We often hear that if you don't pay for something then you are the product, especially in connection with social media and cloud computing. Companies offer attractive services for free in return for information about ourselves that can then be used for targeted advertising or to tempt us into buying a more advanced version of the service (so called freemium). However there's nothing new with this concept. We've had many years of commercial radio and TV who offer their services "free" and the cost is being subjected to sometimes rather intense advertising. Many magazines which we pay good money for are over 50% pure advertising and many of the articles are slightly more discrete lifestyle advertising. Most of us have loyalty cards that give us discount at the cost of giving the company information about every purchase we make. Read more on this in an article from 2012, Stop Saying 'If You're Not Paying, You're The Product'.
The concept of free raises a lot of integrity issues, especially when cloud services are used in an educational context. An article in Inside Higher Ed, Teaching Ethically with the Free Web, raises many relevant questions about using services like Google Apps, Facebook, Dropbox, WordPress and iCloud in schools and colleges. Many of these are excellent for collaborative writing, discussion, project work and reflection and are more user-friendly and attractive than more closed environments such as learning management systems. However they all have different policies for privacy and ownership of content and each has to be examined and discussed. Another issue is that some are not compatible with tools that improve accessibility for those with visual impairments.
However the article advises teachers to become more aware of the implications of using open services and discussing them with their students. For example the documents you store on a cloud service are probably your own intellectual property but the information you put in your profile is probably not. Becoming aware of the conditions is the first step to taking control of your digital footprint and this is an essential classroom discussion that needs to be repeated and refined over the years. The article offers the following practical advice to teachers working with cloud services and social media.
- Inform ourselves about the technologies we are using with students and our responsibilities as their teachers—both legally according to FERPA and ethically according to our beliefs and our students’ best interests. To that end, I’ve provided links to the policy and privacy statements of all of the apps and technologies mentioned in this post in the fact box above.
- Engage our students in conversations about whatever apps or technologies we will be using in our courses, including conversations about what will be done with their personal information or content.
- Offer options whenever possible as alternatives to particular web services. This gets tricky when using reminder or organizational applications, but you can always use multiple reminder services (Twitter and Remind101, for example) to keep students up-to-date on changes to the syllabus, or give groups options for online collaboration when they are completing collaborative projects.