You may have missed this one

With the political news concerning health care and “collaboration” with Russia, you may have missed this story. The Senate, voting along party lines, has decided that is OK for you ISP (Internet Service Provider) to sell your data. That means your browsing history is not as private as you thought or hoped. Since you likely know who holds the majority in the Senate, you know who voted to sell you out.

I cannot imagine as a consumer who would think this was OK. Even if you did not care who knew what you viewed online, why would you want to allow the ISP to sell this information. You already pay the ISP for online access. At best, I would think it appropriate that “sell my data” would be an opt in that would compensate you against your monthly bill. Since, your browsing preferences would be a great way to feed you ads, I would think $5-10 a month would be appropriate.

Here is the thing that irks me about Republicans. Why is it that business interests are given priority over the interests of individuals? Yes, I do know the answer to my own question.

As to why senators would want to overturn privacy rules, Vocativ (via TNW) reported earlier this week that the 22 Republican senators behind the resolution had received more than $1.7 million in campaign contributions from the telecoms industry in recent years.

There is still time to contact your representative, but I suppose most of them are on the payroll too.

The question of online privacy has been prominent recently. For example, I have written on several occasions about the rights of creators to allow ads on their content and against those who feel it a right to block such ads. Yes, ads and cookies are a way to annoy users and collect information, BUT when you get content for free the ads provide a form of compensation for the free content received. If you don’t like the ads, don’t visit the content generated by creators. This is not an issue with ISPs – you have no choice. You use the service and they have your data.

There are related issues that may be involved and to my knowledge have been overlooked. If you work in education, you may be familiar with COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). This law makes it illegal collect without parental approval the online data generated by the activities of children under the age of 13. Since I see no opt in or opt out provisions for the Senate pronouncement, I am unclear on how COPPA requirements would be met.

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Innovation in higher ed – who promotes what

The higher ed system in North Dakota is in serious jeopardy of a great drop in quality. Budget shortfalls that resulted from the downturn in oil prices combined with lower prices for farm commodities and tax cuts based on optimistic legislative speculation has resulted in double digit cuts and faculty downsizing for several years. Politicians have taken the opportunity to urge that higher ed needs to become more innovative.

Here is a video of an interview with the present Governor (start at about the 2o minute mark for comments on higher education). The governor and moderator propose that it is time for higher ed to innovate and speculate that technology should the basis for such changes. As is often the case when someone knows just enough to be dangerous, the recommendations are vague and simplistic. For example, the moderator argues that Google allows access to information so that factual knowledge is less important. The Governor seems more focused on the instructional potential of online educator for what he calls “knowledge transfer”.

A couple of general reactions to points that may resonate with the general public. First, knowing is always better than having access to information. Anecdotally, this may not seem to be the case. Those who argue this point by noting why do I need to know this or that fact. This makes some sense, but the wrong way to think about things. Consider the absurdity of this argument if taken to an extreme. For example, why must I acquire a vocabulary if I can look up any unfamiliar word in second? The answer is that comprehension much occur within seconds to work well because this is the way the mind works. The more disruptions the more impossible comprehension becomes. Those who possess more information and information that is organized in storage will have a tremendous advantage in anything cognitive task – comprehension or general thinking. Technology offers a great advantage in recovering from failures of knowing, but it is not an acceptable replacement for knowing  and the proposal that we can just look things up is a silly and no well thought through understanding of learning and the application of learning.

I taught in a university setting for nearly 40 years and during part of that time I taught some courses online. I continue to teach online. I understand the financial advantage to students enrolled in online courses and I understand the necessity of some students learning in this fashion. However, teaching online is more difficult and less efficient than teaching face to face. I understand that those politicians who argue for more efficient “knowledge transfer” have never been online instructors, but more importantly most have never experienced learning in such settings. I would encourage interested parties to invest 45 hours or so in an online experience to see what they think. Better yet, I would suggest they enroll their children and save the money of sending them to campus. These programs already exist so the requested “knowledge transfer” innovations are already available. Maybe they did not know this. If so, they can count this as an example of technology-enabled “knowledge transfer”.

I also think politicians have some strange ideas about what higher education is and isn’t. Most of worked on what is called a 60/30/10 contract. What this contracted is intended to mean is that we have a 60% commitment to teaching. Teaching involves much more than the stand in front of 200 student lectures (the knowledge transfer part). I might spend more time working with 2 grad students in a week than I spend with the 200 students in an Introductory lecture. If you regard this as my failure, I would note that I sat in my office with door open and any student is welcome. The 60/30/10 assumes that teaching, research and service support each other as scholarly activities. The model also assumes that universities contribute in very important ways beyond “knowledge transfer” and that facilities and social processes facilitate these other activities as well.

