Monthly Archives: January 2016
ne of the simplest solutions for stemming online dropout and failure rates is to simply have students read their course syllabuses before getting into the actual online activities. As old fashioned as this strategy sounds, David L. Stoloff, a professor at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, CT, said reinforcing it in the distance space can go a long way in keeping pupils on track and engaged in their coursework.
“When you start out on the right foot – with a personal welcome from an instructor and directions on how to read the course syllabus – you can ward off many of the engagement issues associated with online learning,” said Stoloff. “They need to understand that the syllabus is a contract and that there’s no shame in dropping a course quickly and getting a refund if the commitment can’t be fulfilled.” Other good strategies include outlining time commitments, explaining expected completion timeframes, and going over course expectations in advance – just like a professor would on the first day of class in a traditional setting.
When it comes to technology tools, Stoloff said online discussion groups – which are typically enabled by a college’s learning management system (LMS) – help create a collaborative, online learning environment. In fact, Stoloff said that in most of his classes discussion group participation makes up 10-20 percent of a student’s total grade. “They’re required to participate regularly,” said Stoloff. “When someone drops off, it’s easy for me to see that he or she isn’t ‘actively’ learning.”
When those drop-offs occur, Stoloff uses the e-mail function within Eastern Connecticut State University’s LMS to contact students, remind them to participate, or suggest a course withdrawal or other action. In some cases, he’ll invite students to visit him in person to discuss the lack of active participation and any problems they may be having with the course. “In most cases,” he said, “the student isn’t participating and/or passing the class because he or she hasn’t put in the effort.”
With 18 percent of undergraduate students predicted to receive 80 percent or more of their education through online courses this year, according to EdTechReview, now is the time for institutions to develop the foundational tools needed to keep pupils engaged, on track, and successful online. “Ignore this step,” Viecelli-Stimpson warned, “and it becomes way too easy for students to sit back and let things go until the end of the semester. By then it’s too late.”
|The Human Element of Online Learning
Diane Johnson, assistant director of faculty services for the Center for Online Learning at Saint Leo University, offers these seven tips for creating an engaging online education offering:
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1. SECURE WEBMAIL WITH EXTENSIONS
If you’re using a popular webmail service, such as Gmail or Yahoo Mail, and you don’t or can’t make the switch to a more secure service, then consider installing Mailvelope. Mailvelope is a browser extension for Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox that brings OpenPGP encryption to your webmail service. Similar extensions exist, such as SecureGmail, which encrypts and decrypts emails you send through Gmail. Using this extension means the unencrypted text should never reach Google servers. Recipients will need to install the extension in order to decrypt and read the encrypted email.
This is perhaps one of the most basic privacy options that just about anyone can take advantage of. The top four most popular browsers – Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Safari – have a private browsing mode, which can be found in their respective settings menus. With private browsing activated, your browser will not store cookies or internet history on your computer. This has very limited uses and is perhaps really only effective at hiding your browsing history from your significant other, siblings or parents. Private browsing does not securely hide your identity or browsing activities beyond your local machine as your IP address can still be tracked.
Photograph: Kimihiro Hoshino/AFP/Getty Images
3. DON’T USE SOCIAL MEDIA
The amount of personal data that social networking sites like Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter have harvested from their billions of users is shocking. Head to facebook.com/settings and click ‘Download a copy of your Facebook data’ and you might be surprised to see just how much information is on file. Everything from who you have poked, what events you have or have not attended and when and where you have logged into your account is logged and saved. Similar levels of data harvesting occurs on all major social media sites. This is the price you pay for using a ‘free’ service. The only sure-fire way to avoid giving up this information is to delete your accounts entirely. A word of warning, ‘deactivating’ your account is not the same as deleting it. Deactivating your account is sort of like putting it into hibernation – all your information is stored and can be re-activated if you have second thoughts. Always delete rather than deactivate an account if you wish to completely wipe it.
