Bill Fitzgerald of Common Sense Media on EdTech NOW Transcript

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Lee: This is “EdTech NOW,” a short podcast about educational technology and how it’s used in the classroom. “EdTech NOW” is made possible by Stackup, a Chrome browser extension that makes reading fun and easy using the entire web and delivers reading progress and online usage metrics to administrators. Now, here’s our host, Noah Geisel, Education Director at Stackup.

Noah: Hi, Lee. Great to be here with you today, and our guest today is Bill Fitzgerald, who’s director of the Privacy Evaluation Initiative at Common Sense Media. Bill evaluates the privacy practices of vendors building educational technology and was also a classroom teacher for 16 years. Bill, welcome to the podcast.

Bill: Hey, great to be here, Noah. Thank you for having me.

Noah: Bill, Common Sense Media has been around about as long as what we think of today as educational technology. And so I’m curious from the Common Sense lens, how has EdTech become more and more pervasive in our learning? And how has Common Sense as an organization evolved to respond to the changing needs of the times?

Bill: I think we’ve all seen the way EdTech use has evolved. If we track this back to the time of Web 2.0 era, I mean, I think that’s…we started to see a shift into using more and more online products to support social learning, and we’ve had a few different buzz words that have described that. As that’s evolved, Common Sense has helped people, you know, navigate this space. You know, on the education side, I mean, there’s a large number of reviews of commonly used EdTech products, and on the privacy side, the work that I run, we look at privacy practices in our evaluations. So, you know, one of the things that we try and do at Common Sense is, you know, look for ways where we can actually help people working in the classrooms make informed decisions more quickly.

Noah: And how exactly would you say that that has evolved over time? Because I remember as a teacher, you know, any time I discovered new technology my first step was to go look it up on Graphite, for example. You know, even just from a branding perspective, that’s changed. How has that changed over time on the Common Sense side?

Bill: You know, as the technology changes, I mean, the questions that we need to ask about that technology changes. And in one way, I mean, actually, the work that I run is actually a sign of how that’s evolved. Like, having an explicit focus on privacy is… As busy apps and vendors collect more information, there’s, I think, a heightened awareness of how we need to protect that information, and really, more importantly, the obligation we have towards students, and teachers, and the families of students, they’re trusting us, they’re trusting schools, and they’re trusting the vendors used within the schools to do the right thing. And we need to actually help provide kind of the questions that people are gonna ask you and the means by which people can actually make informed decision about what the right thing looks like. You know, I think we never lose when we make intentional decisions about the technology we use. Like, we never lose when we are intentional about our pedagogy, and we try and actually provide tools and resources to let people be more intentional about what they used and how they do it.

Noah: I love that point about intentionality. I’m probably gonna be quoting you on Twitter left and right there about how we never lose. Yeah, it’s so funny when you talk about the privacy thing, that when we were first entering the Web 2.0 age, and teachers were just signing up for every service and signing up students left and right, and the privacy concerns were kinda tin foil hat concerns. And, you know, that’s the first question that any responsible educator should be asking, is what are we doing to protect students? You know, another place I think Common Sense has been a real leader is you mentioned the questions. And, you know, one of the places that, you know, I know we at Stackup have leaned on Common Sense on just the fake news aspect of how do we be critical consumers of information we find online. And then, you know, I know a lot of us in the classroom really lean on Common Sense for that. And I’m curious, what efforts has Common Sense seen or that you anticipate seeing in the near future in order to meaningfully combat fake news or even suspicious information online? And how do you see the future moving to support critical consumption of that information online?

Bill: Within the education team and within the consumer team in Common Sense, I mean, there’s a long record of digital literacy resources and media literacy resources. And, you know, you can actually start to get a sense of what that looks like by just going to commonsense.org/education and starting there. There’s several toolkits that are dedicated to that. And, I mean, there’s no silver bullet for this, and it really gets down to having our skills evolve, you know, and how we work with actually both teachers and students on this, because a lot of the problem with news literacy and media literacy is that adults are just as susceptible to it as students are.

So, if we actually look at who is going to be teaching this, there’s actually often… You know, basically everybody in the room, teachers and students, need to become a little bit more skeptical and have their skills increased. This is something that we saw in the 2016 election cycle. The people who voted in that election, you know, and a lot of people who were affected by fake news and had the ability to vote, like, these are not students in K-12 who by and large can’t vote. These are the adults in the room, you know, teachers and parents. And so when we talk about information literacy and media literacy, we have an obligation to really develop material that helps everybody increase their skill.

So in addition to the Common Source resources, one resource that’s actually been really, really useful in helping me navigate this is from a guy named Mike Caulfield. He has a site at hapgood.us, hapgood.us, and he’s actually done a lot of work and a lot of writing on information literacy and fighting misinformation. But, one of the other things, I think, that also helps with this is, rather than looking at this on a case-by-case basis where we try and ascertain whether a particular news story is reliable or unreliable, I think, you know, when we’re consuming something on social media, we need to actually just, I think, be aware that, you know, within these social media sites there’s actually ongoing efforts to use them to spread information that’s questionable and in some ways be more cynical, more skeptical of what we see there.

Noah: I think that’s such a great point you make that it’s not just our students, but, you know, that we as educators need to take a moment to kind of look in the mirror and recognize that we have learning needs as well and that we all have room to grow in this space.

