Online Privacy – Why is it important and how do I keep my information private?

Online Privacy – Why is it important and how do I keep my information private?

There has been a lot of buzz recently about online privacy, however; this is not a new issue by any means. Online privacy has been a concern for years. Go do a quick google search for online privacy and you will see articles from 2010, 2008, etc. discussing the issue. What is new is that thanks to our government your ISP (company you buy your internet from i.e. Verizon, charter, time warner, etc.) will be allowed to sell your browsing habits. So first, why does this matter?

For the most part, it doesn’t. A large percent of what we do online is harmless. For example, me searching for a new video game in google will tell amazon I want that game. And ads on Facebook will be for that game. Kind of cool in a sense that the internet knows what I want. This is also scary. Imagine that you think you are sick with a disease, and now amazon, google, health insurance companies, life insurance companies, future/current employers, know about it. The real question though is, should anyone be able to see what you are doing online? Is it their right? Should your ISP be able to spy on you? If you say OK, I would ask, would you allow your mortgage company to come in your house and go through your drawers? Because that is essentially what is happening. So yes, it is a concern and should be to anyone.

So, what can you do to prevent this from happening? There are a number of things and I am going to break this up so that it’s easier to understand. The important thing to remember is that you are never going to be 100% secure. But you can take steps to make it harder for anyone to spy on you. Think of it like an onion, the closer you are to the middle, the harder it is to get to you. The outer layers (i.e. no security) are easy to get to but several layers in takes more work. Also, keep in mind I am not discussing Malware, Viruses, etc here, I have other blog posts about that but I do always recommend antivirus software, malware software, and a good firewall.

For your computer/browser (for most home users):

Step 1 – get a VPN.

VPN – This is the first thing you need. I am not going to explain what a VPN is, just that it makes it so that your ISP (or job) cannot see what you are doing. They can only see that you are connected and using data. Now, the issue with VPN is that the VPN company can see what you are doing. So yes, they can sell your data just like your ISP. But I trust them more and most do not sell your data, just the shady bad ones do. However, keep in mind if you are doing something illegal, the VPN company will turn your information over to authorities if they are subpoenaed – no one is going to jail for you.

There are tons of options for paid and free ones. I personally like Hotspot shield, CyberGhost, and Windscribe because they have free versions. Here is a link to them:

Step 2 – Start using Firefox.

Why? Because of the security and add-ons. Once you download Firefox, you need to install the following add-ons. They are: HTTPS Everywhere and 1 of the privacy/adblock addons I explained below. They will not affect your browsing experience, they will however make it much more secure. Additionally, use the private browsing mode of the browser.

And do these:

  1. Add NoScript, uBlock, Disconnect, or Privacy Badger to your Firefox add-ons. This prevents only scripts that you allow. I personally use uBlock and Privacy Badger together.
  2. Use DuckDuckGo search engine. This is a search engine that does not record/track your searches. You can very easily make this your default browser by going to your browser settings and its just as good as Google.

For the most secure (for people who are more technically inclined):

Use Tor Browser. Tor browser with its default settings is going to be super secure. Its slower because of how it works to hide your identity but if you are searching things no one can know about, use this.

Download Tor Client. Tor is the best security that most home users can set up themselves. If you are a super high tech person and want something more secure you already know way more than what I am blogging about and shouldn’t even be reading this so this post is not for you.

For your mobile device:

  1. Get a VPN. There are tons of free ones. You can use hotspot shield as I mentioned above. I use X-VPN on IOS. Keep it on always.
  2. For android, get Firefox browser and use the add-ons I mentioned above. Use private mode.
  3. For apple, use Firefox Focus browser. Apple does not allow Firefox add-ons, so use their focus browser. It’s actually much fast than any other mobile browser.
  4. Use DuckDuckGo search engine. This is a search engine that does not record/track your searches.
  5. Use the web version of apps, not the apps themselves. For example, use facebook in the browser, rather than the app. Yea I know a big pain.

