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EdTech Update





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.


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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Library ethics for non-librarians - Statement III

ALA Library Code of Ethics Statement III: We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.

Privacy issues are a hot-button topic as citizens become more aware of how easily technology can gather, hold and analyze personal data and how increasingly their own online activities can be monitored. As a society, we are weighing our individual need for privacy against our need for security and convenience. Schools reflect the societal concerns and the librarian is often placed in an advisory or even decision-making position regarding privacy issues.

State and national laws are specific about the confidentiality of some forms of student information, including grades, health, and attendance records. Laws for 48 states and the District of Columbia that address the confidentiality of library records can be found on ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom website. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a Federal law that addresses student educational privacy rights. School board policies address student privacy rights and these policies should be in compliance with federal and state laws.

While the librarian needs to be aware of the general laws and board policies regarding student data privacy issues, the ethical choices we must make about giving student library usage information may fall outside the parameters of legally or policy defined “education records.” Circulation records, Internet use logs, and other professional observations generally do not fit the description of an “education record.” State laws referring to library records may not be interpreted as applicable to school library records. (Please remember, I am not a lawyer although I sometimes play one on the Internet.)

Adding complexity to ethical choices that must be made in interpreting the general statement about a library patron’s right to privacy, minors have traditionally been accorded fewer privacy rights than adults. To what extent do we as educators reveal the information-seeking and reading habits of an individual student to other adults who have a custodial responsibility for the well being of that student? Do I let a child’s parent, teacher, or school counselor know if one of my students has been accessing “how-to” suicide materials on the web? Do I give information to an authority on a child’s Internet use if it appears that the authority is just on a “fishing trip” with little probable cause for needing this data?

There are often legitimate pedagogical reasons to share with a child’s teachers information about that child’s library resource use. Is the child selecting reading materials at a level that allows that child to practice his or her reading skills? Is the child using the online resources to complete a classroom assignment? Who should have access to the records accomanying online reading program and collections?

While most of us can agree that violating the privacy of our students for our own convenience (displaying overdue lists that link student names with specific materials on the library bulletin board, school website, or sending such information to parents directly) or blindly supplying information about student reading or browsing habits to any adult who requests such information is unethical, finer guidelines need to be established if we are to act ethically in the broader context of student and school welfare.

I would suggest we ask ourselves as librarians when making decisions about student privacy issues:

  • What are my school’s policies and state and federal laws regarding the confidentiality of student information? Have I consulted with and can I expect support from my administration regarding decisions I make regarding student privacy? Is there recourse to the school’s legal counsel regarding difficult or contentious issues?
  • What is the legitimate custodial responsibility of the person or group asking for information about a student?
  • How accurately and specifically can I provide that information?
  • By providing such information is there a reasonable chance the information may prevent some harm to either the individual or to others in the school or community?
  • Is there a legitimate pedagogical reason to share student information with a teacher? Am I sharing information about materials that students are using for curricular purposes or for personal use?
  • Have I clearly stated to my students what the library guidelines are on the release of personal information? If the computers in the library are or can be remotely monitored, is there a clear statement of that fact readily posted?
  • If student activity on a computer is logged, are students aware of this record, how long the log is kept, how the log may be used, and by whom?

As librarians, we of course need to help students be aware of technology issues related to privacy both so that they can protect their own privacy and honor the privacy of others. Students need to understand that businesses and organizations use information to market products, and that information is often gathered electronically, both overtly and covertly. Students need to know that a stranger is a stranger, whether met on the playground or on the Internet and that personal information shared with a stranger may put themselves and their families at risk. Students need to know that schools have the right to search their files when created and stored on school owned computer hardware. Students need to be taught to respect the privacy of others: that because information is displayed on a computer screen doesn’t make it public; that information inadvertently left accessible does not mean that it is appropriate to access it.

We need to help the school set good guidelines. Helen Adam’s (2002) booklet The Internet Invasion: Is Privacy at Risk lists six specific school topics related to privacy, and the librarian should understand the privacy issues surrounding each and be able to help make good school policy related to them:

  1. Addressing Privacy in an Acceptable Use Policy
  2. Privacy Policies or Statements on District Websites
  3. Identifying Students on District Websites
  4. Making Student Records Available Electronically
  5. Conducting Market Research on Students
  6. Students Providing Personal Information About Themselves

As Adams reminds us, “This is one of the gray areas for thinking individuals to ponder.”

See also the recently released: Library Privacy Guidelines for Students in K-12 Schools, ALA 4/2/2016