Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Cost of Free

It is difficult, if not impossible to use the Internet without using one of the Google services.  The very word Google is synonymous with searching for information; if you don’t believe me you can “Google it”.  YouTube is the preeminent video posting service and going viral with a video is part of everyday life appearing in television commercials and sitcoms.  Gmail is the largest web-based mail system and the Google document suite is a serious contender to Microsoft Office as the most used suite of productivity applications.  It is an empire as vast as Alexander the Great’s.  With a single Google account sign in, all these services are available to any Internet connected device absolutely free of charge.

Recently, Google changed their privacy policy and caused quite a stir in the press.  Everything from the hysterical Fox News headline “Google Selling Your Personal Information”, to the sedate “What’s the Big Deal with Google’s Privacy Policy” from Business Insider.  This wide range of reaction was interesting, if not fascinating.  Reactions represented the various political viewpoints, the vast gap in the general public’s understanding of technical issues and the fear that results when you don’t comprehend how to control your digital identity.  This got me thinking about the roles and responsibilities of digital citizenship.  The Internet offers us free services, but are they really free?

What Google did was essentially share your information across the Google suite of services to provide you with better information and to better target the advertisements you see.  They did not sell off information to other companies.  Google divides sharing into two categories: personal information and non-personal information.  Non-personal information, as defined by Google, is your server logs, cookies, and IP address.  Essentially, your YouTube information is now shared with your Google search history with the things that you send in your Gmail.  Personal information: “Sensitive personal information includes information we know to be related to confidential medical information, racial or ethnic origins, political or religious beliefs or sexuality and tied to personal information” is specifically NOT gathered or shared at all.  This is exactly the information that most Internet users thought was being shared!

Although this might make you feel somewhat relieved; it suggests a much larger question.  Is it Google’s responsibility to protect your privacy?  Most people know that Google is a “for profit” company that is in the business of selling advertising.  When we conduct a Google search, we get advertising along with our search results and it is the advertising that pays for the Google services.  By collecting information on the topics you search for, Google learns how to make your searches better and it also learns how to give you advertisements that match your interests.  This benefits you, benefits Google and benefits the advertisers.  That is the deal.  If you choose to use these services, YOU are sharing your search information with Google and you should know that they are going to use it.  The responsibility of managing your digital information is entirely yours and it is part of being a digital citizen. 

With Google, you have three choices: 1) Use the tools that Google provides to manage your electronic profile 2) Avoid using any Google services entirely 3) Trust Google and other Internet service companies with your information.

One way to ensure that your information is safe is to manage what information is kept.  Google provides tools to help manage your personal information.  First, there is the Google dashboard that is specifically designed to answer the question: “What does Google store in my account?”  Each Google service is listed with links that allow you to manage your information within that service.  A brief informational video is available on YouTube at: http://goo.gl/H9RMS.  To get to the Google dashboard, simply go to http://google.com/dashboard and log in to your Google account.   Each of the Google services you use are listed with links to manage each service. 

Another resource is the Google Ads Manager.  It is no secret that Google’s goal is the target advertising to the topics that you might be interested in.  The Google ads preference allows you to see what topics that Google believes you are interested in based upon your search history and the kinds of advertisements that you will receive.  You can change the topics, add ne topics or delete topics to control the advertisements so you see information that might want.  The Ads Preference manager is available at http://google.ads.preferences.

The final Google tool is in the Chrome browser.  If you are using Chrome you can open an anonymous window that disassociates the actions in this window from your Google account.  It allows you to use multiple Google accounts, or to keep information from being associated with a specific Google account.  While it does not prevent the collection of cookies and potentially, your browsing history, it will not connect these to your Google account.

The second option is to simply avoid Google services.  It is possible to search the Internet, view video, send email, and connect with others without ever using a Google service.  One secure Internet search tool is DuckDuckGo available at http://www.duckduckgo.com.  This search engine pledges to not collect any information on you, track your cookies or IP address.  The scope and relevance of Internet searches is not quite what Google provides, but if security is a prime concern for you, it is an option.  You can trade your Gmail account for a secure account at HushMail.  This free mail site will provide you with an anonymous email account and is available at http://www.hushmail.com.  Finally, for video you can use Blinkx at http://www.blinkx.com.  Again the trade off with Blinkx is that is lacks the breadth and scope of Google’s YouTube.  Another limitation is that each of these is a separate service that is not connected to the others like the Google suite, so you have to access and manage each individually.  Using multiple services is not as convenient, but the disassociation is a security strength because services cannot collaborate to create a digital profile of you.

