Terms of Service: Using third party Web 2.0 services in teaching and learning

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Terms of Service: Using third party Web 2.0 services in teaching and learning

Many of the discussions we've had around using or not using institutional VLE's often venture into third party territory, with the insistence that 'students are using it anyway so why shouldn't we put stuff there?'. There are a number of issues which should be considered and addressed before requiring staff to publish materials, encroach upon the extra-academic lives of their students, and abdicate control over their work and online identities. Students may not wish to sign-up to third party services and I've yet to see any College regulations which would insist upon this. Students do not have equal access to the Internet, and this would be compunded by the rise of mobile technologies allowing constant, seamless access to social networking sites.

It may be that a group of students are equipped for and demanding of a web 2.0 approach to teaching and learning, and that his may sway the enthusiastic lecturer. Overcoming issues of access, IT-literacy and even information literacy may be achievable, but what about the terms and Conditions of, let's not forget this, listed companies? The first port of call is rarely the ToS, but a quick tour of Facebook's approximately 20 000 words, using rich jargon and legalese and spread over a number of URLs, Facebook pages and PDFs is both offputting and revealing in (almost) equal measure. These are designed not to be read, or read and understood by the majority of people.

Two of the more accessible yet worrying terms from Facebook's ToS are:
'When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).'

'Even after you remove information from your profile or delete your account, copies of that information may remain viewable elsewhere to the extent it has been shared with others, it was otherwise distributed pursuant to your privacy settings, or it was copied or stored by other users.'

These and other terms of service have serious implications for the reluctant and power user alike, as well as the institutions. It is quite clear why staff and students are often reluctant to engage with, and within, these environments even before looking into the ToS. The ubiquity and popularity of services such as Facebook may be tempting, but the persistence of data and the profit-driven model are at odds with academic practices.

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