Collateral Damage

We are all perfectionists. We want everything to be perfect before we share it. We are paralyzed by a need for perfection, and it keeps us from getting anything done.

We should be more like the big tech companies. Start with a big idea. Spend a little bit of time getting the basic idea formed. Then, release it. Get feedback on it. Refine it as you go along. Your customers will tell you what’s working and what’s not working. They will show you where the innovative and interesting pieces are, and you can devote more time and energy to that.

This guy uses the metaphor “Ready, Fire, Aim”:

To quote:

Most people know the phrase like “ready, aim, fire.” You get your gun, you figure out. You make sure it’s in the right spot, and then you fire. But I like to do “ready, fire, aim,” where it’s like I think of what it is I want to do, I put a couple hours… into it. I fire. And then after, I make adjustments.

Let’s set aside the horrific metaphor, and the irresponsibility of firing a weapon indiscriminately with the idea of maybe accidentally hitting the target. If we ever enact common sense firearms legislation, maybe one of the provisions can be that this guy can’t have a gun.

What if I’m doing this as a software designer? Using this philosophy, I write a basic application without spending very much time or thought on it. After all, doing some design and planning seems like actual work, and I don’t have the time or motivation for that. I send my half-baked application out into the world with a ton of marketing hype promising that it does the stuff I thought about but didn’t actually implement. If people start using it, they quickly notice that it sucks, and they tell me. Now, I try to patch some holes and make it a little better so it doesn’t suck so much.  I release an update, and I get more feedback, and we keep going through this cycle. The approach is to try to spend as little time and energy as possible, just enough to get people to use it without complaining so much. If there are problems with performance or security, we can just blame those on other hardware or software. If there are features that don’t work, we can just say it’s a project in active development. If there are are bugs or data gets corrupted, it must be a compatibility problem.

The result is software that barely works and has to be constantly updated. We’ll make the end user responsible for that too, and create a culture where people are afraid to not install updates. We’ll write a license agreement that disclaims any liability for the software or any damage it may cause.

I’m tired of being the collateral damage. I’m tired of beta testing everyone’s software. I’m tired of being the bad guy for not installing every update and security patch the minute it’s released. Maybe we should spend a little less trigger-happy time firing, and just a few seconds aiming first.

Video credit: Rob Dial on Youtube.


Changing Standards

The media specialists were describing how the elementary schools are using technology. Because the first graders did a lot of work in Google last year, the second graders aren’t having any trouble at all with Google Classroom. They log right in, and can access the resources that their teachers are sharing with them. It took a couple days at the beginning of the year to work through the login and password issues, but after that, they were ready to go.

ipad-1126136_640Don’t get me wrong. The second graders aren’t taking online classes. They’re not doing most of their work online. They don’t have hours and hours of screen time at school. But when the tool is appropriate, they have no trouble using it.

In a different meeting the same week, we were discussing the rollout of our 1:1 program for the high school next year. It’ll be the first time we issue take-home devices to high school students. Up to this point, the high school has used classroom sets of devices, and we’ve been focusing on the take-home program at the middle school. There was a lot of talk about the Google ecosystem, and the need to get our teachers Google certified. They’d like to get more classes using Google Classroom.

A few years ago, we developed a technology skills graph based on the excellent work done by Joanna McNally and Janette Kane at Orange. It took quite a bit of time to weave together the ISTE standards, the information and media literacy pieces, the old Ohio technology standards, mandatory training on digital citizenship, online safety, and cyberbullying, and the need for so-called 21st century skills. We debated how and when and where each topic would be introduced, and when students should be expected to show competency. Part of this was driven by the need to apply that technology in other areas. If students are doing a research project in 7th grade, then they need to know how to evaluate and cite sources before they get to that project.

Now that we’ve grown into the skills chart, we’re going to spend some time this year amending it. There are new state learning standards for technology that will need to be considered. We can also take some time to assess what’s working and what’s not working at different grade levels, and make adjustments to make sure students have the right skills when they need them.

