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Getting out of Password Hell

A while ago I realised that my online life was in password hell. I was using literally hundreds of sites and services that required passwords, but they were held together with a confusing mess of old passwords that I’d mostly forgotten, numerous passwords which were being used on more than one site,  passwords that didn’t meet the usual complexity rules usually required across the Internet, and so on. I often found myself having to do a password reset just to access a site, and of course that new password became yet another one I had to remember. Or forget.

I felt things were a little bit out of hand so I finally took a few steps to clean up my digital life.

First, using the same password for everything is an exceptionally stupid idea. Instead, I came up with my own system that helped me create hard-to-guess, but easy-to-remember passwords that I could apply to any site.  Having a clear system for this meant that when I signed up for some new online service I could quickly come up with a password that was memorable while also being unique to that site. It really helps to have a system. I made sure that my system always met the minimum complexity rules usually found online… that is, they contained uppercase, lowercase, numbers and symbols and were at least 8 characters long. If you do nothing else, come up with a system for your passwords! It’s so frustrating when you attempt to log in to a site that you’ve been to previously and can’t remember your password. So come up with a system for yourself, and please don’t just use the same password everywhere!

Secondly, I turned on multistep or 2-Factor authentication  for passwords on every site that offered this option (and there are a lot of them now). This is probably the single biggest thing you can do to improve the security of your online life. If you go online and don’t use 2 factor authentication, you’re not really serious about your online security. It’s that simple. I find it both amusing and frustrating when I hear people questioning the security of online services, and then find out they don’t use 2-Factor passwords. If you don’t use 2-Factor on every site that enables it,  please, don’t ever complain about the dangers of online security.  It just makes you sound silly. It’s not hard to set up, and if you use something like Google Authenticator to manage your second factors, it’s very simple to use.  The minor inconvenience of having to enter the second factor is far outweighed by the added security. Trust me on this. Turn it on. Now.

Finally, I set up a password manager. I chose LastPass,  but there are others. It took a while to get my head around how LastPass works but once I did, it made life so much easier. If you want to try LastPass for yourself you can get it on this link.
https://lastpass.com/f?7253846

If you are in password hell like I was,  take some of these positive steps to sort it out.

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Just Maui’d

I know I haven’t written much here on the blog lately. I’ve been a little consumed with some other things, like getting married to my sweetheart LInda :-)

On May 20, Linda and I stood on beautiful Makena Beach in Maui and tied the knot in front of a few close friends. It was a lovely ceremony full of symbolism, fun and joy. Here’s a few photos (you can click them for a closeup)

Special thanks to Jennifer from Marbelle Photography for these wonderful photos (all of them!), to Derek Sebastian for the fabulous ukulele music, Joe Miles for his touching ceremony, and to Lori Lawrence from Tropical Maui Weddings for helping us pull it all together from afar.

We have a bit more celebrating to do yet, with a post-wedding party back in Sydney on June 20 and then another in Toronto on June 27.

www.flickr.com/photos/neubie

Exploiting Opportunities

The following is from an email I wrote to someone who asked if I was going to be presenting at the EduTech conference in Brisbane this year. As you can see, my answer is no, but I think what’s important is my reason for saying no. If you’re planning to present at EduTech, I hope you consider the effect of saying yes.

To be honest, I am not a big fan of EduTech, mainly because I really don’t like their policy of non-payment for Australian speakers. I find it quite insulting that they are willing to pour outrageous amounts of money into getting overseas speakers but are not willing to pay anything for local speakers. I think they need to approach this with greater equity and offer ALL their speakers some form of payment, even if the locals just get a token amount. As I’ve no doubt pointed out before, this is a (very) commercial event run for profit by a professional conference-running company, and yet they expect the vast majority of what they are offering to their customers (at a significant price) to be provided to them for free.

On http://www.edutech.net.au/apply_speaker.html it clearly states that “in the vast majority of cases, we do not pay speakers”. Obviously that blanket statement is not true, as they pay many of their “big name” overseas speakers. What they mean to say is that they don’t pay local speakers because they feel they can get away with that. They also make the very generous point on that page that they “don’t charge speakers to speak”. Woop-de-do, EduTech.

While I’d be very happy to present something, on principle I’m not really willing to be exploited by the EduTech organisers who expect that all Australian presenters should be willing to present for them for free. It just doesn’t make sense to me. I’d love to see all Aussie presenters just say no to EduTech but it probably won’t happen.

