Who Knows Where Their Data Goes

All your data is for sale

Two articles crossed my RSS feed yesterday (yes, I still love my RSS). One piece is about student activists on college campuses advocating Bills of Rights, with at least some components related to knowing where their data is going when they use technology for institutional learning. The other piece is about how to best resists that collection as well as the sale of student data from tools being used in education.

From the piece in EdSurge entitled From High School to Harvard, Students Urge for Clarity on Privacy Rights:

… many students .. are still unaware of their rights when it comes to how their online footprints are tracked—whether by third-party companies or sometimes the school districts themselves.

From the piece at Digital Pedagogy entitled A Guide for Resisting Edtech:

Every day, we participate in a digital culture owned and operated by others — designers, engineers, technologists, CEOs — who have come to understand how easily they can harvest our intellectual property, data, and the minute details of our lives.

Both pieces are centered on awareness, advocacy and resistance to the this scouring and selling of privacy and data. The focus is on students — mostly university students — yet think of how many K-12 schools are now being more tech-focused, marketing themselves in this Age of Choice as digital innovation hubs to attract more students, and thus, more tuition.

Many schools regularly tap into outside EdTech — like Edmodo for social networking (and a recent target of hacking of student emails and accounts), Google and sites like Turnitin, the focus of the Digital Pedagogy piece, which notes:

A funny thing happened on the way to academic integrity. Plagiarism detection software (PDS), like Turnitin, has seized control of student intellectual property. While students who use Turnitin are discouraged from copying other work, the company itself can strip mine and sell student work for profit.

Profit. Money. Growth. Turnitin, for example, has access to more than 700 million pieces of student work that its terms of service says allows it to use for its business model. The article explores this whole issue with more nuance that I do here, but this bit of Terms of Service language gives you a taste of what the writers are objecting to:

You grant Turnitin a non-exclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, world-wide, irrevocable license to reproduce, transmit, display, disclose, and otherwise use your Communications on the Site or elsewhere for our business purposes.

Ideal social media user (company perspective)

I’ve also been wary, for example, of a new initiative by Google called Be Internet Awesome. My wariness comes not from the content of the site — which is centered around teaching young people privacy and responsible use of technology and more, all of which I agree with, and a look at the curriculum there shows some positive thoughts about approaching these topics with students  — but more about the way Google is designed as a company to use our data against us, by selling us to the highest advertising bidders.

When Google is your teacher

Isn’t it a bit ironic that Google is both teaching young people to be on the alert and also, the one they need to be on the alert for? How many educators will use this site but not make visible how Google’s business model works and how we “trade” our privacy for access to information?

We owe it to our kids to make as much of this visible as we can. It doesn’t mean not using Google Apps for Education (which my district does and which we use all the time, and which has opened up lots of doors for my young writers) or even Turnitin and its ilk (although you might want to dive deeper into terms of service to make sure you and your kids know what’s what) and others.

The Digital Pedagogy piece includes this graphic of questions to ponder before entering a contract:

We should not enter into the World of EdTech with blinders on. Most “tech solutions” are built to make money, not serve in the best interests of our students, no matter how glossy and pretty their advertising is. The business plan is often what matters most, and all but a few business plans are built around profit.

Young users are most vulnerable, I think, because they trust that the adults (teachers, administrators, etc.) who bring them into technology apps and sites know what they are doing, have done their homework, and have their best intentions at heart. The vulnerability comes because not all of those assumptions happen, and because companies like Google understand the long game — hook young users now and make money for decades to come.

Peace (not for sale),

Letters to a Young Writer (A Review and An Interpretation)

Novelist (and teacher) Colum McCann (whose Let the Great World Spin was an excellent book) has put out a small tome entitled Letters to a Young Writer, in which he distills some of his teaching and advice to writers who are about to venture, or are already there, in to the world of stories.

His most consistent and best advice: Put your arse in the chair and write write write!

Along with that bit of truth, McCann circles the wagons on the power of words — in fact, he relegates worrying about plot to the second tier of writing, and instead, he celebrates how writers use language to uncover the world. His rebalancing here had me wondering about how I teach my young writers about stories, where I find my focus on plot and structure to be important. Maybe I don’t let them play with language nearly enough.

The book weaves through topics such as editing and revision, and getting unstuck, about observing the world with notebook in hand and how to use your red pen to remove unnecessary baggage from your writing, and what to do when you stare at a blank page. He acknowledges the discouragement of rejection of writing, and cheers on those who persevere. He’s funny, and thoughtful, and knows that true writers have the unrelenting urge to write, as something intangible in the heart.

