Protecting Your Digital Data Privacy

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on May 6, 2017

PrivacyRecently, I went to a local jeweler to get a ring repaired. The sales associate used her tablet device to complete a work order for me. When she requested my address and phone number, I didn’t give it a second thought. Then she asked for my birth date. When I questioned why she needed to know, she shrugged and mumbled something about sending me a birthday card. I decided not to provide that information. Next she asked for my wedding anniversary date, glanced up at me and said, “Oh, I guess you won’t want to tell me that either.” I smiled and shook my head. Not a huge deal, but it did get me thinking about all the times we give people personal information without asking why it’s needed or how it might end up being used.

We live in a society where the boundaries of privacy are pushed every day. Educators are increasingly aware of the need to safeguard student data privacy, but what about protecting our own? Given that Congress recently repealed the online privacy rules designed to limit the ability of Internet service providers (ISPs) to share or sell various kinds of customer data as well as the requirement that ISPs notify customers when a data breach takes place, responsibility for protecting personal data now appears to lie squarely with individual consumers. What can we do to protect our own private information?

Passive vs. Active Data Collection

There are two general methods used to glean data from individuals. The first is called passive data collection. Passive data collection may involve use of slick online tools that collect and record data without an individual’s knowledge, but it can also be as simple as a customer service representative or data entry clerk entering information gathered during a phone call or office visit into some type of customer data base. As a result, it’s the rare person who has no online presence these days.

Here are a couple of examples of passive data collection. Do you make online purchases? Virtual shoppers seldom realize that they are leaving a trail of data in their wake as they browse for a new dining room set or an article of clothing. Using cookies or other sophisticated programming strategies enables merchants to compile a wealth of information about individual shoppers based on which items are reviewed, how much time is spent looking at each item, how the site is navigated, etc. In turn, this information is shared with other online platforms people frequently visit. This is what makes it possible to go from virtual window shopping to Facebook only to discover a personal newsfeed is now filled with ads featuring the very same items reviewed elsewhere just a few minutes earlier.  Even individuals who don’t own Internet-connected devices don’t get off scot-free because personal information about them is being stored online by someone else—medical records, school records, and virtually all public records for example. Hopefully medical and school records aren’t publicly available, but if they are online, they are vulnerable. In addition, online aggregators pull public records from a myriad of resources to create readily accessible individual profiles that include very personal information. Check out Intelius  for a taste of what I’m referring to.

Active data collection requires a little more cooperation on the part of an individual. This type of data collection happens when someone completes a registration form to download a white paper or responds to a survey from an airline or hotel about a recent trip. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize that by filling out a product review or questionnaire they are providing valuable marketing data to whoever requested the information and whoever they may opt to sell the information to. For example, have you ever logged into a site like Amazon.com or Netflix and seen recommendations for products or movies you might enjoy based on previous searches and purchases or rentals? These data are used to build a personal profile for you and may be shared across platforms to aggregate information you’ve provided in various locations. Much of these data are easily manipulated by changing the information in the Preferences area of an account. Try it! And speaking of profiles, every social media platform and most online stores ask users to complete lengthy profiles under the guise of making it easier for other like-minded users to find you. That may be the case, but it’s also true that the more complete the profile, the more marketable your information becomes.

What Can You Do?

There are various steps you can take to help protect your privacy. For instance, avoid leaving an easy-to-follow online data trail by using private browser windows or learn how to block cookies and location data. Natasha Stokes offers tips on how to browse anonymously. Her suggestions range from employing a web browser’s incognito feature (easy to do and most browsers offer this capability in Privacy) to using something called a VPN or virtual private network which is more complicated and usually requires a subscription fee.

Another way you can protect personal data is to visit one or more data aggregators to read what’s been recorded there about you. These website collect public information about individuals, pulling it all together to create personal profiles. Some are quite extensive and invasive, but there are nearly always ways to have the information removed. Visit piplintelius, and spokeo as a start. Some of these sites will remove your data on request. Others direct you to do to the data source. For instance, I was surprised to see that my LinkedIn profile is a source of a great deal of the data showing up in these aggregated summaries.

Think about the data requested when any type of purchase is made. Ask why a company needs your zip code or birth date before providing that information. The day after I gave the jeweler my phone number for the work order, I received a sales call from them, but also learned they failed to call about another repair that will need to be made soon and which could have been done at the same time, had I been notified! Decide if a warranty registration or chance to win a raffle merits handing over personal data. Pass on responding to surveys or requests for product reviews, no matter how persistent the merchant may be. Maximize privacy settings on social media accounts.

The Circle, a 2013 book written by Dave Eggers and now a movie starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson, is a dystopian tale about technology, transparency, and privacy in a society where “secrets are lies” and “privacy is theft.” In this narrative, the fight between good and evil boils down to whether or not there is a need for privacy in the digital age. I’m not suggesting that readers should back away from using the Internet, but it’s time for everyone to think about what data are being collected, how, and why. Only then will individuals be in a position to start taking back control of their personal information.

