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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Are testing companies really "spying" on students if they monitor social media during testing?

Another day of standardized testing, another controversy.  The latest being around the administration of the PARCC Common Core test in New Jersey.  In this case the controversy is not over the usefulness of testing, or current problems with the online test administration, but rather the monitoring of social media by the testing company, Pearson, to detect test cheaters and other irregularities.  The controversy is detailed in this Washington Post blog, with a superintendent being upset by the perceived big brother monitoring of their students.  Why is this at all disturbing?  Haven’t we always monitored students and schools during high stakes testing?  Test administrators and monitors are rigorously trained, certified, and then required to monitor schools and testing, to ensure a fair testing environment for all students.  As much time and money as states and schools spend on this massive undertaking for arguably little return, is it wrong that Pearson monitors publicly posted social media posts?  If a student, teacher, or administrator chooses to publicly post test questions to social media during a test, then they have made a poor choice, violated testing rules, and must face the fall out.  But there are allegations detailed here that the spying was in fact looking at private student social media posts.  If those were somehow monitored or if action was taken on students’ opinions of the test, then shame on those involved.  But come on, to call monitoring public social media posts “spying” shows a lack of understanding of social media that is for all intents is public information.  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Student Data Privacy Worries Grow

The worries and media coverage around the privacy of student data are growing as fast as the amount of funds being funneled into educational technology startups, and for good reason; The amount of apps and programs that are being used with students by teachers and schools are growing faster than ever, and often being implemented with little to no planning and oversight. 

Natasha Singer, of the New York Times, who has investigated the (in)security of educational applications produced by signatories of the Student Privacy Pledge, wrote a new story highlighting the difficulties faced by schools in managing all the apps and related student data. The story features Judson Independent School District amongst others.

At the same time a coalition of groups, including CoSN, the Consortium for School Networking, released 10 principles for protecting and guiding the use of the personal information of America’s students

It's great to see media coverage highlighting the issue that is also willing to recognize that there are many groups involved with trying to help schools with this issue.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What is keeping education CTO's up at night?

During the recent February 2015 TCEA conference in Austin, several CTOs participated in panel about their most pressing issues and worries in their roles as CTOs.

What keeps CTO's up at night?  Check it out at eSchoolNews
The panel, moderated by Kari Murphy, Chief Technology Officer at Deer Park ISD included John Orbaugh, Executive Director of Technology at Tyler ISD, Karla Burkholder, CTO at Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD, Barbara Brown, Chief Technology Officer at Lewisville ISD, and myself, Steve Young, Chief Technology Officer at Judson ISD.  Our dear colleague, Sheryl Abshire, Chief Technology Officer from Calcasieu Parish Schools, was unable to join the group.

eSchoolNews did a short follow up piece and interviewed several panelists for the article.

It is a quick and worthwhile read at: http://www.eschoolnews.com/2015/03/11/cto-night-752/?   


Monday, February 23, 2015

Innovation is Not About the Technology

A reporter recently asked me, "Are any of the new technologies being introduced into K-12 education actually causing student test scores to increase?" While the question has been asked a lot, her point was that with all the venture capital being poured into educational technology now, investors and the public may start wanting products to show actual data on how they actually improve test scores. In the case of many products, a lot of which focus on remediating students for particular subjects, this is certainly a valid question. But I think many times we are hoping software, hardware, remediation systems, and other assorted educational technology products will magically transform education, when they will not. 
Read the great article at ISTE

One of the best pieces I've read this week was written by Grant Lichtman and published by ISTE. The author traveled to tens of schools across the country and visited with teachers and students and observed the learning process at many innovative schools. The author concludes that the innovation is really not about the technology at all, but rather about how learning is structured where the students are the leaders in learning. Of course this does not mean that technology can't play a role in the process, but the critical factors include how classes are structured, how students take charge of their learning and investigation, and how teachers and administrators must release control of learning to students. I urge you to read this great piece and join the conversation by sharing your thoughts.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

