FBI: Data Collection and Unsecured Systems Could Pose Risks to Students

The complete text of a public service announcement released by the FBI on September 13, 2018 is provided below.  It raises a lot of questions for me and should raise a lot of concern on the part of parents, teachers, and schools.

Why is it that the FBI is sending out such an announcement?  Good for them. Does this PSA go far enough?  Is is craftily soft pedaling the issue?  An article at Wrench in the Gears indicates the PSA Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be.

Are schools sending out announcements like this?  There’s no reason a school couldn’t send this announcement home.  EdSurge featured an article about this public service announcement and others have written about the PSA and posted it online.  Is it reaching the hands of parents?  The US Department of Education sends info out to every school in the country but I have seen no evidence they sent this PSA out… or anything similar.  I wonder why?

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Alexa, Are the Clouds Talking to Each Other?

The article below was shared with me by someone who wished to remain anonymous.

Alexa, Are the Clouds Talking to Each Other?

by Anonymous


IMAGINE: A Better World, A Global Education Conference, hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS)

This may be as much a commentary and collection of comments about SavannaTigerthe conference I attended as it is a report. I suppose it fitting in these times to say it is a commentary/report hybrid.

Here are the three conference themes:

  • Innovation and Transformation
  • The Role of Machine Learning in Education
  • Building the Workforce of Tomorrow

Here are the sessions that were available:

  • Voice-Enabled Technologies: Is Education Ready?
  • Community Colleges a Economic Engines for Workforce Development
  • Education Transformation in the Cloud
  • Disruptive Models for Delivering Learning Using the Cloud
  • Fireside Chat with Arizona State University: Innovation in Education
  • How Innovations in Cloud and Machine Learning are Helping Drive Improvements in Reading Comprehension
  • [We] Power Tech: Machine Learning for All
  • Creating an Equitable Learning Environment for All Learners
  • The Cal Poly Digital Transformation Hub: A Model for Innovation in Education
  • Data Interoperability: Turning a Data Dilemma into Data Democracy with the AWS Cloud
  • Research in the Cloud
  • [We] Power Tech: Diversity and Inclusion in Computer Science
  • Beyond the Buzz: How Machine Learning Is Impacting Student Engagement
  • Crossing the Chasm – An Industry & Educational Approach to Close the STEM Skills Gap
  • Viable, Flexible, Scalable: University of Michigan’s Information Lifecycle Management Model with AWS
  • Global Workforce Readiness: Engaging Today’s Minds for Tomorrow’s Careers

I would encourage you to explore the info on the conference website.

I want to set the stage with a bit of what I bring to the keyboard. I am not a complete technotard. I would encourage you to get out your technotardometer and gauge for yourself where I fall on the technotard scale.

I started using a computer in my classrooms in 1982. Since there were few resources available, I was pretty much self-taught (constructivism?). Fast-forward about twenty years to about 2001. While teaching sixth grade, I received a few technology related grants. One grant outfitted my classroom and that of my fellow grant recipients with enough technology to make our classrooms the most high tech in the state if not the country.  I drank the Kool-aid. I was hired as an instructor for the grant recipient training the following year.

Now, I have to tell a little story about my experience as an instructor for this technology grant program. While I had read some about constructivism, providing training helped me develop a better deep conceptual understanding of it. One activity I was put in charge of was one I remembered from my own training—and it was my least favorite. I went off script in giving directions for the activity since I felt the participants needed more guidance as to what they were to do in order to be successful. Boy howdy, I was called aside for a one on one chewing out. I didn’t see that coming. It was intentional that the script directions were so skimpy—they wanted participants to squirm, struggle, and become frustrated trying to figure things out for themselves. Darn, I denied them that opportunity. Oh well, I didn’t apply to be an instructor for the next year. I guess I would have to say from it all that constructivism works—I learned only too well on my own.

Enough on that. Let’s check out the conference… through my jaded and biased perspective. My head didn’t really spin but it sure did a lot of shaking. Don’t recall any nodding on my part.

IMAGINE: A Better World, A Global Education Conference

Any more, I try to stay away from things like this because they really get my crap detector so far out of whack it takes months to recalibrate. Since the conference info was brought to my attention with a note indicating someone should go since it was free and in Seattle. It was free and there was some good swag. Free is good except when it is not.