I found his first chapter and his last chapter most moving here, as he captures all of the ways writers interact and make sense of the world, and themselves — and therefore, others, too. His short sentences in these chapters play like a poem, digging deep into the heart and soul of writing.

It was worth a remix of sorts, so here are pieces of the first chapter, as digital interpretation:

I might still do something else with the last chapter, where he widens his focus to the role of the writer in the larger world.

Peace (get your arse there),

Graphic Book Review: The Shape of Ideas

I have long been a huge fan of Grant Snider, who puts out regular Incidental Comics that makes you pay attention to the creative mind and imaginative sparks that come with writing. This collection by Snider — entitled The Shape of Ideas: An Illustrated Exploration of Creativity — is a perfect curation of some of his work, ranging along themes of Inspiration, Improvisation, Exploration, Frustration and Elation.


I see Snider as a visual poet, using visual and word puns to challenge the viewer to think about what it means to find and nurture ideas that often seem elusive. His graphic art reminds us of the “work” that goes into making art.

He even left the last page of his book as a blank art canvas, as an invitation to draw. I love that.

While there is some repetition of ideas here, Snider’s exploration of the creative mind through comics and graphics will surely make you contemplate the wistfulness of creativity, and perhaps inspire you to make your own. I’m happy if my purchase of his book allows Snider more time to make art. I also support him through Patreon.

You can even glimpse some of the art in his book through a link off his site.

Peace (elusive and wandering),

Slice of Life: A Cold Room on a Hot Day

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

There are all sorts of reasons why people come to my classroom these days. A quick chat. Something forgotten behind. A borrowed book. Check-in with a student.

Mostly, though, it’s the cool air flowing.

I am lucky that I have the only air conditioned classroom in the building, a result of the room’s past life as the computer lab (we don’t have a lab anymore … we have rolling carts) and the home to the computer server, which thankfully was moved elsewhere a number of years ago (it hummed and rattled like crazy at times).

I don’t mind the visitors. I keep my head down when my colleagues complain about the heat and humidity — summer finally hit us here in New England — and I remain humble. I know I’m lucky and happy to share that luck with anyone who needs a moment of reprieve.

Just come on in. You don’t need an excuse.

Peace (in the hot and in the cold),


Characters Talk (Writers Listen)

Shadow flickr photo by I.Gouss shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

I had a visitor to my imagination the other day, and it sort of startled me. She was a character from a story I wrote (or tried to write) many years ago. The story collapsed under its own weight. Yet she apparently kept going.

I wrote this on Mastodon (I will write about that another day), under the auspices of #smallstories

A character I created years ago, in a short story I only now vaguely remember, came back to haunt me this week. Isn’t that funny? She skirted on the outside of my imagination. I welcomed her, of course, and wondered why she had returned. She had not aged. She was still that erratic, lovable, curious shadow from the page. We didn’t talk about where she had been. We haven’t talked about where she’s going to be, either. But we will.

She wouldn’t leave my head after that, as if mentioning her was an invitation to stay. Not that I wanted her to leave. But still … so I wrote about her again, breathing something like life back into a character from a story best forgotten (for now, anyway).

I wrote the story — What We Remember is Not What We Forget —  over at Notegraphy. You are invited to read it. I’ll just be tinkering with words and hoping you’ll wander back …. here’s the opening few lines:

What We Remember Is Not What We Forget
Conversations with a Character
Kevin Hodgson

“Do you remember me?”
She twirled her hair with her long finger. I noticed she still stood on one foot, using the toe on the other as a sort of balancing fulcrum point. One slight push and down she would go. Or perhaps she would begin dancing on a moment’s noticing, balancing on air.
“Of course.”
It was true. I remembered her clearly, just as I had created her. She looked the same. Wavy auburn hair. Faded blue eyes. A nose slightly twisted at the end. A smile bordering on sinister.
“Are you sure? You look … doubtful.”
“I’m sure. I’m just remembering. That’s all. It’s been a long time.”

more at Notegraphy

I wasn’t done. I still felt her voice in my head. She wasn’t content to remain on the page, digital or otherwise. She was restless.

So I wandered over to Google’s Story Builder, and removed all of the exposition, using only the dialogue between her, my character, and myself, the writer. Strangely, as my friend Lisa N. noted when I shared it with her, the character seems more alive here, in this version.

What do you think? Do you have character rattling around in your head? Do you listen to them?

