FunnyMonkey Blog

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...

Bill Fitzgerald | January 6, 2015

In late 2014, Remind updated their privacy policies and terms of service. While I haven't read through the updated terms in detail to see the precise changes to the terms, there is a lot to like in their updates.

  • List of partners - this is a great step other companies would do well to follow, and it's a level of transparency that I haven't seen anyplace else. If other orgs are doing this, please let me know in the comments or on twitter. This list could be improved by being more specific about the data these companies get, but with that said, the fact that Remind created and shared that list is a huge...
Bill Fitzgerald | January 3, 2015

Earlier today, I found out Monsanto - yes, that Monsanto - is sponsoring EdCamp St. Louis. This makes perfect sense for Monsanto, and is part of Monsanto's corporate strategy, but it raises some questions about whether it makes sense for EdCamp.

What does it mean for an organization like EdCamp - that explicitly references a distributed model with respect for local control - when local camps agree to take money from an organization that has made billions destroying local agricuture?

What does it mean for an organization like EdCamp - which...

Bill Fitzgerald | December 27, 2014

A quick and incomplete list for some research I'm doing on the use of law enforcement (often called School Resource Officers) in schools. From what I have seen (and if I'm wrong here, please set me straight in the comments and I'll update the post) districts don't track the use of SROs in discipline for behavior referrals for minor offenses in any uniform way, if at all.

If this is accurate, we have a population of students who face out of school suspension for minor offenses, combined with a referral to law enforcement for the same offense - and we have no information about the number of students affected by this practice.

As a side note, in the 19 states that still allow corporal punishment, there are districts where SROs or local law enforcement deliver the beatings. Again, I have not seen any data quantifying how widespread this practice is.

Bill Fitzgerald | November 14, 2014

Within educational technology, tech companies can acquire data via multiple routes. The most direct way is via a direct signup: a teacher creates an account to use a service, and the teacher is the only person using the service. BetterLesson is an example of a site like this - a teacher creates an account, and only teacher data gets collected. The site is primarily teacher focused.

A second model includes sites that get their initial data from teacher or school signup, but then as part of the service offered in the site, they acquire student information. Basic gradebook applications and some simple student information systems work like this - the teacher or school signs up for the application, and in the process of using it they enter student names, grades, notes, parent information, and other details - the actual data added will vary based on the needs of the application, but information is shared about people without their direct involvement or consent....

Bill Fitzgerald | November 9, 2014

This lesson is based on events from late October/early November in Minnesota. It would be a good fit for grades 6-12. It is released (like all the blog posts on this site) under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license, which means that you are free to use it and modify it as you need, provided you share your work as well. The full content of this lesson is also available as a Google Doc that you can copy and modify as needed.

In this exercise, you will get directly into issues of race, power, and how bias in the media can affect what gets packaged as news. These are difficult but important topics. As a teacher, you might feel uncomfortable getting into these topics. When discussing issues that are outside your comfort zone or immediate area of expertise, be clear and transparent about...

Bill Fitzgerald | October 30, 2014

Yesterday, two applications that use student and parent data were written up on EdSurge. Both of the applications put student social media use under surveillance, and attempt to tie this surveillance and data collection to the students' best interest.

The two apps are Securly and Mevoked - Securly describes itself as a "filtering 2.0 for schools and families"; Mevoked describes itself as "bridging the gap between mental health and technology".


In the EdSurge piece, a director of instructional innovation describes what Securly offers:

From the Securly dashboard, the administrators can see what students have and haven’t been able to access,” she explains. “If I want to see what kids are posting on Twitter or Facebook, I can--everything on our...


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