For those that want to be super secure, use a Tor browser. While there is no official mobile Tor browser there are tons that are free ones that use the Tor network. I personally have Onion browser for my iPhone.

How much does it improve learning? ROI in education

I am constantly bombarded with instructional strategies, design recommendations, and means to improve instruction. However, while that’s awesome and I love to see new innovative ways to teach, I have stumbled onto a question that we do not ask very often unless it’s in the context of K-12 standardized testing – how much does this improve learning?

So when someone tells me that some constructivist approach, for example, problem-based learning (insert any strategy here) is a good strategy for the classroom I need to know how it impacts learning. Specifically, I want to know how it affects low-level learning, such as recall, and high-level learning such as problem-solving/transfer. How much does it affect achievement? I don’t want to just hear that it improves it over another method/strategy but I want to hear that it improves it by X% amount. Because if that improvement is only 5%, it might not be worth changing an entire curriculum.

If we start to think this way we can start to make better decisions about what works and doesn’t work in the classroom. This will save us both time and money because we won’t waste significant amounts of time on changes that offer little to no improvement in achievement.

Of course, we need to consider other variables like motivation and such, which could very well be more important than achievement in various settings but that is going to be case dependent.  And regardless, we still need to have improvement numbers to ensure there is going to be a return on investment.

If we could agree that this is an important piece of data to have we could start to figure out what these numbers are. This involves experimental testing using GOOD methodologies, GOOD content, and GOOD tests; otherwise, we cannot trust that research.

PETE&C 2016

Here is a link to my 2016 pete&c presentation.

is college worth it?

I just read this article. It doesn’t really tell you much. I have written about this topic and time and time again. Is college worth it? Well like the student in the article that spent $200k on an undergraduate education on some random private school, then no its not. But that is a terrible example. Essentially they spent 200k on something that could have cost 30-50k. College can be even cheaper than that by going to community for 2 yrs then a state school. College is only expensive if you make it expensive. Otherwise it doesn’t cost more than an SUV. Is college worth it to Goldman and Sachs? Just ask their recruiters who are out trying to get the best and brightest from the nations top colleges this spring. They are not knocking down the door of any high schools or factories. They are going to the top colleges and getting a new batch of analysts/interns. So is college worth it? Well if you are trying to get your foot in the door to a financial company like goldman and sachs, yes its probably the only way unless you have some other ins.

Structuring a discussion forum in an online course

When creating a discussion board for an online course you do not just create it and hope it gets used. You also do not just put a bunch of boring questions and hope students learn something. You need to plan it out. I am going to highlight several of the things that I use and have found add to my student’s success and course enjoyment.

Help! – A help or questions and answer forum is a great place for students to ask questions. Students can ask questions and other students can respond. This saves me time because if a student answers the question, I may not need to. Additionally, all students in the course get to see all of the responses.

Cool resources – This is a place for my students and I to post articles, websites, blogs, news stories, etc that are relevant to the course. As an instructor I try to post to this forum about 8-10 times throughout the semester. This is a chance for students to also post cool resources they may come across in their research and coursework that may benefit the rest of the class.

Announcements – I post a weekly statement to students in this section. That weekly announcement tells them exactly what is due for the week and includes any course updates. I also send this out as an email. This helps keeps students on track so that they do not feel lost in the course. I find that sending an email and posting to the forum is a must.

Social forum – This is a place where students can post anything – course related or not. This forum usually does not see that much activity however when questions are asked they are usually very important. For instance, students may ask about certifications and such that may not be relevant to my class but are important for all students in my program. Another example might be resume help. Important topics but there may only be 2-3 for a whole semester course.

Introductions – I have all students introduce themselves. I also ask them to post a picture of themselves. This way it puts a face with a name and makes the class more personable. In this introduction I ask them the following: goals, where they live/are from, experience, and ask them to tell us something fun/exciting about themselves. They usually have fun with this.

