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Educational Technology and Privacy Concerns Spark Opinion Piece

As big-name players such as Google and Facebook back more technology for schools, a discussion about student data privacy needs to take place, write Dipayan Ghosh and Jim Steyer, two digital privacy advocates, in a recent opinion piece in The New York Times . "Should the tremendous amounts of data underlying the operation of these kinds of services get into the wrong hands, our children's futures could be at stake," they warn. “We don’t want children to fear that anything they say or do online could be used against them someday.”


Social Media Now More Important as a News Source Than Newspapers

A new Pew Research study has found that after years of steady gains, social media has edged out newspapers as a news source for adults in the US in 2018. The survey reveals that 20% of adults access social media for news, topping the 16% for newspapers, although TV remains the leading source.


Amazon Expands Future Engineer Program to Younger Grades

Amazon has expanded its "Future Engineer" initiative from high school into K-8. The program has begun offering free online lessons and funding summer camps to help elementary students discover the fun of computer science. Earlier this year, the company revealed the "Amazon Future Engineer Pathway" program that supported 100,000 high school students in taking  Advanced Placement courses in computer science and awarded four-year scholarships and internships to a sizable group of students from under-served populations.

Amazon’s newly announced program serving younger students will fund Computer Science camp scholarships through partnerships with and Coding with Kids. The mission is to provide underprivileged students with the means to learn coding in an interactive, hands-on way. Currently, the company is accepting scholarship applications for 2019 classes. Schools and districts may also apply on behalf of families.


Blocking Robocalls on iPhone and Android

Does it seem like you are getting more and more robocalls these days? It is a hot topic of discussion everywhere. Unwanted calls are usually pretty harmless, but some pose a threat to your privacy and identity. All are an unwanted distraction and a waste of time and one report says that nearly half of all cell phone calls will be scams in 2019. Need some advice on how to block them? Try the step-by-step directions, tips on apps and ideas for shutting them down in the article Here's how to block robocalls on iPhone and Android.


If They Want It, Ask for a PowerPoint Presentation

The next time your kids ask you for something, try asking them to create a PowerPoint (or Google Slides or Apple’s Keynote) presentation on why they need it, whether it be a new toy, gaming system or even joining an activity. It is a great way for them to practice not only their digital literacy, but also to learn to make a pitch for something they want to achieve. Want some examples of what kids have done? See PowerPoint Is the Most Efficient Way for Kids to Manage Their Parents from The New York Times.


What Have You Resolved to do About a Browser?

Most New Year’s resolutions focus on building better habits for fitness, career success, and even love. But what about better Internet practices? One thing you might try is the Keepsafe Browser. It allows you to browse the Internet without keeping record of your activity—a privacy feature that is attractive to many. Keepsafe’s private browser uses military-grade encryption to protect your web searches. To start, set a PIN or Face ID; the app cannot be accessed without that code. Browse in private mode, or switch into incognito mode’s secret browsers, which erase all of your browsing history after use. Not sold yet? Turn on Keepsafe’s tracker blockers to stop advertisers and social networks from collecting your data or browsing activity.


Prepare for Artificial Intelligence Surveillance at Work and School

The use of artificial intelligence to monitor employees, and even students, is on its way, Larry Alton argues in InformationWeek. As companies streamline and automate surveillance services to prevent losses and increase productivity and schools increasingly worry more about security and bullying, added surveillance is sure to follow. Alton examines the consequences and discusses what you and your children should do to prepare.


The Risks of Technology Need More Consideration

Marty Ringle of Reed College in Oregon, who has worked in educational technology for more than 40 years, says there should be more consideration by the public, especially parents, of the risks of technology. In this interview with EdSurge, he suggests that an ethics course focused on technology be required in schools and colleges and the materials available for parents to use. Ringle writes, “There are people today who are well respected, well known, who are expressing anxiety and concerns about this. I personally think those are very well placed concerns. Not just in terms of the immediate obvious concerns about privacy and tracking and profiling people to within an inch of their lives and all those sorts of things, but decision-making, understanding the strengths and weaknesses, the limits of technology, not just today, but tomorrow, I think is vital.”


Virtual Field Trips Connect Girls to STEM Careers

The Signal (Santa Clarita Valley, Calif.) has reported that a local Boys and Girls Club is introducing girls to careers in marine conservation by partnering with EarthEcho International. Interactive virtual field trips connected the participating girls to 30 women in the profession. During Skype sessions, each professional gives a tour of what she does in her job and answers questions about her career and how she got there. Other interactive virtual field trips, which are now accessible to anyone online, are available at


Greeting Cards Aren’t Going the Way of Newspapers

Greeting cards are thriving in a digital world—and Millennials are their biggest fans. According to the Greeting Card Association, the majority of American families buy an average of 30 greeting cards a year, and Millennials are “the largest age group of greeting card buyers.” Nostalgia and the desire for something more lasting and tactile, unlike a Facebook greeting, are likely reasons for their popularity—but it doesn’t hurt that they look good in Instagram pics either.


Microsoft Calls for a Facial Recognition Code of Conduct

In an effort to improve facial recognition technology -- and prevent wrongful identification based on built-in biases -- Microsoft is establishing a code of conduct for this technology and is asking other companies to join in. Microsoft President Brad Smith says in TechCrunch that having cohesive rules in place is the most responsible way to implement facial recognition technology. This Code of Conduct is in response to a test of facial recognition software systems run by the American Civil Liberties Union and other critics who found that, for example, the software incorrectly matched the photos of 28 US lawmakers with mug shots of convicted criminals.


