Picture of the jump to conclusions mat from the movie office space with insert picture of the movie character Tom Smykowski

The jump to conclusions mat

How do we know what we know? How do we know what we should know? I’ve been in the field of educational technology for almost 20 years. Despite my hesitations, I think that makes me a relative expert in the field, and I always have a hard time gauging whether what I know is general knowledge or not.  However, lately, I’ve been getting the sneaking suspicion that those of us in the field are making too many assumptions about the general technology knowledge of teachers and other educational practitioners whose job does not constantly revolve around thinking about technology. I think we get so wrapped up in the possibilities that we see for technology in education that we jump to conclusions about the steps required to integrate whatever solution we’re talking about. We have the tendency to think that the teachers who will be responsible for the integration of technology understand it as well as we do. We may provide some kind of technical PD, where we tell them to click here and click there but, ultimately, I think we sometimes leave them more confused than they were before we started.

I think that we need to take a step back and re-evaluate the technological knowledge of the teachers we’re asking to implement the solution and provide professional development that is appropriate for the level of knowledge they have. We are never going to be successful if the ed tech people are being much more high level than the audience we’re trying to reach. We need to do what we always talk about doing with our students: we need to meet them where they are rather than force them to be where we are.

image of connected white puzzle pieces with one missing in the middle

Privacy Lost

It seems that every week that goes by we hear something else horrifying about the Facebook data breach (what’s the best word to use here: breach, leak, theft, or just plain use?). First, according to Cambridge Analytica, it was data from 50 million users, then, according to Facebook, it was 87 million. Then we find out that 2.7 million EU customers also had their data shared with Cambridge Analytica.  Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica. Then, it was another firm, a Canadian one this time, AggregateIQ, that was suspended by Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg is set to testify before Congress this week. Have we heard the last of the revelations in this scandal? I think not. But the bigger question is should we be surprised that this happened?

This whole scandal begets a bigger question: who are Facebook’s customers? (and for that matter who are Google’s customers?) Are the 2.something billion users the customers? You would think, but those customers don’t pay anything for the privilege of using the intellectual property developed by Facebook, Inc. They don’t pay for the servers required to hold all their pictures, videos, and musings. How does Facebook pay for all that and make Mark Zuckerberg worth almost $70 billion? Why it’s the advertisers who pay for it all, the advertisers who flood to Facebook because the data they get from Facebook allows them to target users much better than any other medium (with the exception of maybe Google).  Those advertisers pay Facebook to learn all about the users: what they like and don’t like, what their beliefs are (political and otherwise), when they go online and what they buy, who their friends are and what their friends think, do and buy. The users are Facebook’s and Google’s product. They are not their customers. It’s easy for Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, a company that’s sitting on a cash reserve of $285 billion, to wax poetically about how he wouldn’t be in Mark Zuckerberg’s place. Yes, Apple could monetize their user’s information, but they don’t need to. They manufacture products they can sell to consumers and have more cash than they know what to do with it. So hopefully it’s easier to trust Apple that they won’t breach our privacy but we had no reason ever to believe that Facebook or Google won’t.

Facebook hides from the users behind “terms of use” that run in the tens, if not hundreds, of pages of legalese. They “opt the user in” by default and then hide the options to “opt out” behind multiple, hard to find and understand menus.

We have to trust Facebook and Google with all the most private information about us. People did; until they found out that it was a lot easier to sell your data to a third party or a political campaign, or a fake news generator than they ever thought possible. Is this a watershed moment for privacy? It has the potential to be, but do people care enough about it to do something about it or is this, just like the government data theft “use,” a blip in the news cycle before things go back to business as usual?

The iPad Revolution

Last week, during an education-focused session held in Chicago, Apple released its new iteration of the iPad.  Since it was first released in 2010, the iPad has struggled to find its niche in education. With the release of the 6th generation, Apple is taking another stab at trying to figure out how to stem the Chrome revolution in education and explain the relevance of the iPad to a market that, after an initial overdone enthusiasm, has cooled significantly towards Apple’s offerings. Partly, Apple has suffered from the economic downturn, with many school districts cutting technology budgets and looking for less expensive solutions, and partly Apple has suffered from a lack of understanding of how to best integrate the iPad in education.

One of the main problems with technology in education is down to technology selection issues. Too often the tool wags the dog and not vice-versa. We decide on the tool and then try to fit our educational goals around the technology. Once we bought the tool, we have to use it because we spent all that money on the tool, so we end up contriving uses for it. That may work in the short term, but it’s not a good long term strategy. We need to start with the educational goals and then identify the tool that supports those goals.

When the iPad first came out, schools were excited. Educators contrived uses for it, but it did not lead to any educational strides. When budgets became tight, it became harder to justify the iPad since we weren’t seeing results. Chromebooks were the perfect tool to step into that gap: they were cheap, they had a keyboard, and we could easily use them as a substitute for previously used methods: typing rather than handwriting, PowerPoint rather than writing on the blackboard, etc. That’s not to say that this is not important. Add a marketplace of apps that can approximate other activities and you have a solution that’s easy to understand. However, that’s not the niche that the iPad fills.

The iPad has the potential of being a transformative tool. Unfortunately, Apple has not done a good job of explaining that. While they have the ability to be technology substitution tools, they are too expensive to only fill that role. With the release of the new iPad, Apple has added the pencil to a device that’s moderately expensive. It changes the way we can interact with the devices and provides a full complement to the touch and keyboard that already existed. Beyond the variety of access methods the new iPad can bring in transformative activities using alternative reality, it can creatively engage the students on a level that is hard to do with a traditional screen&keyboard device, and it can open the imagination of students and teachers alike. Now only if Apple can match the device with the learning goals and do a better job of explaining how the iPad can be a revolutionary device.