My GDPR Statement

Like you, I have also been inundated with updated privacy policy emails lately in the wake of the new GDPR rules (General Data Protection Regulation). Everyone wants to tell me what they are doing to protect my data. To be honest, it’s not something that’s been bothering me, but thanks for clogging my inbox anyway.

It gets silly… I’ve heard that some schools are using GDPR as an excuse to avoid having things online, such as refusing to post photos or student work, not allowing students to use online services, etc. I’ve even heard it suggested that you can’t read blogs anymore as it infringes on the GDPR rules! I am pretty sure that was not the purpose of GDPR (and we certainly should not allow some rule designed for the European Union to be affecting schools as far away as New Zealand!)

I also heard that some bloggers are adding GDPR compliance statements to their blogs for fear of breaking the rules. Which I think is ridiculous, but here goes…

This blog does not, has never, and will never, use your personal information in any way. I don’t collect it, and if I did I wouldn’t share it.  The only time you “give” me your data is if you leave a comment here, but that’s entirely up to you and you can be anonymous if you want.  The full privacy policy is here.

If you have privacy concerns raised by the GDPR about leaving comments on this (or any other) blog, then here’s my advice. Don’t leave comments.

In fact, if you have privacy concerns raised by the GDPR about simply reading blogs, then here’s my advice. Don’t read blogs.

Of course, if you don’t like paranoid Europeans telling you what to do, then do whatever you want.

 

Header image CC BY-SA: GDPR and ePrivacy on Flickr by Dennis van der Hiejden

Choosing a Music Streaming Service

It seems like it wasn’t that long ago that the music industry was still resisting any attempt at allowing consumers to access music in any way other that buying CDs. So many other industries have been disrupted by digital technology, and while a few notable ones stuck doggedly to their “principles” until they literally vanished (I’m looking at you Kodak and Blockbuster), most industries either embraced the disruption or eventually waved the white flag and gave in.

One of the industries that probably should have most logically embraced the opportunities of being digital was the music business. After all, with a product that is essentially just a collection of digital bits, the decision to move those bits directly to consumers via the Internet should have been a no brainer. Yet the record company cartels fought the inevitable digital transition for years.  Rarely have I seen such a group of people with so little vision for the future be so obstinate about protecting their incumbency.

Thanks in large part the disruption of Apple and the iTunes Store in popularising the idea of moving music off plastic disks and making it into downloadable files, the door was opened to companies like Spotify to avoid all that messy iTunes syncing nonsense and just let you listen to music directly on your device as a stream of bits.  And of course, without the pirate attitude of early filesharing services like Napster, it may have taken a lot longer to get to that point.

So here we are in 2018, and we are now almost spoilt for choice when it comes to streaming music services. Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music and Amazon Music seem to be the popular choices, but there are plenty of others to explore like Deezer, Pandora, IHeartRadio, and more.

I’ve been using Google Play Music for a while now, and I quite like it. While it was a bit rough when it started, it has definitely improved it’s recommendation algorithms over the past year or so (although sometime the stuff it serves up based on my apparent listening tastes still seem quite bizarre).  As a paid subscriber I also get access to YouTube Red, which apart from access to special YouTube Red limited content (which I don’t really watch anyway) it’s nice to not have ads appearing in YouTube.

My biggest gripe with Google Play Music is that it’s tied to a single Google account (my Gmail account), so it’s a nuisance when I’m logged in to another account, like my work account.  Yes I know can have multiple windows open, I understand that, but I think this idea that my content (files, music, photos, etc) is tied to an account and not an identity is ridiculous and a major problem with the way Google handles these things.  I am still me, and my content is still mine, regardless of which account I am logged into.

Like many people, I also have a free Spotify account.  Because it’s free I have to put up with ads, so I’ve tended not to use it as much as Play Music. But the predictions and recommendations of Spotify seemed to be quite good, and it’s a great way to discover new music or hear old favourites. However, what I really like with Spotify, is that I’m allowed to be just me. I can log into Spotify completely independently of any other accounts I may or may not be logged into. I like that a lot.