 

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Recognizing Lies: Redefining Digital Literacy

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on April 20, 2017

truth or lie arrowsWhat is your take on these recent news stories?

A Chicago janitor made himself a millionaire 20 times over by taking out life insurance policies on teenagers and then murdering them to collect on the policies. (April 2017)

Mark Zuckerberg said that he is “disgusted with social media” and he plans to leave Facebook in the near future. (March 2017)

NBC’s ‘Saturday Night Live’ has been cancelled thanks to low ratings. (March 2017)

None of these stories is true, but each was widely distributed across social media platforms in recent months. Does it matter to the rest of the nation if a murderous custodian is rampaging through Chicago, if Zuckerberg is ready to wash his hands of Facebook, or if SNL is being cancelled? Probably not, unless your job is to encourage tourism in Chicago or you are a stockholder in Facebook or NBC. However, other lies-disguised-as-news articles that may make a difference are flooding social media outlets daily.  Such articles are written specifically to influence readers’ thinking about an array of important issues, and  people whose primary news sources are Facebook, Twitter, or similar platforms may make decisions about these matters based on distortions of the truth or outright lies.

Take the U.S. 2016 election as an example. Pyotr Levashov, an infamous Russian spammer, was recently arrested and accused of using the Internet as a vehicle for manipulating the November election . He’s just one of many. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says that up to 1000 Russian ‘Internet trolls’ worked to prejudice the U.S. election by publishing lies-disguised-as-news. At this point we don’t know how much influence these articles ultimately have on readers, but the surge in deliberate use of misinformation has spotlighted the limitations of Americans’ skill set when it comes to differentiating between fact and fiction in media.

What are our options for turning this around? Daniel J. Levitin, author of Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era (2017), says that educators need to step up right away to address this problem. “We have apparently failed to teach our children what constitutes evidence and how to evaluate it.” He acknowledges that misinformation has been around for a very long time, but is concerned that increased access to all sorts of deceptive materials coupled with our lack of ability to effectively scrutinize these items makes the need for direct instruction of these skills more evident than ever.

There is no quick fix for this. Yes, articles are popping up all over the Internet that offer tips for deciding if information is accurate.  There’s nothing wrong with sharing this information with colleagues and students, but for the long haul, it’s going to take more than a quick brush-up on rudimentary review strategies to fix this problem. It’s going to require taking time to teach students—and ourselves—to slow down a bit and look at information through a more critical lens.

Levitin suggests we can learn to identify misinformation by focusing on three key areas:

  • the ability to evaluate information presented in numerical form
  • identifying faulty arguments offered verbally or in print
  • using the principles of the scientific method to differentiate between fact and fiction.

Commonly accepted definitions of digital literacy typically refer to students’ abilities to find, evaluate, and use information. Now we need to get serious about what that means. Weaponized Lies offers an excellent foundation for educators who want to deepen their understanding of what’s required to think more critically about the waves of information washing over us all. I urge educators to read it. Then, armed with this information, we can make better decisions about how to bring these skills into classrooms.

Some additional resources you may want to explore.

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The WHY of Public Education

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on September 11, 2016

Palm holding card with the word WHYStart of the school year has been notable on Facebook as almost every parent with whom I’m acquainted has shared those infamous first day of school photos.

And as students and staff report back, organizations such as Phi Delta Kappa International, US News & World Reports, and even state departments of education are releasing data and reports that coincide with the start of the new year. The most notable one that has come my way to date has been the Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) article on perceptions held by the public regarding public education.

PDK’s 48th annual public poll entitled “Public Attitudes Toward the Public Schools,” measuring opinions about public education, lacked consensus over the main purpose of public education. 45% of its respondents, representing a random sample of more than 1500 adults covering all 50 states, believe public education is meant to prepare students academically. Another 26% feel the primary role should be to prepare students for citizenship, while another 25% feel the purpose is to prepare students for the workplace.

What I find most puzzling is the lack of explanation of preparing students for citizenship, but even more so that 26% of respondents felt this was the primary intent of education generation after generation. The survey went on to share more data about how students are performing, opinions on keeping schools open when failing, and general perspectives on what our schools are doing to meet the needs of their students. And before I digress too much, let’s take a moment and look at the list of tasks we expect from our teacher, let alone our public schools. We’re responsible for teaching all subjects, receive hefty criticism when students are obese and we aren’t doing enough with physical fitness. We cover sex education and driver’s education, and the list goes on.  I think this picture says it all:

Many words for teacher showing the varied roles a teacher plays

But back to the survey. There is clear confusion about what the purpose is of education, of public education. With the split data shared above, should we be doing our work differently? If only 45% feel we should be covering academics, then should we be doing less in a focus on academics?

When I think of conversations I have with parents about the use of technology, I get push back that a focus of tech to communicate and collaborate should be reduced. Granted, I always advocate for a balance. But yet…we have workplaces with a colossal reliance on technology, and if we focus on the 25% of parents who want us to prepare students for the workplace, then there really is a role for workplace preparedness, which includes technology.

