Is a picture always worth a thousand words?

What’s wrong with this picture?

Spotted it yet?

Yes, I know we’ve had similar conversations but some conversations NEED to be continuing for new educators starting their online journey.

What are your thoughts on:

  1. Student photos and how much information is appropriate to use with photos?
  2. What else do educators need to consider when starting to blog with their students?

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32 thoughts on “Is a picture always worth a thousand words?

  1. The obvious over identifying of the student is a problem of course. My real problem though is ….isn’t that an school or family picture of Sue Waters or at least a sibling?!

    1. @poulingail, Wondering when some one would spot that 😎 Yes, he’s one of mine. You will notice online when I talk about my kids I don’t mention them by name.

  2. Too much information for safety! When blogging re: elementary school children, full names and other identifying information like location and name of school should NOT be used!

    Also . . . have parents or guardians given permission for use of the child’s image?

    Why look for trouble?

  3. Sue,

    I see that you moderate all you comments. I chose not to do that. Any inappropriate comments can be moderated within WordPress afterward. Is there a reason why you do this?

    1. Hi Kevin, I actually don’t like moderating any comment but unfortunately this blog is being hit by spam blogs that are doing pingbacks at specific posts. Probably about 5-10 pingbacks per day on posts with high comments which would be really annoying for anyone who has comment notification turned on. My solution for now is to include specific words in banned words to send the pingbacks into comment moderation.

      The downside is that some of the words are also words that commenters may include in their comments which is why some comments are being moderated. When I have more time (I’m traveling at the moment) I will look at the terms again to see if I can adjust which ones I’m using.

  4. Sue:

    The photograph itself is alright, but the accompanying identifying information with the student name, school, etc. could be unsafe and is unnecessary.

    Our school district (Colorado, USA) has chosen to implement an “opt out” policy in which parents must explicitly sign a form if they do not want their child published on the internet or in other media. We usually only have about 8-10 students whose parents choose to option out.

    Our lawyer for our school district has explained that if a parent does not fill out an opt. out form, we can legally publish what he called “directory information”. This includes things like the student name, photo, grade, etc. Just because we can do some of these things does not necessarily mean we should.

    I have also read some information recently that there are very few instances of child abductions, etc. due to information on the internet, in comparison to the amount of media attention this issue has gotten. I haven’t checked any facts on this yet though.

    I think that publishing photos of students doing creative and engaging activities is a good way to keep them and their parents connected to the school. However, I always make sure I do not add additional identifying information, and that I check to make sure their parents have not chosen to restrict their pictures from being published.

  5. It’s not easy being on the cusp of radical alterations in communication. Sometimes I wonder if the apprehension I feel is similar to the anxiety of the ancient orator who feared the shifting emphasis from memorization to print.

    Teaching obligates me to learn about the benefits and dangers of communication methods my students will use with far less hesitation than I have felt. Just as I depended upon the teacher and librarian to help me learn how to manage printed texts, our students have a right to expect their teachers to help them learn how to safely manage the various forms of communication they are expected to use.

    I suppose time and experience will reduce the number of faculty who have no real understanding of either the benefits or risks of social networking, global publishing, and interaction with the unknown and sometimes unknowable. In the meantime, the examples of how y’all are managing this shifting terrain are very helpful. Thank you. 🙂

    1. I wonder if in 10 years will time reduce the number of people with limited understanding? Would love to have a crystal ball. It is amazing how communication has changed so much in our life times and how this has meant we’ve need to gain new skills.

  6. Hi Ms.Waters,
    I am just leaving a comment on your blog to thank you for supporting me with my blogging through the year and making those challenges helped me improve my writing.
    Thank you!

    1. I should be thanking you Nicholas. It has been an absolute pleasure interacting with you and all the other students. I’m glad to hear that you are pleased how the blogging challenges have improved your writing. I hope that you continue to blog and still drop past to visit me every now and then.

  7. Hello Sue,

    A teacher in the U.S. and I have set up a Facebook page for middle school students in our two schools. (search kerwood hill) Our big idea is for our students to become penpals in a modern way. I was concerned that Facebook has features that are not appropriate for kids, like pass a drink or pass a joint. So far no one has used those.