The final choice is to simply trust Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, or Facebook and other giants of the Internet to “not be evil”.  Sharing information allows companies to provide you better services, more targeted searches, anticipate your preferences and make your online experiences better.  To do this, they need your information.  If you are willing to trade your data for better service, then this might be the path for you.  Before you trust blindly, you should do a search of the company’s security and privacy policies to be sure that the cost of these free services is not too high.  A real danger could be sharing data with other companies without telling you, or changing their security policy without notification.  As President Reagan said, ”Trust, but verify”.

As we move into the age of software as a service and increased use of cloud based services to store our data, music, do our shopping and connect with friends and colleagues, managing your digital footprint becomes increasingly important.  With each of the “free” online services you use, you reveal more and more about what you do and when you do it.  Mobile devices allow you to access services anywhere, but the same technology that immediately displays your location on a map, can also tell others where you are at any time.  You must make some serious decisions about the information you are willing to share and what information you do not want to keep private.  Free services are not free, they come at the cost of sharing your data and at some point the cost of a “free” service is just too high.  To blame a company for changing their security policy publicly is unfair.  As Thomas Jefferson said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”  Be very wary of the “free” service, and know the bargain you are making before plunging headlong into using an Internet service without doing due diligence.  The responsibility for your Internet safety is yours and yours alone!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

1.2 Reflection

1.2  Reflection: Personal Learning Goal (Pass / No Pass)

Reflection addresses results of an online learning self-assessment and reasons for taking the LEC course. It identifies at least one priority learning goal for the course.

Considering the online learning self-assessment you took this week, and thinking about your reasons for taking this course, what is your highest priority learning goal for this course? What are some specific skills, strategies or tools you are hoping to learn more about?

The online assessment reinforce my belief that I might excel in the online environment.  I can readily provide my own tech support and am an avid web denizen.  I spend hours each day looking at all my favorite spots and have great locational skills.  As a result I have a serious reputation as the person who can find most anything on line.

My favorite story of this is at one of our district pre-service workshops several years ago.  I was sent to support the high level math guys and gals:  the calculus and Statistics teachers.  They had a two hour presentation that I got very little from,but they seemed pleased.  At the very conclusion of the workshop, the presenter did mention something that I do know about, coffee.  I love coffee and am a bit of a coffee snob.  It turned out that the presente was offering a $50 Starbucks gift card for the person who could solve this intricate math problem.  Everyone set to work, and I had no idea where to start solving it, so I turned to my skill set.  I have great locational skills, and I was able to find the problem at a University of Hawaii site with the answer.  I won the card, and to this day all the math folks say that I "cheated",  I reply that they used their skills and I used mine.

As a graduate of the Madeline Hunter School at UCLA, )Michael Simkins too!), I have a background in instruction and best practices.  I have always asked the question how do proven instructional practices work or don't work in a digital environment?  I know what works in a classroom and as we enter a world of on line instruction, what are the best practices for success online?  That is what compelled me to take this class.  I don't think that I will find all the answers here, but it will be the first step in my road to understanding this complex subject  I will then attempt to hone my skills with the teacher groups that I am lucky enough to work with to further my online teaching skills.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Time to End the Tech Plan

I just got one of the notices that I dread.  It is time again to rewrite our district technology plan.  While this is not the most heinous event in life, it got me thinking about where the requirement for a technology use plan come from and how can we improve it?

I did Internet search for school technology plans to see what I could find.  The oldest plan that I could find is a technology plan from September 1982 from a district in Salt Lake City.  Interestingly, it was a 12-year plan for the small school district that totaled 412 words.  Juxtapose that with the nearly 300 pages of our last technology plan and you begin to question if all the effort and energy that goes into this tri-annual rewrite is energy well spent.

Thinking back nearly 30 years to the early 1980’s I distinctly remember the day that I began my path as an educational technologist (unless you count being the 6th grade nerd that could fix the reel to reel projectors).  Apple computer had a program called, “An Apple for the Teacher” where each California school received a brand spanking new Apple II Computer.  The day that the computer arrived at our school, my principal had no idea what to do with it.  After sitting in the office for nearly three months, he took it to my room one afternoon and directed me to figure out what to do with it. 

There is little doubt that when technology arrived at the schoolhouse doors 30 years ago we desperately needed a plan to “figure out what to do with it”.  This probably gave birth to the Technology Use Plan.  A plan that informed everyone about the use a new and unfamiliar tool.  This was a good idea!

