Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update





BFTP: But I miss paper maps!

A colleague and I were visiting about the need for print reference resources, when the subject of print atlases came up. "Do we really need them?" I asked. "We have easy access to GoogleMaps. GPS in our phones and cars. A million maps online. Aren't paper maps and the ability to use them sort of an anachronism?" 

"Oh, but I just love print maps!" she lamented.

And so do I. I have always loved maps. I own atlases. I have old maps framed and hung on my walls at home. I stop at the welcome center each time I enter a state to get its latest highway map. But I also recognize that I may be the last generation who so loves print maps.

And print books. And turning off one's cellphone now and then - and prefering talking to texting. And using a keyboard. And having a desktop computer. And getting a newspaper delivered to my door each morning. And enjoying with my grandchildren picture books that don't always sing and dance. And attending F2F conferences and meetings and inservices. And hanging on to a host of analog things that are now digital.

I constantly ask myself if a change - print maps to digital maps and GPS - is truly negative or if it is just uncomfortable to me as someone who grew up analog, now being shoe horned into a digital world. 

My sense is that a knee-jerk reaction either approving or rejecting a digital way of doing something is dangerous - and that any new medium will have both its benefits and its weaknesses which may not be known for years. But I am inclined to try the new and especially to accept that the new for me is the de facto experience for our students. 

Here there be dragons, indeed.

PS - five years after writing this post and five (more) years of using the GPS, now moved from a separate device into my technology overlord (iPhone). I still keep paper maps as a backup, I still prefer to hike with paper maps, and I still have maps hanging, framed on the walls of my house. Just ordered a new map of the Superior Hiking Trail! 

But I wouldn't give up my GPS!

Original post March 6, 2013


Readers' Advisory and online privacy

I actually appreciate the fact that, when I go to Facebook or see a panel of Google Network advertisements, I generally see advertisements for things I might, conceivably, be interested in buying. The most annoying thing about advertising, to my mind, is that for most of my life I have been deluged with come-ons for products I had no interest in: perfumes and luxury cars and the latest pharmaceutical advance that will alleviate some minor annoyance with the possible side effect of immediate horrible death. Sonny Bunch. Stop freaking out about Cambridge Analytics. Targeted ads are great. Washington Post, March 22, 2018
Amazon thinks I need a "mouse jiggler." For those of you in the technology slow lane*, a mouse jiggler is a $20 device that plugs into the USB port of you computer and simulate a mouse movement now and then so that your computer's energy saving mode doesn't kick and the screen doesn't go dark.  It is a tool for those working in environments whose paranoia-driven tech departments don't allow individuals to change the sleep settings on their computers, I guess. (Or for those who do not know their operating systems very well.)

So Amazon's ad on my Facebook page got it "sort of" right. I love tech gizmos, but I don't have a need for a mouse jiggler. It is kind of fun to look at the dodads that pop up every now and then for tech tools, hiking equipment, and books in the mystery and sci-fi genres that Amazon via Facebook thinks I cough up some dough for. 
The brouhaha over Cambridge Analytics use of Facebook derived data feels totally overblown to me. Analyzing one's audience so target marketing can be more focused is not exactly revolutionary or confined to the social media environment. During big election seasons, political groups know enough about individual populations (or think they do) to spend lots of money on TV ads in some areas and a good deal less in others for a long time. And who squawks?
My views of sharing personal information with others was probably shaped as a young librarian who provided readers' advisory service to my students. In helping students chose their next books to read, my first question was "What have you read recently that you enjoyed?" And if they divulged that "personal information" I could do a better job of recommending their next book. Now Amazon performs that function for me based on my prior book purchases and it would probably do an even better job if I actually rated those books after reading them.

As Scott Adams once wrote (and Sonny Brunch reinforces), data sharing is not by default a bad thing. Adams wrote:
  • Maybe you shared your medical history with your doctor and that allowed him to treat you more effectively.
  • Maybe you put your personal information on an online dating service and it helped you find the love of your life.
  • Maybe you showed your past tax returns to your bank and it helped you secure a mortgage to your dream house.
  • Maybe you were secretly gay or lesbian and it was a huge relief when you came out.
  • Maybe you installed a device on your car that allows your insurance company to track your driving history in return for lower rates.
  • Maybe you enjoy sharing your life on Facebook.
  • Maybe Google tracked your search history and later served up an ad that was exactly what you were looking for.
  • Maybe your favorite airline gave you a free upgrade because they know you fly with them often.
  • Maybe you put your work history on LinkedIn and someone offered you a job.