That independence carries across to devices as well, with Spotify also playing nicely with most major hardware platforms.  It plays nicely with Chromecast, which is important to me, but also with many other services and devices. And of course, because it’s so widely used by so many people, it’s pretty easy to share and access playlists with friends. I signed up for the three month trial and am digging it so far.

That said, it’s not perfect. For example, there is no option to upload your own music. I have a number of files that are simply not available online because they are not commercially available.  Old singles, obscure bands, recording of my kids when they were little, songs recorded by my musically talented daughter, and so on.  None of these are available online. Spotify has a Local Files option, so I could theoretically access these things from my local drive, but the files don’t sync across devices, so I’d have to copy them to every device I own, which not an ideal solution.  With Google Play I can simply upload these tracks to the service and access them via Play, so that’s a definite benefit.

I’m trying to decide which of these pros and cons are most important to me as I think about which streaming music service I want to continue using going forward.

I also need to factor in that Google Play Music is going away soon and is being replaced with a new service called YouTube Music.  I have been given an early look at YouTube Music and I’m not sure it’s grabbing me yet. The new pricing model removes the Ad-free YouTube option unless I pay more. I also don’t have the option to upload my own tracks (although I hear that feature may be coming). And while it can be used just an audio playing service, there’s also a focus on music videos which I don’t particularly care about. The interface also seems a little unintuitive (although maybe I just need to get used to it). Overall I haven’t warmed to YouTube Music yet.  It’s possibly another case of Google being too late to the music party – a party that is well and truly being led by Spotify at this point in time – with yet another confused strategy of multiple semi-great apps all competing for our attention.

There are other services I could consider, like Apple Music, but to be honest I am actively avoiding getting sucked into any ecosystem that Apple runs simply because of their proprietary approach to most things.  Deezer has the biggest library of music, and works on my Fitbit Ionic (if you consider the way Fitbit expects you to get music on the device to be “working”). And Amazon?  Meh. Probably not.

Right now, given that Google Play Music is going away, I’m leaning towards a switch to Spotify. Although if the New YouTube Music service adds the ability to upload my own files, then I could be swayed to stay in Google land, even if they do want an extra $2 a month to remove the ads from YouTube.

Wikipedia has a good comparison table of all the streaming music services if you’re interested.

Decisions, decisions!  So tell me… what do you use? And what advice do you have for me?  I’d love you to take the poll about your choice and leave me your thoughts in the Comments!

Which streaming music service do you prefer?

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Header Image CC BY-SA:  Ian Hunter Rant Band on Flickr by bobistravelling

EdTechTeam. One word, No spaces, Three caps.

As many of you know, my current role is working with EdTechTeam in Australia and New Zealand. It’s a role I enjoy and I know we make a difference to many teachers both here in ANZ and globally.

As a team of educators working in the field of educational technology, I have always thought the name “EdTechTeam” is a good one.  It seems clear and unambiguous and I feel like it describes who we are and what we do.

So one thing that has always puzzled me is the way people consistently get our company name wrong. We commonly get called just “Edtech”, “Ed Tech”, and even “Edutech”, which is something entirely different. We sometimes get “EdTech team” or “Ed tech team”, both of which are close, but no cigar.

Say it with me. EdTechTeam.

I have lost track of the number of times I have received emails referring to us as Edtech, or been introduced as Chris from Edtech, and while I try to politely correct the error, I truly am astounded at the general lack of attention to detail it shows.

So please folks, it’s EdTechTeam.  One word. No spaces. Three caps.

Thanks!

The Press Release

I was recently interviewed on The Press Release podcast with David Hotler. I found it in interesting chat with him and we covered quite a range of topics so I thought I would just share the episode here as well.

Whenever I get interviewed I generally prefer not to know the questions in advance, and this was no exception. I find the conversation flows much better when I have no idea where its going. David asked some good questions that led into, hopefully, an interesting discussion.   I guess you can be the judge of that!

You can subscribe to The Press Release directly on their website. There are a ton of interesting episodes there!

Thanks for having me David!

Introducing Storyville

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”— Dr. Seuss – I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

Watching a child learn to read is a fascinating thing. I remember watching my own two kids acquiring the skill of reading for themselves, and seeing what a remarkable difference it made once they were able to pick up any book they wanted, on any topic, and read it. I remember the joy of watching my kids devour literally hundreds and hundreds of books as they got older. It really is quite amazing. And that ability to read – not just for functional understanding of words, but with a fluent and genuine love of literature – opened up vast worlds of learning and imagination and curiosity for them.

