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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Helping Students Create Positive Digital Footprints

Christine Fisher
Steve JohnsonWhen asked what words come to mind when they think about students posting to the Internet, many educators list words like danger and safety.
But with the likes of Robert Nay—who created one of the most downloaded iPad apps of 2011 when he was just 14—and even Justin Bieber—who began his international superstardom as a YouTube sensation—as inspiration, students and teachers alike should know the positives that posting to the Internet can offer.
This was the message Steve Johnson, a technology skills teacher, parent, and author of two education books, shared during his Saturday session, "Digital Footprints: Your Students' New First Impression."
"The main idea we get from surveying teachers [about students posting online] is there [are] a lot of negative connotations," Johnson said, as he aimed to reverse these negative perceptions and encourage educators to promote student-produced online content in their classrooms.
Although employers and prospective colleges may reject candidates based on their digital footprints—what he described as "the traces of where you've been, where you're going, and what you've been doing on the Internet"—Johnson said that many students benefit from attracting potential employers through profiles and blogs. Producing online content can be an opportunity for students to express themselves and be creative.
Schools are missing an opportunity when they avoid encouraging or teaching students how to post online, Johnson said. Citing Bieber and Nay as successful examples, Johnson said, "The thing that is a common theme, if you look at these kids, is that they are almost always doing this outside of school.... And I think that's kind of a tragedy."
To guide positive online posting, teachers need to build an environment of flexible problem solving where students are immersed in tasks, can make mistakes, and find multiple solutions, Johnson said.
"They are going to make mistakes," he said. "It's better to learn from that in a safe, caring environment."
To avoid any negative repercussions, Johnson stressed the importance of guiding students through posting online content in the safety of the classroom.
He recommended asking students if they have ever seen something they or a friend posted online spiral out of control. He advised educators to remind students to keep passwords private and to remember that, while Facebook privacy settings may be restrictive, content seen by Facebook "friends" can easily be shared with others.
Johnson also encouraged teachers to model responsible Internet use by posting their own blogs, portfolios, and content through tools such as Weebly, where teachers can create student websites; ePals, a social network optimized for K–12 learning; and KidBlog.org, a tool for elementary and middle school teachers looking to create and moderate student blogs.
"I really think we are at an awesome point with our kids," Johnson said. "We are really at a beginning point…. They're really starting their digital lives in our classrooms."

View Johnson's presentation in Prezi format.

Google Apps for Education (GAFE) is mining student data

SafeGov.org reports that Google Apps for Education (GAFE) is mining student data in Gmail even when schools disable the ad-serving mechanism. The 2,300-word exposé makes it clear that even though GAFE isn't serving targeted ads to students (at least not within school walls), it is mining data beyond age, gender, and location. Details about the collection process is shrouded in constantly changing software agreements, FAQs, and other legalese.