Peace (in stories),

Jowel’s Journey: How Story Transforms Understanding

Jowel 3

I’ve mentioned before that I am facilitating a project with some middle school teachers in our largest urban school district (Springfield, MA) through a complex partnership between the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, the Springfield Armory and the Veterans Education Project. We’ve been doing a series of professional development days, with a focus on the historic primary source archives of the Armory, and offering a free summer camp experience at the Armory for urban middle school students. The project — which we call Minds Made for Stories, in reference to the book of the same name by Thomas Newkirk — is funded by Mass Humanities and the National Writing Project.

There are a lot of strands to our work, from writing to history, and yesterday, one of those strands — how oral history can enhance understanding of the world — came to life as a visitor to our PD session presented and talked about his childhood in Africa, during war, and his eventual journey to the United States, where he now works to help other immigrants navigate the culture.

Jowel Iranzi’s story is powerful, as he narrates how strife and violence in his native Congo (then, Zaire) led his family to flee, first to Rwanda, and then Burundi and then to Tanzania, living in refugee camps and dealing with the tragic loss of his father and separation from his younger brother and mother. He talks of adversity, of perseverance, of education, of the realization that he cannot look back and blame others for his life situation, but has to look forward and forge a new life out of the ashes of his old one.

Jowel Talk

We’ll be having Jowel come in to present to students at our camp — which has a social justice theme and is focused on immigration and the Springfield Armory. Our intention is that his personal story, through oral history, will bring to the surface how one struggles and perseveres, and the difficulty of being a refugee and immigrant in the United States can be.

We’re reminded again of the power of story. My sketch-noting of his talk is proof of how complicated a life can be. By listening to his narrative, we all came to better understand Jowel, and in doing so, the larger world, too.

Peace (across the globe),


#DigCiz: Making Comics as Keyhole for Thinking

Earth Responds

I’ve been trying my best to engage in discussions about “citizenship” and digital identity and more with the #DigCiz work now underway (see the schedule and join in the discussions). And I have appreciated all of the chatter and the debate (the word ‘citizen’ has sparked a lot of pushback).

I’ve also been on a comic kick each day before heading off to work. I’ve been mostly using my “slow-watching” of the video hangouts each morning to gather ideas for a daily comic. It’s my way to paying attention to what others are writing and saying, and then filtering my thoughts through what I hope is a humorous (although sometimes, sarcastic, but hopefully, never mean) lens of comics.

Echo chamber pop

Here are some comics from the past week, and some thoughts behind them as I process the #DigCiz discussion points:

Unrealistic expectations

This comic came about from thinking in terms of how we expect our various social media platforms to be more and to do more than they are designed to be and do. In some ways, our expectations are unrealistic, and then we are disappointed. This is not to say that Twitter and Facebook and others can’t do more than they are doing (particularly around policing the hate), but I think we also need to cognizant of the reality. But if Twitter wants to vacuum the house? I’m OK with that.

Outside looking in

I hesitated on posting this one. I didn’t want it to become a harsh critique of the discussion and folks behind the discussions, folks I admire and enjoy engaging with. But I was wondering how others could be invited in, too, since the #DigCiz crowd seems very University-based, and already a close network of people.

Who owns what

Again, who owns the platform? We often think we, the user, is in charge, but the reality is the flip — the platforms often own us, and our data, and our information. Why? Notice the dollar sign? That’s why.

Ideal social media user (company perspective)

This was one of my favorites of the last week or so. I think it was an effective look at how corporations are using our children as click-bait for advertising, and how the interactive features of technology allow for such easy access, and easy sharing of data and privacy and more. Young people are vulnerable!

What the Kids Say

And yet … there’s something pure and loving about young people, too, and perhaps we need to pay attention to that notion of play and compassion and collaboration when thinking of how we adults can interact.

When Google is your teacher

There was a link someone shared that I followed about a new Google site for teaching digital citizenship, and I found it strangely ironic, given how much Google taps into our what we do with our time to target us for advertising (and making gazillions of profit as a result). The adblock question in the second frame still cracks me up.

Citizens of the world

Here is the crux of one conversation: how do we help people see their online selves as part of the larger world and move beyond the “follow” into action in their own worlds? Or do we? There was a strand of talk about how people have the right not to engage in the public sphere, too, and that true citizenship, if that’s even the right word, is voluntary and meaningful, not forced.

Listen to the writing

Listen more. Yell less. That’s an idea.

Peace (framed and skewered),

Literacy Collaboration: The Technicolor Adventures of Catalina Neon

Here’s a neat project just finishing up, in which Juan Felipe Herrera (United States Poet Laureate) and artist Juana Medina were “slow writing” a picture book story, with input from second and third grade classrooms around the country. I say “slow writing” because the story had been unfolding one chapter at a time, over months, and the book apparently has just been completed.

