As I travel around the United States lecturing to school districts, educators, students, and parents, I am often asked about the definition of the word “cybertrap.” While I can’t claim credit for coining the word, I have developed a body of work using the term, which so far has not been formally defined. I think the time has come to offer a possible definition for “cybertrap,” so here goes:
cybertrap — noun — an unintendend or undesirable consequence that results from the use and/or misuse of an electronic device, online service, or computer-related resource.
[I just submitted this proposed definition to the Urban Dictionary and will update this post if it gets approved.]
In my two most recent books — Cybertraps for Educators (above) and Cybertraps for the Young (right), I’ve described a wide range of “unintended or undesirable consequences” that can ensnare kids and educators, but none illustrate the concept more perfectly than a incident that came to light recently on Reddit.
On the morning of March 12, Reddit user D3Gamma submitted a post to the subreddit /r/gifs with the title “Uh oh? Forget to turn off the projector?” Embedded in the post is an 8-second looping video that shows a classroom full of kids and a projected image on a screen at the front of the classroom. As the videographer zooms in on the screen, you can see an image of a woman in lingerie, for what appears to be a European eBay page (the price is in euros). The camera pans to the left and shows the teacher sitting behind his laptop with his chin in his hand. As the camera pans back to the screen, you can see the image flipping from one lingerie ad to the next.
According to some of the back-and-forth conversation in the comments, the teacher was oblivious to the whole thing. Someone asked if anyone said anything, and D3Gamma replied: “He never found out. After this class ended he switched to the next class’ assignments. So he doesn’t know that it wasn’t turned off or ‘Frozen on a screen.'”
I contacted D3Gamma on Reddit, who said that the video was recorded in a classroom in the San Diego Unified School District. When I asked if anyone had reported the situation to the school administrators, D3Gamma replied that “He’s having a talk currently with administration.”
Reflections and Discussion Points
Cameras Are Everywhere: Add this to the growing list of instances in which a teacher’s in-classroom mistake or misbehavior is captured by one or more of the nearly three-quarters of all students carrying a smartphone. While this case does not compare to the students who recorded their teacher trying to shoot an upskirt video, it still reinforces the reality that educators should assume that at any given moment, a student might be recording them. As one commenter put it, “Anyone else miss the days where students couldn’t have their cellphones out during class?” Smile!!
Districts Need a Sense of Proportion (and Humor): Not every cybertrap is grounds for dismissal, and not every scant (scantily?) exposure to sexuality will scar children for life (particularly older students, as these seem to be). The district would, of course, be justified in imposing some appropriate consequences — a tech refresher course, perhaps, or a letter of warning — but this hardly seems like grounds for termination.
Was It Moral to Post the Video?: In the 48 hours since the video was first posted, over 1500 comments have been posted. Most of the comments are inane, irrelevant, infantile, or some combination of the three. Many, however, were part of relatively nuanced discussions about whether D3Gamma should remove the video, whether he should have posted it in the first place (particularly with the teacher’s face unblurred), and whether the teacher should be disciplined or fired. And of course, there are numerous comments assessing D3Gamma’s camera skills. There are multiple teachable moments that can be distilled from this incident.
Yes, Virginia, This Is a Classic Cybertrap: Teachers have been projecting images and information in the classroom for the better part of a century. It is fair to say, however, that it is only in the last decade-plus that a teacher ran any serious risk of revealing his or her lingerie interests while doing so. This particular cybertrap stemmed from the powerful combination of the Internet, classroom computers, and digital projection, all of which are so ubiquitous and commonplace that we sometimes don’t even think about what we are doing. The same technology infuses our personal and professional lives and blurs the lines between them. That blurring, and the ease of sliding from one sphere of our lives to another, helps explain how the teacher stumbled into this particular cybertrap.
All You Need Is … Education: The best (and perhaps only) solution is to educate prospective teachers from Day One on the appropriate boundaries between their personal and professional lives. Those pre-certification lessons should be reinforced with regular professional development that provides educators with an update on the technological risks they face, the importance of maintaining established boundaries, and the consequences for crossing them.