I think most educated people understand the value, and importance of reading.

There is a substantial body of evidence to support the idea that reading TO children when they are young has a positive, long term effect on their development, not just in helping them develop as readers themselves, but in even more substantive ways across a whole lot of cognitive domains.

In fact, studies using fMRI have proven that children who are read to when young show a big difference even at the neurological level. One study by Dr John Hutton concluded that “Results showed that greater home reading exposure was strongly associated with activation of specific brain areas supporting semantic processing (the extraction of meaning from language). These areas are critical for oral language and later for reading.” 

There is a lot of research that all comes to basically the same conclusion – reading to your children when they are young is hugely important and the effects of it can be seen well into their teenage years. The effects can be seen on language acquisition, vocabulary development, imagination and inquisitiveness, reading fluency, listening skills, pronunciation, and so on.

The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research concluded that “Children four to five years old who are read to three to five times a week have the same reading ability as children six months older (who are read to only twice or less a week). Reading to children six to seven days a week puts them almost a year ahead of those who are not being read to. It was also found that reading to small children has a positive effect on the development of numeracy skills.”

Unfortunately, even though the benefits of reading to young children are so well documented (and it is such a simple and enjoyable thing to do with your kids!) there seems to be a obvious divide based on socioeconomics. Lower income families tend not to do it nearly as much as higher income families. Which is kind of sad, because if they did, the research suggests it could be the single most effective thing those families could do to help break the poverty cycle and give their children greater opportunities in the long term.

In fact, a 2012 a study titled Reading to young children: a head-start in life,  by G. Kalb and J.C. van Ours noted that children who get read to more frequently at age 4-5 achieve higher scores on the NAPLAN tests for both Reading and Numeracy in Year 3 (age 8 to 9).  These differences in reading and cognitive skills are not related to the child’s family background or home environment but are the direct result of how frequently they have been read to prior to starting school.” In short, reading to your kids makes a big difference, no matter what background they come from.

The good news is that reading to your kids when they are young is a pretty simple thing to do, and it seems there are more parents than ever making the time to read to their children. That’s awesome. The bad news is that even with the overwhelming evidence that reading to your child might be the single most important thing you can be doing to help them, still only about a half of all parents are actually doing it. (Depending on the study you look at, the figure varies from about 40% to 55%)

So parents, you want to do the best for your kids? Read to them! It’s that simple.

Meet Storyville

Knowing that reading to kids is incredibly important, and acknowledging that for many kids it does not happen nearly enough, let me introduce you to Storyville. Storyville is a project by the Equity Foundation, the professional development arm of Actors Equity, representing Australian actors. Their idea is brilliant and simple. Storyville aims to connect trained actors – many of whom have spare time during school hours – with classrooms around Australia, providing talented readers for children. These actors voluntarily go into schools and read to kids. That’s it. Simple. Brilliant.

Some of the things that trained actors learn to do really well is to play different characters, use their voice effectively, tell stories that engage an audience, and act! So who better to read to children than an actor?

I think it’s a brilliant idea. If you’d like your school to be part of it, and have a talented trained actor come and read to your kids, just fill out this form.

Hat tip to my daughter Kate, a trained actor herself and a graduate from WAAPA, for telling me about this project.

Show Me The Money!

YouTube has been around for quite a while now, and apparently I’ve been part of its history for much of that time. The domain, youtube.com, was registered in February 2005 and I joined YouTube just over a year later in May 2006. I uploaded my first video in August 2006. So I guess that makes me an early adopter? Google bought YouTube in October 2006 for USD$1.65 Billion. I recall that the tech press was stunned by the purchase price at the time, as that seemed like a ridiculous amount of money. Of course, by the silly standards of some tech purchases since then (like Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp for $19 Billion, for example) YouTube was quite a bargain.