There are five chapters, and an epilogue, and the prompt for one of the chapters gives you a nice taste of the story and the characters: How does Catalina use the poetry book to unleash her neon powers and save her familia?”

Herrera and Medina used input from elementary students who responded to the prompt (via a teacher submitting ideas with an online form) as the spine of the next part of the story. Then, they give credit to the schools where the ideas were submitted from.

Cool, right? You bet it is. I hope they do it again.

Check out The Technicolor Adventures of Catalina Neon.

Peace (writing it forever),

Book Review: Minds Made for Stories

Thomas Newkirk‘s idea that story is everywhere, in everything, is not all that new, but his framing of the issue in the Common Core-infused world of the US education system is worth noting. Minds Made for Stories: How We Really Read and Write Informational Texts is Newkirk’s, well, story of how he came to see stories in the anchors of all texts.

“The hero of this story is narrative itself –how it comes to our aid as we sort out the welter of information that is available, as it undergirds our belief that our world is comprehensible, and meaningful, and one in which our actions have consequences. Narrative is there to help us ‘compose’ ourselves when we meet difficulty or loss. It is there to ground abstract ideas, to help see the pattern in a set of numerical data, to illuminate the human consequences of political action. It is home base.” — Thomas Newkirk, Minds Made for Stories, p. 5

Newkirk refers to many of those before him, including Peter Elbow, James Moffett and others, whose work and insights about writing has informed the teaching and thinking of writing in the past 50 years. Here, Newkirk argues that “narrative” is not a genre, and that the Common Core classification breakdown of writing into the three rungs of Narrative, Information/Expository, Argument/Persuasion is faulty categorization system, in that it fails to acknowledge that all texts have a narrative beneath them.

He advocates the direct teaching of noticing these stories, in all sorts of texts in the world of young people, and by noticing the frames of narratives, young people will be more apt to compose their own, breathing life into arguments and into informational texts, which often take on the lifeless role of teacher-as-audience assignments.

In one example, he breaks down the box score of a baseball game, to show how one can ferret out the true story of the game from just the mere numbers. In another section, he praises the role of Miss Frizzle and the Magic School Bus series for the way is uses story to contextualize science themes. He does the same with many picture book authors, too, such as Eric Carle. We lose that sense of underlying story in the content fields as students get older. Why is that?

This book  is part of our framework for a summer camp we are now designing in a partnership between my Western Massachusetts Writing Project, the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, and an urban middle school in Springfield. Our program is even called Minds Made for Stories. All that we are planning to do during our free summer camp (we are being supported through a grant from Mass Humanities) will be done through the lens of story, through historical documents, a social justice mindset and a larger community project.

I appreciated Newkirk’s insights. The reminder of how powerful a role stories can play in our lives, in school and certainly beyond school, is always welcome in this day and age of standards, testing and information overload. We need stories to make sense of the world, maybe now more than ever.

Peace (tells the story),

What If You Met All of Your Virtual Friends?

MassMoca Day Trip

My wife and I took a personal day (no kids!) last week to visit MassMoCA, a huge and expanding contemporary art space in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. It was my first visit there (see yesterday’s Slice of Life for what I saw) and as we wandered around huge galleries in an old manufacturing facility, I was amazed by the depth of the artwork (and we even got a chance to try Virtual Reality Goggles for the first time, too, which was a neat immersive experience).

One of the exhibits that caught our attention was by Tonya Hollander, whose Are You Really My Friend? seeks to break down the barriers between the “friends” we make in online spaces and our interactions out here, in the worlds beyond the screen. Hollander decided to visit, with her camera, all 626 of her Facebook friends, documenting her journeys. Along with photos, she has sticky notes from folks, stuff given to her along the way, documents of her journey, and much more. The exhibit itself is multi-layered, in interesting ways, with translucent banners of artwork hanging from the rafters of the room.

It’s fascinating to see how she breached the wall between our virtual identities and our offline identities.

I was struck most by the humanity of the exhibit. It’s easy to lose track of the stories behind those who choose to follow us, and those we decide is worth our time to follow. Can you imagine spending fives years on a journey of documentation? Can you imagine how powerful that would really be? How it would strengthen your network?

Given all of our worries about how digital spaces are dipping towards chaos and negativity, the act of sharing our lives with a stranger, who becomes a friend, reminds us of why many of us went online in the first place: to find our Tribe and connect with others, and to expand our own notions of what it means to be a citizen of the world (or World).

Peace (in all spaces),