Google admits data mining student emails in its free education apps

Jeff Gould by Jeff Gould, SafeGov.org Friday, January 31, 2014
When it introduced a new privacy policy designed to improve its ability to target users with ads based on data mining of their online activities, Google said the policy didn’t apply to students using Google Apps for Education. But recent court filings by Google’s lawyers in a California class action lawsuit against Gmail data mining tell a different story: Google now admits that it does data mine student emails for ad-targeting purposes outside of school, even when ad serving in school is turned off, and its controversial consumer privacy policy does apply to Google Apps for Education.
At SafeGov.org our work has long focused on the risks of allowing targeted online advertising into schools. This issue has come to the fore as companies like Google and Microsoft have launched a worldwide race to introduce their web application suites into as many schools as possible. In this article we review the background of this debate and then present important new evidence regarding the practices of one of the leading players, Google.
The suites in question are known as Google Apps for Education and Office 365 Education, respectively, and they include basic apps such as email, word processing, spreadsheets, live document sharing, simple web forms and messaging. Their key selling point is that they offer students something almost as good as a traditional office suite in the convenient format of a browser window, and – best of all for cash-strapped schools – they do so at no cost.
Of course as the economist said there is no such thing as a free lunch, and we must look carefully at the business motives behind these firms’ generosity. Here an important difference between the two leaders emerges. Both Google and Microsoft generate substantial revenues by selling online office suites to government and enterprises for annual subscription fees. If the firms offer essentially the same suites to schools for free, it is surely in part because they hope that when students move into the workplace they will demand the same online tools they learned to use in school. This is a business model that is honest about its intentions and serves the interests of both students and the firms. However, there is an additional component in the Google business model that involves advertising, and this is where the trouble begins.
Both Google and Microsoft offer free ad-based email services to consumers – Gmail and Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail). Google’s Gmail pioneered the technique of targeting ads to users based on profiles of their interests. Google creates the profiles with the help of sophisticated software algorithms that sift through users’ past and present emails, record the things they search for on Google’s search engine, and track the web sites they visit (via the cookies placed on many sites by its DoubleClick ad-serving subsidiary).
The activity performed by these profiling algorithms is known as “data mining”, and their power to make accurate guesses about the tastes and likely behavior of the profiled users is quite remarkable. However, not every free consumer email service uses data mining to target ads. Microsoft’s Hotmail, for example, relied solely on demographic information (such as age, gender and location) provided by users when they register. Hotmail’s successor Outlook.com continues this policy, promising that it “doesn't serve targeted ads based on email contents”. While the ad delivery methods used by the major email providers may differ, the basic idea of offering consumers free email in exchange for ads has proven extraordinarily successful. The top three providers – Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo – together count over one billion users. SafeGov does not take a position on the methods used to target ads in these services. In our view all are legitimate business models, provided that consumers are fully informed of how their data is used and have given their consent.
Whether or to what degree these last two conditions are actually met by specific services such as Gmail or Outlook.com is of course a pertinent question. Currently Google faces legal challenges to its use of consumer data mining in both the U.S. and the European Union. EU data protection authorities in particular have determined that Google fails to inform consumers properly of its conduct or obtain their consent, while a major class action law suit in California advances similar accusations. Although Outlook.com appears to have avoided such challenges to date, we should certainly expect that regulators and courts will hold it to the same high standards as Gmail.
The Google and Microsoft education suites discussed above operate under quite different rules than the firms’ ad-based consumer email services. Office 365, developed from Microsoft’s enterprise server-based software packages such as Exchange and SharePoint, was never designed to serve ads and does not have the functionality to create ad-targeting user profiles based on data mining. Microsoft’s Office 365 web site makes an entirely unambiguous pledge in this regard: “We do not mine your data for advertising purposes.”
Google Apps for Education, by contrast, has a more ambivalent policy regarding advertising. While Google pledges not to serve ads to students without schools’ permission, its Google Apps suite, which is a repurposed version of Google’s Gmail and other consumer services, was designed from the ground up to include ad-serving as well as highly sophisticated user profiling and data mining capabilities. Google explicitly offers schools the option of enabling ad serving to student users of Google Apps for Education. Although it does not yet offer to share the resulting ad revenues with schools that choose the ad-serving option, it has clearly left the door open to such revenue sharing in the future. Indeed, it is hard to see why Google would explicitly write the ad-serving option into its standard contract with schools if it did not hope one day to make ads for students a default and perhaps even mandatory feature of Apps for Education.
Targeted ads are worth more than untargeted ads, because advertisers will pay more to put their ads in front of customers who are more likely to buy. The uncanny power of Google’s data mining and user profiling algorithms to target ads effectively has made it the world’s largest advertising company. To cite just one data point, the Mountain View giant last year generated more ad revenue in the American market than the entire U.S. newspaper industry. While we take Google’s word that it does not serve ads to its student users unless it has permission from schools, an important question that until now has gone unanswered is whether the targeting algorithms that power Gmail are still running in Google Apps for Education even when ad serving is turned off. Google’s own web site once supplied an explicit and quite satisfactory answer to this question. Specifically, in a FAQ on its web site devoted to Google Apps for Education, the firm promised that:
“If you are using Google Apps (free edition), email is scanned so we can display contextually relevant advertising in some circumstances. Note that there is no ad-related scanning or processing in Google Apps for Education or Business with ads disabled.”
However, at some point during the past year the crucial second sentence in this statement was deleted from Google’s web site.
Of course it’s difficult to draw firm conclusions from fleeting changes in the wording on a vendor’s web page. Accordingly SafeGov has been searching for further evidence that would help to resolve one way or the other the question of Google’s data mining practices in Apps for Education. When a trove of court documents from a class action lawsuit against Google in U.S. Federal Court was recently made public, we decided to do a little data mining of our own, albeit with tools less sophisticated than Google’s. What we found is worthy of attention.
In a remarkable pretrial document filed by Google’s lawyers, Google explicitly admits for the first time that it scans the email of Google Apps for Education users for ad-serving purposes even when ad serving is turned off. The issue at stake in the case is whether Google has properly informed its users and obtained their consent for data mining and ad serving in Gmail and, by extension, in Google Apps for Education. In the filing in question Google’s lawyers seek to prove that email users must have consented to Google’s email scanning practices – if only “impliedly” – because these practices have been widely discussed in the press and can thus be considered to be universally known. The lawyers seek to establish this point by supplying a long list of published articles that discuss these practices.
Regarding Google Apps for Education in particular, the lawyers state that schools which contract with Google to provide Google Apps “have a contractual obligation to obtain their students’ and end users’ consent to Google’s automated scanning”. The document then goes on to list a number of examples of how educational institutions have carried out this duty to inform users and obtain their consent for scanning. Notably the Google filing cites the web site of the University of Alaska as an exemplary instance of such compliance:
The University of Alaska (“UA”) has a “Google Mail FAQs,” which asks, “I hear that Google reads my email. Is this true?” The answer states, “They do not ‘read’ your email per se. For use in targeted advertising on their other sites, and if your email is not encrypted, software (not a person) does scan your mail and compile keywords for advertising. For example, if the software looks at 100 emails and identifies the word ‘Doritos’ or ‘camping’ 50 times, they will use that data for advertising on their other sites.” Attached as Exhibit 79 is a true and correct print out of UA’s Google Mail FAQ page, which is also available at www.alaska.edu/google/faqs/general/#mail (last visited Nov. 13, 2013). [Declaration of Kyle C. Wong in Support of Google Inc.’s Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification, p. 41]
In other words, Google’s own lawyers here confirm in a sworn public court declaration that even when ad serving is turned off in Google Apps for Education, the contents of users’ emails are still being scanned by Google in order to target ads at those same users when they use the web outside of Google Apps (for example, when watching a YouTube video, conducting a Google search, or viewing a web page that contains a Google+ or DoubleClick cookie). This statement thus appears to be what American lawyers call “an admission against interest”.
Google’s data mining and ad serving practices in the versions of Google Apps it provides to public sector institutions such as government administrations and schools have long been a subject of controversy. Media and regulator interest in the issue surged in early 2012 when Google launched a sweeping consolidation of the many privacy policies governing its individual products into a single overarching document. The new unified privacy policy was intended, among other things, to facilitate Google’s ability to combine information about users extracted from its different services – such as Gmail, YouTube, Google search, etc. – into a single integrated profile of each user, thereby enabling ever more accurate – and so more profitable - ad targeting. However, Google vehemently denied that this new consumer privacy policy would apply to governments and schools. Indeed, a senior Google executive told the Washington Post that:
“Enterprise customers using Google Apps for Government, Business or Education have individual contracts that define how we handle and store their data. As always, Google will maintain our enterprise customers’ data in compliance with the confidentiality and security obligations provided to their domain. The new Privacy Policy does not change our contractual agreements, which have always superseded Google’s Privacy Policy for enterprise customers.”
But Google’s court filings in the California class action suit discussed above unambiguously contradict this statement. In one of these filings, a Google employee states that:
Google and [the University of] Hawaii executed an agreement titled “Google Apps Education Edition Agreement” on or about June 21, 2010… The agreement places the responsibility to obtain “any necessary authorizations from End Users to enable Google to provide the Services” on Hawaii, the “Customer.” The “Services” includes Gmail… The agreement also requires Google to comply with the Customer Privacy Notice… and the End User Privacy Notice…
In other words, Google here acknowledges that its standard consumer privacy policy is an integral part of its standard Google Apps for Education contract. It is still possible that, in contrast to the situation described in the Google court filing quoted above, some educational institutions have managed to strike individual agreements with Google that do indeed “supersede” the standard privacy policy. If they exist, however, Google has curiously not chosen to make any such agreements public. Indeed, there is evidence that Google imposes “gag clauses” on schools that sign contracts for its Google Apps for Education, forbidding them from disclosing the terms and conditions they have received.
In sum, then, we have learned from Google’s own statements that:
  1. Ad serving remains a standard option in Google Apps for Education,
  2. Even when ads are turned off (as they currently are by default) Google still data mines student emails for ad targeting purposes, and
  3. Google’s consumer privacy policy is incorporated in standard Google Apps for Education contracts.
It is a natural and very plausible – though of course not certain – inference from these facts that Google intends one day to make advertising a standard feature of the version of Google Apps it offers to schools.
Where is the harm in allowing targeted advertising in the online web applications that schools provide to their students? This is a vast and important question that we lack the space to address here but will investigate in future work. Suffice it to say as a starting point that SafeGov surveys of parents around the world have unfailingly shown a very high level of parental opposition to such advertising and the intrusive profiling of student online activity that makes it possible – typically in the 80% to 90% range[1]. We believe that policy makers, education authorities and data protection regulators will not choose to ignore the will of parents on this issue. Stay tuned for further research from SafeGov on this vitally important topic.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