YouTube mainly makes money by showing ads, although I must admit I spend pretty much all my YouTube time in Google for Education accounts where there are no ads, or in my personal Gmail account where I pay for YouTube Red, which again, has no ads. So I still get a little surprised when I watch YouTube on someone else’s account and see an ad pop up. I had largely forgotten that there are still ads for most people!

I remember one time, back in about 2007, I made a screencast showing how to use Skype. I was planning a workshop for a conference on the Gold Coast and was planning to demonstrate Skype (which was still relatively young at the time, and still new to many people). Being concerned that the conference wifi might let me down, I prerecorded a screencast of a Skype call with Linda in Canada just in case. (Good thing too, as the wifi was indeed awful). Since I’d already made the video, I figured I may as well upload it to YouTube to share with the world, which I did in October 2007. In the settings for uploaded videos you can turn various features on or off, and I turned on a setting called “monetization” and didn’t think too much more about it. In fact I turned this on as the default for all my videos. You know, just in case.

I recall looking at my YouTube account about a year later and seeing that I’d earned something like 28 cents, but I had no idea why. After digging into the settings a bit more I realised that the 28 cents was just from that DAY, and that there were similar amounts being added every day. Now, this is certainly not the sort of income that one retires on, but I must say that over time it did add up to a nice little surprise. I connected my bank account to YouTube and over the next few years I would occasionally get little cha-chings into my account that were never really much, but still nice to receive. As it turns out, that Skype tutorial video was getting lots of views and along with a handful of other videos was mainly responsible for bringing in the “monetization”.

Once you get to a certain level on YouTube, based on number of views and subscribers mainly, YouTube considers you a “YouTube Partner”. I’ve never taken this status super seriously, and anyone who looks at my channel knows it’s a bizarre and eclectic mix of pretty much anything I feel like putting there. There are lots of tech tutorials, but also snapshots taken from my classroom, stopframe animations, videos of my dog being washed, GoPro footage from my motorbike rides, and weird video experiments. As you can see, I like using YouTube, but I’m not really a serious YouTube Creator.

Still, some of the statistics are surprising, especially with the compounding of time. Some of the videos about, well, nothing, have a surprising number of views. For example, that Skype tutorial video has been viewed over 836,000 times. Another video about how latitude and longitude works, which I made for my year 11 class as a bit of a “flipped classroom” resource, has been watched by over 127,000 people. And a short video my students made to talk about their Scratch projects has had over 55,000 views. I know these numbers are nothing compared to lots of other videos on YouTube, but considering it’s just me adding my random crap to YouTube, I still find it surprising.

I got an email from YouTube today explaining that they are changing the terms of their YouTube Partner Program…

The new baseline is 4,000 hours of watchtime in the past 12 months and 1000 subscribers. According to the analytics for my channel, I have just over 1600 subscribers, but only 184,096 minutes of watchtime (or just over 3000 hours). Not bad for a channel about nothing, but not enough to stay a YouTube Partner.

In case you are interested in such things, YouTube also now has a new version of the Creator Studio. This is the back end console for YouTube that tells you all about your videos and their statistics. It’s still in beta, but definitely worth a look. Check it out. It is still missing lots of features (YouTube audio library, Playlists, Live Streaming) so that makes it a deal breaker for me to permanently change to it right now, but you can always switch back and forth between the old version and the new version.

Now go watch some cat videos.

Risk vs Reward – Lessons from the Road

Open road

I spent a few hours this afternoon driving the nearly 200km from Sydney to Bathurst for a day of work in a Bathurst school tomorrow. As I crossed the Blue Mountains and went past Lithgow, the roads open up a little and there are longer, straighter faster stretches of road. On one particularly long straight stretch of road I noticed that my steering wheel hung ever so slightly to the right even though I was driving in a straight line. It wasn’t enough to really bother me, but I started to wonder why it was like that and what it would take to fix it so the steering wheel was perfectly neutral while driving in a straight line. I’m sure the reason had something to do with the camber of the road, and I realised that I do in fact have some level of understanding of how a vehicle’s steering system works. How did I know this? As I pondered the question I remembered back to my very first car and how I had – on several occasions – pulled the steering wheel off and put it back on again.

