Sunday, June 5, 2016

Ethics - Many Shades of Grey

A post for the MindLab course ....

A potential ethical dilemma that interests me is the use of student photos, comments or work on social media forums that teachers use as part of their professional learning networks. These are accounts that teachers using primarily or totally to connect with other teachers around the world with the purpose of improving their teaching practice.

Should teachers be able to use student work, images or comments for this purpose even when students are not identified? Some parents think not. But there is no doubt that this type of sharing and connecting across networks is very powerful PLD for teachers.

Opt out or Opt in policies:
Schools have policies with regard to the use of students' photos in digital media. Some of these are opt in policies where parents or caregivers need to specifically sign to allow their child's photo to be used on the Internet and other schools have opt out policies where as part of the enrollment it is assumed it is permissible to use students' photos unless parents specifically sign that they do not want their child's photo used. As school websites, class blogs and digital newsletters have moved from 'not the norm' to being 'the norm' opt out policies have become more common.

I have been involved with recent examples of a parent accepting use of children's photos on the school website or in the online newsletter but not being happy with the photo being used on a teacher's Twitter account where it was used as an example of sharing practice as part of a professional learning network.

As discussed in 'Ethics of Teaching with Social Media' social media was not designed with classrooms or education in mind, but it has become a valuable tool for teachers to use, both with their students and as part of their professional learning communities. As teachers use this, and may share examples of student work, or student comments on this we are sharing this in a public or semi-public forum. Is this what parents and students anticipate when they give permission for work and photos to be used by the school in publications, including publications on the Internet? For the majority, probably not.

Yet, for the professional development, and connectedness of teachers, to be able to share via social media as part of an authentic context, is powerful in enabling teachers to learn from others and make connections with other teachers outside their immediate 'real' world context. In addition, this enables teachers to connect with other professionals in related fields.

One of the main issues here seems to be one of trust. Parents need to trust that teachers are bound by both their personal/professional code of ethics as well as the Teachers' Council Code of Ethics.

There are four fundamental principles that govern the ethics of teachers:
  • Autonomy - to treat people with rights that are to be honoured and defended
  • Justice - to share power and prevent the abuse of power
  • Responsible care - to do good and minimise harm to others
  • Truth - to be honest with others and self
So considering these it is important that:
  1. Students are able to withdraw consent from having their work used in a public forum;
  2. Teachers take care to share student work that is positive and causes no harm to the students' involved;
  3. Teachers, who have for example a Twitter account they use for professional connections, take responsible care with who they follow and who their followers are;
  4. Teachers need to be explicit on their social media account about their profession and education interests thereby acknowledging the purpose for which they share student material, and
  5. School social media policies are explicit in how student work and photos may be used so there is no confusion, and social media policies should be reviewed frequently as the rate of change in this area is so rapid. 
But even more important I think is teachers, parents and students developing a shared understanding of the power and purpose of digital connectedness and how this can benefit all, within a safe a respectful digital environment. 

Code of Ethics for Certificated Teachers.Retrieved from

 Hall, A. (2001l) What ought I to do, all things considered? An approach to the exploration of ethical problems by teachers. Paper presented at the IIPE Conference, Brisbane. Retrieved from


  1. Jill, excellent read with extremely valid points. I like what you said that it is important that people, whether they are students, teachers or parents recognise the power and purpose of digital connectedness. It is such a handy tool to have and it increases the variety of learning conversations that people can have. Having the ability to be connected is awesome but people still need to be cautious of what they post online.

  2. Thanks Eliot. You are right - it is that balance between being connected but still being aware of potential dangers.

  3. Jill, you have hit the nail on the head with your references to the power of social media for both teacher and students. It is all about keeping it safe and reflecting on our use regularly.

  4. Thanks Sally, the regular reflection is so important - no school policy that is reviewed every 3 years can keep up with the rapid changes we are experiencing.