EdSurge on Badges

Digital Badges Need Mass to Matter

The next iteration of badges will be more than a pretty button


Parts of the edtech world are abuzz about “open” digital badges.
But despite the excitement about, and real potential of, these intelligent graphics in education they will need more than current passion or even eventual ubiquity to succeed. They will need to mean something to more than just those who give them or get them.
A bit of background: one year ago in March, the Mozilla Foundation (perhaps best known for the Firefox web browser), released version 1.0 of the Open Badge Infrastructure. Students who achieve something worthy can be awarded, display, and share a digital Open Badge. Think Scouting, but woven with pixels and metadata.
Unlike earlier digital badges which were just static images that could be easily counterfeited by cut-and-paste, these have significant differences:
  • Verifiable: Each digital Open Badge graphic embeds inside of it data about who issued the badge, who earned it, and for what it was earned, information that can be verified by a single click on the badge leading back to a web page that the issuer controls.
  • Portable: Many current digital badges (I’m looking at you, Schoology and Khan Academy) only can be viewed inside the product that awarded them. That means once a student leaves a class, the badge and anything it stood for stays behind. Open Badges can be stored outside of any one product in what Mozilla calls a “backpack” and shared by earners on Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress, websites and even in digital documents.
  • Stackable: Because the badges are based on an open technical standard that anyone can adopt, different badges earned from different organizations can be stored together in a “backpack” (Mozilla’s or someone else’s) and, theoretically, shared in combination. You might think of a badge, if it stands for a skill or acquired knowledge, as a “micro-credential.” Combine several badges and it could add up to a credential of some sort, perhaps for programming if each badge represents a different aspect of computer science – even if they come from different issuing organizations.
So it’s no wonder that a lot of experimentation is going on with issuing Open Badges, fueled in part by early grants from the MacArthur Foundation. Education platforms such as Blackboard Learn and Moodle now let teachers issue badges for, well, whatever they want, directly from each learning management system. Middle school math practice site BuzzMath has implemented badges for students who show facility in fractions, algebraic expressions, and other math concepts.

And this month at the Open Badges Summit to Reconnect Learning in Silicon Valley, Pearson, ETS, CAE (Council for Aid to Education) and others pledged their support to the Open Badges “ecosystem.” Pearson has launched a badge-issuing platform. ETS now issues badges for its iSkills and Proficiency Profile assessments. CAE is adding mastery badges for its performance-based Collegiate Learning Assessment and College and Work Readiness Assessment (in full disclosure, I’ve worked with the organization helping CAE issue its badges).

Who's the Badger?

But even with this high-profile support, Open Badges have a long way to go to move from nascent to trend.
An Open Badge, by itself, means nothing. It’s simply a convenient, digital way to represent and display something that’s been awarded or earned. I could use a badge issuing platform today (including a Mozilla partner’s forthcoming Badge Maker) to give you a badge for being an attentive column reader who made it to the eleventh paragraph.

This might make you and me both feel good (well, me, anyway). But I contend it squanders the potential of Open Badges. Because badges, to truly take off and make the best use of their portable, verifiable and stackable qualities, need to be valuable to a third party. They need mass.

Mass could mean a weighty, well-known issuer whose endorsement imbues a badge with quality and causes employers and educators to give it a second look.

Mass could mean a rigorous assessment (performance, simulation, multiple-choice test, or other type) as the evidence behind how a badge was earned, proof that the badge represents competency.

