Part Two: Give Me a Picture Sharing Site

students at computer

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

Part One: COPPA Clarified

teacher with papers

I thought about doing this post in a series of myths. However, there is so much confusion around this United States federal law I thought being straight up about it might be a better strategy.

The Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) was enacted in 2000. It pertains purely to advertisers’ collection of information from children under the age of 13: “This part implements the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, (15 U.S.C. 6501, et seq.,) which prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices in connection with the collection, use, and/or disclosure of personal information from and about children on the Internet. The effective date of this part is April 21, 2000.”

This law does not say children cannot be advertised to. This law does not say sites collecting personal information from students in schools need to be blocked by content filters or educators. Quite simply, COPPA states that advertisers need to have parent permission to access children’s personal information. It also stipulates that school officials can act in place of the parent in giving this permission.

COPPA was written in 1998, leagues of time from today given large shifts in technology. The FTC released proposed revisions to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection (COPPA) Rule on September 15, 2011.  The full text of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, along with the accompanying press announcement, can be found at:

Additional information about the proposal can be found on the Business Center Blog at: Comments may be filed online at: through December 23, 2011. In reading the proposed changes I have found that the law is merely being updated. There are no gross changes in how it operates or the ideas behind why action was taken in the late 1990s.

teacher with papers

Teacher with Papers by Old Shoe Woman on Flickr

In Oregon, we’ve always used the stipulation in COPPA stating that as teachers we can equalize access to resources by acting in place of the parent. Here’s a section from the FTC website:

“COPPA allows teachers to act on behalf of a parent during school activities online, but does not require them to do so. That is, the law does not require teachers to make decisions about the collection of their students’ personal information. Check to see whether your school district has a policy about disclosing student information.”

Federal Trade Commission Seal

Federal Trade Commission Seal

I’ve always trusted that the law was behind me as an educator in this respect and have never once felt like I was personally at risk for acting in place of the parent. That may be naive, but if they want to sue me for something like this I think, “Bring it on”! If I’m proactive with policy, conversations, training and classroom management the chance of problems decreases significantly. I’m quite thankful for COPPA legislation. Since 2000, COPPA has given me a great starting point to talk to audiences about its purpose and the necessity of educating young people about media literacy. As people in the two IT camps (information and instructional) we have been standing behind this law and its cousin, CIPA and using them as an excuse for not giving kids access for far too long.

Corin Richards

To Stream or Not to Stream? That is the Question

viewfinder with slides

Many people immediately saw the benefits of showing only minutes of a whole video with the ease of moving a marker on a slider. Gone are the days of showing too much content because it took such effort to return the tape to exactly the right spot when new kids came in for the same lesson. Now we show the clip and get on with focused content without wasting precious instructional time. If you continue to show entire videos and you’re not teaching a film and lit class, please stop.

In some districts or within some buildings downloading a video and playing it from a USB key or your desktop is much more effective than streaming a video straight from the internet. Part of participating in the online world is realizing what is best for your classroom and also what’s *best for the other people on your network.* Depending on your bandwidth one of these options will best fit your needs.

viewfinder with slides

ViewFinder with Slide DIsk by Kenzie on Flickr

First, you must understand bandwidth. A T1 line and fiber optic cabling are the most common types of connections. Both are actual pipes running underground or on telephone poles. When you are using the internet, packets travel through these pipes. If there are too many packets running back and forth from your school to the proxy servers at your local district building or ESD (where your filters most likely reside) it’ll get crowded (slowing) and collide (dropped connections and other errors).

Downloading a video from an online provider means your pulling it from the internet to your computer or USB key. When you download resources from the internet your computer will use ALL the possible bandwidth at one time. This will take less time than streaming the video but others on your network will notice longer wait times for things like email, internet page loading and assessment. Sometimes connections will drop off altogether. Downloading should be done when there are few people on your school’s network or as you’re planning at home. Most videos are easily transported on a USB key or via online storage.

When you stream a video, you’re using a smaller amount of bandwidth than during a download, but the consumption will last for the length of the video clip. If there isn’t sufficient bandwidth (remember this is dynamic because you are sharing bandwidth with other people in your school or sometimes between buildings) your video will be choppy and/or your sound will not match the picture. While you’re streaming, others may notice longer wait times for anything using the network. Even if you’re seeing the video clearly in your classroom, it doesn’t mean you’re not slowing up others on the network.

It’s difficult to determine the best choice for showing your video. Bandwidth varies from district to district, school to school and even during different times of each day. Unless you have a plethora of bandwidth, planning ahead and downloading your video is probably the best option. You can ask your friendly Information Technology Specialist about the bandwidth available in your district but they probably won’t have an answer for you about whether streaming or downloading is better. Trial and error may be your most effective method of decision. As with all things technology, you should always have a back-up plan.
Down - Moving Average

Tips for Using Video in a Classroom or for Online Learning

Video during your face-to-face or hybrid class can be very useful but the old method of showing a whole video for content purposes is dead (or should be). Sitting kids down with a worksheet and showing them a video has no place in the 21st century classroom.  It’s time to innovate!

  • Use a video clip as an example and then have students create their own. The process of brainstorming, planning content, scripting, casting parts, etc is multidisciplinary and will cement content you’re teaching. Instead of having your students watch videos, have them create different videos and piece them together or present them all as different parts of a whole unit of study.
  • Have students watch a streamed video clip as part of stations. Create a scavenger hunt as a lesson and set up video, documents, games and other activities. As kids visit each station, they are looking for pieces of content and practicing relevant skills. This will also free up your time to work individually with students or in small groups.
  • Have students create a set of questions about a video. Compile the best questions as a formative assessment for students the during the next class period. Kids will think at a higher level about the content in the video and will make it easy for you to see what they got out of it. This is a step closer to student-centered learning.
  • Most online media providers allow students to have accounts. Kids in your classes can use video for research. Of course, the same rules apply for video as with any other resource. They need to cite the source and check their information with other sources for confirmation. While making a point during a speech or with all things persuasive, students can use video to have in impact on their audience just as we do for teaching and learning.

Video in an online class can be important for hitting multiple learning styles and to help students needing to see content in different ways.

  • If you simply jump into a discussion about a longer video in a forum and the content of the video is in no way controversial it’s not likely to lead to any interesting discussion. Instead, have students process streamed content in different ways.
  • They can search your online media provider or YouTube for a follow-up video. Have them tell you what vocabulary from the original video they used in their search. This will help you check their understanding of the content. Create a list of “response videos” as they have on YouTube.
  • If you’re determined to have students discuss the video, put them in small groups. They can discuss the clip or video there but be required to post one collaborative response back to the whole group.
  • Have students team up and create short quizzes using Google Forms or SurveyMonkey based on the content of the video. This will show you how much they remember about the content, forces students to think at a higher level and serves as a formative assessment.

Corin Richards