students at computer

Part Two: Give Me a Picture Sharing Site

This post is based on REAL conversations between myself, local law enforcement and technology directors. These discussions took place over time and with a variety of people.

When our local sheriff’s department took a stance against unblocking Picasa in educational settings recently I expressed to the technology coordinator in my geographically closest school district the importance of opening at least one such site. He didn’t get it. Arguments ensued.

First argument: Students will fall victim to predators. Yes, pedophiles lurk in picture sharing sites. They are there whether we’re teaching students to use these sites or not. Let me reiterate: they are there whether we are teaching students to use these sites or not. If I can save even one child from abuse through education about avoiding victimization unblocking picture sharing sites is worth it. My argument is education may be the only way to save children from becoming prey. Yes, we will still lose some battles but there will be far fewer victims when we are truly teaching students about the dangers and how to recognize when they are being groomed.

Second argument: When students use “sex” as a search term they get inappropriate pictures. Duh. That is all. I might come back to this one.

students at iPad

Lewis Elementary School Students via lewiselementary on Flickr

Third argument: There are many other ways to teach digital citizenship. With myriad ways to teach students about using content on the Internet responsibly, picture sharing sites embody the best way to teach some things. Including collaborative media sites allows us to comprehensively teach students important things about responsible use of photos, video and other artwork. There are a number of technology skills we are required to teach students. Proficiency is expected by the end of eighth grade so as to capitalize on these skills in high school. To name a few where Picasa is an obvious fit:

  • Create original works as a means of personal or group expression
  • interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media
  • communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats
  • develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners or other cultures
  • contribute project teams to produce original works or solve problems
  • advocate  and practice safe, legal, and responsible use of information and technology
  • select and use applications effectively and productively

There are also a number of other Oregon state and Common Core standards that can be met through the use of Picasa. Picasa has been known to aid in teaching concepts to ELL students because of its visual nature. Students can publish drawings and other media, even their own written work through Picasa. Studies prove performance and student buy-in increase when they publish broadly versus within only the four walls of the classroom. However, through a Google Apps domain we possess the capability to keep sharing to a minimum until students are taught proper safety and digital citizenship.


picasa logo

Google Picasa

Fourth argument: Google will delete any account for students under the age of 14. Um, no. The terms of service at Picasa, Flickr and other picture sharing sites ask that children have a parent’s permission to create an account as per the Children Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA). Admittedly, there is a lot of confusion over the federal COPPA law. However, you’ll find clarity on the FCC’s website through part one of this blog post. Oregon’s contract with Google states that we’ll have permission forms on file for ALL students (even those over 13). This has pushed districts in our state to do local education around the use of online tools in education which is not only great for access, but also a good community builder. Discussions around shifts in educational resources with parents, board members, even local businesses and non-profits has only been good for education here. We still have a long way to go.

Fifth argument: Kids will go home and access inappropriate pictures. We can’t control what kids do at home. And we can’t use COPPA’s cousin, CIPA as an excuse to block websites unless students are connecting at school. The Children’s Internet Protection Act applies ONLY to connections for which school districts receive eRate money. If students access Picasa through their school account at home its the parents’ responsibility to monitor Internet usage. This is a great educational piece for parents and all the more reason to open the conversation. The fact is, on an unfiltered Internet connection with no parental supervision, Picasa is one of the more tame sites to which children will have access. It is both the job of the educational system and the local police department to help parents with this. To block children from the usefulness of Picnik/Picasa would be a sad sacrifice both in discussion and students as contributors on the Web. Use of Picasa can also foster a conversation about how kids can avoid victimization. This verbiage and subsequent curricular planning should be addressed in writing and appropriate for each grade level.

students at computer

Students Learning and Sharing by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on Flickr

Let’s revisit that second argument, as absurd as it is. We should use caution when giving kids access to Picasa just as when we give them access to ANY tool online. Schools have content filtering in place and usually a strict policy about how and why students access the Internet. The rules help students and staff effectively access the great stuff on the web and help educators and human resource departments (and sometimes law enforcement) dole out consequences when there is a breach of policy. I am a teacher and it offends me when law enforcement officials and technology directors feel they can tell me how to educate children and deem which resources are appropriate for teaching the skills and knowledge required for today’s world. It is a technology department’s job to give us safe, secure connections to online tools while maintaining the integrity of the network. My job is classroom management. There is no grey area here. When I ask for access, you find the safest most secure way to give it to me without question. Period.

The opportunity for teaching skills within and way beyond the regular curriculum far outweighs the dangers. In fact, I still take the stance that children will be much safer given access **including education** to and around these tools than if we simply block them. We are doing children a grave disservice if we don’t teach them to effectively navigate these online resources. Effective navigation includes avoiding inappropriate images. If these tools are blocked, we lose this teaching opportunity entirely. Let me remind you there are no accidents. The goal is to have students find exactly what they are looking for. When they do, I know it and there are always consequences for their behavior. Sometimes, said consequences are pleasant and sometimes they are very, very, very unpleasant. Have you every been in a lab full of children? There are no secrets. If a student accesses an inappropriate site, the teacher knows within a second.

There are thousands of sites where people can share media and license it according to their purpose. Some of these sites are useful for teaching certain required concepts because of their capabilities or the way in which they are formatted. In Oregon, it makes the most sense to open (at least) Picasa since we have a statewide agreement to provide districts with Google Apps for Education. Sensibility comes when we turn on this service through our districts and teach students to make full use of it. There is no expectation of privacy as this is made clear through education and permission slips between school and home. When there is a question about usage on the part of a staff member or student, the district maintains the right to access the content within any account. I’m not saying this because districts need to be punitive. The district’s right to access the content within any account can foster conversations about digital citizenship, information literacy and other types of responsibilities stemming from broad Internet use. Education is the key.

Schools around the world have Picasa OPEN. This isn’t innovation. Use of this tool isn’t new, it’s become a basic part of many curricula around the globe. Stop arguing and start acting. For crumb’s sake, let me do my job.

With all of that said, here are a few ideas for using picture sharing sites in your school or classroom:

  • Use open-licensed images as building blocks for multimedia presentations and conversations about copyright.
  • Have students collaborate with others in different locations on albums about historical events, science concepts, or local civics. Students can build collaborative presentations using Google Docs.
  • Upload pictures of your classroom and tag parts of each photo with words for the objects in the photos. This is a great activity for emerging readers and writers and English language learners.
  • Use Picnik to overlay a limerick, haiku or other piece of writing over a student-generated photo or artwork; this would be a fun activity with literary devices that can be represented visually
  • Share albums for sporting or other school events. Allow others to upload photos to each event album. Use these pictures for newsletters and the yearbook.
  • Have students keep a collection of pictures related to a current event or other topic. They can create their own art related to the topic based on the photos they collect.
  • Teachers can get ideas for arts and crafts based on the photos they find in Picasa.
  • Use pictures to teach good composition and basic design principles.

Corin Richards

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