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Thursday
Jun232016

Library ethics for non-librarians - Statement VI

ALA Library Code of Ethics Statement VI: We do not advance private interests at the expense of library users, colleagues, or our employing institutions.

In a school setting, I can’t say that I’ve had much chance to violate this sixth standard. I’ve never been offered a huge sum of cash or an exotic vacation in exchange for purchasing a grossly inferior encyclopedia instead of the World Book. Probably just as well.

Does accepting vendor purchased meals at conferences, adding vacation days to out-of-town conferences, or working on professional organization duties during school time violate this ethical standard? These infractions seem to be small potatoes in a world of political “contributions” and school boards being wined-and-dined in luxurious settings by big technology companies. My own conscience is not troubled doing any of these things in moderation. With one big exception: taking any form of gift from companies who supply E-rateable services or equipment should be absolutely refused regardless of type or value.

Regardless of the amount of discretionary funds at our disposal, we do have an ethical obligation to practice open service and equipment procurement practices, accurate curriculum mapping, review-driven material selection practices, and detailed budgeting. When budgets are tight, the selection of resources for their specific value to students and the educational program becomes even more critical. Convenience, charm of salespersons, or the lure of that free calendar simply should not enter into the choice of one product over another. I am genuinely distressed by seeing long rows of gourmet cookbooks on the shelve of an elementary school library. And those were ordered for whom?

A combination of new and expensive technologies, modest pay in the teaching profession, and a national spirit of entrepreneurship has created an environment in which some educators, including librarians, may be tempted to use school resources for personal gain. Establishing a website for a personal business on the school server, using school email to close a deal, or using computer equipment to do non-school or projects for pay certainly qualify as advancing “private interests at the expense of … our employing institutions.” We need to carefully separate the time, equipment and supplies we use as school employees from those we use for any private business or non-school volunteer activities we may undertake.

Our time is also a resource. Ethically we are bound to use the time we are at work in the service of our school, our staff and our students. We need to conscientiously eliminate what Steven Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People would identify as Quadrant III or Quadrant IV activities toward Quadrant II activities: those that are not urgent, but are important such as long-term planning, relationship building, and communications. We need to differentiate between our professional duties and those technical and clerical duties.

Most of us work in tax-supported institutions and have the obligation not just to be wise and honest in our expenditure of public funds, but avoid the appearance of any wrong-doing as well.

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Wednesday
Jun222016

Library ethics for non-librarians - Statement V

ALA Library Code of Ethics Statement V: We treat co-workers and other colleagues with respect, fairness and good faith, and advocate conditions of employment that safeguard the rights and welfare of all employees of our institutions.

The introduction of technology into our libraries and schools has given an interesting twist to our collegial relationships. We as librarians have one role that has grown in importance, staff trainer, and another that has grown in complexity, staff watchdog.

As among the first adults in schools to make productive use of technologies, our role that Information Power described as “Instructional Partner” has increased in importance. For many librarians, we are expected to teach not just students, but staff members the productive uses of technology. We have a responsibility to our co-workers to teach safe and ethical technology use along with simple “how-to’s” – just like with our students. Protecting one’s privacy, guarding one’s property, and stressing the safe use of technologies, especially the Internet, is now one of the most important ways we “safeguard the rights and welfare of all employees of our institutions.” Sharing our expertise in the ethical use of information and technology is how we treat other educators with “respect, fairness, and good faith.”

It has always been a part of our job to help ensure legal technology use by both staff and students in our district, not just through training, but by monitoring as well. This is not a task most of us would choose for ourselves, but one that is thrust upon us because of the resources we control. Being asked by a staff member to make unauthorized copies of print and digital materials, to load software on more workstations than for which the licenses permit, or to set up a showing of a DVD that falls outside of public performance parameters is not an uncommon experience. In these cases, most of us have learned to quietly, politely and firmly just say “no” and explain how such an action violates not only the law, but our personal and professional ethical codes. A gentle reminder of how our own attitudes and examples as educators toward intellectual property set a powerful example for our students is also usually in order.

I would advise anyone not in an administrative role - librarian or technology integration specialist - to think of themselves not as a cop, but counselor in all legal matters. We can advise, inform, and report, but we cannot and should not attempt to regulate the behaviors of fellow professionals. This is the obligation of the school administrator. If one believes an illegal or unethical action was committed by another educator, inform the supervisor in writing and keep a copy of the notification of concern.

At some point, our knowledge of the violation of copyright or materials licensing by a colleague may become so egregious that we need to inform an administrator of the problem. We have an ethical duty to do so despite the uncomfortable position in which it places us. No district can guarantee that its staff is in perfect legal compliance with copyright, but a district and all of its employees do have the obligation to exercise due diligence in enforcing copyright laws by establishing policies, training staff, and taking disciplinary action when infractions are known. Large fines are given to districts that make no attempt or implicitly encourage copyright violation. Actions or inactions that lead to scarce school dollars spent on fines rather than student resources are unethical indeed.

