When Social Bookmarking (Any Tool) Goes Bad ...

10/31/2008 10:09:00 am

I'm working with a group of teachers in a mentoring capacity. In conversation with another mentor in the project a question came up about social bookmarking. As I read through my take on the issue I thought I'd like to share it here to collect input from a diverse group of people. I wonder if teachers and administrators come out on the same side of these issues:


"So here is the question, the kids could then start tagging stuff as well to be shared with the teachers and other students, which would be really cool. But what if a kid tags something in appropriate? Can the person that first used the unique tag remove that tag? Does that tag creator have some ownership? Or is that just a risk we take??"

Did you ever have a kid tag something inappropriate?

I've been using delicious in my classes to have students aggregate and share content since November 2005. What is described above, while I recognize it COULD happen, has never happened to me in the last 3 years. This sort of action strikes me as particularly pernicious and malicious:

• A teacher sets up an assignment where kids collect useful resources (web pages) and consistently tag them using a tag the entire class agrees on for the purpose. For example, one of my class tags is pc40sw08. Not likely to be stumbled upon by happenstance.

• A student then tags an inappropriate site, say a porn site, using that tag and it gets aggregated with all the other quality content the rest of the class is generating. Kind of like one kid throwing black paint at a mural the rest of the class has made.

Like I said, while something like this is possible it just strikes me as exceptionally unlikely. I imagine the consequences would be similar to what would happen to the student who throws paint at the class mural, amplified somewhat because this is a very public thing to do. There are parallels to cyberbullying with this and I suspect consequences would line up similarly.

In order to remove the offending site the student who used the class tag to tag it (the porn site) would have to delete that tag from that resource in his/her delcious account. There would be no other way to remove the offending site from the aggregated list of sites.

This underscores why discussion of digital ethics is so important regardless of what we teach when we take it online. This is how I do it.

Lots of food for thought in this. To be completely frank, I see this discussion as more of an intellectual exercise than something that might actually happen. Some teachers may feel that my perspective is naive. Fair enough. Then again, I teach in an inner city school and I've been blogging with my classes going on 5 years. Lots of other educators use social bookmarking in a similar way. I'm fairly well connected and informed about this use of social bookmarking in an educational context and while I of course cannot possibly be aware of the experiences of every educator who has done this sort of exercise with their students and what sort of things have gone wrong this is something that has just never come up. If it did it would blaze a fire of commentary across the blogosphere and that hasn't happened.

So all this gets me thinking ... teaching and learning transparently on the web may open a door to abuses that aren't possible in an offline classroom. A PR disaster for the school or school community can happen in ways that are very public and aren't possible in a face-to-face offline learning environment. Maybe we should close the door on all this stuff ... or, are the benefits greater than the possible harm? How likely are those harms? Do we need a 0% harm solution before teaching and learning in this way? On the other hand, isn't it possible that harm happens every day in classrooms all over the world; since it happens behind closed doors and never sees the light of day, well, that's better than if it happened on the web, isn't it?

Photo Credit: Week 6: August 7 - 13 by flickr user Brooklyn Museum
Light of wisdom - I by flickr user carf

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