Trying to Keep the Web Out of K-12 Classrooms

aolTen years ago, I wrote a post here about how K-12 school districts were being quite protective about content that comes into their classroom via the Web. They have good reasons to be more protective and wary - laws and parents, for example - than higher education. Looking at my older posts here is a kind of educational time travel.

In 2006, I was observing from my university position a lot of filtering of content in the K-12 world. I was thinking back to when I had taught in a NJ school district in the 1990s and was also acting as a computer coordinator.

It seems strange that it was only on October 24, 1995 that the FNC unanimously passed a resolution defining the term Internet. Back then, we were already swapping stories at conferences about the things kids were doing on our school computers and wondering how we would "filter" out the bad stuff.

There were a few radicals who thought we shouldn't filter out anything, but the majority used a library comparison. The librarian is a professional who decides what books get into the school; we will have to be the professionals who decide what online content gets into the school.

In 2006, there were schools blocking Google Earth. Why? Because it had a "chat" feature in it and schools blocked all chat. They were blocking AOL Messenger early on and MySpace and social networking sites. They were blocking this Serendipity35 blog. Not that they had anything against me -they were blocking all blogs.

Most of this was done at a server level with blocking software. In the 90's my school had filters in place and we were constantly uncovering hundreds of flaws. The common examples were instances like filtering "breast" so kids didn't see  nude pictures, but also blocking sites that could be used for research on cancer. The filtering net was very wide.

The only discussion in the schools about the complexities of using the Internet in classrooms was going on in meetings and faculty rooms by adults and not in the classrooms with students. It's the bad side of in loco parentis as we also "protected" teachers from being better users of technology and perhaps even better-informed educators.

With technology, sometimes schools are trying to control something they don't really understand. 

The term "Web 2.0" isn't heard much any more. It referred to the web that was becoming rich in interactivity, a read/write web, social networking, collaboration and community building.

That change became a big wave and has not gone away. And schools, particularly in the K-12 sector, still are having issues with it as a part of education. Have students use those computers in their pockets in class, or collect them and hide them during class. If schools do not help students explore new tools, students will explore on their own and schools are less relevant to their lives and the larger world.

My time traveling in this topic from within this blog turned up old headlines like "MySpace.com is facing a new threat on Capitol Hill" and "Kids outsmart Web filters." Given another decade, perhaps I will write about how odd it seemed that in 2016 we would still stop students from using smartphones in class.


Chasing the MUSE

ENIAC

DARPA has a program called MUSE (Mining and Understanding Software Enclaves) that is described as a "paradigm shift in the way we think about software." The first step is no less than for MUSE to suck up all of the world’s open-source software. That would be hundreds of billions of lines of code, which would then need to be organized it in at database.

A reason to attempt this is because the 20 billion lines of code written each year includes lots of duplication. MUSE will assemble a massive collection of chunks of code and tag it so that programmers can automatically be found and assembled. That means that someone who knows little about programming languages would be able to program.  

Might MUSE be a way to launch non-coding programming?

This can also fit in with President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative and it may contribute to the development of brain-inspired computers.

Cognitive technology is still emerging, but Irving Wladawsky-Berger, formerly of IBM and now at New York University, has said “We should definitely teach design. This is not coding, or even programming. It requires the ability to think about the problem, organize the approach, know how to use design tools.”


Massive Open Online Research

Not that we need another acronym or abbreviation in education, but it seems that the MOOR has arrived. UC San Diego has the first major online course that features “massive open online research” (MOOR). The course is “Bioinformatics Algorithms — Part 1” UC taught by computer science and engineering professor Pavel Pevzner and his graduate students.

The course is offered on Coursera and it combines research with a MOOC. Students will be given an opportunity to work on specific research projects under the leadership of prominent bioinformatics scientists from different countries, who have agreed to interact and mentor their respective teams. The goal of the course according to Pevzner is "to make you fall in love with bioinformatics."

The transition from learning to research can be a leap for students, and it can be difficult for students in isolated areas.

There is also an e-book, Bioinformatics Algorithms: An Active-Learning Approach, supporting the course. Professor Pevzner’s colleagues in Russia developed a content delivery system that integrates the e-book with hundreds of quizzes and dozens of homework problems.


No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

logoInternet.org was launched in the summer of 2013. Facebook's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a short whitepaper he had written about what he wanted to accomplish.

He wrote that he saw Internet.org as another step in the direction that Facebook had started going with earlier initiatives (such as Facebook Zero) to improve global Internet access.

Internet.org is a partnership between Facebook and six companies (Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Opera Software, Nokia and Qualcomm) to bring affordable access to selected Internet services to less developed countries. 

Some writers have compared Internet.org with Google's X Project Loon which also has a mission of providing Internet access to remote areas. More than half of the world's population is still without Internet access. Project Loon is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to extend Internet connectivity to people in rural and remote areas worldwide.

Both sound like good things, but they have been met with criticism. There is a Zen-like proverb: "No good deed goes unpunished." Some say that these "good deed" projects would be violating net neutrality by selecting certain Internet services to be included. Might Facebook or Google exclude their competitors? In fact, in February 2016, regulators banned Facebook's Free Basics app service in India based on "Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations" and Facebook removed it.

Even Wikipedia has gotten into this space with its Wikipedia Zero. That project. by the Wikimedia Foundation, aims to provide access to Wikipedia free of charge on mobile phones, particularly in developing markets.

These kinds of projects rely on what is known as "zero-rating" which is toll-free data or sponsored data. For this to work, mobile network operators, mobile virtual network operators and Internet service providers have to NOT charge end customers for data used by specific applications or Internet services through their network.