Legal and ethical contexts in my digital practice

Health Education teachers are fortunate to be immersed in “ethics”, the thinking behind behaviour and the situations where behaviour and ethics diverge.

The real-world examples from around the world can now be investigated digitally, allowing up-to-date information from a wide variety of current sources to be accessed. The digital technological tidal wave has created the potential to obtain relevant information by individual students and the learning environment that permits students to individually choose topics that suit their own interest level.

The old restricted educational environment was one in which the teacher would provide the resources for investigation (paper material) for only one topic. The empowerment of student choice together with the breadth of material available digitally means students are better able to understand the diverse ethical landscape of their ethical dilemma. The substrate of inquiry is thus depicted in a way that permits the shades of illumination to be beyond black and white comprehension.

That said, the ethical dilemma I faced as a Health Education teacher is around the area of disclosure from a student to a staff member which is done in confidential manner. Health teachers are often the subject of many student disclosures of a sensitive nature. This is due to three levels of influence: the personal real-world context of the subject matter in Health Education (HE), the student perception of the HE teacher as approachable and the open and trust-promoting class environment a good HE teacher would establish.

The specifics of the dilemma this blog will investigate was a student disclosure that occurred via a personal journal on OneNote, a digital medium which has both a collaboration space and a private student area (usually used for assessments) that only the student and teacher can see.

The disclosure highlighted levels of self-harming that was escalating toward the possibility of suicide.
(Stuff, 2016)

The dilemma involved the violation of a trusting relationship between myself and my student (who had been told that student journals were totally confidential). It is an interesting idiosyncrasy of digital communication that users are known to publish information of a highly sensitive nature – more than they would if they had communicated the information verbally. (States News Service, 2013). This student’s journal entries are examples of this digital tendency.

As a result of this disclosure I sought advice from the guidance team at school and quickly referred the student to their service. The referral was personalised by my accompanying the student to the session and then exiting after the greetings and before more sensitive information was communicated. Using this strategy, the students accessed care and support, the appropriate skilled consultation could occur and the teacher-student relationship was not tarnished.

I arranged a Health Meeting to allow a forum where we could discuss this issue and be informed by our guidance experts as the best ways to respond to this ethical dilemma.


The resource below was shared with all Health Educators as a health enhancing strategy that responded to one of the pluralistic problematic contexts that Hall (2013) alludes to. The ethical dilemma of betraying confidentiality plus the cultural influence of silence on this issue (Stuff, 2016) were subservient to the basic human rights (WHO, 1986), the legal provision of a safe educational environment (TKI,2017). This pedagogical extension to this ethical dilemma (the staff meeting and resource sharing) promotes the personal safety – In loco parentis- for all students, (see screenshot).


Marcus Swain


Hall (2013).

World Health Organization (1986). The Ottawa Charter.

Stuff, (2016).

TKI (2017)

States News Service. (Mar. 5, 2013):



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