There are many many great things I’m happy to give my time freely to… helping other teachers, sharing resources, giving time and energy at the grassroots level. But I’m not ok with helping EduTech carry on their culture of exploitation of Australian presenters just so they can make more money.

Featured image: CC BY-SA www.flickr.com/photos/neubie

Lipstick on a Pig

I was looking at school websites tonight trying to find some information I needed and I stumbled across a school that I won’t name, but on the front page of their website they had these two rather ironic images on display in a slider…

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I’m fairly sure that neither of these images qualifies for the claim they make of “Best Practices in Education” or “Advanced Learning Environment”.

Is it that schools simply don’t get what those terms mean? Or are they just marketing to parents who don’t understand what those terms mean? I’m not sure, but I do know that images like these completely devalue any real sense of best practise or advanced learning environments because the school clearly doesn’t know what those terms actually mean.

A school is not innovative or modern or advanced or “best practice” because it says so in their marketing brochures. It needs to actually BE those things it claims to be.

Adding phrases like that to images like this is simply just putting lipstick on a pig.

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A Bicycle for the Mind

I’ve been doing some work recently with a school that’s using iPads with their kids, and was asked to give a talk on the topic “The place of iPads in teaching and learning”. This post is just a bit of thinking out loud about that question.

Let me start by saying that I think the iPad is an amazing piece of technology. I dispute the common claim about iPads just being “consumption devices”. That’s a load of nonsense. Used wisely, iPads open up incredible opportunities for creativity. This point was driven home during my recent 365 project, The Daily Create, where I made a creative “thing” every day during 2014. Although this project wasn’t specifically based on using an iPad, the truth is that at least 80% of what I came up with over the course of the year was made on an iPad. Whether it was photo editing, making graphics, editing movies, composing music, building animations and 3D objects, or even just writing, the iPad was a perfectly credible tool for creation. And of course the actual management of the Daily Create project via a blog was mostly also all done on the iPad. So I know that the iPad can help people do amazing things.

Of course, that’s not to say it’s not also a great consumption device. For reading eBooks, watching videos, listening to podcasts or music, browsing the web, playing games and so on, the iPad is a convenient, intuitive easy-to-use device that, for the most part, “just works”.

So yes, I like the iPad. But just because you can do certain things on a device does not necessarily mean it’s the best device to be doing them on. So the iPad, as a tool, needs to be kept in that perspective. While it’s capable of most things, it’s great at some and not so good at others.

For example, I’m typing this post on a Chromebook. Why not an iPad? Well, as much as I like iPads, I prefer the writing and editing experience on a device with a real keyboard. I like the extra screen area, the ergonomics of sitting it comfortably on my lap, and having a physical non-modal keyboard.  Could I type a piece of writing like this on an iPad? Sure I could (and have), but if given a choice I prefer to pick the tool that works best for me for that given task.

This is one of the reasons my school has gone down the path of having a combination of both iPads and Chromebooks. There are times when one is simply a better option than the other. They both have such unique strengths, and to exclusively choose one over the other tends to just highlights the weaknesses of each. That said, if you only have a choice of one or the other, either will be perfectly fine.

So back to the original question… “what is the place of iPads in teaching and learning?” It’s a loaded question really, because it begs the bigger question, “what is the place of technology in general in teaching and learning”. And to take it a step further, I think you should probably be asking the much bigger question “what is the point of teaching and learning anyway?” Thinking about the place that a particular technology might have in the teaching and learning process first requires you to think about what you’re trying to achieve in the first place.

Figuring out the place of iPads in teaching and learning should be pretty obvious once you know what you want teaching and learning to look like to start with. If you’re clear on the big idea of why, then seeing how is easy. You simply ask yourself whether this technology is helping you get closer to your goal or not. If it is, it has a place. It it doesn’t, then maybe not.

The school that asked me this question seems to have a pretty clear educational direction for what they are trying to achieve, and how they believe the teaching and learning process should look.

For a start, they want their learning to be transdisciplinary. The transdisciplinary model for teaching and learning is highly inquiry based and values collaboration, teamwork, curiosity and interconnectedness. It’s more than just thinking about a topic from different perspectives (that’s multidisciplinary) or by thinking about a topic by combining different subjects together like maths and science (that’s interdisciplinary). The idea of making the learning transdisciplinary involves bringing together multiple subject areas in such a way that the learning transcends the curriculum and becomes more than just the sum of its parts. If you’re a PYP school this should all sound quite familiar as it forms the foundation of that program. By taking a transdisciplinary approach the aim is to bring a more authentic, open-ended, personalised, contextual learning experience to each student.

