Our 7/8th grade Dean asked me to meet with students today to discuss the website Formspring.me. We wanted to respond to student and parent concerns about how our students were using the website. If you're not familiar with it, here is how it works: a person sets up an account with a name of their choice, say "Alison Q." People can then go to Alison Q's Formspring page and ask her a question. The tricky part is they can ask the question "anonymously" if they want to. I put that in quotes because Internet anonymity is more of a myth than are reality. Then, Alison can answer the question if she wants, or delete it. All of this takes place in the very public location of Alison's Formspring page. Formspring can also be embedded onto a Facebook profile page.
Students use the site in a variety of ways including: to say things they normally wouldn't, to bully anonymously or not, to make false claims about themselves, to be silly, or just to ask age-appropriate questions.
I led a discussion on the following points:
- defining Formsping
- looking at how it technically works - Formspring server exchanges data with your computer
- how there is a search right on the front page where anyone can look for your Formspring page (see image)
- how sites like Google and Archive.org are indexing websites like Formspring - talking about how "deleting" is more of a myth than a reality
- how data posted online becomes part of students online reputation - similar to offline reputation, but indexed by Google and around "forever"
- how to delete Formspring data - looked at FAQ page on deleting which has been looked at by many thousands of users (see image). Then looked at how page can never be deleted, only disabled. Also looked at fact that any questions asked by you can never be deleted. Bad decisions in that regard cannot be rectified via the website.
- Talk about in-school expectations - reviewed middle school handbook, acceptable use policy - and how we expect our students to use the Internet in school for school purposed. We expect our students to treat each other with respect and use appropriate language.
- being honest about how a site technically works is important
- students want to believe they can be anonymous online - they argue to suggest that they are
- discussing transparency of the Internet is essential
- online reputation is a construct that students can relate to - they want to have a positive reputation
- 7th and 8th grade is an appropriate time to be grappling with this - don't ban the technology, help them understand the implications of their decision
- not making it disciplinary, but making it explanatory helps them recognize and make their own decisions
I'd love to hear back on suggestions or on how you are helping your students understand this new social tool.
On a side note: we thought it might be entertaining to set up teacher Formspring accounts where students could ask us questions about their work/area of study. So questions like "What is the different between aerobic and anaerobic respiration?"