Shutting off the EdTech Factotum newsletter (but keeping the blog)

With the recent changes to the European privacy laws, and my lack of ability to maintain any kind of publishing schedule, I’ve decided to scrap the EdTech Factotum newsletter.

I started the EdTech Factotum newsletter a year ago with the goal of publishing a new edition each week, summarizing three articles that I had read that week. I managed to maintain a pretty consistent schedule for the first few months, but soon started faltering, missing a week here and a week there.

The time between publishing newsletters got longer and longer. I had some technical issues as I fought with Tiny Letter, and tried to reclaim my newsletter by installing the MailPoet plugin and using that to publish my newsletters directly from WordPress. But that created it’s own headaches as it didn’t play well with the Gutenberg WordPress editor.

Frustrating as the technical was, I like to think there is value in working thru the frustration as it helps me keep my skills up.

But then came the GDPR, the new EU privacy legislation that makes my own provinces FIPPA regulations (once some of the the strongest in Canada) pale by comparison.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. The GDPR is an excellent privacy regulation. Progressive and aggressive, the GDPR provides users data protection and privacy legislation that is a model for the rest of the world. Indeed, as you no doubt have noticed yourself with the onslaught of privacy and terms of service updates you have received over the past few weeks, the rest of the world has reacted to the GDPR as, well, the Internet knows no geographical boundaries.

The GDPR requirements are not onerous. As far as I can tell, I would need to get some kind of explicit opt-in consent from the 100 or so folks who have subscribed to the EdTech Factotum newsletter, create a privacy policy for the site, and provide some better opt-out tools. And, really, I am in Canada so could probably continue to proceed with the newsletter as is until my country (and more likely my province) updates the privacy legislation to be in line with the EU’s. Which, I think, is inevitable.

But the GDPR + the technical challenges + the lack of output from me = an easy decision to drop the ETF newsletter and just blog.

If you are one of the subscribers to the newsletter, know that I am deleting all stored subscription information from the site, including your name and email address. I’m just uninstalling MailPoet and will sweep thru the DB to make sure any of your info is deleted from my site.

I’ll continue to blog here at EdTech Factotum. The only difference is now this will just be a regular ol’ blog and there won’t be any newsletters emailed to you fine folks. I’ll still post the occasional summary of what I read here. And you can still follow along via the RSS feed (remember those?),  Twitter, or my EdTech Factotum Facebook page.

Photo: Mobile Privacy by EFF Photos CC-BY


Privacy and GAFE

Spark, CBC Radio's digital culture program hosted by Nora Young (who, along with Michael Geist, will be one of the keynotes at this years BCNET conference) is looking for people to take part in an upcoming show about Google's role in education. Whether you are a student, educator, school administrator, or parent, Spark hopes to hear from you about Google's increasing presence in the public education system.

One parent who has something to say happens to be one of my BCcampus colleagues, Brad Payne. About 2 years ago, our local k-12 school district rolled out Google Apps for Education (GAFE), asking parents in the district to provide written consent for our kids to use GAFE.

Recently, Brad made a presentation to the school district arguing that parental consent is an insufficient mechanism to protect the privacy of children using GAFE for four reasons;

1. It assumes parents have adequate digital literacy to make informed choices about their children’s privacy.

2. It assumes school district immunity despite obligations under Section 79.1.b of the B.C. School Act.

3. It assumes Google has incentive to adequately inform parents about the risks of data retention, profiling and automated decision making.

4. It assumes computational statistical inferences derived from machine learning algorithms doesn’t threaten the privacy of children.

Payne, 2018

All are valid concerns, but it is the last one that nails it for me, and reinforces his first concern about whether parents have enough digital literacy to adequately make an informed decision. And, even if you are highly digitally literate and aware enough to ask the question about what is happening behind the scenes with your child's data, it's very possible Google might not be able to actually tell you as there is growing suspicion that major technology companies don't even know themselves what happens inside their own black boxes. It really does, as Brad suggests,

…create a situation where the balance of power is not with parents, and those who could be better informed are consenting to a long term legal agreement that is onerous, ambiguous and unspecific. 

Payne 2018

Source: Open Letter to School District 61 on the use of Google Apps For Education (GAFE), Brad Payne, February 18, 2017


How AI will Destroy Education

I am taking an edX MOOC on Learning Analytics in a few weeks (come and join along).

LA is an area that I haven't been following as closely as I should have for the past few year. I am feeling the need to brush up on LA because data and LA underpin so much of what is happening in education technology these days, including the world of AIEd (to illustrate just how far I am removed – I had no idea that artificial intelligence in education had been acronym'd).

Click-baity title aside,  Jay Lynch has written a good critical look at the current problems with AIEd.

Lynch argues that much of the current AIEd is built on poorly defined data that doesn't actually capture meaningful learning, and that this type of data is notoriously difficult to capture in the first place. How do you actually measure and quantify learning, and what if the measures we use are flawed to begin with?

Most data collected about student learning is indirect, inauthentic, lacking demonstrable reliability or validity, and reflecting unrealistic retention timelines. And current examples of AIEd often rely on these poor proxies for learning, using data that is easily collectable rather than educationally meaningful.