4. BLOCK AND MANAGE TRACKERS
A large amount of websites track and collect the browsing habits of the users that visit them. These trackers are invisible and most people aren’t aware that they’re being tracked. Ghostery is a free browser extension – available on all major web browsers – that will reveal these trackers, also known as web bugs. You can then decide which web bugs you’re comfortable with tracking you and which ones you’d like to block. In total, Ghostery keeps track of over 1,900 companies. Each company has a profile in the Ghostery Knowledge Library, allowing you to better understand who and why someone is keeping tabs on you and what action you would like to take.
5. ENCRYPTED EMAIL
Most of the well known and popular email services – Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, Outlook – are not particularly privacy-friendly. For full Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encrypted emails, consider signing up to a more secure provider. Hushmail is currently very popular, it provides a private email account with no ads, built-in encryption and unlimited email aliases. A limited free service is offered, with more features available for a monthly subscription fee. However, Hushmail is not above the law and in the past it has been forced to reveal user data to U.S. authorities following a court order. The company also logs user IP addresses. MyKolab is a similar service that has not revealed any user information in the past, however, they are also obliged to provide access to lawful interception requests so this still remains a possibility.
6. TEMPORARY EMAIL
Disposable Email Addresses (DEAs) are anonymous and temporary. They allow users to quickly create new email addresses as-and-when they’re needed, which can then be disposed of after use. This is particularly useful for avoiding spam when filling in forms on websites that require an email address to proceed. Keeping your real email address away from spammers is crucial to protecting your identity online and DEAs are a great solution. Popular providers of this service include Guerrilla Mail and Mailinator, although there are hundreds out there to choose from. Most DEAs are not particularly secure, so it is not advised to use these services to send sensitive information – rather, use them as a way to avoid giving away your own information in situations where you are obliged to do so.
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are one of the most effective ways to protect your privacy online. A VPN essentially hides your IP address – your unique online identifier – and runs all your online data via a secure and encrypted virtual tunnel, which can keep websites from tracking your online activity or even knowing which country you’re browsing from. These days, there are many VPNs to choose from. Hotspot Shield, TorGuard, CyberGhost and HideMyAss are some of the more popular ones that are currently available. Most of them require a small monthly subscription fee and they don’t all provide the same list of features, so it’s worth shopping around for a VPN that suits you.
Originally developed with the U.S. Navy in mind as a way to protect government communications, Tor is a network of “virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the Internet.” Tor’s anonymity network allows access to the ‘deep’ or ‘hidden’ web, where websites can be created anonymously and individuals can communicate privately with each other. When using the Tor browser – which can be downloaded for free from torproject.org – it is very difficult for websites or individuals to track your online activity and location. However, while Tor is quite effective at protecting your online anonymity, it can be slow, complicated and restricting. It’s also worth noting that while the network can and has been used for good, it has also been used for illicit purposes, such as selling drugs and distributing images of child abuse.
9. PROXY SERVER
A proxy server is a computer through which your online activity can be processed, essentially acting as an intermediary between your computer and the internet. As such, this can be a great way to maintain your online anonymity as the proxy basically masks your IP address with its own. If the proxy is based in a different country than your own, you can fool websites and trackers into thinking you’re browsing from a completely different continent. There are many ways to use proxies and there are various free and paid services on offer. HideMyAss.com/proxy has a limited free web proxy service that you can start using immediately if you’d like try it out.
10. HTTPS EVERYWHERE
Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is the encrypted version of HTTP, the technology protocol which determines how web servers and browsers respond to commands and how messages are sent and received. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) HTTPS Everywhere is a neat little extension – available on Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Opera – that forces websites to use HTTPS, even when they default to the less secure and unencrypted HTTP. By EFF’s own admission it’s still feasible for “some attackers to break HTTPS,” but it’s certainly not a bad idea to install their extension as HTTPS is still far more secure than HTTP and will certainly help to protect your privacy and consequently maintain your anonymity. EFF is a nonprofit organisation that seeks to defend civil liberties in the digital world.