I am sure my take on the conference is quite different from that of Amazon and other attendees. They said there were over 900 people registered representing 21 countries. My take: the conference was Amazon’s stage where they trotted out clients to tell all about the great things they have done and are doing using AWS (Amazon Web Services). It was a showcase. I suppose it is unreasonable to expect anything less. Plus they can’t let Google be the only digital presence in our education system.

f8997cfe195c3f265891c68b30fe39b8The term educators now seems to include so many more folks than just teachers, and at times excludes teachers. In my eyes, this conference was not put on by educators and not put on for educators. I did meet a few teachers there but most were edtech company CEOs, CIOs, or some other such letter cluster that I don’t understand but am sure must impress someone, especially the letter holder. Higher ed folks were definitely in attendance but they tended to be more of the IT variety rather than academics.

On the website you can read what it says about each of the three conference themes. Here’s my interpretation:

  • Innovation and Transformationmove everything to the cloud
  • The Role of Machine Learning in Education—AI, voice recognition, text to voice, and Alexa everywhere with everyone 24/7
  • Building the Workforce of Tomorrowpush to have kids learn code as early and often as possible

A little about some of the sessions I attended.

Voice-Enabled Technologies: Is Education Ready? This session featured representatives from three universities—the University of Oklahoma (OU), Arizona State University (ASU), and Saint Louis University (SLU). This really was about how these institutions are making use of voice-enabled technology. What the heck does that mean? Think Alexa—Amazon Echo and Echo Dots. I can see a lot of ways this technology can come in handy and be helpful. But is it going too far? SLU has invested in and deployed Amazon Echo Dots in every dorm room. Does that just not tickle your privacy invasion sensibility? While I can see a lot of utility in it, it still feels just down right creepy. Not to mention developing student dependency on such technology for things like reminders about their schedules—class times, assignment due dates, and test dates/times. They as much as said they not only want Alexa in every dorm room but with all off campus students and everywhere on campus. Of course students can shut their Echo Dot off or unplug it. During the Q&A session, a guy from UCLA got up to the mic and asked about privacy concerns, pii collected, and how they are addressing the issue. I had a chance the following day to talk briefly with UCLA guy (and I thanked him for asking the question). We both agreed the response to his question was a typical non-response. The presenters basically brushed it off in a couple of ways. One said there are some things they avoid in order to avoid addressing the issue. I took that to mean they avoid the issue all together and go ahead and do what they are going to do and they avoid doing some things (or at least not disclose they are doing them) that might be controversial. They indicated they weren’t really concerned about privacy because of the benefits in the trade off and students are accustomed to and willing to share their pii in return for those benefits. So all is good. UCLA guy was sharp and he was the only person during the whole conference I heard that raised the issue of data collection and student privacy invasion. I wish I had found out what his role is at UCLA.

How Innovations in Cloud and Machine Learning are Helping Drive Improvements in Reading Comprehension I had hopes this one was going to address how to improve reading comprehension. If it did, I guess I missed it. It’s possible my head was in the cloud.  It seemed like the point of this session was using the cloud and machine learning for some translating, analyzing, and interpreting.

Creating an Equitable Learning Environment for All Learners There were two presenters for this session. The one that stands out in my mind was a local school district IT director. They have Chrome books issued to every student in the district. Elementary students don’t get to take theirs home but middle and high school students do. All of the software is in the cloud. This has resulted in considerable cost saving and saves considerable IT personnel time. I just wonder if the cost savings are offset by the district’s expenditure for AWS. Uploading software to the cloud once and having it accessible by all student and faculty devices certainly beats having to load and manage the software on each individual computer/device.

Beyond the Buzz: How Machine Learning Is Impacting Student Engagement
This one had some interesting presentations. One was about how the White House Historical Association is using the cloud and machine learning to deliver their education programs. Another was by a university professor who shared how he uses technology to foster engagement in his students of climate and space sciences and engineering. While what he is doing is fascinating there is an alarming aspect. He works with Echo 360 to engage students. Watch the video on the website to learn more. What they are doing is really impressive. The alarm flags went up on realizing that not only is the professor being captured on video during his class sessions, all of the students are as well with it being analyzed. Think of possible implications—facial recognition software and the analytics that can take place. Should anyone be concerned about student privacy invasion? None was expressed. I guess the Wow! factor can override and obfuscate any such concerns. The third presenter works on accessibility issues at ETS. He is very visually impaired. Can one say blind these days without catching the wrath of the political correct police and being assigned a derogatory label they will deem politically correct? In work to make tests more accessible to those with disabilities text to voice technology is advancing to an impressive new level.

The closing keynote was titled Machine Learning: In the Cloud, in the Classroom, in Student Success. The presenter was Michael Horn, Co-Founder and Distinguished Fellow of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. His talk was about disruptive innovation (cloud, cloud, cloud).

