New Book Aims to Help Educators Avoid ‘Cybertraps’

By Michelle R. Davis — January 22, 2015 2 min read
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Examples of educators making online missteps are everywhere these days: teachers oversharing their political opinions and their partying habits on social media; unprofessional texting with students; downloading personal or inappropriate information onto school devices. And educators are also dealing with the sometimes painful repercussions of the online world too, including cyberbullying of teachers and false student-created profiles on social networking sites.

Technology has rapidly become a vital part of the way both students and teachers do their work, but those in the education profession often get little guidance on how to navigate the cyber world, said Frederick S. Lane, the author of the new e-book “Cybertraps for Educators.”

“Technology is obviously becoming an integral part of the classroom and of educators’ personal lives,” he said. “But they’re having a little bit of a problem with that integration.”

Lane is an attorney who served a decade as a commissioner on the Burlington, Vt. school board and whose previous book “Cybertraps for the Young” laid out the legal woes facing children through the misuse of electronic devices, apps and social networking.

The new book is aimed squarely at educators. “Technology is bringing about changes more quickly than educators have time to adapt,” he said.

Lane’s book covers cybertraps inside the workplace as well as outside, focusing in on the tension between technology and privacy, especially for public employees like teachers. He also looks at potential pitfalls related to dealing with students, including communication, and the mishandling of technology-related student incidents. The book addresses the possibility of serious incidents, include educators viewing pornography on their school devices and teachers using texting and online communication to develop sexual relationships with students.

Lane said he believes younger teachers have the most difficulty drawing the boundaries when it comes to appropriate use of technology, since they grew up with social networking and texting.

“The vast majority of problems I write about are because this familiar form of communication led them to do things they shouldn’t, like get into personal conversations with students or exchange photos they shouldn’t exchange,” he said.

Here are some tips from Lane for educators seeking to avoid cybertraps:

  • Think about what you post online. Control what you can control. Don’t overshare.
  • Make sure your communication with students is transparent and open. Avoid excessive friendliness.
  • Educate yourself about potential cyber risks and what you can do to prevent them.
  • Advocate for better training and increased awareness on the issue.

Educators unsure how to navigate this ever-changing cyber and technology domain can face serious legal issues. In 2009, I did an audio interview with Ting-Yi Oei, an assistant principal at Freedom High School in Loudoun County, Va., who was wrongfully charged with possession of child pornography after investigating a “sexting” incident at his school. The charges were later dropped and the school board agreed to repay Oei the $167,000 in legal fees he spent defending himself. Oei’s case is also discussed in detail in Lane’s book.

“School districts have a high financial incentive to get this right,” Lane said.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.