    But now, after reading these posts, I am very concerned about names. The students already had Facebook accounts, and their full names are all over the place with tons of pictures. Are our students safe there? (only the two teachers have access to the password and can invite/accept friends) Are myself and the other teacher liable if there is ever a problem? What in world could or should we do differently? Was this a bad idea?

    I am happy to hear from anyone to advise me further about this.

    Thanks for the “heads up”

    Deborah Kerwood

  8. Yes Ken, we’ve definitely had similar conversations before with slightly different variations. Trouble is that we continue to have educators who are new to using these technology with students. They are the ones getting caught out (as Dr Mike explains above).

    I would like to say all schools, districts etc have guidelines and policies that explain what is involved but unfortunately that isn’t often the case 🙁

  9. Kia ora Sue!

    This is a perennial question. I do believe we’ve discussed something similar before to do with what kids themselves will publish – which is another matter entirely.

    I think we tend to get carried away with the idea that the net is the danger zone. It can be, but so can the open road. After all, school mags have been published for hundreds of years with this sort of stuff in them.

    When it comes down to students’ photos on the net I think there should be no half-roads when it comes to what must be put in place:

    – the school must have a comprehensive cybersafety policy,
    – the policy must outline the mandatory need for parental (and student) consent before publishing any student material on the net,
    – the policy decides what degree of information is published alongside a picture as well as the range of format of the picture.

    However, ultimately a policy will/should come down to the school, the board of the school and the community that the school serves. ALL of these must be involved in the making of the policy, the dissemination of its content and its implementation It is a community issue. There is always a case for compassionate vigilance.

    Catchya later

  10. Hi, I kinda agree with what everyone’s already said. We have a blurb on our emergency cards that the parents sign to give us prermission to use pictures. They can opt out at that time.

    I only use first names and stress with the kids at all times we only use first names.


    1. Hi Jim, with the emergency cards do they sign that once a year? And how dos the school handle parents that change their mind during the year? It is a shame in many ways that we never think twice about our kids photos in a newspaper but we need to consider all these issues with blogging.

      1. Sue,
        Parents in our district fill out “yellow cards” every year (or when they enroll). On the form is a simple place to check for opting out of media publication of photos. Those students, by the way, feel really left out when they never show up on our pages, so I tend to shoot over their shoulders. That seems to satisfy their need for equality in the fourth grade.

        I will also mention that our local teachers association has asked the district to clarify a policy concerning this, since so many teachers have their own websites through various hosts. We were told they do not wish to set a policy – in order to avoid legal liability (per the district lawyer).

        1. Yes Mr H I have heard of similar situations in Australia to an extent that parents could even argue that they did not understand what they were signing. This is why teachers often take photos over shoulders or doing activities to avoid too much identifying information.

  11. Sue,
    This is an excellent point to raise. When we were just doing a school web page, we had direct influence over the students on our web team. We continually reminded them of our board’s web protocol which included issues already mentioned including using first names only, no names directly with pictures and no clear frontal views of students. Now that some of my colleagues are starting to use blogs, I need to make them aware of the protocol. Coincidentally I just had a conversation about this with a Grade 4-5 teacher who has started to use Dreamweaver with his students. (Don’t worry, I’m going to get him signed up on Edublogs in September!)

    It is kind of fun, actually to come up with creative ways to share pictures of kids without “sharing pictures of kids”. Here are some things I do:

    -focus on the activity by shooting a picture over their shoulder or use their profile
    -if kids are in a group showing something (see have them hold the paper up to cover part of their faces
    -I haven’t done so myself, but you could have the kids wear sunglasses

    My kids are trained now. When they see me coming at them with a camera, they don’t “ham it up” for the camera any more. They just keep on doing what they were doing, knowing they have a better chance of having their picture posted on the blog!

    Have fun at NECC! Hopefully I’ll join in virtually from here in Canada.

    1. Thanks I will have fun in NECC – sorry I won’t see you. Thanks for all the great tips for how you manage taking photos of your students without taking photos.

  12. Ditto to those who don’t use last names. Example, we have been using Animoto the last couple of weeks. Students registered with their school email address but used the school name as their surname (since a last name is required). Our district also requires parent permission for any publication, which makes it really hard to take group photos, then identify everyone and find out if permissions are in place. So unfortunately, the ability to document school functions is tough. We stay away from student photos and create projects based on curricular/content projects instead. It protects our students and our district.

