from the my-schoolboard-sucks... dept.
Some local schoolboards have already rolled out full remote learning curricula, starting Monday (seems to me there have been plans in the works for years to make something like this happen this fast.) Others appear flat-footed and clueless. We did some homeschooling with our kids a couple of years ago, and the one website that really clicked with us was (shameless plug) https://ixl.com .
I know we had a Soylent story just over a week ago asking for alternatives to the ubiquitous (and well deserved first place recommendation) Khan. Now that it's a little less abstract, and looking more certain that the kids won't be returning to physical school buildings until the fall... what do you look for in online learning services?
Our criteria were: easy for the kids to self-learn the material as presented, easy to track progress and identify areas where extra instruction might help, clear documentation of subjects covered and relative mastery of each, easy for kids to self-select appropriate subject areas to study, reasonable cost.
Khan certainly presents material clearly, and the cost can't be beat, but we found IXL to be superior in the other areas, and when you think about the tremendous number of hours invested by you and your kids in the learning system, the cost isn't really significant ($20/month for one, $24 for two).
Has anybody else taken a serious plunge into online learning and found something "better than Khan" for your purposes?
[Ed. addition follows. --martyb]
See our previous story: Student Privacy Laws Still Apply if Coronavirus Just Closed Your School and take a close look at future provider's security and privacy practices. From the article linked to in the previous story https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2020/03/watch-out-for-privacy-pitfalls-if-your-school-is-suddenly-online-only/:
Usually educational organizations—colleges, universities, or local K-12 districts—have agreements in place with certain dedicated educational software vendors such as Blackboard or Canvas to use their tools. Compliance with FERPA is ideally part of those agreements, although adherence can be somewhat hit and miss. But when everyone is suddenly scrambling for new tools as best they can in response to a pandemic, privacy considerations may fall by the wayside.
Software platforms allowing videoconferencing, recording, and screen sharing have all seen a massive spike in use in recent weeks. Microsoft, Google, Slack, and Zoom are all offering discounts or extra features to businesses, groups, and individuals to help with the everything from home era in which we (hopefully temporarily) find ourselves. Not all of those tools, many of which are designed for enterprise use, are necessarily going to be compliant with educational regulations.
Google, in particular, has been in hot water before. Neither schools nor individuals can sue for FERPA violations, as the Electronic Privacy Information Center explains, but both states and individuals have filed suit under different statutes alleging related violations.
In 2013, a group of students sued Google over its "creepy" data-mining from Google Apps for Education tools. Google ended the practice in 2014, only to be sued again in 2016 by a group of current and former university students alleging their data was collected and retained from their Google academic accounts in violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
Neither are all the lawsuits in the past. Just last month, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed suit against Google. That suit alleges the company's collection and use of data from schoolchildren in New Mexico violates both the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and New Mexico's Unfair Practices Act.
With Wuhan Coronavirus spreading in New York City, parents, Parent Teacher Associations, and schools seem to be inevitably headed for extended shutdowns and quarantines. The Department of Education is crossing its fingers, wiping down all surfaces, and hoping to avert the worst without closing schools, but parents are going to need contingency plans.
Do Soylentils have recommendations for online resources that members of NYC's school boards can share with the parent community to help kids keep up with their school work? Khan Academy is an excellent resource for math & science; it doesn't span every subject but something like it that grade school kids can understand would be ideal.
Hundreds of colleges and universities are suddenly shutting their doors and making a rapid switch to distance learning in an effort to slow the spread of novel coronavirus disease. Likewise, hundreds of K-12 districts nationwide have either already followed suit or are likely to in the coming days.
[...] Even when all of the immediate logistical and technical needs have been triaged and handled, though, there remains another complicating factor. While the United States doesn't have all that much in the way of privacy legislation, we do, in fact, have a law protecting some student educational data. It's called the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.
FERPA applies to both written and digital student records. For students under age 18, the provisions about what may (or must) be shared or not shared apply to their parents or guardians. Once a student turns 18, the protections transfer to them directly. The provisions also apply directly to any student enrolled in a college, even if that student is not yet 18 (such as in community college dual-enrollment programs for high school juniors and seniors).
The act prohibits "improper disclosure" to third parties of personally identifiable information (PII) derived from student records. Schools are not prohibited from allowing vendors access to information for the purpose of providing services—you can use third-party digital tools for administrative and educational purposes without being in violation of the law. But the school may then be held responsible if the vendors then do shady things with student data.
[...] Software platforms allowing videoconferencing, recording, and screen sharing have all seen a massive spike in use in recent weeks. Microsoft, Google, Slack, and Zoom are all offering discounts or extra features to businesses, groups, and individuals to help with the everything from home era in which we (hopefully temporarily) find ourselves. Not all of those tools, many of which are designed for enterprise use, are necessarily going to be compliant with educational regulations.
[...] In 2013, a group of students sued Google over its "creepy" data-mining from Google Apps for Education tools. Google ended the practice in 2014, only to be sued again in 2016 by a group of current and former university students alleging their data was collected and retained from their Google academic accounts in violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
Over the past few weeks, Zoom's use has exploded since it became the video conferencing platform of choice in today's COVID-19 world. (My own university, Harvard, uses it for all of its classes. Boris Johnson had a cabinet meeting over Zoom.) Over that same period, the company has been exposed for having both lousy privacy and lousy security. My goal here is to summarize all of the problems and talk about solutions and workarounds.
In general, Zoom's problems fall into three broad buckets: (1) bad privacy practices, (2) bad security practices, and (3) bad user configurations.
Privacy first: Zoom spies on its users for personal profit. It seems to have cleaned this up somewhat since everyone started paying attention, but it still does it.
Now security: Zoom's security is at best sloppy, and malicious at worst. Motherboard reported that Zoom's iPhone app was sending user data to Facebook, even if the user didn't have a Facebook account. Zoom removed the feature, but its response should worry you about its sloppy coding practices in general:
"We originally implemented the 'Login with Facebook' feature using the Facebook SDK in order to provide our users with another convenient way to access our platform. However, we were recently made aware that the Facebook SDK was collecting unnecessary device data," Zoom told Motherboard in a statement on Friday.
Finally, bad user configuration. Zoom has a lot of options. The defaults aren't great, and if you don't configure your meetings right you're leaving yourself open to all sort of mischief.