Category Archives: Public Education

Teaching Tolerance Releases Robust Common Core Curricular Content

Teaching Tolerance has just announced its new Common Core aligned curriculum, “Perspectives for a Diverse America.” This is a literacy based curriculum that teachers students to read text deeply and meaningfully while incorporating the experiences of a diverse set of Americans.

The Curriculum is entirely free and can be found here.

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NYT offers Free, Common Core Aligned Content

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The New York Times blog, the Learning Network, is up and running for the new academic year. If you’re unfamiliar with this tool, the New York Times offers free lesson plans and content for Social Studies and Humanities teachers covering current events. Every week, they post a new Common Core aligned lesson plan include multi-media resources (all entirely free). They also offer monthly “Text to Text” lessons “in which [they] pair an often-taught work in history, literature, science or math with a piece from The Times that illuminates it in some way.”

In addition to lesson plans, they provide a variety of interactive features (quizzes, student contest, and more) for educators and students. All of this material is offered entirely free for educators and students.

Check out the inaugural post “How to Use This Blog” for the NYT Learning Network, or follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

Common Core Lessons & Material for English & Humanities

V. Donaghue, “September—Back to Work, Back to School, Back to Books” [1940]. WPA Poster Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

V. Donaghue, “September—Back to Work, Back to School, Back to Books” [1940]. WPA Poster Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

Edistement!, a division of the National Endowment for the Humanities, has released a series of Common Core Lesson plans for the 2014 school year.

The resources are organized into categories of Literature & Language Arts, History & Social Studies, and STEM/Humanities. They are common core aligned and include objectives and activities.

These are great resources for educators going back to school! You can check out the catalogue here.

Those Terms of Service on Popular Ed Tech Websites DO Matter!

This is reblogged from my post at PLP Voices

I recently attended a prominent and popular educational technology conference. As I always do, I made sure to visit the vendors’ floor. I like to be able to chat with company representatives, see what new tools they have, play with tools hands on, and generally get a feel for promising new resources available to schools.

Reviewing Terms of ServiceAt this particular conference I was excited to visit a vendor’s booth that focused on 3D printingsoftware. It promised to be easier and more intuitive to use. When I signed up for the account necessary to use the online tool, I did something that many people do not do: I read the terms of service.

The first thing I noticed was the “age 13” requirement. I asked the representative if they had an option for children under the age of 13. She responded, “Well… not officially. But it all depends on how seriously you take the terms of service.” I promptly ended the session and walked away from the table.

Here’s the reason this exchange was so striking and troubling for me: There is a pervasive attitude in educational technology (held by educators, IT professionals, developers and students) that the terms of service “don’t matter.” After all, (nod-nod-wink-wink) you can fudge your age by a few years or a few months and take advantage of great tools such as YouTube orTwitter (both of which have such restrictions).

This is for the benefit of the children, right? If the tool is useful, many will say, why do we need to bother with such hurdles as age requirements? And let’s face it, those Terms of Service are so long – we don’t have time to read all that!

But the reality is that the Terms of Service do matter.

Modeling

When discussing this issue with peers, I always highlight the fact that we cannot ask our students to behave ethically and morally if we direct them to violate policies and the rules for using tools by being deceptive. In essence we are telling our students that it is not appropriate to lie or cheat, with the caveat that it’s okay in this one situation.

If you want to advocate for an effective Digital Citizenship program, you must first take the position that behaving responsibly and appropriately online is paramount. As such, this means not violating a company’s age or usage policy (even if someone in the company might suggest it’s okay).

YouTube-Terms-560

Legal obligations

Believe it or not, the age 13 requirement found in many Terms of Service statements is rarely an arbitrary policy. While governments (local, state, and federal) are slow to catch up with existing and emerging technology, there are several federal statutes already in place. The two most important are FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). These statutes specifically relate to what information can be collected, stored, and transferred – and they include especially stringent restrictions on children under the age of 13. By signing students up for these tools, you and your institution may be in violation of Federal law. Disregard for these policies not only compromises the safety of your students, but opens a school and individuals up to institutional and personal liability.

