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Bill Fitzgerald | February 25, 2015

The Civil Rights Project has an updated report on rates of suspension in schools that came out on February 23rd. The report has some great details that show the scope of the issues facing us as we attempt to dismantle the school to prison pipeline.

But as I read about disproportionate rates of suspension based on race, I also think about the increased use of School Resource Officers, which place a beat cop in many schools. This results in school discipline issues becoming criminal justice issues.

This all takes place against the backdrop of the growing pushback against Common Core aligned assessments. Getting into the full scope of these arguments is not the focus of this piece,...

Bill Fitzgerald | February 23, 2015

Privacy Policies and Terms of Service specify the rules under which an application can be used. They cover a lot of ground, and in this post, we are going to leave a lot out and focus on one specific element of the policies: how data collected by an application gets handled if the structure of the company changes.

In earlier posts, we have described how data collection within education is different than in consumer technology. In general terms, educational applications will require data to support a learner, and collect data about that learner as they work. The context within which that data is collected is pretty focused: it supports a learning process as defined by the software. In theory, the learner gets a benefit, and the data trail documents the process by which the learner earned the benefit.

If a company is sold, merges with another company, or goes out of business, the context within which data...

Bill Fitzgerald | February 18, 2015

I'm not one to bury the lede, so here's the question:

If you are a company that markets a product to learners, parents, teachers, schools, or districts, how does claiming the right to sell user data in case of bankruptcy improve your product?

Here's a related question for learners, parents, teachers, school decision makers, and district decision makers:

If you are using a service, how does the sale of your personal information improve the learning or experience you get from that service?

Many services and software applications marketed as education technology really function more as data collection tools with an interactive front end. One key distinguishing feature between a data collection tool and an actual edtech app is how the company pledges to treat your data. Privacy policies and terms of service provide the clearest view into the rights a company claims over your learning experience.

Bill Fitzgerald | February 12, 2015

Natasha Singer has a couple of very strong articles highlighting weak or nonexistent security practices within many education technology (or EdTech) companies.

It's hard to say if this is just a poorly kept secret or the elephant in the room, but it's good to see the lax practices of EdTech companies getting more mainstream attention. It's needed - it's been needed for a while - and Singer's articles are part of the solution.

As I'm writing this, people are talking in Congress about the need for improved legislation to protect student privacy. And they are right, and I...

Bill Fitzgerald | February 7, 2015

The opt out movement is gaining steam. However, current opt out efforts often overlook or gloss over one essential element in the current educational landscape: disaggregated data at the school and district level.

The widespread use of disaggregated data was part of No Child Left Behind. The use of disaggregated data at the school level meant that schools now reported information on different populations within them. Rather than report just a schoolwide average, schools reported on specific populations, based on race and socioeconomic status. This brought increased focus - and in many cases, new focus - on how schools supported or didn't support different populations. The use of disaggregated data provided a starting point for discussing longstanding and long-ignored achievement gaps.

And, while you won't find many people arguing...

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."

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.


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...


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