Tuesday, December 20, 2011

COPPA: Thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of age restrictions

COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, was devised as a way to ensure that young children are prevented from sharing too much information online, and that sites do not purposely reap information from them. William Stites has done a great job running down the requirements COPPA puts on websites in his blog post: Dealing with COPPA: Compliance, the lies and the future. With a review of COPPA taking place tomorrow, I want to put together my thoughts about why COPPA hinders, but may also help parents and educators of young children.

Reasons to Change COPPA Restrictions
I recently attended a wonderful session sponsored by FOSI in which Alice Marwick, Amanda Lenhart, and dana boyd presented their recent research about teens online, then discussed issues with the audience. dana boyd's research clearly shows that COPPA has created a culture of lying online. Children (my son included, by his own admission) under 13 routinely alter their birthdates to join sites independently. While this is not a surprising behavior in the absence of directed teaching about the reasons COPPA exists, it is more concerning to learn that boyd's survey revealed that parents often encourage their children to lie about their age in order to circumvent the terms of service on websites. When asked, they state that they assumed the age restriction was just a suggestion, and that the parent could make the call. Similarly, teachers encourage students to create accounts on sites such as Khan Academy in order to augment their curriculum, without realizing that in order to join the site you must log in with an already existing Google or Facebook account. The choice for your 4th, 5th, or 6th graders, who will benefit greatly from the material on the site, is to encourage their parents to create one of these accounts for their kids - in other words, to lie about their child's age. Those schools incorporating iPads into their program have similiar issues with the need to create iTunes accounts for updates and app purchases, but are faced with the 13-year or older restriction for the creation of these accounts.

Reasons I'm not sure I am ready to give up COPPA Restrictions
Each year when I ask for hands of kids who already have email addresses, more and more hands of younger and younger kids go up. This year nearly all third graders have email accounts, and it seems they are all with Gmail. My students aver that their parents monitor their email activities and that they have talked about who to email, what types of messages to open and what types to avoid. However, the power of Gmail is not just in the email, but in the access to all the other tools Google provides. My argument for caution when removing COPPA restrictions is illustrated in the story of an eight year old who recently explored beyond his Gmail account to discover the wonders of Google sites. With a friend, he cooked up a fake religion replete with "temple" (his house, address included), a worship schedule, a place to publish prayers, and a survey made with Google forms. The survey automatically published it results on the site, including the name and email address of the participant, much to the surprise of classmates who participated in the survey. So thrilled were they with their cleverness that they brought flyers to school that had a photo of the student's home, the address and phone number and, of course, his full name. When I spoke to the children this is what I learned:

1. When asked if their parents knew about the "religion", the kids said yes. When I asked the parents what they knew, they said they thought it was a funny joke, but did NOT realize the home address and personal information was being posted on the Internet. In fact, they hadn't shown their parents the acutal site.

2. When I asked to see the site, the eight year old assured me that it was password protected and I wouldn't be able to find it. I used Google while they stood there and we found eight hits, all live, including the address of the child's house in the subtext of the hit. 

3. The parents were thrilled that these enterprising children knew how to create a website. It did not occur to the parents to check on the privacy settings of the site. The children assumed that what they did started as private and they would have to change the settings to make it public. 

In a perfect world, I would like teachers and parents to be the ones who make the call about when it is important for a child under 13 to have access to the rich web 2.0 opportunities that many websites offer. I would also like teachers and parents to be educated about how to guide these children in their educated, thoughtful, safe use of these tools. We still suffer from adults who throw their hands in the air and say, "The kids just know so more than I do about these things!" I'm sorry, I do not accept that excuse. Educate yourself. Test the tools. Read the articles. Protect your children by teaching them, interacting with them, and talking to them. Include media literacy and digital citizenship lessons at every grade level, integrated into every topic. 

If we, as adults, don't take the responsibility to actively teach our children, the laws like COPPA need to be there to keep reminding us of our jobs - yes, even if such restrictions make our lives more difficult.

Share your thoughts on COPPA with the FTC: https://ftcpublic.commentworks.com/ftc/2011copparulereview/

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Scraps from Chris Lehmann Keynote

I am spying on the Chris Lehmann Keynote at MSET via Twitter this morning. It's fascinating to pick up the fragments and imagine the whole. Here are some crumbs from "Building Schools 2.0" to work on, thanks to many busy Tweeters through the keynote. Great thoughts!
  • Test- focused schools create a culture of compliance, not independent thinkers
  • "How many of you think your schools get it HALF right?" Only about 10% raised hands. Yikes!
  • combine old ideas (Dewey) and new tools 
  • We are developing citizenry not a workforce
  • lousy data = lousy decisions -Use "good" data when making decisions based on data
  • Value the work students do every day, not just on standardized test day
  • "Deliver pizza, not instruction" "We need to reclaim the language." "We TEACH." 
  • "Don't ban cell phones. Why deny them the tools if you can't afford the tools?" "They're going to use them anyway." "[So teach them how to use them!]" 
  • Not changing how we teach is more about us than the students. Are we willing to unlearn and relearn?
  • We teach kids not subjects
  • "What are our own personal slide rules?" What are we teaching that is now outdated? 
  • Schools should be student centered. When you go into the classroom, you should play "find the teacher".
  • Education should be community based - "we can learn from many" Video Conferences - we are not bounded by 4 walls anymore
  • What if we challenge students - "High School is Real Life" What you do now does matter, your passions are what matters. 
  • We want students to think about thinking 
  • Project based learning - the end result is not a test but a product created by students 
  • "If you get 30 copies of the same thing you didn't give a project you gave a recipe. Let them own it."
  • technology need to be like oxygen. It should not be something special. Technology is like oxygen - ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible.
  • "When was the last time you took your kids to a pencil lab?" Tech should be everywhere.
  • What we Want for Kinds we MUST also want for teachers and the school. 
  • Problematize Everything - What is the worst consequence of your BEST idea? (Great way to think)
  • Empower Kids - It is their education and it will be THEIR world.
  • What do we teach kids? We teach them wisdom.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Themes and Thoughts from the NAIS 2011 Annual Conference

