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EdTech Update





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


Library ethics for non-librarians - Statement II

I find almost everything that Mr. Trump says objectionable. I consider him offensive and bigoted. But he has my full support to come to my country and be offensive and bigoted there. His freedom to speak protects my freedom to call him a bigot. J.K. Rowling

ALA Library Code of Ethics Statement II: We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.

Technology has opened floodgates of information into schools, primarily by way of the Internet. Along with marvelous resources on topics of curricular and personal interest, the flotsam and sewage of the Internet has become readily available as well. Materials and ideas that had been in the past physically inaccessible to students now can be viewed at the click of mouse button.

The potential of student access to unsavory and possibly unsafe materials on the Internet has made the support of intellectual freedom both more challenging and more important. It is difficult to justify a resource that allows the accidental viewing of graphic sexual acts by second-graders searching for information on “beavers” or communications by an anorexic teen with fellow anorexics who encourage the continuation of the disorder. Defending unfiltered Internet access seems quite different from defending The Catcher in Rye.

Yet the concept of intellectual freedom as expressed in both ALA’s “Library Bill of Rights” and “Freedom to Read”  statements is as relevant to information in electronic formats as it is in print:

We trust Americans to recognize propaganda and misinformation, and to make their own decisions about what they read and believe. We do not believe they need the help of censors to assist them in this task.

As expressed in “Access to Resources and Services in the School Library Media Program: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights” 

Although the educational level and program of the school necessarily shapes the resources and services of a school library media program, the principles of the Library Bill of Rights apply equally to all libraries, including school library media programs.

While it must be recognized that preventing access to pornographic or unsafe materials is the reason given by those who advocate restricted access to the Internet in schools, there are political motivations behind such attempts to require blocking and monitoring software as well. The fight for intellectual freedom in schools is more important today than ever.

To a degree, CIPA (the Children’s Internet Protection Act) has taken the decision to use or not use Internet filters out of the hands of local decision makers. Districts who receive federal funding, including E-rate telecommunications discounts, must install and use an Internet filtering device to be in compliance. Yet a strong commitment to intellectual freedom on the part of the librarian is possible even in a filtered environment.

Internet filtering can have a wide range of restrictiveness. Depending on the product, the product’s settings, and the ability to override the filter to permit access to individual sites, filters can either block a high percentage of the Internet resources (specific websites, email, chat rooms, etc.) or a relatively small number of sites, narrowly defined. In our role as proponents of intellectual freedom, we need to strongly advocate for the least restrictive settings and generous use of override lists in our Internet filters. We need to make sure that at least one machine that is completely unblocked is available to the librarian so that questionably blocked sites can be reviewed and immediately accessed by staff and students if found to be useful.
Librarians also have the ethical responsibility to help ensure patrons use the Internet in acceptable ways by:

  • Helping write and enforce the district’s Acceptable Use Policy
  • Developing and teaching the values needed to be self-regulating Internet users
  • Supervising computers with Internet access and making sure all adults who monitor networked computers are knowledgeable about the Internet
  • Educating and informing parents and the public about school Internet uses and issues
  • Creating a learning environment that promotes the use of the Internet for accomplishing resource-based activities to meet curricular objectives

I have to admit that after crusading for nearly six years for filter-free Internet access for my school district and then being forced by CIPA to install a filter, the sun still rises. And in some sense, I believe our schools are more ethically responsible for using a limited filtering system that keeps the little ones from accidentally accessing inappropriate websites. When configured and monitored as accurately as possible, our filter becomes a selection, rather than censorship tool.