VW Type 3You might be wondering what caused me to remove and replace the steering wheel on my car.  I mean, who does that? As I tried to remember the reason for why I would be disassembling parts of my car, it dawned on me that I used to take that old 1970 Volkswagen Type III apart and put it back to together again not because there was anything wrong with it, but simply because I could. Yes, I used to pull things apart on that car and put them back together again just for the fun of it and to try to understand how things worked.

There were many times where I pulled my VW apart and couldn’t figure out how to put it back together, and it was off the road for a few days until I could work it out. Back then, that didn’t seem like a big deal. And the value in learning how my car worked seemed a small price to pay for the inconvenience of having it off the road temporarily.  Since the VW I’ve had several other cars that I’ve been quite willing to pull apart and try to put back together, simply because I wanted to know how they worked. Engines, gearboxes, diffs… I’ve had all these things in pieces just because I was curious about what was inside and how things worked.

As I drove along in my current car, a 2015 Mitsubishi ASX, I pondered the prospect of pulling the steering wheel off and putting it back on again, adjusting it by one spline and wondering if that might fix my steering wheel’s droop to the right. As I thought about doing this, I realised that I honestly wouldn’t attempt it on the Mitsubishi, not only because it was probably way more complex than my old VW, but it was more likely to be an expensive repair if I messed it up.  Could I work out how to remove and replace the steering wheel on my current car? Sure. But would I? Nah, probably not.

And I got to thinking about why that is. I’m still a curious person and I still like to know how things work. But the idea of taking my 2015 ASX apart and putting it back together again – for fun – is just not something I’d consider, even though I’ve done it to several of the cars I’ve owned over the years.

What was different? As I thought about this, I wondered if it was the fact that the newer and more expensive the car, the less inclined I would be to tinker with it just for fun. My ASX cost about $26,000. My first VW cost $800.  There was a lot less to lose with the VW if I got it wrong.

This got me thinking about the learning process and about the balance between risk and reward. Unless you are prepared to take the risk of breaking something, you’re probably not going to reap the reward of learning. I don’t really know exactly how the steering wheel on my ASX works because I’ve not attempted to pull it apart, and so I will probably remain fairly ignorant of its inner workings. That’s just a risk vs reward situation I’m going to accept for now. This car is simply too expensive if I fuck it up.

As a teacher, over the years I’ve done a lot of great projects with kids. Some have been amazingly successful and have dramatically changed the way I think about the teaching and learning process. And some have been total disasters. But the value for me as a teacher – as a teacher who wants to continually be getting better at what I do – comes from being willing to take that risk that even if things don’t work out, the value of what I learn from trying makes it worthwhile anyway.

For several years I worked in a fancy high-falutin private school. I won’t say that I was being completely risk averse during my time there, but I also don’t think I took as many big gambles and tried as many radical things as I once would have, simply because the stakes were a little higher if I happened to mess it up. This school had a reputation to protect, demanding parents to keep happy, and there were more policy-driven hoops to jump through to really try outrageous ideas. By contrast, I’ve worked in several schools that had far less to lose, and in those schools it was always much easier to try new ideas because it didn’t matter so much whether they worked or not. Most of the best innovation seems to come from situations where failing is most definitely an option.

It’s nice to be well resourced and have great facilities. But you can do an awful lot of great stuff in a school with very limited resources. You don’t need a lot of money or resources or fancy facilities to be innovative and try new ideas. You just need to be willing to try stuff, and to not worry about whether it works or not.

The other things that struck me as I thought about this idea is that some of the cheapest, shittiest cars I’ve ever owned – the ones I had no issue pulling apart and tinkering with – are the ones that gave me the fondest memories and the deepest emotional attachment. The last few cars I’ve owned have been brand new, reasonably expensive, “nice” cars, but I have very little emotional attachment to them at all. They are just transport. Yes they are comfortable, reliable and pleasant to drive, but that’s about it. The cars I’ve loved owning the most over the years were mostly second-hand, cheap, with lots of quirky flaws yet I look back at the experiences they gave me with such great memories and the knowledge that they even shaped me as a person.  I see some parallels with the classroom there too.

Sometimes you can put that steering wheel back after you pull it apart, and sometimes you can’t. The point is not that everything you do needs to work. The real point is that everything you do should be an opportunity to be a better learner.