This year I volunteered to tweet for the NAIS conference, held at National Harbor, Maryland (across the Potomac from DC). The theme was "Monumental Opportunties: Advancing Our Public Purpose". As ever, the line-up of keynote speakers was fabulous and perhaps the most valuable experience, outside the great networking opportunities that always take place.

Reviewing my tweets, I realize that the actual theme was closer to "Making Good Choices and Guiding Change". What follows are a collection of my tweets which I think will sum up the most important takeaways.

Understanding choices. Sheena Iygenar's keynote The Art of Choosing was a wonderful guide to rethinking the way we guide and manage others.
My tweets:
  • Relationship between leadership and choice - as leaders we are defined by our choices.
  • Effective leaders don't just empower themselves with choice, but others around them as well.  
  • No choice or too many choices - workers felt leaders were either dictators or incompetent.
  • Choose with wisdom and compassion towards others and you are on your way to mastering the art of choosing.
The Hole in the Wall project. Sugata Mitra described his experiment with computers and village children. He has made fascinating observations about how children can and will learn by developing their own pedagogy.
My tweets:
  • Left learners with a problem with no pedagogy - the children developed the pedagogy.
  • When teachers can be replaced by a machine, something needs to change. When learners have interest, they learn. 
The rider, the elephant, and the path. Dan Heath spoke about the topic of this book, Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard.
My tweets:
  • We say change is hard, but we accept change willingly in so many instances. There are times we embrace it. 
  • The emotional part of our brains is like an elephant, with the rational part the small rider at the top. Who wins? 
  • Analyzing problems comes naturally, analyzing successes does not. Successes can point the direction for successful change.
  • Find the "bright spots" in your school. Why are the best teachers, best students the way they are? Study your bright spots. 
  • What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. - Ambiguity is the enemy of change.
  • People have the wrong model of change. We think it's: analyze, think, change. But it's: See something, feel something, change.  (His example was the Embrace Life: Always Wear Your Seatbelt video.)
  • By shaping the path the change becomes easier - when the situation changes, people change. 
  • If you want change, failure is part of the deal. Struggle en route is inevitable.
Democracy requires an educated public. Elizabeth Coleman of Bennington College gave an impassioned talk about the importance of broader, deeper thought.
My tweets:
  • No more damning evidence of the education in this country than the quality the public demands from the media. 
  • Democracy - if a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it never was and never will be. (Thomas Jefferson)
  • We measure by one standard - are our children able to compete in the global economy? Values have diminished. Liz Coleman
  • We have professionalized Liberal Arts to the point that they don't provide heightened civic behavior, which was their hallmark. 
  • The values and voices of democracy are silenced with devastating consequences.
  • We only have ourselves to blame when we hand over responsibility to someone else. You have a choice. 
  • You get no credit for moderation if you are just applauding the status quo. Go for the gold.
The future of knowledge, talent, and innovation. Anya Kamenetz views education from an unusual perspective. She emphasized that there are so many ways to learn now, that traditional education is outdated and insufficient. Her comparison was the demise of the music industry - has it killed music? No, quite the opposite, now there are more ways to access music, publish and find an audience, and participate than ever before.
My tweets:
  • Conforming in the name of accountability we focus on left brain skills and we lose creativity. 
  • The Future is Open - Content, Socialization, Credit/Assessment are the three buckets. 
  • PLNs - YouTube - we help each other learn- spontaneous learning in the wild. Schools should jump on it! 
  • Linkedin career explorer - Data-driven career planning- find out what others in your position have done
How technology can humanize the classroom. Salman Khan spoke with energy and enthusiasm about the way tutorials like his can flip the school experience, providing students the time they need to absorb difficult concepts, then allowing the teacher the opportunity to build on their knowledge.
My tweets:
  • Learning from online tutorials offer more options - repeat, review, move ahead, struggle with the concept. No one is watching you.
  • Flipped the teaching with tutorials: Technology humanized the classroom - kids are teaching each other and teacher gets to mentor.
  • Khan's vision is by seeing how students do on site, it can increase student - to- valuable time with the teacher ratio.
  • Self-paced learning - who are the fast or slow students? Maybe the fast ones were just assessed at the right time.  
  • Disruptive technologies used well can actually humanize the classroom.
I am sorry to say I had to leave before Geoffrey Canada spoke in order to get back to school. Overall it was a wonderful series of keynotes inspiring making good choices and guiding change.