Recently, one of my year 13 students wrote an argument on the merits of anonymity on the web. Initially, I thought it was a naïve idea to think that you could achieve true anonymity when our dealings on the web leave a digital footprint’; however, it was I who was naïve, as it is ‘easy to achieve a high level of anonymity or pseudonymity’, which is indeed difficult to trace (MOE, 2015). This caused me pause for thought. We know that people make hateful and morally reprehensible comments because they feel that anonymity gives them immunity to the consequences. Some don’t even feel the need to hide behind a pseudonym – the lack of face-to face interaction is enough for them to behave with impunity, and they have a variety of digital tools they can use.
Yet my student articulated the merits of anonymity, some of which are echoed by Andrew Lewman, in an article in the Guardian newspaper where he said that being anonymous on the web is ‘increasingly important’ as it gives people ‘control’ allowing them to be ‘creative’ and figure out their ‘identity and explore what they want to do’ without it being ‘tied to their real name for perpetuity’ (Krotoski, 2012). This does seem a compelling argument in the face of the growing trend for employers to search potential employee social media tracks in lieu of references. (I’m sure there’s an ethical dilemma in that too). Conversely, in the same article, Krotoski argues that the new trend is for ‘authentic identity’ as people want to know and trust who they are communicating with. So, if we are to reduce anti-social behaviour and nurture trust, at the same time as creativity, we need to teach our students how to use digital technology responsibly. We need to teach digital citizenship.
The Code of Ethics for Certificated Teachers states that ‘families and whanau and the wider community trust us to guide their children and young people on their learning journey and keep them safe’. It also says, ‘upholding the expectations set out in the code is the responsibility of each, and every one of us’. Digital literacy is a component of our curriculum and with it digital citizenship.
What are we to do all things considered? (Hall, 2001). If we want our students to feel empowered and safe, we need to give them the knowledge and tools to help themselves. We can teach them about cyber risk and help build their resiliency by allowing them to ‘merge their prior knowledge with technical skill’ and develop strategies. We also need to actively promote ‘pro-social behaviours’ to break down the ‘school community’s bystander culture’ (MOE, 2015) Each of us has a moral responsibility to do this.
How? Some suggestions include creating, ‘Acceptable Use Agreements & Consent Forms which are revisited throughout the year’, (MOE, 2015). Consent forms are easily forgotten and I would argue that it adds an unnecessary administrative burden if it is to be ‘regularly revisited throughout the year’. Another suggestion is that we could implement digital citizenship as part of the curriculum and include students, parents and whanau in the discussion. This is a far more engaging idea and one that can be sustained, especially if it is supported by teacher collaboration and good quality Professional Development. We are implementing Digital Literacy as part of our junior curriculum from next year. Having dedicated teachers to deliver this will help the rest of us to do our bit in the classroom; but we must do our bit.
Unlike my student, I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of hiding behind a mask of anonymity, but then, I haven’t been brought up in an environment where it is easy to do that. I see it as a dilemma, he doesn’t. As a teacher, I need to respect his viewpoint and find a way of helping him to be a safe and responsible digital citizen.
By Tracy Simpson
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity Aleks Krotoski, April 2012.
MOE Netsafe 2015
Education Council. (n.d). The Education Council Code of Ethics for Certificated Teachers. Retrieved from https://educationcouncil.org.nz/content/code-of-et…
Hall, A. (2001). What ought I to do, all things considered? An approach to the exploration of ethical problems by teachers. Paper presented at the IIPE Conference, Brisbane. Retrieved from http://www.educationalleaders.govt.nz/Culture/Developing-leaders/What-Ought-I-to-Do-All-Things-Considered-An-Approach-to-the-Exploration-of-Ethical-Problems-by-Teachers