Moving to the Suburbs

Currently I am writing the curriculum for technology course for 6th and 7th graders. As I evaluate Web 2.0 applications to use I must walk a thin line between achieving educational objectives using Web 2.0 tools and ensuring student safety. This is a dilemma anyone involved in educational technology must deal with constantly. The questions asked not only include what applications to use but should students be allowed to use personal computers on school networks? What access should students have? How do we keep students from accessing inappropriate websites? Should students be allowed to have email accounts? The list is endless.

Why do we have to fight this battle? Leo Leporte summed it up nicely on his netcast TWIT when he compared computers connected to the Internet like going into a big city. You can find almost anything you want but you can also easily end up in places you should not be too. Leporte went on to claim devices like the iPad is like the suburbs. You don’t have as much choice but it is safer. Apple’s Steve Jobs echoed this sentiment recently claimed that PC’s are like trucks, which obviously have multiple roles, and tablets are like cars, serving a more specific purpose. Should schools move to the more suburban-like tablets because they are safer and easier to operate?

Tablets based on the iPhone OS, Android, or WebOS will only do certain functions. They are considered information consumption devices with a limited creation capabilities. Only apps approved are allowed on the devices (except maybe Android). I know from experience only certain apps will work if the network allows the app to work. Students could jail-break their devices or run off of wireless carriers but apps may not work as well as they could on a Wi-Fi network. Bingo, extra security. Apps for things like Measure of Academic Progress assessments or other testing can be made into apps and allowed to work on tablets. To me this seems like a better solution, especially for K-8 students, than allowing them into the Internet guarded with poor grade chicken wire. Should schools move to the technology version of the suburbs? What are your thoughts?

They can see what!?

A few years ago I belonged to a local health club that had a unique way to keep members coming in to workout. The manager would have contests for members to sign up to do x number of workouts or go y number of miles on a treadmill. Those who complete the contest usually would receive a t-shirt. It was a great marketing ploy because it kept members coming into the club and paying their monthly dues.

Facebook has a similar approach to keep it’s members coming back to the site so they can see the adds on the site. This is how Facebook makes money. Advertising companies go through great pains to research potential customers of their clients so ads created are most effective at getting people to purchase products. This research requires as much information about the target market as you can get. Facebook has one of the greatest market research schemes going in the history of market research, they have people freely hand over their personal information without giving it a second thought. Information surrendered that would get a pollster slapped if they asked the same questions on the street or hung-up on the telephone. How does Facebook do this? Games and quizzes millions of users play for sometimes hours. It is truly  amazing what information is gathered about you as you play these games. Then the information is sold in a nice neat package to advertisers.

People who are my friends know I am always trying to throw a wet blanket on their fun by warning them of the risks they are taking with their personal information. Up to now I thought it was their own information they were knocking themselves out to hand over as they do that hit in Mafia Wars, beat their friends’ score in Bejeweled, or get help planting crops in Farmville. When I was listening to This Week in Tech (TWIT) #225, Leo Laporte and his guests were discussing Facebook’s new privacy policy. One thing Leo said that made my jaw drop was these games not only gathered information on the player but, depending on privacy settings, their friends as well. A game created by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was mentioned and I played it as soon as possible. The idea was to pry as much information out of you and your friends by asking a few questions. Either Facebook changed the conditions of the game or I have fairly good privacy settings. Not much information came out but the questions made me think and hence this blog post.

Should people stop using Facebook? No, I still use it myself and sometimes play the games. I just try to stop when they start asking for too much information. Other games I stay away from. Friends don’t take it personally if I don’t take up your causes, join you in your games, or play along with the many activities offered on Facebook. I am just thinking about my privacy and now yours when I don’t participate. For me, Facebook is a place to relay some stories about me and my family with my family and friends I choose to share with. That is all the information anyone needs to know. One more thing, did you know the default privacy setting for Facebook is all your information can be seen by anybody?