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Tuesday
Apr242018

I still like free

Tim Stahmer in his post "The Hazards of Free" at Assorted Stuff warns that educators should not rely too heavily on "free" websites. He cites Edmodo and Padlet as two services that were once free but are now pay-to-play. He could have added Wikispaces as well.

A common concern I hear about Google Apps for Education, besides unwarranted privacy concerns, is that Google will start charging schools for the service. Like a drug pusher who gives the sucker free samples until hooked, Google will use schools' dependency on its product to be able to extort an annual user fee at some future date. I have seen no credible evidence that this will happen. 

Unlike Tim, I would urge teachers and techies alike to take advantage of free. I am happy that my schools have not had to pay for email - the program or storage - since 2000 thanks to GSuite. Those dollars were diverted to other needs. I was a happy user of Wikispaces for a dozen years or more, using it to share handouts for my workshops. And at Padlet, I still get 48 padlets to use until I decide to cough up the subscription fees or find a replacement tool.

I do not in any way feel like I have been cheated or that my efficacy has been jeopardized. Here a few things about free applications...

 

  1. Try before you buy. I test out a lot of programs and wind up using very few. A "free" version is a great way to see if a new program actually works as advertised and does what you want it to do. No risk, except, perhaps, for an unending barrage of spam from the company.
  2. Fewer features can be a blessing. Some of the free "stripped down" versions of programs are actually easier to use - you can get to the task at hand instead of figuring out the options.
  3. Even a savings for a few years is still a savings. Nothing lasts forever. Tools and tasks change. As sad as I am to see old friends leave the digital stage, I also am pleased that I got good use of these freebies for as long as I did. And you know, it's not a bad idea to change up tools now and then anyway.
  4. Open source is cool. Whatever happened to the open source movement? These collaborative initiatives have created free alternatives to commercial products like Linux and OpenOffice, Apache and Firefox. Open source software has empowered many a computer user who could not or preferred not to pay for commercial software.
  5. Not all remuneration is a subscription fee. As Tim argues, products need to be sustainable for them to be continued and improved. Subscriptions sometimes are the most visible means of support, but advertising is also a viable means of subsidizing a venture. (I am not sure why we fuss about this so much when it happens online, but accept it without question in magazines and newspapers.)

I suspect that economic model for GSuites is that by building familiarity and comfort with its product, Google believes that students on leaving school will continue to use a personal Google account - which it can then monetize through advertising or data mining. The long view.

Free is not the solution to every budgetary problem (see Getting the Most from Your Tech Dollar: Free is good), but use it when you can.

 

Saturday
Apr212018

BFTP: One big room, redux

80 per cent of young people are looking at sexual images online on a regular basis. The average age to start viewing pornography was about 11 or 12 while sexting was considered almost routine for many 13-14 year olds. ... Research has found that 50 per cent of youngsters had taken part in some sort of webcam sexual experience.  Pornography online is warping children's minds, teachers warnThe Telegraph, March 17, 2013

As a grandfather with a soon to be 12-year-old grandson, I find these sorts of numbers disturbing. Despite having active, caring parents, Paul lives and participates in a brave new world - and at age 11, seems to already exhibit some adolescent behaviors and attitudes. But even in 2006, I wondered if trying to keep kids out of unsuitable Internet content (at least through blocking and filters) is a fool's errand: 

Sorry folks. Anyone who thinks he or she can control kids' access to online information or experiences through legislation or a filter is spitting in the wind. We are not facing a simple technical challenge. We are swimming against a cultural tide.

Neil Postman explains why in his book The Disappearance of Childhood (1982). It's been a while since I have read this book, but as I remember, Postman's arguments go something like this: Childhood is a social construct. Before the Industrial Revolution, children were simply treated as small adults. They dressed like adults; they worked like adults; they lived where adults lived; and they saw what adults saw. Adults and children before the second half of the 19th century all pretty much lived in one big room.

The rise in industrialization also gave rise to the concept of "childhood." Society started treating children differently than it did adults; separating them by dress, by activity, and especially in experience. We kept kids in their own rooms with very limited access to adult rooms -- for their own safety, of course.

Postman argued that with the ubiquity of mass media (pre-Internet days), society no longer has the ability to keep children away from adult venues, sights, and experiences. We've all been pushed back into one big room, as it were. Once again, kids see and experience what adults see and experience.