I don’t see the campuses at “universities” going away. There are too many efficiencies in the interaction of individuals in face to face settings. These efficiencies may be possible to duplicate online, but I would suggest this numbers involved when such approaches are taken would require an expansion in the number of “educators” involved.

Don’t get me wrong regarding the role of technology. My work for nearly half of my career involved the application and research on the effectiveness of technology to learning. The approaches I value can improve effectiveness, but I do not see opportunities for great cost cutting. Consider a comparison to the practice of medicine. Does anyone question whether technologies have improved medical practice? Does anyone argue that the improvements they have in mind involve lower costs?

So, when politicians argue that the world is changing and technology should play a larger role in most areas what exactly are they expecting? Is it improved performances of those services or is it the expectation that the services should cost less?

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Apple announces lower cost iPads

Apple has announced a new and less expensive iPad. The new iPad comes at two price points – $329 and $429 depending on storage capacity (32 or 129 gigabytes – wifi versions – education price may be slightly lower). The 9.7 inch iPads replace the iPad Air 2.

Some see this product as an alternative to chromebooks for the k12 market.

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New Google investment in world-wide education

Google’s philanthropic arm,, has announced a new worldwide education initiative intended to address equity and issues.

In addition to infrastructure provided by Google, the donation funds specific initiatives hosted by partners. Among the investments U.S. teachers might recognize would be the Kahn Academy. StoryWeaver, a company based in India, offers stories that have been translated into multiple languages.

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Google Vision for Education

Google Cloud Next offers Google the opportunity to share the company’s vision on many topics. Among these topics is what Google sees as the future of education (YouTube video of session). The focus of the presentation is on how teachers can use the tools Google makes available. What are core principles Google believes are important?

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Web annotation now has a standard and why it matters

The opportunity to highlight and annotate the web pages of third parties has been available for some time. Such consumer additions offer advantages in education and for the concept of the participatory web. The limitation of what has been available has been the unique approaches that were used – the individual adding the annotations and the individual wishing to view annotations had to be running similar software.

With the assignment of a web standard, this would not have to be the case. Software complying with this standard could originate from different sources and still allow annotations to be added and viewed.

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It isn’t about choice if you have no choices

The net neutrality issue has again returned to my radar with the new administrator and a new FCC director. New director Pai is moving to remove net neutrality expectations suggesting that “zero rating” offers customers opportunities and not restrictions. Zero-rating means that the provider allows services to be used without counting against your data limit. Of course, the provider is likely to select services for zero rating that offer some advantage to the provider.

Pai also uses the typical republican business competition is good explanation (it is about customer choice). This argument denies the reality that many of us have no real options for the service we receive.

Vint Cerf, internet pioneer, argues that new trends are contrary to the beliefs of those who developed the Internet for general use and argues that current priorities reduce the likelihood of innovation.

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Google docs/keep integrated

I am a sucker for ways to improve my reading/writing workflow. If you are a blogger, student, or teacher, you likely have similar needs.

My “go to” approach has been to collect ideas and content in Evernote and then write in Google docs. I stick with Evernote even though the cost has gone up, but others may be interested in less costly alternatives. I have written before about the potential of Google Keep and now Google has created a way to integrate docs and Keep.

Google docs now lists Google Keep as a tool (see image below).

Selecting this option will open a panel to the right side of the Google doc you are working on (see image below).

Items can simply be pulled into the active doc from Keep (you can also use the Insert option that is an option under the three-dot menubar). This is a convenient way to bring in notes, links and segments of text you would likely summarize as you develop content.

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Much has been made of intrusive ads and ad blockers. To some extent. this about the annoyance of pop-ups (actually not that common in my experience with education sites). More importantly, sites can be adding cookies to your browser and collecting information you might not be willing to share.

Ghostery is an extension you can add to your browser to give you information and some control over the information being collected. I am against blocking ads in most cases because I see the use of ads is a decision to be made by the content creator and not the content consumer. I do think it is important that consumers have some awareness of what cookies are operating on their browsers.

The following two images shows Ghostery in action. The first shows the return from my site which does display a Google ad on most pages and collections Google analytics data on the use of my site. The second images shows the Ghostery return when using the popular education resource site hosted by Richard Byrne. I knew this site was funded by the display of many ads and wanted to see the difference.

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Ravitch on Public Education

Scholar Diane Ravitch was one of the most vocal and visible objectors to now Sec of Education DeVos. Here is a nice video (PBS with Tavis Smiley) explaining her positions.

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