That’s getting more difficult. The first time we went through this process (in 1999), we said that we wanted the tech standards to be covered by the end of 8th grade, so students can apply them to their work in high school. We revised that to the end of 5th grade to accommodate 1:1 a few years ago. Now, it’s looking like we need to be doing a lot more in kindergarten and first grade, because our learners are digital almost before they’re literate.

The key, of course, is to embed the technology instruction when it’s needed for something else. That breaks it into small, manageable pieces while providing an immediate application for the new skills. We’re fortunate to have professionals to help our teaches with that process, as well as teachers who are willing to take risks to increase rigor, improve differentiation, and better meet the needs of their learners.

Photo credit: Pixabay.


Faking It

When the web was new, we were very worried about the reliability of online content. We were moving from an environment where the means of publication were controlled. There were gatekeepers who controlled what content got published. They ensured that the information the public consumed was accurate and reliable. At least, that was the idea.

With the web, that changed because everyone suddenly had the ability to publish content. Anyone could make a web page. So we had to figure out how assess the credibility of a web site. I remember, when working on my Master’s degree in the late 90s, that information literacy was just starting to become a thing.  We were worried that our students might believe everything they read online.  So we tried to teach them the look critically at information resources. That work continues now, nearly a generation later.

But things have become more difficult. With the advent of Photoshop and other image editing software, it’s pretty easy to edit pictures to enhance or omit details. Sometimes, this is done for reasons of vanity, but it’s often done for political reasons as well. So now, in addition to assessing the reliability of web sites and news stories, we have to question the legitimacy of photographs, too. It’s okay. We’re getting better at it. We’re becoming more skeptical. Hopefully, we’re asking questions and citing sources and applying deductive reasoning and the scientific method to separate fact from fiction. I mean, it’s not like we’re just throwing up our hands and saying everything we don’t like is fake, right?

But here we go, making things harder again. Last year, Adobe showed a demo of its new VoCo product. With a 20 minute sample of a speaker’s voice, you can quickly and easily edit the audio and make the speaker say anything you want.

This isn’t out yet, but it’s coming in a future version of Adobe Creative Cloud, a widely used graphic arts package that includes Photoshop, InDesign, and other “standard” tools used by professionals and amateurs alike to edit digital work.

So now, you can take an audio recording and edit it as easily as a word processing document to make the speaker say anything you want. That’s really cool, but also terrifying. But wait, there’s more. Check out this research project at Stanford:

See what they’re doing there? Using nothing more complicated than a webcam, they’re mapping facial features onto an existing video. If you pair these two technologies together, you can create a video that makes any public figure say anything you want.

Sure, it’s not perfect. This is still complicated software. It’s cumbersome to use, especially when you’re trying to put all the pieces together. And the results aren’t great. You can tell from this video that the technology is not quite at the point where it’s going to fool most people.

But our job just got harder. On one level, it not too bad that we have to teach our students to think critically about video and audio. We really should have seen that coming. And we’re teaching students to think critically about information, regardless of the form. They just need to be aware that video and audio, like pictures and text, can be manipulated. Information has meta information. HOW do you know? What is the source for the position you’re taking? Why do you trust that source? We need to challenge our students and each other to make the information about the information just as important as the content itself.

But the real problem is the plausible deniability. We can no longer prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that someone said something or did something. You have video of me holding up a convenience store? Prove that it’s me and that it hasn’t been altered. You claim you have an audio recording of a public figure making misogynist / racist / anti-semitic / anti-American comments? Prove that it hasn’t been doctored. Because it’s easy to fabricate these things now, we can use the technology as a scapegoat to disavow responsibility for our words and actions.

Information literacy includes the skills of selecting and curating information, assessing reliability and credibility, and then using that information in responsible ways. I’m not convinced that it’s possible to do that anymore. And you can’t prove that I’m wrong.


Acknowledgment: Almost all of this came from the RadioLab Story “Breaking News.” Those guys do fantastic work. You should go listen.

Also, I have no idea where the Lincoln photo originally came from. It’s literally all over the place. No, I don’t have permission to use it.