When I first started speaking about Internet filtering back in 1994, I'd ask workshop participants if they felt the following materials were appropriate for children to have access to:

  • "Sex After 35: Why It's Different, Why it Can be Better"
  • "Men & Sex: Their 7 Secret Wishes"
  • "How Our Sex Life Was Saved"
  • "Major New Sex Survey: What You Don't Know..."
  • "The Sexual Games of the American Male"
  • "He Wants What? Men's 6 Biggest Sexual Fantasies"
  • "The Sex Skill Men Adore (& How to Do It Well)"
  • "The Hugh Grant Syndrome: Why Guys Pay for Sex"
  • "Five Total Turn-Ons Men Can't Resist"

Everyone agreed that those were not materials suitable for children -- and that they should be denied access to them.

"Too late," I'd say. "Each of those are headlines were splashed on the front cover of popular magazines easily found near any supermarket checkout lane." And last I checked, those magazine headlines have not become less explicit.

This cultural shift that is removing the wall between the kids' and adults' rooms is unnerving to say the least. Our natural inclination as parents and educators (and even politicians, I suppose) is to shelter and protect. But responsible adults also recognize that it is in their children's best interest not to shelter, but to teach children how to protect themselves in the big, bad world. One Big Room

When the adult bookstore (or nut-case militia or lunatic-fringe religious group) is only a click or two away, when wireless access in homes puts the Internet into every child's bedroom, and when work-arounds, proxies, and VPNs make filters ineffectual, we can only teach and practice our adult values - and hope out children learn.

Image source

Original post March 20, 2013

Thursday
Apr192018

Scam season

I sent the message below to all my district's employees this week:

______________________________________________________________

Hi folks,

If you don't see much of me in the coming weeks, it is because the IRS has a warrant out for my arrest for tax evasion and they will have caught me and I am sitting in a jail someplace. At least if the voice mails I have been getting lately from a rather sinister robotic voice are true. 

That is one example of scams and phishing attempts that seem to be growing increasingly common, spread through both email and phone calls. Here is another example sent from one of the security gurus at our regional support center:

Please be aware there is new Phishing Scam going around this week, where the bad guys are using “Active Shooter” and “Security Alert reported on campus” as the scare tactic. Please handle this scam with care as it has the potential to cause serious panic and disruption to your facilities and districts.

Please remind staff of the proper protocol for notification of an on campus security event, and to remind them this scam exists and NOT to forward it if they receive it but to notify IT immediately so you can begin to combat it.   

Some of the subject lines we have seen in this attack are:

“IT DESK: Security Alert Reported on Campus” “IT DESK: Campus Emergency Scare” “IT DESK: Security Concern on Campus Earlier”

    • “IT DESK: Security Alert Reported on Campus”
    • “IT DESK: Campus Emergency Scare”
    • “IT DESK: Security Concern on Campus Earlier”

As the ISD191 staff, I believe we have all become much smarter about responding to false requests for information and actions. Please remain skeptical of offers that look too good to be true, requests for releasing any personal information or any data about your students, or being asked to click on links from unknown entities. You are always welcome to contact the tech department if you have any questions about a suspicious message.

Firewall and spam/virus filters will never be 100% effective. "Social engineering" remains the most common means for the bad guys to get into systems and to obtain confidential data. 

Be cautious and help your students get smarter about these scams as well.

All the best,

Doug

______________________________________________________________

The security alert scam phenomena seems to have reached a new low in the malicious use of telecommunications. I cannot imagine the fear such an email going out to a school might cause. And the potential for "the boy who cried wolf" effect might further endanger students if genuine alerts are always viewed as hoaxes.

Senior citizens are often the target for online and phone scams as well. I alway try to alert my 85 year old mother when I hear of a new one.

Kevin Mitnick's book The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security was a real eye opener for me and I would highly recommend it.

As technology director, I feel it is my responsibility to remind all my staff that they need to be continuously on guard when it comes to odd email requests and unknown links. I honestly do believe they are getting better all the time. 

But the job may never be completely finished.

Oh, after sending the message to staff, I did an offer from a teacher to post bail for me after my arrest by the IRS. I was honored.