The ethics of commercializing education

One of the most controversial issues in education today is the commercialization of education. This is especially relevant in educational technology. Many companies offering free or heavily discounted tools use a business model based on collecting and then selling information (names, birthdates, contact lists, and more).

While the world is very much aware of these practices with Social Media tools like Facebook, other services are less obvious in the way they collect user content and what they do with it after the fact. When you see that a service requires all users to be age 13, that should be the first red flag that sensitive data is being collected and possibly redistributed or sold to third parties.

Google-Apps-EducationMost companies are not transparent about what they do with the information they collect – a practice that many of us in the educational technology sphere are rallying to change. Several states are considering legislation to put restrictions on what type of data companies can collect on students and who can then see that information.

Most recently,Google has been sued for violating student privacy and their stated contract conditions in Google Apps for Education by data mining students’ emails. (It is important to note that, at this time, Google claims that the data-mined content is not being distributed to third parties or used for advertising purposes.)

Pay attention to what companies collect

If an educational technology company collects information on your students, then it is important to take this into consideration as you consider the digital tools that you will use in your institution. Perhaps you feel that the benefits outweigh the extra cost of paying for a tool that is not underwritten by these kinds of practices (especially if your school and/or district is cash strapped). But don’t pass over these decisions lightly.

Safer tools are available

There are many great tools and online services available for students that specifically focus on protecting the information and identities of students under the age 13. Often, these have a financial cost (as they cannot make money through other avenues like advertising or selling personal data). Still the costs are negligible when you focus on how they protect children.

To find a tool that will work for your institution, be sure to go with a reputable company, read their Terms of Service, speak to a representative and ask questions such as, “How do you protect students’ identities online?” and “What do you do with the information that you collect from our students such as names and email addresses?” Companies that are truly COPPA and FERPA compliant are always willing to be open and transparent with this information.

TRUSTe-logoAnother great resource to find and assess an organization’s COPPA compliance is with TRUSTe. A TRUSTe COPPA Compliance Certification ensures that an organization meets Federal compliance for protecting the information of students under the age of 13. Recognize that not all COPPA compliant tools have been certified with TRUSTe, but that those that are have met stringent requirements and adhere to these statutes.

Tools that allow teachers to be administrators of the tool or service (restricting content & publication and monitoring use) can provide your students with a safe, “walled garden” environment that will allow them to take advantage of internet connectivity while being safe. Additionally, be sure that your Technology Director has fully explored the service (and continues to do so as the service is updated) to ensure that the service stays compliant with its previously stated policies (sometimes an update will negate earlier privacy restrictions). Also, any time that there is a update to those Terms of Service – read them!!

Student security comes first

Anytime you are considering an online tool or service, it’s important to ensure that the securityof your students plays a key role in your decision. Implementation of new tools in your school or classroom should never violate a company’s Terms of Service and should always be in compliance with existing law. Members of the educational community (administration, faculty, parents, and students) should be involved in the broader conversations about reasonable restrictions.

I believe it is also important to advocate for greater student privacy and security, and I think that transparency on the side of developers is absolutely vital in this process. We cannot effectively make decisions for our schools without adequate information. Ultimately, schools and districts must make choices that are right for them and their communities, with their eyes wide open.

Infographic: How the Internet is Revolutionizing Education

We can all agree that, for better or worse, the internet is having a profound impact on education. I believe that the growing pains we are currently experiencing with new technologies will ultimately change how we teach, assess, and access education in both K-12 as well as Higher Education. The infographic below, created by OnlineEducation.net highlights that most radical impacts the Internet has had on education. You can read more about this via Edudemic here.

internet-revolutionizing-education-small

SXSWedu – Can the Liberal Arts Survive in an Age of Innovation?

The next session I am attending is a topic near and dear to my heart as a liberal arts major, “Can the Liberal Arts Survive in an Age of Innovation?” The speakers are David Maxwell, President of Drake University, Liz Willen,

The seven liberal arts – Picture from the Hortus deliciarum of Herrad of Landsberg (12th century); Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The seven liberal arts – Picture from the Hortus deliciarum of Herrad of Landsberg (12th century); Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Editor of the Hechinger Report, Michelle Weise, a Senior Research Fellow at the Clayton Christendon Institute, and Scott Kinney, President of the Capella Education Company.