11. DESTROY COOKIES
Cookies are little bits of code that are automatically downloaded from a website and stored on your system. Cookies allow websites to quickly and easily remember if you’ve been there before – if you have, the website may then alter certain variables based on the information that has been stored in the cookie in order to give you a more personalised and potentially useful experience. However, some cookies can be very intrusive, logging information such as how long you’ve been visiting a particular website, how many clicks you’ve made and what content you seem to prefer reading. It doesn’t hurt, then, to occasionally wipe your system of any and all cookies. Admittedly this won’t do a huge amount to protect your anonymity, but it will make it harder for websites to learn and understand your viewing habits. You can delete cookies from within your browser, but to make sure you nuke the lot, you can use an app like CCleaner, which is free and powerful.
DuckDuckGo: the plucky upstart taking on Google with secure searches
12. USE ALTERNATIVE SEARCH ENGINES
Like most people, you probably use Google to search for things online. Google is an undeniably accurate, fast and efficient search engine, however, this is largely helped by its personalised search system. This is a feature that uses your past search history, rather than just relying on the terms you’ve typed into the search bar, to present you with results that are more relevant to your personal tastes. To do this, Google keeps track of your search habits in a number of ways, including browser cookies. You can turn off this personalised search by clicking Search Tools > All Results > Verbatim. But if you really want to make sure Google isn’t tracking your searches, consider using a different search engine entirely, such as DuckDuckGo, which promises never to track your searches and “emphasizes protecting searchers’ privacy and avoiding filter bubble of personalized search results.”
13. USE ALTERNATIVE BROWSERS
While Google Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer are popular, they’re not as secure as they have the potential to be. If you would like a more guarded browsing experience that has a more earnest approach to secure web browsing, consider trying out a privacy-focused browser such as Dooble, Comodo Dragon or SRWare Iron. However, do bear in mind that the additional security methods are fairly limited and will do little to protect your overall anonymity on their own, rather, this should be used in conjunction with other measures. Additionally, you can probably get a comparably secure service by disabling third-party cookies and blocking all location data in your regular browser’s settings and installing various privacy and anonymity-focused extensions and plugins such as Ghostery or Mailvelope.
“Dropbox…is very hostile to privacy”
14. DITCH DROPBOX
Edward Snowden has called Dropbox – a cloud storage service – ‘hostile to privacy’. That’s pretty damning. If you’re worried about sharing your files through this system, there are a number of good alternatives out there which offer better privacy. Snowden himself recommends Spideroak, which describes itself as a zero-knowledge encrypted data backup, share, sync, access and storage service. You can use a limited version of this as part of their free trial, which can be found on their website. A fully featured subscription is available for $12 a month. However, if you’re just looking to quickly share small or large files anonymously for free, give OnionShare a go. It doesn’t have as many features as Spideroak, but it gets the job done.
15. CHANGE YOUR PHONE
Staying anonymous while using a smartphone can be tricky business. Many apps will want access to all sorts of settings on your device by default, which you may not be aware of and which you will have to manually manage with each new app installation and update. Furthermore, connecting to public networks while on the go is also a great way of potentially exposing your data to nefarious snoopers. While both Apple’s iOS 8 and Android’s Lollipop now have good encryption measures by default, there is another more extreme option in the form of The Blackphone. This is an ‘NSA-proof’ smartphone that claims to provide privacy features for texts, emails, web browsing and phone calls. Reviews so far have been mostly positive but at around £400, it’s not cheap.
16. USE A PASSWORD MANAGER
If you’ve got a password that can be easily guessed, cracked or stolen, because you have a bad memory for that sort of thing, then you can say goodbye to your anonymity. This is especially true if you use the same password for everything, or across multiple websites and/or services. A great way to improve your password security is to use a password manager, like LastPass. LastPass saves all of your passwords and only requires you to remember one master password, making multiple different passwords a lot less of a headache to manage, which in turn improves your online security and protects your anonymity.
17. SECURITY FOCUSED OPERATING SYSTEMS
There are security focused email service providers, security focused smartphones and security focused web browsers, but have you considered using a security focused operating system? Whonix is exactly that – an open source OS that focuses on anonymity, privacy and security. Based on the Tor network, Whonix is about as anonymous as an OS can get before it all becomes too inconvenient for normal use. Whonix runs in two parts, “one solely runs Tor and acts as a gateway… The other… is on a completely isolated network. Only connections through Tor are possible.” You can download it for free from whonix.org.
