3. If your district’s student handbook sign-off is not specific enough to make you feel comfortable that parents understand they are giving permission for their students to use Web 2.0 tools in your school or classroom, petition your leadership to add the verbiage. In the meantime, draft a letter to parents explaining why using Web 2.0 creation tools are so important, what you intend to do to keep their students safe, and request their extended permission. Feel free to revise use this template to request parent permission.

4. Mange student accounts yourself so that students cannot be subjected to information gathering. One such technique is called “Gmail Plus One.” It works like this:

    • The teacher creates a gmail account, let’s pretend it’s mrssmith2012@gmail.com
    • In order to create the teacher owned accounts for student use, the teacher uses her own gmail account “plus one,” like so:
mrssmith2012+1@gmail.com
mrssmith2012+2@gmail.com . . . mrssmith2012+25@gmail.com and so on
    • Both Prezi and Animoto accept the “Plus One” addresses.
      • As a side note, I like how Prezi explains allowing folks under 18 to use their service even though the terms of use initially appear to say they cannot. Here’s what they say: “Prezi considers teachers and educators to be guardians for educations licenses.”
      • On another note, Prezi DOES specifically prohibit children under 13 from using the service under any circumstances. BOO, Prezi. (I have contacted Prezi about this issue and await their response. You will receive an update here when I get it.)
        UPDATE:
        David Malpass, Prezi, Jan 29 19:30 (CET):
        "Hi Amy, Any child can use Prezi with the consent of their parent, guardian, or teacher. Please let me know if I can help more. Best, David"


        David Malpass, Jan 29 21:10 (CET):
        "Hi Amy, From the advice of our lawyers we are unable to modify our terms of use. However, any student with the permission is able to use.
        Please let me know if I can help more.
        Best, David"

        ---I expressed to David that until the terms were modified to express this POV on the Prezi site, teachers would still have trouble getting their administrators and parents to unblock the site and/or use it in the classroom.
5. Use services like Wix.com that do not require email confirmation at all. Though, in the case of Wix, perhaps you would choose Weebly, which has an education portal and/or allows SSO through Google Apps.
6. Use Google Apps for Education to create student accounts inside a controlled environment. In this way, you are not providing student information to an outside source and can assure students are not being marketed to. The district acts as the “parent’s agent” and “creates the accounts on their behalf” (COPPA FAQs).

It is important to understand that districts, schools, and teachers cannot be fined or convicted for failing to comply with COPPA. Unfortunately, it is often the case that educational institutions in their desire to follow the rules go overboard by making blanket decisions disallowing ALL of one thing or another "just to be safe." COPPA rules apply to website owners and so do the penalties; therefore, unlike CIPA violations, schools cannot lose funding for failing to comply.

If you need help talking to your district leadership about the importance of Web 2.0 tool usage in the elementary school classroom, feel free to contact me using this form.

More information:
-Unmasking the Digital Truth (The BEST resource for this topic)
-Are Kids Under 13 Being Left Out?
-Wikipedia’s COPPA Article
-COPPA FAQ’s from the FTC
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