Ustream: Just Another Thing To Worry About?

I crafted yet another (hopefully) persuasive email.

Enter Mr. Jones.

Jethro Jones is a teacher in the Jordan School District that is doing absolutely amazing things with his students. Wikis and blogs and Teacher of the Month. If only all teachers were so eager to Pay Attention. If they were, then they to would likely reap the rewards of engaging their students - and parents alike. How many teachers do you know that get feedback like this?

I am very impressed and grateful to you for your efforts on our child's behalf and on our behalf as parents. My husband popped in for lunch just as I had sit down to watch Cam do his presentation, so we got to watch it together, while still being able to be here and complete our jobs and be productive right after he was done. Watching our sons presentation like we were right there without having lost any time traveling etc., was fantastic!
You see, Jethro has taken his teaching to the next level. He's thinking out of the box. He's discovered many new technologies and the resulting opportunities afforded through integrating social software into his curriculum - and he has yet to look back.

Enter Ustream book reports - and a few concerned administrators.

In a fascinating attempt to take book reports to the next level, Jethro has decided to use Ustream to broadcast student reports so that parents can participate - not only in the viewing of the reports, but also in the grading. Brilliant. The explanation he gives to his students' parents is great:
Students will be presenting their book projects and I will be doing a live webcast that you, the parents, can go to. It will be on a password protected website that will be given to those who will be watching their students. I have attached a permission slip that needs to be returned by February 15th. Earlier is of course better. Only parents of my students will be able to watch the videos. You will need a highspeed internet connection to view it. The videos will not be recorded, they will only be broadcast live.

As you are watching the videos, I would like you to grade your student. There will be a rubric that I will post online and email to you later.
Great! But scary, I guess. Or so thought one of our district's administrators.

My phone rings.

"Hi Darren. What can you tell me about Ustream?"

I answer that we use it for Professional Development. It's great for streaming content from your webcam out to an audience on the Internet. Among other things, I also explain that it can be password-protected.

"But if I send that password to five people and each one of them sends it on to another five people... Hmmmm. We really can't control who watches the stream, can we."

"Not really, no. Anyone with the password can watch the broadcast," I answer.

"Hmmmm. We'll need to discuss this further," I'm told - not meaning "we" as in "you and me, Drape" but rather "we" as in "those that make the decisions".

I then asked if he would like me to send him additional information about Ustream. He said "yes, very much so" so I said "Great!".

And so I did. Below is what I sent.


Additional information about Ustream:
  • The Ustream website can be found at
  • A sample Ustream channel can be found at
  • Ustream makes it possible (and very easy) to stream any video content from your computer to an audience via the Internet.
  • You may password protect your Ustream content - requiring users to enter a password before viewing.
  • In a teacher professional development setting, we have used Ustream to connect teachers from all around the world in a classroom setting. See our page here to view past classes.
In my professional opinion:
  • Content published by a teacher via Ustream falls under the same guidelines specified in our District's acceptable network use policies as any other online activity - namely policies DP371, AA445, and chiefly policy number D212, II, D (regarding safety):
D. Safety and Privacy of Students, Teachers, and Staff

1. Personal contact information about students, teachers, and staff members must not be published on school or District Web sites. This includes addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, or any other personal information that could be used by unauthorized persons to identify or make personal contact with students, teachers, or staff members.

2. Student names, student photographs, personally identifiable student work, class participation, activities, projects, etc., may be published on school or District Web sites with a signed release from the student's parent or legal guardian. Without a signed release, no personal information about specific students can be used on school or District Web sites. This policy does not apply to student information systems where information about student's attendance, grades, and assignments is accessible using login and password information.
  • Thus, it seems to me that if a teacher obtains prior written parental consent, then Ustream use is no different than any other online use.
  • To fall within the guidelines of Policy AA445 II B 2 d then the teacher must ensure that student names are not mentioned during the broadcast. Doing such, in my opinion, would eliminate any inherent safety risks.
II B 2 d. Students may not reveal personal information such as names, addresses, telephone numbers, passwords, credit card numbers or social security numbers. Releasing personal information of others or that of organizations associated with the district is prohibited.
  • Our current policies are actually quite solid. As long as teachers and students comply with established policies, the students will be safe and the District will be covered.
  • Finally, requiring password protection for Ustream (and similar broadcasts involving students) will ensure added security - and should be considered in future policy revisions.
Please let me know how else I might be of assistance, Darren


No good?
  • Do you think our district's policies are adequate in ensuring safety?
  • How about you and your situation?
  • What issues have you seen arise in your schools?
  • What have you done to ensure a safe (and still engaging) online environment for your students?
Image Source - Flickr user eschipul

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