Lynch, 2017

Lynch makes further arguments, including one that I am finding increasingly disturbing, not just in education, but in all aspects of working society: that the primary purpose of A.I. is to remove people from processes. In this case, removing the teacher from the learning process of the students. Lynch notes that most AIEd works in the "rational domain, prioritizing cognitive aspects of learning" and ignores the critical role of emotion in the learning process.

Maybe one day AIEd will be capable of effectively identifying and nurturing student emotions during learning, but until then we must be careful not to offload educational tasks that, on the surface, may appear menial or routine, but critically depend on emotion and meaningful human connections to be optimally beneficial.

Lynch, 2017

As I spend a bit of time diving into data and analytics in education over the coming months, I think I'll be coming back to this piece a few times to help me critically frame the space.

Source: How AI Will Destroy Education, Jay Lynch, Nov 13, 2017


Defining Open Educators

Something you learn very quickly when supporting faculty on an open education initiative is that all educators are at various levels of knowledge and comfort with open education. For some, you are often their first introduction to open education. Others have been explicit practitioners of open education for years and open is built into their default operating system. Educators are on a spectrum of openness, and a good strategy to support educators is to adopt a "meet them where they are at" mantra and build supports for those all along the spectrum of open.

What appeals to me about the work that Fabio Nascimbeni and Daniel Burjos have done in this IRRODL paper is that they put forth a vision of what that spectrum of openness could look like, from the novice to the experienced open educator. They have put together a useful holistic framework that maps many of the different dimensions of open education and open educational practices. As a starting point, they provide their definition of what an open educator is.

An Open Educator choses to use open approaches, when possible and appropriate, with the aim to remove all unnecessary barriers to learning. He/she works through an open online identity and relies on online social networking to enrich and implement his/her work, understanding that collaboration bears a responsibility towards the work of others.

To further define an Open Educator, Nascimbeni and Borges list four activities that help define an Open Educator.

  1. Implements open learning design by openly sharing ideas and plans about his/her teaching activities with experts and with past and potential students, incorporating inputs, and transparently leaving a trace of the development process.
  2. Uses open educational content by releasing his/her teaching resources through open licenses, by facilitating sharing of her resources through OER repositories and other means, and by adapting, assembling, and using OERs produced by others in his/her teaching.
  3. Adopts open pedagogies fostering co-creation of knowledge by students through online and offline collaboration and allowing learners to contribute to public knowledge resources such as Wikipedia.
  4. Implements open assessment practices such as peer and collaborative evaluation, open badges, and e-portfolios, engaging students as well as external stakeholders in learning assessment.

One thing that I appreciate that they recognized under the design aspect was that open educators "transparently leaving a trace of the development process." To me, this signals the importance of educators themselves working in the open. Being in an open educator is not something we just do for and with students, and the best open educators I see in the field have adopted a transparent and open workflow that anyone, not just their students, can learn from.

Within these four different dimensions (Design, Content, Teaching and Assessment), they then provide some examples of activities that novice, transitional, and expert Open Educators may undertake in each dimension. This chart illustrates some example, from novice Open Educator (at the bottom) to expert open educator (at the top)

For those who are supporting educators in the adoption of open educational practices, this is a useful framework to start building support and faculty development initiatives that go beyond OER.

Source: Nascimbeni, F., & Burgos, D. (2016). In Search for the Open Educator: Proposal of a Definition and a Framework to Increase Openness Adoption Among University Educators. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 17(6). Retrieved from


Online educators’ recommendations for teaching online

Using both Chickering & Gamson's Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, and the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework from Garrison, Anderson & Archer, Dunlap and Lowenthal set about to crowdsource a series of best practice recommendations for teaching online from seasoned online educators.

Model for Online Courses Giulia Forsythe CC-BY-NC-SA

What they have come up with is an excellent primer for any would be online educator that builds on the theoretical CoI model with some pragmatic and practical suggestions on how to develop a CoI borne out of years of experience by seasoned and practiced online educators.

The crowdsourcing that Dunlap and Lowenthal undertook was a bit more involved than simply asking on Twitter for recommendations. Dunlap and Lowenthal conducted their crowdsourcing over the course of 2 years, and included a healthy does of face to face crowdsourcing at 7 different professional education conferences to come up with a robust list of best practices. 

When they did their analysis, they discovered 4 prominent themes emerging from the recommendations by the online educators.

  1. Supporting student success (example suggestion: Model what you want from students (e.g., model how to share and interact in a discussion forum, provide exemplars of projects and other assignments, and engage in think-alouds that illustrate how to read and take notes from primary sources).
  2. Providing clarity and relevance through content structure and presentation (example suggestion: Make everything explicit; say more than you think you need to say.)
  3. Establishing presence to encourage a supportive learning community (example suggestion: Use video to introduce yourself to the class as the instructor. Ask students to do the same.)
  4. Being better prepared and more agile as an educator. (example suggestion: Sometimes you have to leave the LMS and find other technologies that help you better achieve your instructional goals.)

Around these 4 themes, Dunlap and Lowenthal then list the specific strategies and approaches that were suggested to them. If you have never taught an online course before, this is a very good paper filled with practical, classroom tested advice that will provide a good starting point for your journey.

Source: Online educators’ recommendations for teaching online: Crowdsourcing in action, Joanna C. Dunlap & Patrick Lowenthal, Open Praxis, Dec 6, 2017