Good outcomes are usually the result of good inputs.

Concerns over data privacy are flooding schools right now. Who has student data, how it is being used, and can you track who has accessed it is a big deal right now. My crystal ball tells me that we will be spending lots of scarce technology dollars on systems that track these sorts of concerns - all to little purpose.

There are also rumblings of privacy advocates for making the use of online systems "opt in" or  "opt out." Hmmm, so if I don't want our family's "personal" data (phone numbers, addresses, etc) in the student information system, I can just say no? If I don't trust the teacher to protect the last score my kid got that social studies quiz, I can have the teacher just use a good old paper gradebook instead of the learning management system? And don't we all know those evil doers at SeeSaw are simply mining our kids info to sell to ... well, I'm not sure, but I bet they do.

Schools do store, access and use student information. And I believe we do it responsibly. The ability for a parent to "opt out" of electronic data storage makes about as much sense as me being able to "opt out" of the department of motor vehicles keeping info on my car registration in their database or asking my health care provider to keep all my test results in paper files.

So here's the thing. Let's stop looking at data use and data sharing as innately evil and instead:

  • Ask if there are positives in sharing information with others (no Trump campaign ads in my Facebook feed).
  • Understand how to control in social media what data is shared and with whom.
  • Adopt reasonable safeguards in schools to protect unauthorized use of student and family information (with the operative word being reasonable.
  • Teach everyone that there are some really stupid that people do that can lead to identity theft. 
  • Make sure people know that if one wishes to commit an illegal or immoral act using social media, the chances of getting caught are pretty damn good. As they should be.

In an earlier post on data privacy, I asked:

Assuming the majority is correct - and privacy is a good thing - you probably have examples from your own law-abiding life in which shared data created a lasting problem for you. Can you tell me a few stories like that?


*OK, I didn't know what a mouse jiggler was either.


Solutions that are neat, plausible, and wrong

Caution: geezer rant follows...
From sexting to cyberbullying to FOMO, social media sure has its share of negatives. But, if it's all bad, how did 2,000 students protest their school system's budget cutsHow are teens leading the charge against cyberbullying? How did they organize a national school walkout day to protest gun laws? Easy: savvy use of social media. Caroline Knorr 5 Reasons You Don't Need to Worry About Kids and Social Media, Common Sense Media, 3/14/18
The most tiresome solution I hear to "technology-caused" problems is a simple one: take the technology away. No smartphones, Chomebooks, iPads, etc., no problem. Games causing a distraction? Block games. Kids abusing the chat window in apps. Close it down. Social media - ban its use.

The removal of an abused thing is often the first reaction we have when we don't really want to think too hard about the problem or use creative approaches to solving it. While I am not a fan of assault rifles, to think that outlawing them will prevent school shootings is wishful thinking. To tax soft drinks or reduce the size of the Big Gulp cup will end the obesity epidemic is naive. Delaying the construction of oil pipelines will not stop the environmental damage caused by fossil fuels. Hate to say this, but there were distracted drivers and automobile accidents before there were smartphones. 

Personal computing devices, guns, Pepsi, fossil fuels, and smartphones are not going away. And sadly, by taking a one-right-solution approach to the problems, disagreements that degrade into either-or thinking block collaborative, innovative problem-solving efforts.

Personally, I am a little tired of proposals that are designed simply to create outrage. Any proposal to ban a thing that I would listen to needs two elements:
  • Acknowledgement of there may be positives to the thing being banned (social media in schools can be used by students to create positive change)
  • Acknowledgement that a more nuanced, thoughtful, comprehensive approach to the problem is necessary - that banning a thing may be part of a solution to a problem, but only a part. (Teaching time management skills and raising awareness of technology addiction are part of good technology management plans in schools.)
For those outrage-fueled adrenaline junkies, this is probably too much work. But remember the words of H.L. Menken "there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.”