Friday’s lunch: outstanding salmon. Yum.00682 This was when free was really good.

Emphasized often and embedded in many of the introductions was that this is all to Make the World a Better Place…   through AI, voice technology, cloud computing, every kid coding, and disruptive innovation.

Chipping students was never mentioned. I wonder if that is because student ID cards are chipped or because it might have a negative revenue stream impact.

The conference helped me understand how misguided I have been over the years as I have bemoaned the lack of attention disruptive innovation has given to what I view as fundamental to education—reading, math, and content knowledge instruction. With their heads in the cloud the conference crowd seems to have a different set of fundamentals for education (coding and cloud computing). I finally get it. Reading is no longer an important skill what with text to voice technology being sophisticated enough to read whatever a student needs read. “Alexa, read the first chapter of Macbeth to me.” We have been told for several years now that content knowledge is not important for students to know since they can use Google. Google is already so old school. Just ask Alexa anything you need to know. Technology elevated keyboarding skills over neat (or even sloppy) handwriting (printing or cursive) as early as third grade. Now those keyboarding skills may become less important, possibly even obsolete, as voice technology takes over. Calculators can be put back in the classroom cabinets now thanks to sophisticated voice technology able to interpret equations and solve math problems most likely with deep conceptual understanding. And since Alexa will have that deep conceptual understanding will it be necessary for our students to have the same?

What happened to Siri? Oh, that’s right. Siri is not an Amazon product.

No one was asking questions about whether any of this stuff should be done or not. They are only listening to the gurus telling them they need to do this stuff. Everyone was holding out their cups for Kool-Aid refills while I was desperately seeking a sizeable barf bag knowing the cup would overflow if I used it.

It was nice to be joined on Friday by a friend so I would have someone to be alone with together. Her insight is always great and it was nice to be in the company of another head shaker in the midst of head nodding Kool-Aid drinkers. I do have the feeling we might not have been alone. I Imagine UCLA guy did some head shaking and he was drinking coffee when I talked with him.

talking horseI’m looking for the technology that will allow me to go back in time and become a fur trapper in the American West. The technology of that time suits me fine. I’ll name my mule Alexa. If I should be so fortunate as to have any pack horses they will be named Echo and Dot. And I will talk to them all day long and I will appreciate their responses to my questions. Talk about real world contructivism. It’s important that we all watch our topknot.

All that said I have one question. “Alexa, can I go back to being a total technotard or do I just have to Imagine the world as a better place?”

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Washington State Board of Education is Developing a New Strategic Plan–Provide input

Washington State Board of Education is in the process of Developing a New Strategic Plan.  It appears the meetings and forums have already taken place.  There is still time for the public to provide input via an online survey.  You can access the survey by clicking here.  Time is short for responding to the survey—it needs to be submitted by July 30.

The State Board of Education’s website provides this information:

The Board is in the process of updating their Strategic Plan.  We are seeking feedback from a broad range of stakeholders through our community forums and meetings to ensure the plan is responsive to the needs of our state and our communities as we seek to provide a high quality education system that prepares all students for college, career, and life.  The strategic plan will establish goals and outline strategies that will move us toward this vision through the development of state policy for K-12 education, effective oversight of public schools, and advocating for student success.

The Board welcomes feedback from all stakeholders.  If you are unable to attend a meeting or forum you are welcome to provide comments to the board in writing or complete our strategic plan feedback survey.



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Alternative Math

This is a good one!

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Rick Bragg’s Endless Summer

I had forgotten how much I enjoy Rick Bragg’s reading until I was listening to an audiobook with him reading stories from some of his magazine articles.  The touch of his accent adds to his skillful and descriptive story telling.

I would encourage you to read his Endless Summer piece in Southern Living.  It is brief, entertaining, and for some may bring back memories of your own youthful summers.

A flood of memories about my childhood summer came streaming through my mind.  The freedom to roam around town and the nearby country was wonderful blessing that went missing in my own child’s life and that of so many other kids these days.  I file000580143657remember being forbidden to go anywhere near the sand pit ponds and pools on the edge of town.  Apparently, kids would disappear in the bottomless depths of the ponds never to be seen or heard again.  Somehow forbidden means it is a must do.  Do, I did.  I can’t remember the story I told my parents about how I got a serious cut on one of my toes.  The real story is that I was wading barefoot and catching tadpoles in one of the forbidden pools.  Major ouch…   and blood.  It was a good thing there weren’t any sharks in that pool else I would have been a goner for sure.  Unfortunately, there was broken glass in the pool and my toe found it.