Elizabeth Merritt, founding director of the Center for the Future of Museums (part of the American Alliance of Museums), has put a fair amount of thought into badge systems for AAM’s member museums. When directly asked on a Mozilla Open Badges community call about what makes a badge “valuable,” Merritt responded: those issued from respected and trusted sources.

For teachers, that could mean professional development badges issued by the University of Illinois or Penn State, especially if their district values those granting institutions. For young kids trying to impress their parents or peers, it could mean a badge awarded by the Smithsonian or NASA. For college-bound kids, it could be a badge granted by ETS or CAE. In all these cases, the Open Badge is valued by a third party. (And yes, all these organizations are actively investigating or issuing Open Badges.)

Does this mean that other badges issued by not-so-prominent organizations, or strictly for participation or motivation, are worthless?

Absolutely not. If a teacher’s or edtech product’s badge system is well designed to indicate what a badge represents and what (if anything) is next in terms of progress, it can be useful to the student even if no one else deeply cares. A lot of educators and after-school programs are experimenting with badges to do exactly that.

But here’s where this low-hanging fruit may be potentially poisonous: if all Open Badges, regardless of who issued them and what it took to earn them, are seen as equivalent. Much like in the early days of desktop publishing or blogging, when if the content just looked top-tier, it was assumed to be top-tier.

Open Badges getting to critical mass requires a critical eye on the part of both the education industry and educators. And not just a flood of what some observers have derogatorily termed “junk badges” that are issued simply because they can be, not because they should be.

With an increasing number of heavy hitters getting behind Open Badges, there’s definitely an increase in potential mass that would allow digital badges to coalesce so earners are able to store, combine and share useful badges across issuers.

If that happens, it will give Open Badges something much more valuable than mass. It would give them gravity.

Frank Catalano is an independent industry strategist, author and veteran analyst of digital education and consumer technologies. He's a regular columnist for EdSurge and the tech news site GeekWire, and tweets @FrankCatalano. He has worked with Professional Examination Service on its Open Badges efforts for professional credentials but remains, as ever, a fan of mass, gravity and frequently levity.

About the Author

Frank is an independent industry strategist, author and veteran analyst of digital education/consumer technologies. He is a regular columnist for EdSurge and GeekWire. He's also contributed to the NPR/KQED education site MindShift.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

36% say CC too tough, 24% not tough enough

New York state voters remain divided over the Common Core standards and a majority want to delay them for two years, according to a new poll released by Siena College.
Thirty-six percent of those polled said the standards were too challenging, 24 percent said they weren’t demanding enough and 23 percent said they were satisfied with the standards. Those numbers haven’t changed much since Siena College’s last poll on the Common Core standards conducted in November.
Forty-six percent of voters felt the Common Core will help students graduate high school ready to enter college or enter the workforce, but 47 percent said they weren’t confident. Fifty percent of voters said they wanted to delay implementation of the standards for two years.
The polling numbers aren’t good for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, either. Sixty-two percent trust the state department of education more than Cuomo when it comes to setting education policy. About 21 percent aligned with Cuomo and 13 percent said they didn’t trust either.
— Caitlin Emma

You've received this POLITICO

Sunday, February 23, 2014

NYT Freedman on Google Hiring

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — LAST June, in an interview with Adam Bryant of The Times, Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google — i.e., the guy in charge of hiring for one of the world’s most successful companies — noted that Google had determined that “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. ... We found that they don’t predict anything.” He also noted that the “proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time” — now as high as 14 percent on some teams. At a time when many people are asking, “How’s my kid gonna get a job?” I thought it would be useful to visit Google and hear how Bock would answer.

Don’t get him wrong, Bock begins, “Good grades certainly don’t hurt.” Many jobs at Google require math, computing and coding skills, so if your good grades truly reflect skills in those areas that you can apply, it would be an advantage. But Google has its eyes on much more.

“There are five hiring attributes we have across the company,” explained Bock. “If it’s a technical role, we assess your coding ability, and half the roles in the company are technical roles. For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they’re predictive.”

The second, he added, “is leadership — in particular emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership. Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don’t care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.”

What else? Humility and ownership. “It’s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in,” he said, to try to solve any problem — and the humility to step back and embrace the better ideas of others. “Your end goal,” explained Bock, “is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.”

And it is not just humility in creating space for others to contribute, says Bock, it’s “intellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn.” It is why research shows that many graduates from hotshot business schools plateau. “Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure,” said Bock.

The least important attribute they look for is “expertise.” Said Bock: “If you take somebody who has high cognitive ability, is innately curious, willing to learn and has emergent leadership skills, and you hire them as an H.R. person or finance person, and they have no content knowledge, and you compare them with someone who’s been doing just one thing and is a world expert, the expert will go: ‘I’ve seen this 100 times before; here’s what you do.’ ” Most of the time the nonexpert will come up with the same answer, added Bock, “because most of the time it’s not that hard.” Sure, once in a while they will mess it up, he said, but once in a while they’ll also come up with an answer that is totally new. And there is huge value in that.

To sum up Bock’s approach to hiring: Talent can come in so many different forms and be built in so many nontraditional ways today, hiring officers have to be alive to every one — besides brand-name colleges. Because “when you look at people who don’t go to school and make their way in the world, those are exceptional human beings. And we should do everything we can to find those people.” Too many colleges, he added, “don’t deliver on what they promise. You generate a ton of debt, you don’t learn the most useful things for your life. It’s [just] an extended adolescence.”

Google attracts so much talent it can afford to look beyond traditional metrics, like G.P.A. For most young people, though, going to college and doing well is still the best way to master the tools needed for many careers. But Bock is saying something important to them, too: Beware. Your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job. The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it). And in an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, it also cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Google invests in Renaissance

FORTUNE -- In recent years, Google (GOOG) has made a concerted push into education, marketing Chromebooks in K-12 schools and promoting its Google Play for Education initiative to offer easy access to learning apps and content.
Now Google Capital, the company's previously stealth growth fund, is accelerating those efforts with a $40 million investment in Renaissance Learning, an educational company whose student evaluation tools are used in 40,000 schools. The deal values the company at $1 billion.