Law Enforcement Strategy Employed to Curb Bullying

A New Jersey middle school has adopted an alternative to suspensions called Schoolhouse Adjustment, principal Michael Gaskell writes in a commentary in eSchool News.  Basically, instead of suspending a student for bullying, the incident instead is referred to the School Security Officer for a constructive intervention consisting of lessons, chats, and monitoring for recurring incidents.


Study Looks at the Effects of Screen Time On Kid’s Brains

A recent segment of 6o Minutes covered the effects of screen time on kids and reported that children ages 9 and 10 who spent at least seven hours on screens per day actually had thinning of the part of the brain that controls sensory processing. The segment references an ongoing study from the National Institutes of Health, that also finds that those who had more than two hours of daily screen time had lower language and thinking test scores. The study is following over 11,000 children for 10 years to see how prolonged screen time affects the brain. The scientists and doctors working on the study said that no conclusions could be drawn at this point, but noted there are definite changes in brain structure and activity.


Lengthen Your Phone Password

Your phone is incredibly valuable to criminals and spies. Treat it accordingly. Don’t bother with a four-digit passcode, which is easy to guess. Six-digit passcodes are harder to guess. Eight-digit-passcodes are better. Need to change you password? Try How to Bypass and Reset the Password on Every Operating System for advice on how to change your password on most any device.


Security Question Alone Won’t Protect Your Data

Sites will often use common security questions to recover a user’s account if the password is forgotten. These questions are problematic because the Internet has made public record searches simple and the answers are usually easy to guess. In a study, security researchers at Google found that with a single guess, an attacker would have a 19.7 percent chance of duplicating an English-speaking user’s answer to the question “What is your favorite food?” (Pizza) If you're required to answer security questions, some security experts suggest making up a lie and jotting down your fake answers on paper or in the Notes section of your phone. (Q. "Where were you born?" A. Kentucky Fried Chicken. Q. "What was your first pet’s name?" A. Peach.)


Watch What Your Do With Your Email Address

You might think that entering and storing personal data for easier access to online sites is convenient, but generally speaking, it's not a great idea. Breach after breach proves as much. Many sites require entering an email address to register or gain access to full features, but it can also be fodder for spam. If you are visiting a site that doesn’t seem credible or trustworthy but requires entering your email, consider creating a disposable email address.


End of the Year Tasks - Back Up Your Data

Whether you make it an end of the year or a New Year’s resolution, backing up your data is always a good idea. Ransomware -- malicious software that hackers have used to scramble your data until you pay a ransom -- is a common scourge these days. Stay one step ahead of cybercriminals by regularly backing up your data. Wirecutter has a great guide on cloud back ups and hardware backups here.


After the Marriott Breach – Protecting Your Info Online

Marriott has reported that they will begin alerting the 500 million customers believed to have been affected by a breach of its Starwood hotels database. If you stayed at a Sheraton, Westin, W Hotels, St. Regis, Four Points, Aloft, Le Méridien, Tribute, Design Hotels, Elements or Luxury Collection hotel in the last four years, you may have been affected. So how should you be protecting your information online?

  • Passwords – Regardless of what company is involved in a breach, it’s always a safe bet to change passwords for sites that contain sensitive information like financial, health or credit card data. Do not use the same password across multiple sites, and do not use your Social Security number as a username or a password. Think about using a password manager. Wirecutter, a New York Times company, provides a helpful explanation of why password managers are so essential. They also maintain an updated guide to what it considers to be the best password managers.
  • Don’t Click - Attacks are often spread through malicious email attachments and links — a practice known as phishing. So make a rule of not clicking on anything when you do not know where it will take you, even if it appears to come from someone you know.
  • Be Vigilant with Your Credit Card- Never allow a retailer or merchant to store your credit card information unnecessarily. If it is offered, use PayPal or Apple Pay for online transactions. Both are safer than most online payment methods.

Cybercrime Escalates in 2018

Because cybercriminals' activities have become increasingly sophisticated, one expert writing in Insurance Business America says that cybercrimes, and especially financial scams, have risen sharply in 2018. "Criminals are no longer just getting the email credentials of a person in a company, they are now monitoring their email and communication style in order to send a phishing email that is hard to detect as being fraudulent," says Jeremy Barnett of NAS Insurance, suggesting that companies put steps in place to prevent phishing scams. While you would think that the increase in cybersecurity issues would make people more vigilant about scams, many businesses and individuals have the feeling that it will never happen to them.


The Beginning of the End of Snow Days

A flurry of recent articles brings home yet one more way that technology is changing education: In districts across the country, snow days are becoming relics of the past. Beginning on December 1, for example, the schools around Camden, Maine, will replace two snow days per year with so-called Remote School Days, when students will complete coursework at home using internet-connected devices.


Given that many employers around the country have been implementing work from home policies in recent years, it was probably inevitable that the idea would spread to schools. And for schools, there’s the logic of the initial investment: If they’ve spent money acquiring devices for every student, as many have done, there’s a strong argument to be made that they should maximize the utility of those devices—part of the rationale for buying them is to expand students’ opportunities for learning.