FunnyMonkey Blog

Bill Fitzgerald | February 6, 2015

I've been thinking about the idea of scale, and how our current conceptions of scale are askew.

Within the Open Educational Resources space, there are a range of efforts that focus on broad scale adoption of OER. This vision includes hundreds or thousands of resources adopted hundreds of thousands to millions of times. In this vision, OERs replace textbooks, and save students hundreds to thousands of dollars on textbook costs. This is a very good thing. Arguably, this is a necessary step on the road to broader adoption of OER.

But, this vision of OER at scale is still predicated on scaling for delivery.

If we shift our vision of scale to tens of thousands of resources adopted tens of thousands of times, we begin to access some of the transformative power of OER. This vision of scale embeds and requires two elements: an informed and empowered teacher or...

Bill Fitzgerald | February 5, 2015

On January 20th, 2015, Portland Public Schools launched a school climate survey as part of a first effort to get more feedback, more regularly from parents within the District.

This launch was a little rocky. We noted some problems with the privacy policy on the survey. The Oregonian announced the launch of the survey, but the way the Oregonian story described student participation would have had PPS running afoul of PPRA, and possibly COPPA (and to state the obvious, it would be good for the Oregonian to update their story to reflect reality).

Since the...

Jeff Graham | February 4, 2015

Recently technical debt has been getting more discussion. That is a good thing. Just like in the "real world" strategic debt can be useful. Historically, investing in advanced education such as college or trade school has been a sound investment. Similarly investing in a primary residence has also been a sound investment. In both scenarios we often take on an amount of debt to create opportunity that would not normally have been available.

Similarly, we invest in technologies. When we can not afford the opportunity cost up front, or an ongoing development cost, we take on technical debt. If done properly and invested appropriately this can be a wise strategic decision. On the other hand if one takes on too much debt (financial or technical) one runs the risk of defaulting.

"Default may occur if the debtor is either unwilling or unable to pay his or her debt."
Wikipedia

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Bill Fitzgerald | January 31, 2015

In an earlier blog post, we described a process that could be used by schools and districts to inventory the applications used to support teaching and learning. This inventory covered details of contracting, educational rationale for the application, and the privacy implications of the application. Much of this evaluation will be identical across schools, so it doesn't make sense for different schools to sink time into doing indentical work across the country.

Since we put that post out, we have talked a lot internally about what it would require to build that application. We have also talked with educators, administrators, privacy advocates, vendors, and parents about the idea, and have received enough feedback where we don't feel like we are missing anything obvious. To round out the application, we would want to include some information about the text of privacy policies.

Maintenance...

Bill Fitzgerald | January 31, 2015

This post was originally published at Educating Modern Learners.

Anyone working in or around education technology in the last two decades has likely experienced the tension between district-level technology policies and classroom-level technology implementation.

In very general terms, district-level decisions tend to minimize risk, often at the expense of teacher autonomy and creativity. On the other end of the spectrum, classroom-level implementations – where a teacher brings in an application outside of district- or school-level approval processes – can get teachers the resources they want to use with less hassle. However, over time, classroom-level implementations that sidestep school- and district-level review often result in a patchwork of applications, with little or no review for privacy, security, or effectiveness. Complicating matters even further, district-level...

Bill Fitzgerald | January 30, 2015

Adopting openly licensed resources is arguably the most complicated part of the process.

With this in mind, I get the sense that, when we talk about scale, we are getting it wrong. In general, conversations about using OER at scale focus more on high levels of adoption of a relatively smaller set of resources. In this context, "scale" means hundreds of thousands or millions of adoptions of hundreds of resources.

This is attributable in part to the work required to adopt a text, and the semi-porous silos used to author and distribute this work. If we did a better job stripping down openly licensed materials to their component parts, we could rethink our conceptions of scale. Reducing the amount of work required to adopt OER would allow for more flexible remixes from more varied sources.

If we could rethink and redefine "scale" as tens of...

Bill Fitzgerald | January 23, 2015

Over the years, we have seen a slow but gradual shift from fully closed content silos to content repositories or sources of information that have made some initial steps toward being more open. However, even the best of these silos are only semi-porous. They allow information and data to leak out via API calls, xml formats, LTI, SCORM, ePub - all the Frankensteins of interoperability - but these leaks retain the bedrock assumptions upon which the data was built, or published, or distributed.

And this is not a bad thing - content needs to be written for a purpose, and semi-porous is light years ahead of fully closed. But, embedded assumptions get in the way of reuse. Embedded assumptions - in the form of css that supports a visual effect in one web site, in the form of a learning objective that is not universal, in the form of semantic markup that might not be relevant in different uses - create a nest of...

Bill Fitzgerald | January 21, 2015

UPDATE, February 5, 1015. The privacy policy for this survey has been updated. Details available here. END UPDATE

On January 20th, Portland Public Schools released their School Climate survey. The goals of the survey are great - the district is making a focused effort to reach out to a broad range of parents with kids in Portland Public Schools. However, there are some issues with the survey and the associated privacy policies.

The problems start at the point of account creation. While the registration form states that personal info will not be tied to responses, there is no link to any privacy policy or terms of service.

Additionally, the survey site...

Bill Fitzgerald | January 19, 2015

The ability to remix and adapt openly licensed content is one of the key advantages of open educational resources - or OERs - over proprietary, traditional textbooks. However, there are still barriers to remixing that get in the way of more people making better use of this core element of open content.

For better or worse, most (all?) OERs are authored for use within a specific context. So are traditional textbooks, for that matter, but the context of a traditional textbook is the traditional school setting. There is a case to be made that the structure of traditional texts - and our familiarity and comfort with that structure - is one of the impediments to changing the structure of school as we know it. But that's a different post.

Many OERs were written to address a specific, localized need, and were published in specific systems and tools that made sense within that specific use case. These...

Bill Fitzgerald | January 16, 2015

In May, during the bankruptcy proceedings for ConnectEDU, the Federal Trade Commission stepped in to stop the sale of student data as part of the bankruptcy proceedings. ConnectEDU had gathered data - including test scores, GPAs, goals, contact information, college plans, learning differences, and other detailed personal information - on millions of students as part of its services.

However, the FTC's recommendations to protect student data never happened because ConnectEDU didn't have any employees to carry them out. In December, 2014, millions of detailed student records were sold, with notification to the affected people largely happening after the fact.

Cue the rhetorical questions: what could ever happen to learner data if other companies went...

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