Well, back to Rick Bragg’s piece.  This paragraph about when school starts especially tugged at my heart:

The children start school now in August. They say it has to do with air-conditioning, but I know sadism when I see it. I think a bunch of people who were not allowed to stomp in a mud hole when they were young—who were never allowed to hold translucent tadpoles in their hands and watch their hearts move—decided to make sure that no child would ever have the necessary time to contemplate a grand mud hole ever again.

And I do remember the feel of mud mush between my toes.  Do you?


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Kid Snippets: “Math Class” (Imagined by Kids)

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Just came across this press release this morning.

Report Offers Policy Recommendations to Increase Transparency, Accessibility, and Choice

New York, NY (June 6, 2018) – The Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham Law School (Fordham CLIP) has released its findings from a multi-year study on the commercial marketplace for the sale and exchange of student information.

Transparency and the Marketplace for Student Data sought to gain an understanding of the commercial marketplace for student data and the interaction with privacy law. Over several years, Fordham CLIP reviewed publicly-available sources, made public records requests to educational institutions, and collected marketing materials received by high school students

The study uncovered and documented an overall lack of transparency in the student information commercial marketplace and an absence of law to protect student information.

Key findings of the reporter include:

  • Parents and students are generally unable to determine how and why certain student lists were compiled or the basis for designating a student as associated with a particular attribute like race, religion, and purported interests.
  • It is difficult to ascertain sources for student data; large school districts claim they do not sell directory information except to the military and other educational institutions.
  • Data brokers operating in the student information marketplace frequently change names, merge and have affiliated relationships, making it difficult to identify student data brokers.
  • Despite all of this, student lists are commercially available for purchase on the basis of ethnicity, affluence, religion, lifestyle, awkwardness and even a perceived or predicted need for family planning services.

The findings also revealed that a profitable ecosystem for commercial student data exists, but a lack of transparency and accessibility to information remains.

Based then on the research and the deficiencies in existing law and regulation of the commercial marketplace for student data, Fordham CLIP makes the following policy recommendations:

  • The commercial marketplace for student information should not be a black market. Parents, students, and the general public should be able to reasonably know (i) the identities of student data brokers, (ii) what lists and selects they are selling, and (iii) where the data for student lists and selects derives. A model like the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) should apply to compilation, sale, and use of student data once outside of schools and FERPA protections. If data brokers are selling information on students based on stereotypes, this should be transparent and subject to parental and public scrutiny.
  • Brokers of student data should be required to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of student data. Parents and emancipated students should be able to gain access to their student data and correct inaccuracies. Student data brokers should be obligated to notify purchasers and other downstream users when previously-transferred data is proven inaccurate and these data recipients should be required to correct the inaccuracy.
  • Parents and emancipated students should be able to opt out of uses of student data for commercial purposes unrelated to education or military recruitment.
  • When surveys are administered to students through schools, data practices should be transparent, students and families should be informed as to any commercial purposes of surveys before they are administered, and there should be compliance with other obligations under the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA).

N. Cameron Russell, Executive Director of Fordham Law School’s CLIP, and one of the co-authors of the study, said that Vermont’s recent passage of H.764 – the United States’ first legislation regulating commercial data brokers – is responsive to, and in part inspired by, problems identified in the Fordham CLIP study.

“I recently had the opportunity to testify before the Vermont House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development on the need for closer regulation and oversight of commercial data brokers, and the passage of H.764 requiring data brokers to register with the state as well as include specific information disclosures for brokers of student information underscores the need for an overhaul of the commercial student information marketplace, particularly increased transparency,” said Russell.

Joel Reidenberg, Professor of Law and Founding Academic Director of Fordham Law’s CLIP, says the passage of H.764 in Vermont is likely to have a national impact.

“The Vermont law is likely to become a national model and have a nationwide effect. Data brokers harvest personal information on a national scale and the Vermont registry requirement will result in increased national transparency for the identities and practices of these brokers,” said Reidenberg.

The full report is available here

The Center on Law and Information Policy (CLIP) was founded to make significant contributions to the development of law and policy for the information economy and to teach the next generation of leaders. CLIP brings together scholars, the bar, the business community, technology experts, the policy community, students, and the public to address and assess policies and solutions for cutting-edge issues that affect the evolution of the information economy.



    Contact: N. Cameron Russell
    212-930-8878 or nrussell2@law.fordham.edu

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