FERPA & Student Data Privacy - Let the privacy tidal wave begin


Recently, I had an educator ask me if students collaborating together on an assignment, through a collaborative technology such as Google Docs, could be a violation of the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act, which most of us know as FERPA. Their concern was that as students work together, one student’s parent would be able to see the work done by the student their child was collaborating with on the assignment. This has never occurred to me as a concern, but it certainly begged investigation. After reviewing many websites, I did not find anything that would suggest a homework assignment in progress would at all be considered an educational record (and therefore protected by FERPA), as it is not part of a child’s permanent record at that point, nor is it in possession of the school at that point. In fact I did not find anything definitive that would suggest student work is FERPA protected at all. Graded work MAY be, as an individual grade itself might be part of the student record. But from the United States Supreme Court “Owasso Independent School District v. Falvo,” it is clear that an ungraded assignment is not an educational record, and therefore not subject to FERPA. 

The above is my interpretation and not a legal opinion, but it demonstrates how delicate the topic of student privacy is becoming. Increasingly, student data and privacy are being looked at with a laser focus by places like the State of California, President Obama, and organizations like Common Sense Media and CoSN. Expect to hear many more discussions and questions about what student data is shareable to further a student’s education and what data must be protected by schools and third parties.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My New Year's Wish List for Ed Tech


It's been another fast-paced year in educational technology, with nothing more certain than change.
Yet as much as there is innovation and exciting new products and ideas, there is a lot that I keep hoping will change, ideally at a rate faster than the speed of smell. So here is my Ed-Tech New Year wish list in no particular order of urgency:

  • Transparent pricing: We are in education and cost IS important; if we have to use Chinese water torture to get a price for your product or service or to figure some outlandish set of options and upgrades, we may shop somewhere else.
  • Fair contracts: Contracts need to take into account that we get funded by fickle entities. Stop writing auto-renewing contracts with no outs, or worse yet, multi-year auto renewals.
  • Learning content standards: Digital content is exploding everywhere, yet much of it is locked in proprietary content prison cells, inaccessible from our learning management systems. Let's all get behind a common standard, like "Learning Tools Interoperability" or LTI for short.
  • Easy log in: If your company cannot support LTI, at least bless us with some sort of common authentication or single sign-on. We can't bear to have teachers or administrators waste one more second administering accounts or wasting time logging in to a web site.
  • Old web technology: It's far past the time to layout web pages in tables, run Flash animations, and use Java to validate forms. Join this century and leverage HTML 5 and responsive web design, so all of our devices can access your 1999 web site.
  • A common wireless video standard that actually works: Students and teachers all have different devices and all have great things to share with the class, but in most cases, most of their devices cannot share their content to a TV or projector over the same standard. There is money to be made by someone solving this!
 
Ed Tech - change is for certain

Friday, November 14, 2014

Dell World 2014 Report

Michael Dell and company judging ed tech startups at the Pitch Slam at Dell World 2014
Last week I had the opportunity to attend Dell World 2014, an event that showcased Dell’s commitment to its education customers and continued support of education innovation. This was especially evident in Dell’s sponsorship of the “Pitch Slam,” where three chosen edtech startups pitched products to the judges, headed by Michael Dell. The three products were very different, but all had lots of potential to be used across K-12:
·        BeeLine Reader helps readers use color grading of words to make it easy to follow sentences. 

·        EduCanon helps teachers create videos to flip their classrooms. The product includes an embedded check for understanding, which students must complete before continuing on with the video, giving teachers a great formative assessment dashboard.

·        PenPal Schools, which won the Dell Pitch Slam, enables students from different parts of the world to write and learn together. The students learn new languages and cultures in a safe and secure online system, which includes pre-made assignments that make it easy for teachers to get their classes writing to peers across the world.

Overall, this and other events at Dell World 2014 confirmed that the company is in the education market for the long haul.