Threaded through this core model for learning is a highly inquiry-based approach, a strong belief in differentiation according to student needs, flexible learning paths, and a fundamental goal for students to build their own learning through a Constructivist approach.

Would an iPad help support that kind of learning? Yeah, I think it would.

Steve Jobs once described computers as a “bicycle for the mind”, a metaphor borrowed from a study on locomotive efficiency in animals. Apparently for humans, walking is incredibly inefficient. Other animals can travel much further with far less energy. Steve observed how humbling it was for humans to be placed so far down the efficiency scale compared to other animals. However, he observed, if you allow a human to use a bicycle they become the animal with the most efficient form of locomotion of all. The larger point is that the right tool can make a big difference to what we are capable of.

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Being given an opportunity to learn on your own terms, in ways that make sense to you, about things that interest you the most, forms the foundation of great learning. But without an effective tool to help, you’ll be like a human without a bicycle. You’ll probably get there, but it will take so much more work than it should.

So all of that pondering just leads me to my main idea, that giving a student an iPad (or any other piece of technology that helps them think more efficiently) can be a powerful thing. I think we intuitively know that, but it sometimes helps to step back and think about why we know it. And I think the “bicycle for the mind” idea is a pretty decent metaphor for why technology in the classroom can help support the kind of learning that we want. It can helps reduce the friction in curiosity, wonder, creativity and inquiry, and makes that process more efficient.

On the most basic level, having a device in the hands of a student that places them one click away of the sum of all human knowledge is in itself a pretty amazing advantage. (and one that no generation before them has ever had, by the way). We talk a lot about these devices helping students “connect, collaborate and communicate” so the simple idea of just being able to “look stuff up on the Internet” may not sound very impressive. But even though this might not be the wow factor that makes these devices “revolutionary and magical”, it’s still a pretty useful thing! To be able to look up a word, find a definition, peruse a map, verify a fact, ask a question or see a picture of something – instantly – is amazing. Don’t underestimate the power of that!

If you’re running a classroom based on an inquiry model, the iPad truly can act as that “bicycle for the mind” machine that helps a curious kid instantly connect to any fact or statistic they need to keep inquiring. iPads are transdisciplinary in the sense that they don’t silo information into arbitrary subjects. A query is a query. Curiosity does not have to limit itself to whether something is “science” or “maths” or “art”. Picking up an iPad and asking “OK Google, what type of lettuce is used in a Caesar salad?” and finding out that it is Romaine lettuce, and then wondering why it was named Caesar salad, or where it was invented, or whether it’s less fattening than a regular salad, or how you make a crouton, or the million and one other questions that might spring to mind as your questions cascade from one to the next… that’s just one small reason why technology makes sense in an inquiry based classroom.

Of course it’s much more than that though. You can wonder something, learn about it, and respond to it by making something with that information. It can be the tool by which a student can respond to their own curiosity. An iPad is amazing because it is a not one thing. It’s a notebook, a camera, a recording studio, a stopwatch, an atlas, a sketchbook, an editing suite, a music synthesizer, an artroom. It lets you compose, create and explore ideas. It’s screen instantly changes to become whatever tool you need it to be. There is really nothing else like it in that respect.

Using an iPad you can publish a short story, compose a soundtrack or produce a film clip. You can build a 3D model of a house, record a timelapse of a science experiment, or add augmented reality to a poster. There are literally millions of apps in the App Store so whatever you might want to do, you can almost guarantee “there’s an app for that”.

Finally the iPad is an incredible tool for communicating and collaborating, from having access to email, to messaging, to videoconferencing, to cloud computing. The world truly can be your oyster. You can collaborate with amazing cloud-based tools that let students form crosscultural, transdisciplinary teams to work on projects that are authentic, meaningful and real.

Of course, in reality none of this is terribly new. In 1971, Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon published a paper titled “20 Things to do with a Computer” in which their key assertion was that computers are capable of doing so much more if we allow them to be used creatively, and that the real reason to introduce computers into schools is to empower students. If a computer (or an iPad) is not being used to give agency to student learning then we have missed the whole point of having them.