Bill: I don’t think there’s a single person alive, myself included, who’s on social media who hasn’t liked or retweeted something questionable. These sites are made with patterns that encourage us to interact, and whether we want to realize it or not. Like, yeah, I mean, wouldn’t we pass something on without thinking about whether we should or not? We have done our bit to perpetuate this issue.

Noah: Totally. And, you know, I kind of hear from you this all hands on deck approach, and that really leads into something else that I wanted to ask you about, because I see Common Sense as being historically a real leader in the education space when it comes to crowdsourcing. And I’m wondering what are the different ways for educators to actively engage in the Common Sense community and platforms? And are there any specifically high-need areas right now that the organization would like to see more educators contributing towards?

Bill: That is a great question. The first answer I always give when I’m thinking about that is the best and easiest way to get started is actually use the resources that we’ve created. There’s a wealth of information on the Common Sense sites. If you haven’t already gone there, take a look at what we have and use what’s available. I think there’s a wealth of information that’s already been created. Second thing is actually, like, sign up for the site. And if you’re using something that’s helpful to you, then, like, write up, write an evaluation on the site that explains why and explains how you’re using it. If there’s something that you want or a question you have that you’re not finding an answer to on the site, let us know. Like, please reach out. Like, there’s contact information on there. You can email, you know, any one of us. Our emails are on the site. Those three things, like using what we’ve created, if there’s something that you’re doing or you’re seeing in your classroom and you want to share it, like share it on the Common Sense site, there’s places where teachers can actually include reviews of stuff that they’re doing. And if there’s something that you want that we don’t have, let us know.

Lee: Hey, it’s Lee jumping in with a quick word about Stackup, which makes this podcast possible. Stackup is the only tool that unlocks the learning benefits of the entire web while providing the accountability that educators need to measure progress and engagement. With Stackup, you can measure and report online reading and learning for your entire district in less than two minutes. Now, back to the show with Noah Geisel.

Noah: We’ve been speaking this afternoon with Bill Fitzgerald of Common Sense Media. You can find him at commonsensemedia.org. You can also follow him on Twitter @funnymonkey, one of the better educator Twitter handles out there, I think. You know, Bill, one of the things that’s been a hot topic this season on the “EdTech NOW” podcast, we’ve had a lot of people talking about OER as the online educational resources. And from the Common Sense perspective, is there any advice that you have for educators in trying to find and select OERs?

Bill: My personal advice on this is, and this is something that I’ve seen, you know, from talking with teachers for probably the last decade about, you know, creating the resources they use their classroom, there are a lot of teachers that are actually already using and creating OER, they just don’t actually know yet. They just see it as part of preparing for their class. So, like if you are a teacher who has gone online and created a curriculum material from, you know, two to three resources and some of your own thoughts, like, congratulations, you’re creating OER. And the last thing that you need to do is actually just, you know, put it online in the form of a Google Doc, and cite your sources, and, you know, choose a Creative Commons license, and you’re done.

So, I mean, the first thing I would actually encourage teachers to do is to actually share the material they’ve created and, you know, make sure that you’re citing your sources correctly. But then, yeah, put that online in a Google Doc under an open license, and that’s step one. You know, to find information, I mean, the place that I always recommend starting is OER Commons. It’s a long-standing site, it’s a great resource, and they link out to a large variety of really good vetted resources. Using Google’s Advanced Search, you can let it restrict your searches to only openly licensed material. You know, go to creativecommons.org and use the search they have there. They also have collected up a bunch of resources. The #GoOpen hashtag is still pretty active on Twitter. There are people there who… #GoOpen, but it was a program, sort of, by the U.S. Federal Department of Education during the Obama Administration. It’s still going now, but there’s a large community of educators who are adopting and using OER in the K-12 space who will happily give you advice and happily point you to resources. Also, at the U.S. Department of Education website, there is a list of about 20 case studies now that talk about how districts have used OER within K-12 to spur innovation within their schools.

Noah: Man, I gotta tell you I think a lot of educators were probably sitting there nodding along with you as you described how, you know, we can give ourselves permission and pat ourselves on the back that most of us, if we’ve done sharing of what we’ve created, we have added to the body of OERs that are out there in the universe. And sometimes I think a lot of educators, you know, we need that nudge to set our humility aside and go ahead and recognize, “Hey, we’ve contributed something important to the, you know, movement of teaching and learning here.”

Bill: Yeah. We tend to come up with a lot of reasons, largely perfectionism and fear of being judged about why we don’t put something out, but at the end of the day, like, none of this stuff is gonna be perfect. Like, there are errors in “professional” textbooks. Get something to a point where it’s reasonably clean and share it, because your imperfect thing is somebody else’s ideal starting point, but you’ll never know that until you put it out there.

Noah: That is really great advice. Thank you so much for sharing that. Something that we’re asking as we wrap up every episode this season is, what’s something that I should have asked you about that has you really excited these days?

Bill: The work that we’re doing on the privacy evaluations. Like, we’re actually gonna be coming up with some really nice improvements there over the next couple of months. So you’ll be able to see those at privacy.commonsense.org. Very excited about that. I consider myself fortunate, but I get to actually wake up and do work that’s both kind of interesting and hopefully has impact for people, and I just feel fortunate to be able to do that.

Noah: Bill, thank you so much for being with us on the podcast today.

Bill: Noah, thank you. Thank you for having me. And, Lee, thank you for inviting me along.

Lee: Thanks to Stackup for making “EdTech NOW” possible. Got to stackup.net to learn more about how Stackup can track reading across the entire web. I’m Lee Schneider. And thanks for listening.