Debate 4: Responsibility Returns

Topic 7: Educators and schools have a responsibility to help their students develop a digital footprint

What did our debaters think?

If not you, then who?

The Agree Side

  • Students and families need support in navigating the digital world.
  • Teachers have a duty to protect their students, and the distinction between the real world and the online world has blurred.
  • Citizenship is integral to many curricula, digital citizenship is merely an extension of this.
  • It is critical that students learn how to manage their online persona, control the amount of information they share, and observe digital etiquette.

It ain’t me, it ain’t me…

The Disagree Side

  • Parents undermine the efforts of teachers by posting photos of their children without the child’s input or consent.
  • Teachers are not adequately trained or prepared to manage students’ digital footprints.
  • Digital release forms produced by school divisions are difficult for many families to comprehend.
  • This issue is a societal one and requires cooperation from business, lawmakers, and families. It can not be solely left to classroom instructors.

My Thoughts on the Topic:

What you post is permanent. Once you post it you no longer control it. It will follow you for the rest of your life.

This sounds like a tagline to a horror movie. It is true though, and our students most likely have no idea how far back their trail of digital breadcrumbs goes (in fact most adults have no idea how much of their personal information is out there). What was hilarious today may not be funny 15 years from now. As Tammy Sisk and Richard Stegman observed students need to be taught how to behave online lest they get denied entrance to university, or passed over for a job due to their online activity. Learning to manage your online identity and footprint might just be, in my opinion, one of the most critical skills that young people can learn.

But, I also don’t believe the responsibility of teaching about it falls solely on teachers.

As Kim pointed out placing the burden on schools and teachers is reactive rather than proactive. As Nicole Kobie argued parents post hundreds of photos of their children online with little thought, consideration, or consent from the child. How can teachers be expected to manage the digital footprint of a child that has been established for years prior to them entering the school system? School divisions are no better flooding social media with images of students participating in sports, clubs, and activities (which are subsequently tagged by friends, parents, and relatives). Corporations are harvesting the personal data of minors, and yet we are quick to blame teachers for not protecting students. Are the companies that profit from gathering this data not culpable?

As some of my peers pointed out in the debate chat room the legality of large tech companies taking our data is not in question. They are not stealing our television from our house if we open the door and invite them in to do it. However I would argue that end user license agreements are written in legal terminology that the average adult would struggle to understand (let alone a child). Can a 12 year old really understand the terms and conditions of a website or social media platform? Our laws in Canada have not kept pace with the realities of data harvesting and desperately need to be revised. The appetite from government to regulate tech giants seems lacking though. I wonder why?

Topic 8: Online education is detrimental to the social and academic development of children

What did our debaters think?

Kill it, kill it with fire!

The Agree Side

  • Online education can magnify existing socio-economic inequalities.
  • The online environment makes it easier for students to disappear, or “slip through the cracks”.
  • Increased screen time is associated with with a variety of adverse effects.
  • Practical and applied arts, physical education, and fine arts do not translate well to online instruction.
  • Socialization suffers with online only teaching.
  • Brick and mortar schools offer a variety of services like school lunch programs that are only effective in person.

Everybody calm down…

The Disagree Side

  • Online education offers a high degree of flexibility not possible in traditional schools.
  • Courses may be taken from anywhere in the world, benefitting students who move frequently.
  • Students with ongoing health issues need alternatives like online courses to participate in education.
  • There are huge potential cost savings by delivering certain classes online.

My Thoughts on the Topic:

I think an important distinction needs to be made between emergency remote teaching (ERT) and online courses that were designed and intended to be taught that way. As Misirili and Ergulec (2021) state, “Emergency remote teaching was formed in response to the the pandemic. The situation was different from the well-planned traditional method [of] online learning as it was unexpected and unprecedented for teachers, students, and parents.” I don’t think is is a fair comparison to cite our experiences in a crisis as reasons for discounting online learning. As our debaters noted ERT tried to emulate face to face teaching with often mixed results. Online courses, when designed for that expressed purpose, leverage the strengths of their platforms to deliver content in a way that regular courses cannot. This includes a high degree of flexibility. Online course offerings allow students to learn at their own pace and at the time of their choosing. The industrial school model has remained relatively unchanged in the last 100 years. If we insist that each student is unique with his or her own strengths and weaknesses then why do we insist that they all file into rooms and sit in desks? Why do they have to learn between the hours of 9:00am and 3:30pm? As Philip Jackson noted in his paper “The Daily Grind” the educational experience of millions of students is formed by a series of largely arbitrary routines and decisions that are deeply consequential, but given little thought.

This is not to say that online courses don’t have disadvantages. I see them more as a supplemental opportunity, and not a replacement for traditional schools. There is something to be said for the social interaction that occurs during in person learning. Can this be replicated online, I would say no, but I have to keep in mind that my personal bias (having not grown up a digital native) may be coming into play. It was pointed out during our discussion that early childhood development depends heavily on play, which admittedly is not easily replicated online. Screen time is another valid concern as it has been linked with depression, anxiety, and negative health outcomes.

I think Camille Forte put it well when she observed a South Carolina school’s approach to online learning, “Fairfield says it’s doing several things to make the virtual learning system last, including an application process to select the students who are best suited to remote learning; a strong emphasis on live classes taught by district teachers; and allowing virtual students to still have access to in-person sports, after-school activities, and hands-on vocational courses.” Simply put online courses are not for everyone, but those that do benefit deserve an education just as much as any other student.

2 thoughts on “Debate 4: Responsibility Returns

  1. Hello Matt,
    Thank you for sharing a great posts on digital footprint and online education. I also don’t believe that the responsibility of teaching digital footprint falls solely on teachers but I believe that teachers and schools can help or assist their students to take an active role in the digital world, by educating them about the risks and responsibilities that come with utilizing technology. Building on their knowledge and providing guidance on how to maintain a positive internet profile can go a long way toward assisting children in shaping their future. On the other hand, we all know that as the overlap of the traditional and online modes of education is becoming more and more inevitable. We must learn to live with both modes of leaning in this digital world.

  2. Great post, and summary of the debate! I agree that a significant portion of online learning is best viewed as a supplement as opposed to the full meal deal. I appreciate you pointing out the potential bias that all of us likely have, growing up in in-person school, but in this situation, I am inclined to stick with my bias and suggest that the social interaction that accompanies in-person learning is of great importance, especially in the formative years.
    I also think it is paramount to push back against tech companies and others as they push to encroach on the education space, and as they look for new markets.

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