18. ANONYMOUS CURRENCY
Darkcoin is an open source digital cryptographic currency based on the Bitcoin software code. It is intended to be a more private version of Bitcoin (which typically prides itself on its transparency) and it claims to be the world’s first anonymous cryptocurrency. Finding merchants that accept Darkcoin can be tough (Darkcoin has its own merchant directory which you can browse here http://tinyurl.com/qzo398u) but when you do, your financial transactions are well hidden and, in theory, entirely anonymous.
19. VIRTUAL MACHINES
Using a virtual machine is a great way to work on sensitive files (or to open dubious ones) without the fear of online snooping or potentially infecting your main system. A virtual machine is essentially a second ‘virtual’ computer that you host within your main operating system as an application. So let’s say you want to download a JPG from an email attachment, but you’re worried that it’s infected with a keylogger or some other form of virus that could jeopardize your anonymity. Firstly, if you suspect this to be the case, you shouldn’t download it at all. But one method to more safely examine the file if you absolutely must is to use virtualization software, such as VirtualBox, to install a virtual machine onto your system. It’s best to use a secure OS for this, so something Linux based isn’t a bad idea. You can then download the file on the virtual machine before turning the internet on your virtual machine off and opening the JPG. Once you’re done with the file, you can delete it along with your virtual system, leaving no traces behind and no potential security issues.
21. DESTROY ALL TECHNOLOGY AND LIVE IN A CAVE
Ultimately, the only way to truly stay anonymous online is to never go online in the first place. If you’ve already used the internet, delete any and all accounts you’ve ever created, turn your computer off and smash it to pieces. You will still leave a digital footprint of some sort in your wake, but hopefully it’s not particularly significant. If you’re using this extreme method, you should also smash up your smart phone, your tablet and your smart TV (they’re listening to us now). Now that you have purged all connected technology from your life, you may wish to live in self-imposed exile, perhaps in a cave, so that you are not tempted to re-enter the online world. Don’t tell anyone about this and you will successfully have acquired complete anonymity. Probably.
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The electronic media, now so integrated into our teens’ lives, has a profound influence on them. Parents cannot always control what their teens view. Since we cannot shelter them from all this exposure and information, we must teach them how to deal with the electronic revolution that is a part of their lives. We need to help them analyze and evaluate the messages they receive so that they can utilize mass media and the new technologies in positive ways.
What makes this so difficult for parents is how quickly new technology develops. It seems that every day a new means of communicating or accessing the internet become available. It can feel daunting to even try to keep up. And controlling your child’s media intake is often a thankless job. You are met with resistance at every turn, especially from your teen. Why even try? Because you will not be able to guide your child unless you expose yourself to the new technology, if not before them, then alongside them. We must tune in to their culture and to do so, we need to take time, gather information, and maintain strong resolve and determination. It is often not easy.
Parental involvement is a key to safe and balanced use. It is not what the media brings to the teen but what the teen brings to the media. Children whose parents are supportive, caring, involved, and set limits in a nurturing way are better able to handle the media. When young, children prefer to spend more time with parents who are willing to explore these technologies in a non-hurried and accepting way. When older, these teens will be more likely to listen to parents’ limits, concerns and opinions, and take those into account as they make decisions.
Steps to Follow in Making Decisions about the Media and Your Teen
- Postpone – the longer you can hold off exposing your child/teen to violent and sexually suggestive material, the better off he will be.
- Pick and Choose – evaluate each situation individually, for example each movie – some R-rated movies or video games are less offensive than others. Remember that teens are working on being independent, so give them freedom of choice whenever possible.
- Set limits – introduce a little structure with regard to media. Moderation is a good policy. Tell your teen that people should not live by TV/media alone – they also have homework, hobbies, sports, friends, family. Call for a quiet hour in the house with no electronic media. An effective strategy to avoid conflict with your teen is to work with him to decide what are appropriate choices. Together you can set some guidelines: when, how much, which shows, movies, CD’s, videos, computer games, and which sites and how much access to the internet.
- When possible, participate with your child – watch TV with her and listen to her music (especially if you think it may have some objectionable content), have him guide you through use of the internet, what sites he is visiting, and get to know who she is meeting online and visit with her.