The investment is only the third by Google Capital, which is run by David Lawee, the former head of M&A at Google. With the Renaissance investment, Lawee is speaking publicly about the fund for the first time. Previously, Google Capital invested in SurveyMonkey as part of a large debt and equity round by the online surveys provider, and in Lending Club, the peer-to-peer lending platform. Both 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Digital Identity - From Pat

FYI, here are links to the Mydex white paper I mentioned and slides from a talk I gave in NZ on digital identity in 2012.

The Case for Personal Information Empowerment: The rise of the personal data store

Rebooting digital identity: how the social web is transforming citizen behaviours and expectations
New Zealand Digital Identity in a Networked World Conference
1 May 2012

Wellington, NZ

Bringing Blended Models Home No Easy Task

"The home piece is the payoff," he said. "Folks are too worried about the device and not enough about the kids. You lose 75 percent of the benefit if [the devices] don't go home."

Published Online: January 27, 2014
Bringing Blended Models Home No Easy Task

—Peter Hoffman
When leaders of VOISE Academy High School couldn't find a reliable way to bring technology to students in their homes, they came up with a workaround—they brought students to the technology.
Many students at the high school, located in a poor neighborhood on Chicago's West Side, lack reliable Internet in their residences, and sending devices home with them was not a realistic option. So officials at the school opened the facility to students on Saturdays, giving them access to a safe, Web-connected hub where they could work on lessons that required technology.

Blended learning is generally defined as the effort to integrate technology-based lessons alongside traditional, person-to-person instruction. But some schools and districts face daunting obstacles in trying to ensure that blended learning takes place at home, not just in the classroom. Those barriers include concerns that the devices will be lost or stolen, and worries that impoverished students do not have access to the Web at home, creating inequities.
The Chicago school's strategy is just one example of the creative and unconventional efforts being tried around the country meant to extend the amount of time that students can spend on blended learning.
Giving individual devices to students has been "a huge safety concern," explained Todd Yarch, VOISE Academy's principal. So is unreliable Web access: "If they take the laptop home and there's no Internet, what good is it?"

Today, districts' efforts to bring blended learning home include not only giving students access to Internet-connected schools after hours, but also providing them with Wi-Fi connections on school buses and in other out-of-school locations, and asking educators to encourage students to engage in tech-based study away from school.

The Fairfield-Suisun Unified school system, a socioeconomically diverse district of about 22,000 students halfway between Sacramento and San Francisco, also weighed security concerns as it prepared to launch a 1-to-1 computing program last fall.

District officials pilot-tested the idea of distributing iPads in one of the school system's most impoverished communities. Initially fearing that the iPads would be stolen, the district required that the devices be kept on school grounds.

But later, they decided to let students take them home—after concluding that worries about security were overblown.

Marcus Stallworth, 15, came to VOISE Academy for one of the school's Saturday study sessions earlier this year to prepare for his finals. The students who show up at the Chicago public school's weekend sessions include those who need to make up missed work or pull up low grades, and others, like Marcus, who want access to school resources.
—Peter Hoffman

The focus of districts should be making sure that blended learning can happen "all the time," explained Tim Goree, the district's director of technology support services.

"Every school in our district has its own unique needs," he noted. "And even if you have a device and Internet for every student, it doesn't necessarily mean that the blended part of home learning will happen."
Limited research exists on the extent to which tech-based blended learning plays out in home environments to the same degree it does on school grounds.

But preliminary findings from a study underway by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a Seattle-based policy-research group run out of the University of Washington's Bothell campus, suggests that many schools are struggling to solidify the home piece of the puzzle.

Lawrence J. Miller, a senior research fellow at the center, is working on the study, which will examine the effectiveness of blended learning programs. Though final results are not due to be released until this spring, among 17 schools using blended learning that were reviewed, 13 didn't require students to devote any time to online, off-campus work.

Among the four other schools, the numbers varied widely—with students completing an average of 30 to 80 minutes of online study per night.

On the whole, Mr. Miller found that the majority of the 17 schools studied did not require students to complete technology-based lessons, and that on average, the students enrolled in those schools spent only 13 minutes on online homework a night, or a little more than an hour each week.

Racial, Income Gaps

While school officials' worries about devices being damaged or stolen can undermine blended learning, Mr. Miller said, educators' hesitancy is also shaped by their awareness that many students lack Internet access at home.

Strong Connectivity, For Some

Web access for children has risen dramatically over time, but not all populations have benefited equally. Children from minority households lag behind their peers in connecting to the Internet.

"Teachers are very concerned about equity of performance within the classroom among highfliers and lowfliers," Mr. Miller explained. "They're worried that kids who are already doing great will go home and knock it out of the park, while the kids who are not doing well will just fall farther and farther behind."
Home Web access has increased steadily over time, and more than 80 percent of households are connected to the Internet today, according to research compiled by Child Trends, a nonprofit research center based in Bethesda, Md. But minority students are less likely to have connectivity at home than are their white peers, as are impoverished students.

Over the past few years, a number of private companies and nonprofit organizations have worked together to try to expand Internet access in poor communities, in some cases in partnership with the federal government.

In addition, many organizations are urging federal officials to overhaul the E-rate program, which was designed to improve technology access in schools and libraries in impoverished communities.
In some communities, the challenges involved in connecting students to the Internet are daunting.