Introducing computers (or iPads) into classrooms is not about better forms of testing students or NAPLAN preparation or math drills. It’s not about data management, not about saving money, not about impressing parents and not about keeping up with the school down the road. It’s about giving students agency and independence to take control of their own learning. And with that simple goal usually comes a whole lot of change. Sometimes quite painful change, but change that has to happen.

Adding technology to a classroom without reimagining how that classroom works, and rethinking what your students can do because of that technology, is a waste of time and money. Providing technology to students gives them an opportunity to do not just the same old things they’ve always done, except now with a shiny new tool… No. we now have an incredible opportunity to do entirely new things that were never possible before, using an amazing array of digital tools designed to create, and reinventing the way the way we think about teaching and learning.

Giving students iPads and not making fundamental shifts in how we teach and learn would be like giving them that bicycle for their minds, but then expecting them to push it and walk along beside it.If they are to get the true potential from that bicycle you need to let them get on it, get the wind in their face and ride the damn thing.

Featured image “Speedy Bike” by Till Krech via Flickr. CC BY.

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Paid in Full

I haven’t seen an actual paper credit card statement for a long time because I’ve banked electronically for years, but I switched banks recently and they just sent me my first credit card statement on this new account.

I was really pleased to see a prominent section on the statement (mandated by government legislation) pointing out just how long this bill will take to pay off if I were only to pay the minimum amount. I think this is a great thing for developing financial literacy, as I’m always shocked at just how little some people know about money, especially credit, and how little they understand its impact.

On my credit card’s closing balance of $1898.20, it tells me that even if I spent nothing more on the card, and just paid the minimum required amount each month until it was paid off, it would take me 18 YEARS 6 MONTHS, and would accrue $4,348.57 in interest!

I hope we are teaching this stuff to kids at school, so they don’t fall into the “free money” thinking that so many adults I know still have.

My grandmother used to say “if you can’t afford to pay cash, you can’t afford it.” I think the more modern equivalent is “if you can’t afford to pay your credit card bill in full each month, you can’t afford it”

And yes, I always pay my credit card bill in full each month!

The Sunset Storm, Brisbane, Australia

Watch Me Drive

There is an advertisement on TV at the moment for an Australian car insurance company that encourages drivers to download an app to their phone to find out who is “Australia’s Best Driver“.  Here’s the ad…

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When you download and install the app it starts by asking you a few questions…  your name, gender, email address, home address, etc. Then it keeps track of your driving using GPS location, timestamps, speed tracking, etc for at least the next 300km. In fact, it even defaults to an autostart mode so that you don’t have to remember to turn it on. Every so often it will check in with you to make sure that you are in fact the driver of the trips it’s been tracking. Then it scores your driving style in an attempt to find out who is the best driver in Australia.

Think about it. As well as knowing exactly who you are, it knows how fast you’re driving, when you’re driving, where you’ve been, who was driving and how long for, and even what your phone was doing as you drove. And remember, it just starts tracking automatically every time you drive. Without you even needing to turn it on.

Over time, the data will show whether you speed or not, whether you drive long distances without taking a break, whether you accelerate and brake erratically, what times of day you drive, and of course whether you’re using your phone as you drive. This is not just Big Data.  This is highly personalised data about you as an individual.

But it’s just a game right? You’re encouraged to compete with your friends via social media, so that lots of people are playing the game with you, all submitting the intimate details of their driving history as well. Let’s see who’s the best driver. Plus you can earn badges. Yay! Badges! That’s what it’s about right?

I can’t believe anyone would voluntarily give all this data to an insurance company. I mean they say it’s to make you a safer driver. Yeah, sure, that’s totally the reason. Until you apply for insurance one day and you find they know a little bit more about your driving habits than you might’ve thought and your insurance premium reflects that knowledge. If you’re a good driver, maybe you’ll pay less for you insurance. And maybe you won’t. I know which one I’m betting on.

I like to think that I’m a pretty good driver, but even with the promise of a big cash prize, to voluntarily hand over that much personal driving history data to an insurance company seems absolutely crazy to me.

Thanks AAMI, but I’ll leave this little adventure to Neil, Gaz and Loretta Jones.

Featured CC BY-NC Image “The Sunset Storm, Brisbane Australia“, by Ben Ashmole on Flickr