- Discuss what you are both experiencing in relation to the program content of the media. Seize every opportunity to discuss what you see and hear with your child. Talk about violence, the bad language, the images you find offensive. Without being dogmatic or heavy-handed, voice your opinion so that your values are clear. Ask her what she thinks and provide her with time to respond; listen non-judgmentally to her thoughts and perspectives.
- Rent video games and sit with him while he plays. Check out magazines that review games and look at ratings on the package. Negotiate with your teen about which ones he can have.
- Check movie reviews and ratings.
- Give your teen some privacy and tell her you trust her to abide by the rules you have developed.
There are many benefits to television in our children’s lives. It can be a learning tool, helping teens gain an appreciation of the world and people, and enabling our teens to relate to their peers about popular programs, which addresses our teen’s need to feel a sense of identity and membership within their contemporary popular culture.
On the flip side, there are many negatives to television. They may watch too much TV, in which the depiction of life and people portrayed is unrealistic, women are exploited or shown with no depth or abilities, sex is ubiquitous and there are no consequences for it, smoking and drinking are portrayed as cool, and often times there are quick and superficial fixes to life’s problems.
How can you help your young teen to get the best that television has to offer while minimizing the harmful effects?
- Help him plan which shows he will watch – this can reinforce the idea that TV, like other activities, should have a purpose.
- When possible, watch with your teen – it can be an opportunity to discuss difficult topics. Give your opinion and allow her to have her say.
- Consider restricting TV to weekends – it is a way to teach that it is possible to relax and have fun without TV.
- Watch advertisements with your teen – help him learn how to judge the ads, hone media literacy skills and become a critical consumer.
As opposed to the 60’s and 70’s music message which was rebellion but with peace, equality, and ethnic equity, some of today’s messages seem to be rebellion with anger: the use of words whose purpose seems to be to shock or even horrify, advocacy of violence; racist themes, and being demeaning of women. The artists/rock stars are frequently negative role models.
Even with this reality, there are some benefits to the music of today’s teens: they may decide they want a career in music or they may develop a lifelong love and interest in music. So how can we help our teens to analyze the negative subliminal messages that are conveyed in the music they listen to?
- Listen to the music your teens listen to, watch music videos, comment about your reactions or concerns without being judgmental if he likes the music. Talk about any bad language and images you find offensive
- Set some rules about purchasing recordings or downloading music.
- Make a distinction with your teen between an entertainer’s music/art and his personal life. Help your teen to understand that he can appreciate the artist’s talent without idealizing or even endorsing all aspects of the person’s life, behavior, choices and apparent values. Use the opportunity to discuss your stand on alcohol, drugs, sex, violence, whatever comes up with an entertainer’s lifestyle.
- Music videos on their own do not lead to risky behavior. The variable for a healthy lifestyle for our teens seems to be how close the teens are to their families, not solely what they watch.
Computers and Safety in Cyberspace
As with all the new media, there are many plusses: computers have changed the way children and teens learn and has given them access to all the world’s information. Research has become more fun and exciting; they can connect with peers across the globe; and they can share ideas and find people with common interests.
But of course there are also the negatives, the biggest ones being the worry about who our teens are meeting in cyberspace and about what sites they are visiting. There is also the concern about how much time our teens are spending online, to the detriment of other aspects of their lives. There are concerns about social networking – it can consume our teens’ lives and be their primary way of connecting with other people rather than face-to-face interactions.
What can you do to keep your teens safe and help them find a balance in their lives with computer use and other activities?
- Remember: teens still need our guidance as they enter cyberspace, so we need to educate ourselves and stay involved with them.
- Enlist your teen as a tour guide as you surf the net with him – ask him to take you to the sites he visits.
- Set some ground rules for being online: which sites, for how long, when.
- Keep computers out of your children’s bedrooms. It is better to have them be in public spaces in your home.
- You need to establish rules for hand-held internet devices and cell phones. For example, they must be turned in to the parent at night or put on the charger in the kitchen.
- Suggest some sites he may want to visit.