Acacia Winters, 15, came to a Saturday session at VOISE Academy earlier this month to work on math lessons. One of the goals of the Saturday sessions is to create a safe environment where students without home Internet access can connect to the Web.
—Peter Hoffman

VOISE Academy High School, which stands for Virtual Opportunities Inside a School Environment, is in its sixth year of implementing a 1-to-1 computing program. Ninety-five percent of its 330 students are black, and nearly all qualify for either a free or reduced-price lunch.

The academy, part of the 404,000-student Chicago school system, has sought to extend blended learning time—with some trial and error.

First, school leaders began refurbishing desktop computers and installing them in the homes of students that lacked computers. But because so many students lacked reliable Internet access, those devices were quickly rendered useless.

"As Internet prices come down, the problem will eventually solve itself, but in neighborhoods like ours, it's not going to solve itself in the next couple of years," said Mr. Yarch, the principal.

On-Site Strategies

As a solution, shortly after the school's founding in 2008, VOISE Academy started experimenting with opening its doors on Saturdays. Initially, those weekend sessions had been designed as a punishment for students facing disciplinary infractions. But Mr. Yarch allowed students who showed up to use their school-issued laptops to complete missed assignments—only to find that many of them asked to be allowed to come back.

VOISE Academy is now a frequent hub of weekend learning, used by students trying to boost their grades, Advanced Placement students working on group projects, and others completing assignments that require Web connectivity. In addition, some students elect to stay during after-school hours to log in more learning time.

Even with that policy, assigning homework presents a formidable challenge for the school's teachers, who find that they can't require digital lessons without putting some students at an overwhelming disadvantage.
Most teachers either convert online assignments into paper-based ones or ask that students plug in data and responses before class begins.

"It's an imperfect system," conceded Mr. Yarch, who added that he is continually searching for better ways to bridge the digital divide.

Around the country, some districts have instituted a patchwork approach to ensure that students' use of technology doesn't end when the school day ends.

Jasmine Hunter, 15, worked on math lessons during a Saturday school session at VOISE Academy earlier this month. The academy gave students access to the Internet-connected school on Saturday as an alternative to having them bring computing devices home, which school officials said raised safety concerns.
—Peter Hoffman

Mary E. Fluharty is the coordinator of online learning for the Alexandria public schools, a Virginia district of around 13,000 students that first went 1-to-1 a decade ago. Each night, 3,000 of its high school students take their devices home. For about a quarter of Alexandria's students, the district-owned laptops represent the only computer in their household, and many of them lack Internet connectivity.

To help increase access, the district used grant money to install a number of hot spots throughout the city, where students can log in to the district's filtered network. And with more teachers utilizing flipped-classrooms—typically those in which children watch video lessons at home, and receive more one-on-one instruction in school—many are also relying on cloud-based computing, or Google docs, so students can move from machine to machine and still access their assignments.

"This is not a school problem but a community problem," said Maribeth Luftglass, the chief technology officer in the nearby Fairfax County district. "It's in all of our best interests to make sure that our kids and our families have access."

Citing an annual survey, Ms. Luftglass said that 93 percent of the Fairfax district's 184,000 students have Web access once at home. To help increase home-based digital learning, the district, which is one of the nation's most affluent, has established partnerships with local government, businesses, and churches to allow students to use their Wi-Fi networks.

In addition, the Fairfax school system promotes an program, run by Comcast, the Internet, cable, and phone provider, to provide local families whose children receive free or reduced-price meals with discounted Web service, at a cost of $9.95 per month.

Teacher Jason Gondek, left, assists student Isaias Candelario, 17, during a Saturday session at VOISE Academy.
—Peter Hoffman

The district adopted a "bring your own device" program three years ago, allowing students to use smartphones, laptops, or tablets at school. It lends devices to students in need of them—for short periods such as a weekend, or in some cases for up to the whole school year.
"Our approach is definitely a multifaceted one," said Ms. Luftglass. "It's not 100 percent there, but we're working on it."

Mike Evans, the director of information and instructional support systems for the Forsyth County district, in Georgia, said that the ability to encourage blended learning at home depends not only on the availability of technology but also the willingness of educators to encourage digital-based study in the classroom.

Mobile Links

There's some evidence that many teachers in the 41,000-student district are already doing that: Evening is the district's peak time for Internet use, typically two or three times higher than the norm, he noted.
"The home piece really starts with teachers," said Mr. Evans. "If teachers aren't using the learning platform, the students have no reason to get into the system."

The Huntsville, Ala., district is one of the school systems using a cloud-based learning management system, which allows students to connect from school or home and complete academic assignments whenever they log in, as long as they have a Web connection.
The 23,000-student district, which adopted a 1-to-1 program last year, gives all students in grades 3-12 their own laptops. Each day, 16,000 computing devices accompany students home.
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What's more, the 250-square-mile district has tried to ensure reliable connectivity by putting Wi-Fi hotspots on about a quarter of its 126 school buses so that students can complete assignments on what are often lengthy rides.

"If we were waiting for everyone to have 100 percent access at home before deciding to go digital, we would never do it," said Casey Wardynski, Huntsville's superintendent. "Demand builds supply."
Mr. Wardynski says too many districts are fixated on security, rather than on figuring out creative ways to bring technology-based learning to students wherever they need it.

"The home piece is the payoff," he said. "Folks are too worried about the device and not enough about the kids. You lose 75 percent of the benefit if [the devices] don't go home."

Vol. 33, Issue 19, Pages s4,s6,s8,s9,s10
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$181,000 per year for college?