  13. Thanks everyone so far for your thoughts. My issue is the same as many of you.

    Newspapers use this information all the time so understandably new educators see that aspect and are influenced by how much information they share based on their previous experiences.

    Thanks Dr Mike for continuing to encourage this conversation.

  14. We don’t have any rules at our school for posting student photos online either, but that will be changing as our 21st Century Digital Literacy Team work towards streamlining procedures for digital citizenship and online safety.

    That being said, our class has it’s own personal rules (which we made together as a session on online safety) for working online (set out in our blogging/wiki/podcasting contract) are:

    1: We do not use our full names online ever. First names may be used.
    2: We do not reveal our personal home addresses or phone numbers (including
    cellphone numbers) ever.
    3: We avoid (as much as possible) any full frontal photos that could easily be
    saved and altered by anyone. When we take photos of our learning in class
    we try to take group shots or shots of the action rather that us smiling at the

    It also concerns me too, that publications such as newspapers, etc often publish photos with full names and those are available online. Educators are taking responsibility for teaching students about maintaining a certain level of safe practise online – who is educating the adults already out there?

  15. Supposedly, we are not to post anything, yet the district PR and others in the central office routinely violate this.

    Generally, I would say nothing more than a first name should go with a picture, I would never publish a student’s email or anything more personal.

    That being said, newspapers often publish ed news, usually with full name, etc. and most are on the Internet.


  16. I teach journalism at a high school, and my question is what are journalism teachers who publish papers on-line doing about identifying students in photos? There seems to be no set policy or pattern to what information is given out. What is the difference between identifying a student in a newspaper photo and identifying a student in a web published photo? Are schools using “opt out” policies (parents have to sign a form saying there child’s image and name CANNOT be published) or opt in?

    1. Really depends on the school actually. I know here in Charlotte, NC, the school district has a set policy on PRs and info can only be giving out about a student with the parent’s permission. Granted that permission is somewhere within all that paperwork when a student registers for pre-K but a few parents have raised a stick or two over the issue afterwards.

      Also, considering that this has also happened locally, the district policy may not have filtered down to the individual teachers. You may actually have a policy in place.

      I would think that without knowing the parent’s intent for permission, only a first name is used, the grade they are in, and the name of the school. For example: “Jimmy, a rising 3rd grader at East Elem…”

      What got us all started on this is one of my hosting clients, who is a teacher, has a photo gallery site where she included her students’ full name attached to the pictures. A few days ago, the parents started complaining because they were beginning to get phone solicitations where the callers knew the child’s name, what they looked like, etc. Needless to say, the teacher is in a bit of trouble.

  17. Hi Sue,
    It is not only students we need to train about being internet safe. Teachers need to learn about registering on sites and creating usernames and passwords they can remember so they don’t have a big list in their purse or wallet. Often those of us who use the web a lot, forget those small little clues to help those just starting on their journey.

    With students I start with not using their full name, trying to keep the same or a similar password whenever they register and not publishing names with any photos used on the web especially their blogs. Last year we posted only two or three photos and even though parents had filled in the permission form earlier in the year, I still had the students write a letter for permission to the parent of each student in the photo they wanted to use.

    1. I struggle with deciding how transparent I want to be via the 21st C web. At times the option is not mine (eg. sites requiring email addresses for username). Mostly the choice is made through ambivalence of the moment.

      Since my memory is challenged it’s easier to use some combination based on my name, across all systems (mgforney, cf this post). However, in my more private moods I use a moniker that reflects my career interests (commlearn).

      I do teach my adult learners about issues of privacy, safety, security, etc. I also knowingly practice something other than what I preach. Our Web2.0 tools are most useful when we embrace the ways they allow participatory learning and collaborative creation. It is possible to be secure while doing so, but only recently have I consistently taken this approach. Sigh …

      1. The challenges with adult learners is slightly different from children.

        I think that if you are asking your students to present their online identity in one way that you need to be modeling that same behavior — exactly as you are doing.

  18. Dear Sue,

    I have been blogging with my 5th graders for two years. I prefer not to display their surnames and email addresses. Besides, I don’t publish student pictures along with their names. For instance, if I post a picture of a group of students and the names should appear with it, I prefer to write the first names only and in different order. In my country, and school there aren’t any rules and regulations regarding internet safety and the parents are not aware of the importance of it. These are the precautions I thought I needed to take.



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