- Get to know who he is meeting on-line. Visit with him. Make sure he knows not to give out personal information (name, address, phone)
- Give him some privacy and tell him you trust him to abide by your rules, then leave him alone. If you find he is not ready for such freedom, set stricter rules and keep a tighter rein until you feel he can manage the responsibility and can be trusted.
- Know how to use the parental control devices that come with on-line services.
- Prepare your child to deal with anyone online who makes her uncomfortable – “What you are telling me is against AOL’s rules and I am going to report you.” Let her know she should let you know if something frightening happens online.
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Being a full time student, working two part time jobs, being married, and doing some writing and development on the side proves to be daunting. With my discovery of GTD a few years back I was like everyone else; enamored with the idea of getting things off their mind to then produce better and more effectively. I instantly grabbed onto the practice of “ubiquitous capture” by taking notes so I wouldn’t let as many things fall through the cracks.
At first I just used a junky old notebook and a crappy Bic pen. I slowly improved my tools as any good, geeky GTD student would. But it wasn’t until I switched over to a full digital work-flow that I started to see real benefits with the use of my system. I am in a very technical field at work and technical major at school; computers and devices are around me all day long. It only made sense to capture and process thoughts and actions digitally as it was faster and more “iron-clad” for me.
Here are 5 tips on on digital note taking as well some of the pitfalls to look out for.
Make sure to stay engaged
There is absolutely nothing more annoying that someone click-clacking their way away on a keyboard or iPhone when you are trying to have a conversation with them, regardless if they are actually taking notes or not.
If you are a very fast typer, maybe around 50+ WPM it is a good practice to listen to what someone is saying then jot down a sentence or two to summarize it. Or, if you are in a meeting you could always say, “one second while I get this down so I don’t forget.” The idea is to capture what you need without constantly looking at your screen or phone and not paying attention.
Edit and consolidate
One of the biggest things that I noticed from taking extensive school notes was that a lot of the stuff was pure garbage. I would say that out of typing through a whole 55 minute lecture, I had about a couple of pages of text that was extremely out of order and mostly indecipherable. After taking a look through each class’s notes I soon realized that I have about a half a page of bullet points that were really important and all the rest was considered details and reference.
Now, I wouldn’t say delete everything that isn’t the main points of what you captured, but I would say to consolidate your notes. One good way of doing this is to summarize your notes from a meeting and then take the original junk that you typed down and save it in a “repository” of some kind just in case there was a minor detail you actually did need later.
Make them available from anywhere
I am a very mobile person and because of that I need a way to input notes and access them from anywhere I have an Internet connection or device. My tools of choice that make this happen include Springpad, Evernote, and Simplenote. I won’t go into which one I think is better; the important thing is that you can reach them from anywhere and all of them are decently reliable and extremely useful.
Put a voice to your notes
Something that I have found to be game-changing when it comes to capturing information is recording a lecture or meeting while taking notes. There are several ways that you can do this, but what I have adopted is the Livescribe pen and paper so I can write naturally, record audio with my writing, and still have digital notes that can (somewhat) easily be transformed to text. You can of course use tools like OneNote for Windows and Circus Ponies NoteBook for Mac to record and type at the same time.
Have you ever had a note you took during a meeting that didn’t make a lick of sense? I know I have. Yet, when recording audio and locking it up to your notes you can refer back to what was being said around the moment you were capturing it. This helps clarify and make your notes come “alive”. Of course, you definitely want to tell your colleagues that you are recording them before hand, that is unless you are looking for someone to sue you.
Choose a tool and stick to it
The biggest tip, and this goes with everything that is related to personal productivity systems; find a tool you love, one that works well for you, and stick to it. I am Captain Fiddly when it comes to list making, project tracking, note-taking, and productivity software. About a year and a half ago I gave up on googling “best note-taking tools” and “best online GTD systems” and just stuck with what I had and what worked well enough for me.
If you have a productivity system itch like I do, pick something simple like Simplenote or if you want a little more power, Evernote or Springpad and devote 30 days to that tool. I guarantee after 30 days that “itch” will go away and you can concentrate more on getting things done rather than finding the best new note tool that doesn’t exist.