Just how high can the cost of college go? Recently, there has been a lot of discussion on college affordability and multiple new policy proposals. With college tuition on the rise, HPS wanted to investigate the actual value driving these increases and determine just how sustainable tuition increases are.
The results in this study evaluate the real economic benefits of higher education in terms of higher lifetime earnings. Our goal was to determine how long higher education would remain a compelling investment should tuition continue to increase at the current rate.
According to our analysis, a college degree is and will remain one of the best available investments. Based on our findings:
  • A four-year degree would no longer be worth its cost in the year 2086 at the price of $181,000 per year, assuming tuition costs continue to increase at present rates;
  • The present benefit of a college degree over a high school diploma is equal to approximately $725,000 in lifetime earnings; and
  • The present benefit of a bachelor’s degree over an associate’s degree is equal to approximately $340,000 in lifetime earnings.
Matt McDonald, Partner, Hamilton Place Strategies
Pat Brady, Analyst, Hamilton Place Strategies
Alex Dilley, Associate, Hamilton Place Strategies
- See more at: http://www.hamiltonplacestrategies.com/news/hps-cost-college-report#sthash.c35bkwVN.dpuf

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Where inBloom Wilted

Where inBloom Wilted

Lessons from inBloom’s difficult first year

Judging by this recent headline in the Washington Post, inBloom is anything but in bloom.
Back in March 2013, inBloom had a big coming-out party at SXSWedu, with a posh room filled with suede white couches and promises of a game-changing data warehousing tool for U.S. school districts. The nonprofit had lined up nine state partners and was expected to spend the subsequent year building secure data services while wooing customers and edtech application providers. Optimism for the program was squelched, however, when Stephanie Simons of Reuters dropped an article that raised questions--and stirred concerns--about the non-profit, aptly titled “K-12 student database jazzes tech startups, spooks parents.”
“Spook” turned out to be a gentle way of putting it. InBloom wound up spending much of the past 12 months battling a bonafide mediastorm. Education reform critic Diane Ravitch suggested that the non-profit is engaged in identity theft. Leonie Haimson, a parent advocate of 20+ years and founder of Class Size Matters, spearheaded efforts to get districts to cut ties with inBloom.
The bad press has proven costly. Six of those original nine state partners have cut official ties. Massachusetts is still deliberating over whether to use inBloom’s services, according to inBloom representative Adam Gaber. New York and Illinois (with the exception of Chicago) are moving forward in their partnerships with inBloom.
What gets lost in this he-said/she-said brouhaha is that data-tracking and third-party data collection companies are anything but new. And they won’t cease to exist, regardless of what happens to inBloom.

What is inBloom, and what does it actually do?

Known as the Shared Learning Collaborative back in 2011, inBloom is an Atlanta, GA-based nonprofit that is building a repository for student data. It has been funded predominantly by the Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation. As a nonprofit, inBloom has used this money mainly for building its full-time staff, which currently numbers 32.
According to Chief Product Officer Sharren Bates, inBloom’s mission is to “provide a valuable resource to teacher, students, and families to improve education” by offering a data service for schools districts to collect, manage, and reflect on student data--hopefully informing, and improving, existing instructional practices.
Here’s how inBloom is designed to work, according to Bates and the inBloom website. inBloom provides a Secure Data Service (SDS) for schools and districts to upload whatever student data they collect. Teachers, administrators, students, and parents have varying allowances of access to that data, depending on state and district laws. The primary purpose for providing this SDS to districts is assist administrators (mostly at the district level, where the majority of public school system procurement of edtech tools takes place) to choose whatever best supports their instructional goals with their students’ data in mind.
The inBloom API helps districts to collect and store student data, which can be used by schools and district internally to track and personalize learning for students. For example, a special education teacher might analyze their students’ data to generate IEPs, or Individualized Learning Plans.
Alternatively, districts can use that data to craft products tailored to their district’s needs--typically with the help of outside vendors.
Districts may already work with some content and tool providers or software companies. InBloom has a set of partner providers that can work with districts, including Wowzers, iResult, and CPSI, and offers a list of the kinds of tools and services that districts may choose to build out with student data as a reference point.
Example applications that schools can build include a Learning Map Authoring Tool (where educators can browse through standards like Common Core to develop maps linking back to student performances), and a Student Insights Tool (where teachers can “red flag” specific conditions and track students who meet those criteria). These tools are meant to be starting points, which local districts can further develop to use and apply student data in instructional practices.
Some of this is indeed happening in New York and Illinois, the two states still engaged in the inBloom partnership. inBloom has supported the EngageNY project with its data platform over the last year, and is currently supporting Illinois’s Shared Learning Environment.
However, the fine print is where things get messy. As reported in the Reuters article, the repository can also hold sensitive information such as test scores, attendance numbers--and even addresses and Social Security numbers.
What’s more, the information can be authorized for third-party company use. According to Bates, “school districts have that responsibility and authority to load information and approve applications, in order for those application providers to use the API.”
In layman’s terms, this means that any district could opt to share that data with commercial vendors, something they might consider if they are looking for content and tool providers to design tailored solutions.

The critics

Cue the ensuing call-outs of potential privacy breaches by parents. According to a recent Common Sense survey, 90% of adults are “concerned about how non-educational interests are able to access and use students' personal information.”
In New York, Haimson rallied parents who shared her frustration at what they felt was a lack of communication from inBloom on how student data would be used. “The idea of parents having any kind of say was way beyond anything they ever thought about. There was no consideration of having parental input or parental consent,” she charged, in an interview with EdSurge.
inBloom’s privacy and security policy statement (which has since been revised) added fuel to the fire by using classic boilerplate language that looked ominous in the context of students: “inBloom, Inc. cannot guarantee the security of the information stored in inBloom or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.”
The debates became acrimonious and bitter, with assertions flying fast: “inBloom set out to collect as much personal student information from as many states as possible,” Haimson charges. “They wanted to reach out to vendors with money offers, and try to lure them into building products around highly sensitive data.” (Bates strongly denies this allegation.)
Following blog posts and townhall meetings, states began to back away from inBloom. Louisiana tipped the domino chain on April 19 when State Superintendent John White agreed to pull student data out of inBloom. By August 1, 2013, five of inBloom’s state partnerships were kaputz.

