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.

wordle for ed tech

What is Educational Technology?

In 1943, at the start of the computer era, Thomas J. Watson Jr., then president of IBM is sometimes alleged to have predicted that “there is a world market for about five computers.”  Regardless of whether he said it or not, neither Thomas J. Watson Jr. nor many of his contemporaries could have foreseen the technology revolution that has taken place over the past 70 or so years.  Today, companies like Apple sell hundreds of millions of smartphones, tablets and computers every year.   The biggest consumers of that technology are young adults.  As far back as 2001, Marc Prensky coined the terms “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” to refer to the generation that grew up using technology and those who only adopted technology later in life. Whether they’re accurate terms or not is debatable.  The “digital natives” are certainly adept at using technology for personal use.  Social media, creating and consuming multimedia and gaming, are definitely areas in which digital natives thrive.  Where I think the divide between natives and immigrants narrows is in the use of technology for academic uses.  That’s not stopping the business world from investing tremendously in educational technology and for schools and higher education institutions to follow suit.  According to Gartner, Inc. global spending on technology in education was set to exceed $67 billion in 2015.  While there is impressive evidence to suggest that technology can enhance education, not all technology is created equally. Technology by itself is just a tool and, like any tool, it has to be employed judiciously.  Here’s the analogy I always give: Say you need to dig a hole to plant a flower. You have three options in front of you: you can use your hands, a shovel or an excavator. Too often people either pick their hands or the excavator. Using your hands may be fine in certain situations, but sometimes the earth is too hard. When they use the excavator they make a mess of the situation but rather than realizing that they didn’t pick the appropriate tool, they end up blaming all tools and eventually return to trying to use their hands.

So what is educational technology? Educational technology is technology that, used appropriately, can enhance education.