Classroom Technology

Publishing Student Work While Respecting Privacy

A few weeks ago I read this post on student blogging and it left me wondering...

I am all about publishing student work. To write something for an audience larger than the teacher or classmates. What a great opportunity for them to get real time and real world feedback. I am also all about respecting others wishes to not have their picture posted online. (As far as school, I’m referring to photos of students celebrating or them learning in action – not selfies, because I’m not sure there’s ever a need for those kind of school tweets.) Yet it wasn’t until I read this piece where teens shared their take on publishing or not publishing their work online that it dawned on me…there really isn’t a difference. Respect is respect – be it a photo or piece of work. And sometimes a piece of work feels even more personal.

If we are asking for students to respect the wishes of others when posting information/photos online, it’s important that we model that as adults. Yes, as a parent, I love seeing what is happening in the classroom or on a fieldtrip. It does give me a better understanding, which in turn deepens the conversations we hold (far beyond the short 1-2 sentences summing up the day) at home.

So now maybe I’m in this bubble and you all have already considered this in your classroom or school – but I’m curious, how do you handle a student wishing to opt-out of publishing their work? Do you tell students and their families in advance that their work will be published online and give them an opt-out option? Or do you cross that bridge as you get to it, if someone were to refuse or question? Where do you draw the line? Is it ok for a student to opt-out simply because they don’t feel the need to have their work publicly displayed? At our school, we have a publicity refusal form that all parents receive at the beginning of the school year for pictures – but nothing covering their work. When I asked my children and other students their thoughts, none of them objected to the idea of their work being published – but said that if after a student was given the details, they still wanted to opt-out, they hoped, and felt a teacher should, respect their wishes and not publish the work.

I think there is validity to using real names online (at least part of one's name), as it holds people a tad more accountable for their actions – but a screen name can provide a little more comfort and anonymity. When you post student work, are they using their real name? Is it public or only for students and their parents to read?

This is a real discussion that every classroom needs to have, with students AND their families. It is a question I will ask from here on…for my information and to share with other parents. It is a conversation that needs to happen with admin and staff about what is acceptable and not, and how to handle everything from the notice, to opting out, to feedback. Just as we do with photos and social media, we need to inform and be transparent. Without knowing the pros, cons and safety precautions being taken, it would be far easier to choose not to have one's work published, but we should make decisions that are in our best interest based on knowledge, not fear.

In the end, this really reaffirmed my belief that the sharing in school should be focused on the learning and not the individuals. That we can share the great things happening and provide a window into the learning happening without seeing or knowing the specific children. Pictures can be taken from behind, work posted without names. Students still see responses and feedback, yet aren’t completely exposed, and parents can still get a glimpse of the learning happening.

I'm curious, what other ways do you protect student privacy while giving them the experience of real world feedback?

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we've preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer's own.