But isn’t everybody doing it too?

It’s worth noting that inBloom’s privacy statement is something that many software companies in other industries use. And while inBloom has the potential to interface with millions of student records, it is only one of many companies involved in the practice of collecting and sharing federally-mandated student data.
Bill Fitzgerald, a former educator who has followed inBloom closely, says collecting student data collection isn’t “new by any stretch.” LearnSprout, eSchoolNet, Clever, Ed-Fi, and Pearson are just a few of the companies that collect and analyze data to help schools improve instructional practice. They may not function exactly as inBloom does, but as Fitzgerald describes, you can see the similarities in these products: “Ed-Fi is another data sharing solution, also based on Common Education Data Standards. Like inBloom, Ed-Fi also highlights how their tool supports data collection and sharing with third party vendors,” says Fitzgerald.
Schools have systematically collected data for years. “For 15 years, school districts have implemented learning applications transferring data within FERPA regulations,” says Bates. “In this context, the collection of data is not separate from the continuous improvement of achievement in the classroom.”
And there’s the big bomb--federal law. Following the Department of Education’s FERPA changes in 2012, schools could disclose student directory information. Going even further back in time, No Child Left Behind federally mandated K-12 data collection--specifically, using statewide longitudinal data systems. As Fitzgerald describes it:
“Federal law mandates that schools, districts, and states collect data on individual learners in the name of "accountability;" this ensures the need for data management. If inBloom, Ed-Fi, Pearson, etc were all to disappear tomorrow, there would be another round of datastores popping up because collecting and storing data is--according to federal law--a required element of public education.”

Where inBloom misstepped

So how did inBloom manage to become the face of the student data controversy?
Bates concedes that “this is part a larger conversation with lots of different facets and we didn’t expect for it all to be pointed at us.” At the end of the day, she stands behind inBloom’s mission and denies allegations that the system openly provides student information to third-party providers. “We don’t do any of that. That is not in our mission, that’s not what we do--in fact, we’re forbidden from doing that legally. School districts are responsible for managing disclosures to [companies].”
But she concedes that inBloom didn’t communicate well. The result: parents felt in the dark about where student data could wind up. “I don’t think we took advantage of those customer scenarios that were presented [last March] at SXSWedu,” Bates explains. “If I had to do it over again, I would advocate for a stronger push on customer statements. I wish we could have made clear that this is about school districts solving real problems with teachers, students and families.”
In speaking with Bates, Fitzgerald and Haimson, it’s clear that several factors led to the avalanche of controversy.

1. Communication and lack of transparency

As Bates mentioned, inBloom could have done a much better job at its communication efforts to ensure that all “customers”--districts, schools, teachers and parents--were involved from the beginning.
“InBloom's launch was pretty tough to watch,” Fitzgerald tells EdSurge. “They appeared to focus initially on the appeal to vendors, almost to the exclusion to the benefits to districts, schools, and learners. With the communications around launch pitched to the vendor community, they fed into the narrative that the whole purpose of inBloom was to shovel student data into the hands of corporations. Then, when pushback started, the PR response was muted and ineffective.”
“InBloom allowed their story to be written by others,” he adds, “and arguably they have been playing catch-up ever since.” He also cites false charge that vendors paid inBloom for use of data as a specific example of something that received a great deal of attention and confused parents, teachers, and advocacy groups in New York City.
“Had inBloom been able to articulate a business plan, it might’ve helped,” Fitzgerald suggests.

2. Timing

Additionally, inBloom launched its delicate data initiative at a particularly busy time.
With the amount of newly-minted initiatives in 2013--Common Core and changes in nationwide testing, in particular--the public was already weary of another large-scale effort that could affect student learning. On January 24, 2014, EdWeek blogger Catherine Gewertz released a post chronicling the efforts of school chiefs in 34 states to resist sharing personally identifiable student data with the federal government.
Couple this with Edward Snowden’s revelations about government snooping in June 2013, which escalated public concerns around data privacy, and inBloom was headed for a collision. Fitzgerald explains:
“The Snowden revelations helped more people become aware of how seemingly innocuous data points could be used to create a pretty complex picture of what a person is doing. More than any event I've seen in the privacy space, Edward Snowden got people talking about data, metadata, collection of information over time, and how that information could be misused. The effects were definitely seen in the education space.”

3. The Gates-Murdoch-Klein conundrum

Fitzgerald also calls out the involvement of Rupert Murdoch, Bill Gates, and Joel Klein as highly combustible tinder for critics.
“When people hear ‘inBloom,’ they hear, “Bill Gates hired Rupert Murdoch to allow Joel Klein to build a system where they can see my child’s data,” explains Fitzgerald, having outlined the involvement of each name in another one of his blogposts. It “hurt inBloom’s chances at a fair hearing,” he says.
Bates stands behind the Gates sponsorship, explaining that “to build a secure, production-ready data service that is ready for hundreds of districts in the country to solve real problems takes tens of millions of dollars.”


InBloom got caught between two powerful but surprisingly divergent societal tides: a top-down, take-control approach and a grassroots personalization movement.
Data can better inform students, parents and educators about the learning process--and it can also help companies build more effective--and profitable--products.
It's important, however, to tread carefully. Individual empowerment and personalization are in vogue. InBloom hopes to deliver on it.
But the top-down, take-control approach that inBloom took raised concerns that data and technology will trump the individual efforts of teachers and schools to innovate and personalize learning for the students--and breach deeply-held notions of privacy and security.
Are we willing to give up some individual power and privacy for the sake of better edtech products--and potentially improved learning outcomes?
That is a question that ultimately the education world as a whole, not just inBloom, needs to answer.