The world is not always our target audience


I’ve been thinking about privacy and exposure in the context of this ongoing feel-your-way journey of cultivating a digital presence. On a personal level, this does not seem overly complicated. I make my choices and have to live with the consequences. The degree to which I keep myself informed as to my risks and rights in my personal use and application of particular digital tools and platforms is up to me. I can’t easily hold anyone else accountable for the choices I make on my own behalf.

But that’s the catch. My digital engagements (entanglements, perhaps?) by their very nature almost inevitably involve other people: their work, their images, their responses, our shared interactions. If I take a picture with my phone and share it on social media, it is mine; until of course someone else finds another use for it and can choose to credit the source or not. In  most cases, it seems highly unlikely that I would ever learn of any other use unless I pursued a distinct search. If that same image contains another person, then sharing the photo on social media or other open internet platform should only happen if that person has actively consented. (This is based on my fuzzy understanding of model release and use of public domain images. Which is another way to say, “don’t quote me on any of this.”)

Enter, my work in a school. I happen to work in a resource-rich learning environment which means that I and my colleagues and our students have remarkable access to hard- and software to make the most of our digital skills. In my own PE classes I have an iPad and an iPod touch, reliable and generous bandwidth access, a beamer in one space and stereo systems in both teaching spaces. I use Spotify playlists for my classes and can show short playback videos of kids performing various skills and because I can, I now take several pictures of my kids in action.

What happens with all those pictures and video clips? Some are shared with families individually to celebrate a highlight or to document a specific difficulty. Some become resources for our online curriculum archives – providing useful exemplars of successful skill applications. And still others find space on our PE website. Our school has an opt-out policy with regards to use of student images. Families may inform the school if their child’s or children’s pictures may not be used in any school related media, print or online. Unless such a statement is delivered, consent is assumed and images of students may be used in various media. As policies go, this is not uncommon among schools and districts of various sizes.

Not too long ago, privacy expert in the field of education, Bill Fitzgerald (@funnymonkey) raised this question:

And I’ve been thinking about this ever since. In a highly informative post on student directory information he points out that he does not count a school’s website as belonging to social media as they typically receive far less traffic than social media accounts. So our sharing of student images, while available to “the world,” all those images and accompanying words are really designed for our school community to enjoy: students, families, colleagues, alumni and any other interested parties.

So as I become more comfortable with various video and slideshow making tools and posting these to youtube to then share on our website, I want to be sure that my colleague and I are asking ourselves some critical questions.

  • Which story are we telling?
  • How will our students benefit?
  • How will this grow our teaching, expand our repertoire, and/or contribute to the community?

Not every blog post that we put up needs to be broadcast on Twitter or Facebook. But a single photo sent home to a parent celebrating a recent success can make all kinds of difference. Drawing the line between posting for the sake of being seen posting and posting to inform and include is healthy practice in which many more of us could afford to engage.

For our PE website, the world is not our target audience. We’re not out to prove how great our teaching is or how talented our population – rather it is an opportunity to provide parents and colleagues a window into our day-to-day operations with elementary students. And the process has helped me realize how important it is for students to see themselves! So I have promised myself that once I get a slideshow up and running, our first audience needs to be the kids we are featuring. We owe them that much. And, in fact, so much more.

image via

8 thoughts on “The world is not always our target audience

  1. I love that your post explores the fuzzy nature of privacy and sharing. Your question “Which story are we telling/’ struck me, and I would add Whose story are we telling? It reminded me of something that happened when i was working in a university some years ago. The university provided an image database, mainly for marketing reasons but it was also useful to me as a programme leader for presentations at induction. One day, I noticed an image of a researcher colleague walking across campus with his guide dog. I asked him if he knew about it and he said he didn’t and that noone had asked for his permission. He would have given his permission but was a little miffed that they hadn’t asked. I thought what an own goal the uni had scored, taking and using an image of someone who couldn’t see it happening, rather than asking his permission and maybe even celebrating his achievements. And yet, I often used anonymised anecdotes of previous students’ experiences if I thought that would help current students in their learning. It’s complicated 🙂

    1. Indeed, Frances, these topics are fraught from start to finish. Your example highlights this perfectly. Our claims of not knowing any better will not hold water for much longer. As individuals and institutions we have no more excuses for not performing due diligence on what is allowed, what is not allowed and then come up with solutions for navigating all the gray areas that fall in between.
      This stands in direct contrast to what market cheerleaders would have us believe is our due: unlimited convenience – where the responsibility always lies elsewhere, buried deep in pages of unread terms of service. “No worries…”
      As educators, parents, adults in the room, assuming the necessary responsibility may not be what we *feel* like doing but is required of us more than ever as our data dominate the intersections of market and citizenry and we as individuals are at risk to lose far more than due credit for our creative output.

      1. Yes we do have to try and yet we are bound to fail in (hopefully) small ways. What marks us out as ethical and effective is our willingness to admit mistakes and learn from them.
        I think that ‘market cheerleaders’ are definitely the worst at hiding behind ToS but even apparently benign institutions like unis risk hiding behind policies protect the institution rather than its staff or students.
        Marketing can be about portaying ethics, caring, support, etc. but being those things is delivered by people rather than policies.

  2. I am curious why the school website photos and videos wouldn’t be password-protected by default? YouTube videos can be made private and the link shared privately. That kinda thing

    1. Great question, Maha! While I may not answer on behalf of the school, my guess is that is the priority of community convenience over heightened privacy constraints has won out as the default as more and more aspects of online engagement have become common for our school, and for many schools, in fact. It makes me wonder about the degree to which certain online behaviors for educational institutions have developed into norms.
      Which areas of school websites remain password protected? Which schools display the greatest degree of “openness” in their sharing and visibility patterns? What are the patterns among private versus public schools? How are these decisions about sharing, privacy and protection reached in a school community or system?
      In the case of my own school, my impression is that the current community preference is for substantial & wide-ranging access to information about the school and its operations for both current and potential families, alumni and faculty.
      As usual, Maha, your questions make me want to dig deeper and examine this situation even more closely.

  3. Excellent things to consider — I often think of the same thing before I post a picture of anyone (my children in particular) on any personal social media — Did I ask my 7 year old if she wants her picture up? What if eventually, once she understands that platform, she does not? Those pictures are truly never deleted…so just like the issue with using pics in schools, we can only assume that once they are captured by our iPhones, they are always ‘somewhere’ out there……It’s something to strongly consider before posting any images, personal or professional….

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