I don’t expect the responses to change. A great deal of expectations are placed on the deliverables of our public education system. I predict that the confusion will also continue – much is expected of us. And much will continue to be expected. And the WHY won’t change.

But it may morph a bit. Stay tuned.

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Future Ready Assessment: A head start towards personalized learning

Posted by Gabe Soumakian on July 19, 2016

The 7 gears of Future Ready Schools
The 7 gears of Future Ready schools

Often, we hear administrators tout their success with technology innovation by pointing to the number of 1-to-1 devices deployed in their schools.  At the same time, we hear it is “not about the technology” but rather it is changes in the teaching and learning process that transform our students as 21st century learners. Although there is a major shift toward digital transformation and innovation in our schools, administrators need to understand how to connect the dots and develop a comprehensive implementation plan that impacts student learning.

A good place to begin the process—or to validate that the district is headed in the right direction—is to have the leadership team collectively take the Future Ready (FR) assessment tool. The report from this tool will identify critical gaps as well as help guide you in the development of an effective implementation plan to fill those gaps.

This collaborative process of taking the FR assessment provides a professional learning opportunity to build the leadership capacity within your team. Your leadership team will benefit from this process and understand the major implementation shifts and design elements for appropriate technology solutions.  Through the assessment dashboard, your team will discover where your district is on the continuum for digital conversion, identify gaps, access strategies, and review your progress toward the development of a robust technical and human infrastructure.

What innovative leaders will learn from this process is the need to move beyond 21st century learning skills toward a personalized learning environment that prepares students for college, career, and life readiness.  Linking learning in the classroom to a real world setting makes the learning relevant and brings life to the curriculum so that students are engaged and feel connected to their future career paths.

Begin the process at www.FutureReady.org!  First, the district superintendent must take the Future Ready pledge.  Then, take the FR assessment.  Review the report as a team, then move your efforts to the next level by taking advantage of the resources available at the Future Ready Hub, especially the regional workshops.  Using this model will bring administrators in your region together to examine the data and connect your district with other leadership teams who can collectively move forward on the personalized learning continuum.

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Future Ready Learning: The new national ed tech plan

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on June 24, 2016

Cover of Future Ready Learning planThe first National Education Technology Plan, Getting American Students Ready for the 21st Century: Meeting the Technology Literacy Challenge, was published in 1996. This is noteworthy because prior to the release of this plan, there was little incentive for schools or other education-related institutions to invest much in the way of time or resources into developing instructional technology plans. The first national plan was built on four goals:

  1. Professional development for teachers
  2. Teacher and student classroom access to up-to-date hardware
  3. Internet connectivity for every classroom
  4. Access to digital learning materials

This early document became a catalyst for the American public to change its thinking regarding the impact technology might have on instruction. The next three plans—published in 2000, 2004, and 2010—incorporated these goals and introduced additional topics including assessment, leadership, integrated data systems, productivity, and funding. However, the 1996 plan is held up as having had the greatest impact on K-12 education—probably because federal funding for education technology was made available in conjunction with the plan’s release. Now, twenty year later, the US Department of Education has released the fifth National Educational Technology Plan.

Entitled Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education, this latest plan incorporates five focus areas. They are:

  1. Learning—Engaging and Empowering Learning through Technology
  2. Teaching—Teaching With Technology
  3. Leadership—Creating a Culture and Conditions for Innovation and Change
  4. Assessment—Measuring for Learning
  5. Infrastructure—Enabling Access and Effective Use

These five areas support expansion of topics included in previous plans, but also allow for conversations not included in earlier documents. For example, the first focus area (Learning) features a discussion about something called the digital use divide. This is an access gap that’s created when some students’ use of technology is limited to consuming existing content while others are encouraged to use technology to support their own learning by creating content. The digital use divide has been recognized for quite some time, but not referred to specifically in prior plans.

A new twist on digital divide issues is broached in the fifth focus area (Infrastructure). In this case, it’s the need for students to have access to high-speed Internet at school and at home. Educators know that schools often struggle to provide reliable high-speed connectivity, but it’s important to remember that more than one-half of low-income students under the age of 10 don’t have any Internet access at home and even more have inadequate access. We’ve told ourselves that these students can use smartphones or get online at a friend’s home or the local library, but it’s just not the same as high-speed connectivity in every home.

And finally, the importance of leadership is heavily emphasized in this plan. This emphasis is tied directly to a related national initiative called Future Ready Schools, which promotes transformation of teaching and learning through access to—and effective use of—technology. In order to provide these kinds of teaching and learning environments, district (and site) leaders must be fully engaged in their planning and implementation. The TICAL project is a regional partner of Future Ready Schools, providing assistance to education leaders in and outside of California.

Based on the fact that previous plans have impacted design and implementation of instructional technology programs throughout the U.S. and it’s likely that this new plan will also influence future developments in education technology.  I urge you to read and use the ideas presented in the plan to broaden and update the discussion about the role of technology in education, specifically within your school or district. You may also want to watch TICAL’s Quick Take on the 2016 National Education Technology Plan.

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