Sunday, 16 March 2008

This house believes that.....

Following the call to embrace new technologies, Andrew Charlesworth gave a very entertaining presentation on The Good The Bad and the Social Network, outlining some of the legal issues we all need to be aware of. His view was that basic legal knowledge is now becoming an essential skill for educational professionals. It is apparently the worst kept secret in Lawland, that lawyers don’t sue poor people – the institution, not the student will get sued if there are any legal breaches.

In a very stimulating series of slides Andrew outlined some of the things that could go wrong with the adoption of social networking sites (SNS) for University business. I’ll just give a few examples:

  • Will the company still be around in 6 months
  • Will it get taken over by a larger company
  • Where is the SNS based and does it meet the requirement of our data Protection Act
  • Dose it have a privacy policy
  • Can information be easily removed
  • Who owns the data, and what rights to use the data does the SNS have
  • Does the institution have the right to remove materials
  • Is any material placed on the SNS secure and backed up
  • Who is responsible if there’s a security breach
  • What is the SLA relating to performance and downtime
  • Can you get the data out – are there APIs
  • How accessible is the SNS – does it meet SENDA requirements
  • How long is data kept and how is it archived
  • How is the data accessed – for example if it’s used for assessment, can an external examiner get access to it
  • What about the image and brand – will an institution want to be associated with a SNS if they do something controversial.

Institutions need to be fully aware of their roles and responsibilities, and do a full risk assessment before adopting SNS, and ensure adequate training and support is provided.
We should all know that Ignorantia legis neminem excusat – ignorance of the law is no excuse!

And finally a lawyer’s motto that we should remember - We win some we lose some, but we get paid for all of them!

Following these two sessions, we had a debate on social networking. The motion was:

"This house believes that the only sensible course of action for University and College IT departments is to block the use of social networking sites by students in order to give priority for use of hardware and networks for education and research purposes."

I volunteered to propose it (very tongue-in-cheek obviously). At first I thought no-one would vote for it, but after Andrew’s talk I thought maybe I was onto a winner. However, after a lively debate, the motion got firmly defeated, I'm pleased to say!

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