Most schools’ Acceptable Use Policies also forbid the use of school resources for non-school uses. But more often than not, it may be best to turn a blind eye to personal use unless it is blatantly inappropriate and public. We need to strictly prohibit the use or distribution of pornography or any image that coworkers might regard as creating a hostile work environment.

The librarian should not tolerate harassment or entrepreneurship conducted using school networks by anyone.

But we do need to recognize that teachers email their kids in college, explore possible vacation destinations, or place an online order to Land’s End now and again. We need to recognize that these folks are professionals and that lessons will be planned and homework graded whether at school during a prep time or at the kitchen table after supper. It’s the nature of professionals. And professionals need to be accorded professional respect.

So why not take the hard line approach to enforcing a school AUP? It has everything to do with climate. Unless it affects job performance, personal Internet use makes the school a more enjoyable place to work. Teachers have enough stress in their lives. A little humor lessens the stress, makes for a happier teacher, and this is a good thing. After all, would you want your child with an unhappy teacher?

We can’t throw out the rules. We have a professional, legal and ethical responsibility to help enforce board adopted policies. We cannot tolerate Internet use in schools that involves harassment, encourages malingering, or supports a personal business.

But we can and should recognize that schools are comprised of human beings. And we need to do everything we can to make school a respectful, people-friendly place for both staff and students.

Tuesday
Jun212016

Library ethics for non-librarians - Statement IV

ALA Library Code of Ethics Statement IV: We recognize and respect intellectual property rights.

It’s hard to remember, but intellectual property theft existed prior to electronic cutting and pasting, peer-to-peer music sharing services, and free term paper sites. It’s just that the speed, availability, and ease with which property can be copied have all led to greater instances of piracy, plagiarism, and even disdain for copyright laws.

The librarian has an ethical responsibility to help students understand that property is a two-sided issue: they need to respect the property of others as well as protect their own property from the abuses of others. Students need to know about the unethical practices of others and how to protect themselves from those practices. Students need to know that their own original work is protected by copyright laws and that they have a right to give or not give permission for others to use it. Students need to know that passwords must be kept confidential to prevent the unauthorized access to a student’s data, as well as to help insure a student’s privacy.

Work by the advocated for CreativeCommons has increased awareness of the rights, especially fair use rights, of the users of copyrighted materials as well. Teachers and students need to know how they can use copyrighted materials for educational purposes - legally. Creators of original materials also need to know that CreativeCommons licenses can be assigned one's work that allows for less restrictive use by others.

But the major challenge for the librarian is still helping teachers stem the tide of plagiarism washing through our schools that has been exacerbated by new technologies. One study reports that more than half of those high school students surveyed acknowledged downloading a paper from the Internet or copying text without proper attribution.

While we need to acknowledge this is a serious problem, too much effort is being expended by teachers and librarians trying to “catch” plagiarism in student work. Using various web services such as Turnitin.comTM  and techniques using search engines to determine if or how much of student writing is lifted from online sources is a primary means of addressing plagiarism issue.

Ethically, we need to spend the greatest share of our time in preventing plagiarism before it happens. And this can and should be done in a number of ways:

  • By teaching:
    • what plagiarism is
    • when and why to paraphrase
    • when using another’s words is appropriate
    • how to cite all formats of sources
  • By having a school or district-wide “cheating” policy that includes the definition and consequences for plagiarism
  • By creating “assignments worth doing”

Our time as educators is best spent in creating assignments that minimize the likelihood of plagiarism. Rather than making assignments that can be easily plagiarized and then contriving methods for detecting or reducing copying, we should be spending our time with teachers planning projects that require original, thoughtful research. Some attributes of research assignments that authentically reduce the likelihood of plagiarism include:

  1. They have a clarity of educational purpose readily shared with and understood by the student.
  2. The students themselves have a choice of research topic or research emphasis.
  3. They are related to topics relevant to students’ lives and experiences or to the community in which the students live.
  4. The results of the research may be shared in a narrative rather than expository style of writing style, and the results include observations about the research process as well as the research conclusions.
  5. They stress higher level thinking skills of application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation and promote creative solutions to problems
  6. The research answers real questions or helps solve genuine problems.
  7. The completion of the information seeking project requires a variety of information finding activities including primary research for a complete response.
  8. Research units include “hands-on” activities such as using technology to communicate the findings or allowing a multi-sensory approach to communicating the findings.
  9. Projects require cooperation or collaboration by teams of students.
  10. The results of students’ research are shared with an audience beyond the teacher and the classroom.
  11. The projects have clearly stated assessment criteria that are given at the time of the assignment. The criteria address creativity and originality as quality indicators.
  12. The units are structured and monitored in such a way that students are given the opportunity to review, revise, reflect, and improve on the product throughout the research process.

We need to acknowledge that when students plagiarize, they are not just violating the ethical principles of intellectual property, but they also are not learning the skills needed to successfully solve problems and answer questions. If those critical skills are not taught and practiced, the librarian may have violated an even greater professional ethic.

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