Quite famously, the President dissed the Liberal Arts not long ago with a sleight directed at Art History. Although he then followed up with a letter of apology to an upset professor. At the same time, he highlighted an issue in higher education. How do we resolve Liberal Arts with workforce readiness in higher education? Many educators, administrators, and law-makers are focusing on changes in education with a greater emphasis on STEM, leaving the Liberal Arts behind.

David begins by reaffirming his belief in and support of the Liberal Arts and Sciences in higher education. They have a long tradition in education. They are narrative tools that describe the world around us – help us to understand who we are, why we are, our place in the order of things, and our record in the human condition. They are proof of the fact that we were here. They are also how we try to answer the “big questions” in the world. However, he does acknowledge that the Liberal Arts alone are not sufficient in preparing students for the broader world. Preparation for a professional workforce is a necessary but not sufficient outcome of higher education.  We must ensure that our graduates can fulfill their personal and professional aspirations and needs. Sadly, we cannot get away from addressing the financial model of college – especially as costs for higher education is increasing at such an exponential rate. David also expresses his concern that the discussion about higher education and jobs seems to only be “about jobs.” Our objective is not simply job training – but to prepare students for meaningful personal lives, professional accomplishments, and global citizenship.

Michelle next steps in to discuss her concerns about the “myths” of Liberal Arts – namely that the Liberal Arts are the antithesis of workforce/vocational training and that increased technology means the need of the Liberal Arts. This is the result of the division in this country between colleges and technical schools – that technical schools are where we learned how to do “mechanical thinking/acting” and that higher education was where we “learned to know.” Of course, college is no longer a luxury good, it’s a necessity. Additionally, college costs are becoming more prohibitive. Also, in a knowledge economy or learning society, learning is becoming work and work is becoming learning. A college degree is not enough for the learning economy of our time. We cannot let students assume that a liberal arts degree will “sort itself out” due to buzzwords like “critical thinking” and “creative problem solving.” The pursuit of passions has become a privilege, even a luxury good. Academics has never been good at proving its relevance to industry. As the cost of academics continues to rise, the onus will be put on higher education institutions to prove their relevance and return. Whoever can link non traditional pathways and preparation for the workforce, will fill a great need.

Scott Kinney of Capella University, a for-profit online institution, feels that his institution (and similar) have a role in addressing this issue. You can still receive the benefits of a liberal arts education and come out prepared for the workforce. Scott argues that no matter what happens in Liberal Arts Education, we need to do a much better job of serving non-traditional students who are looking to be job-ready immediately upon graduation. Scott states that 75% of currently enrolled students are “non-traditional” (I guess that makes them “traditional”?). Embracing a non-traditional student needs to be a focus and can be the solution for the issue of resolving Liberal Arts with Industry. Scott argues that we determine outcomes/competencies and then build curriculum around that. He also argues that we have to focus on lowering the price and raising completion rates.  Additionally, we must connect that with job readiness – that they enter the workforce with the necessary skills and competencies. Scott argues that we need to navigate job competencies in conjunction with employers.

Liz (our moderator) asks David if the for-profit model by Scott’s institution is in conflict with the traditional model at Drake. David is surprisingly in agreement with the other members of the panel. He feels that colleges must do a better job at preparing students for careers, we must fit the needs of all of our students, and that we need to work with employers to ensure that they get from their students what they need. Michelle also highlights the challenge of enacting change from within an institution – especially at Colleges and Universities where tradition is so valued. Additionally, Scott highlights that job preparation does not undermine Liberal Arts objectives – you can still hold discussions on novels and works of art. David states that the real issue is “How does learning take place? What is assessed and how is it assessed?”

Ultimately, Liberal Arts is vital to the human experience, but we must find a way to effectively merge it with our modern needs. However, I would argue that it’s dangerous to make education solely about training for jobs. Education is about developing sophisticated thinking and learning skills.