Fast-forward thirty years, and technology is so integrated into everything that we do it is nearly impossible to find an activity that has not had technology make an impact upon.  Instead of asking, “How do we use this?” you are far more likely to hear, “Why can’t I get this online?”  Computers with Internet access have shrunk to the size of cell phones and a recent study found that 68% of 12 year olds have a cell phone.  We are awash in a digital tidal wave.  Just like the music industry, and the printing industry, education is quickly moving to being completely digital.  There are schools that eliminated the synchronous face-to-face school experience totally.  Instead of planning how to use technology, we are more likely to look for an electronic solution as our first alternative. 

In this point, it makes little sense to write a detailed, three-year technology plan that is separate from every other planning document that a school district writes. What is needed is a brief description that easily communicates the district’s direction to the stakeholders.  Leave out the massive details that change as the environment changes.  For example, a budget section that attempts to project what the budget will be five years from now when we can’t even tell what the budget will be this year and that began in July!  A simple plan that is integrated with other district activities and is revisited more often is what is needed.

Every district writes a single plan that directs all the other functions of a district, from the program for English Learners, to the GATE program.  It is called the Local Educational Agency Plan.  Directing technology from this plan as a program integrated with all the other activities of the district would be a needed improvement.  The LEAP is rewritten each year rather that than the three or five year rewrites that the technology use plan requires.  I can’t even predict what technology will be available in three or five years, no less describe in detail how it will be used to support learning in my district.  Incorporating the district’s technology planning into the single plan, making it a much smaller document, and revisiting it more often is an improvement that is long overdue.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The ticket has been punched

I will be the Crocodile.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


They Say that when one door closes,
Another opens....

I will wait

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Revving up for a big summer!

With everything being frozen and all funds being swept up to meet the mid-year budget reductions, the movement on getting all of our classrooms up and going has been slowed.  I guess the good news is that it has not been stopped.  Our greatest priority is getting the two classrooms at each school implemented.  At this point we have nearly half of them completed or in construction.  We now have a purchase vehicle in place and all he remaining rooms will be done prior to school beginning in September.  For those teachers who have not seen anything, this has to be extremely frustrating, as they have been given one date after another for completion, only to have the rug pulled out from underneath them.  On the positive side, the rooms are planned much better and the resulting product will be far more usable in the big picture.


They are just finishing up Glenknoll and Yorba Linda Middle has just had the last room finalized. We now have two schools that are complete.  The electricity is being installed at Valadez this week and that campus should be finished very shortly.  The good news here is that the initial five-year installation plan has been collapsed to 18 months.  By September of 2010, all classrooms will be smart classroom ready.


After looking at a number of factors, a list of schools was compiled for summer completion.  They are: YLHS, Tynes, Woodsboro, Brookhaven, Sierra Vista, Ruby, Bryant Ranch, Glenview, Mable Paine, El Dorado High, Lakeview, and Van Buren.  The bid for Sierra Vista and Brookhaven has already been completed and approved by the board and construction will begin there before the end of school this year.  Three other schools will be board approved at the May 12th meeting, so we are now moving very quickly.  You might remember that originally we were planning to get all schools done over 5 years and our target now is to get them all done in 18 months. 


We had originally set out to get 2 classrooms at each school completed during this school year.  We will not meet this goal, as the process has been extremely challenging.  We did manage to get almost half of these classrooms done during the year (albeit very late for some of them!), and will complete all of them by the beginning of school.  Although these teachers did get two days of training, they will need to be trained on the new software to be effective.  We look to having them join the summer training.


While this summer schedule will get each classroom in these schools smart classroom ready, we still need to equip the classrooms and give teachers the tool they need to be successful.  Robert Marzano’s recent research (http://www.logicalchoice.com/eNewsletter/Frames-Marzano_VIDEO.htm) found that teachers who got professional development more than doubled the progress of their counterparts using interactive technology.  We have set up a series of two half-day workshops over the course of the summer that will allow any teacher who wants to, to get the training and support to be successful.  The summer schedule will be released very shortly!


During the 2009-2010 school year, we are planning to complete the construction on another 9 schools, and we will have a training schedule to support those teachers as 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Last Hurdles

This next board meeting on ‘Wednesday will remove one of the final two hurdles that are needed to get our classrooms constructed. We need a vehicle to purchase the parts for the switching systems that are the heartbeat of our classrooms. We have worked to define the different kinds of classrooms and the kinds of parts that are needed for each and getting our vendor to assemble them into kit numbers. After months and months of negotiating we are also at the point that we can purchase them directly form our wholesaler without having to go out to a Value added re-saler. This will save the district money and eliminate the need for us to bid each and every classroom that we build, a process that will cost money and time.

At the April 7th board meeting we should take our last contract to the board. That contract will be for the installation labor. That will give us a bid for installing the kits into various classrooms. Once we have the labor bid, then we will be able to move quickly through the classrooms. We have already set up a very aggressive summer schedule.