Discussions – This is where the activities take place. Each week I have students complete activities in my classes and discuss them. I try to stay away from traditional discussion questions as a primary assignment as I find that students feel they are boring. So instead I will ask them to choose a research article and review, create a presentation on a topic, create a table comparing and contrasting, or even create a screencast or video. These activities get at the same type of learning (or deeper) that I would get from discussion questions but are a bit more fun. I try to make a different activity for each week of my course. Students then are usually required to post several times to their classmates.

Performing a Task Analysis in Instructional Design

Have you wondered how to perform a task analysis? What it is? Why its important? If so then this post is for you. I have tried to break this down into very simple parts so that anyone can create a task analysis.

After a needs analysis (ie learner analysis, context analysis, technology analysis etc.) and needs assessment/gap analysis are completed and a training need has been confirmed, a task analysis is conducted as a quality check. This is performed to help ensure that all content/processes needed in the training are present so that objectives, content, and assessments can be created. This ensures that once objectives are created that you are not missing anything (as in everything the learner needs to know). It also ensures that all content is taught in the correct order. For example if you were teaching someone how to drive a car you wouldn’t teach them about making a right turn at a red light before teaching them how to do things like turn on the car, use the brakes, and use the gas. Thus this is a very important step that if missed or done incorrectly could cause you to design training that does not address everything needed causing unhappy clients and workers that cannot perform their expected tasks. So even if you are in a hurry and doing rapid instruction you STILL need to do a front end analysis and task analysis. Sorry there are no shortcuts here. Now surely you can do parts of the task analysis and begin design but you still need to do it.

The task analysis is where you organize your tasks into high/low level knowledge and/or processes, which helps determine what kind of instructional strategies, media, and assessments are appropriate for your training. For instance if you find that you do not need to design instruction for low level knowledge (ie facts/concepts) because your learners are experts you might only use problem based instructional methods during design. However if you do need to design instruction for those low level tasks then you would probably want to add some form of direct instruction in order to teach those low level concepts and then move onto other strategies once learners have mastered those facts/concepts.

To conduct a task analysis (after doing your gap analysis) you should do the following. Keep in mind that usually steps 1-4 are done simultaneously.

1. Determine what content/skills/processes need to be trained – You can gather this via observation, document analysis, working with a SME, interviews, surveys, etc.

2. Determine what kind of content you have (and it might be multiple types requiring multiple analyses) – Is it hierarchical? Or Procedural? Or both? At this point I can start to figure out what type of analysis I will be doing and how I will need to organize this content. I can also start thinking about my design (instructional strategies) See the example below with both types of analysis and how they can and are combined together.

3. Prioritize these tasks. You can do this in a table format using the example here. You do this for several reasons including:

a. You have limited time and need to select which content is most important
b. You have limited budget and need to select which content is most important
c. You need to decide which content to include. For instance you may only want your training to be 1 hour and not 3 required for all content. This helps you determine what can be cut.
d. If you are going to train everything this is still useful as you can determine what you should focus more of the learners time on.

Task Priority (1-10 scale) Difficulty for learner to grasp (1-10 scale) Frequency learner will utilize (1-10 scale)

4. Break the content down into simple steps/tasks – how far you break them down is up to you and your SME. This requires a SME and other data collection techniques described in step one.

5. Begin constructing the analysis

So are there different types of tasks analysis?

Hierarchical task analysis focuses on the content that needs to be trained. So you actually teach from the lowest level knowledge to get the learner to the final goal. In the procedural task analysis you teach from the start to the end of the process (ie focus on the steps). In the hierarchal example provided you can see how the problem is broken down into rules/procedures, concepts, and facts (verbal). This type of task analysis breaks the task into a hierarchy so one would know that they first need to teach the facts/concepts before showing the rules and procedures. Note that you can and usually do need to combine these analyses. The example provided does just that as some steps in the hierarchal need to be broken up into their processes. Thus you might have done several or more analyses for the one training application. Also note that you should always provide assumptions and expectations in your analyses at the end or in the document (ie learners can use a computer, mouse, and keyboard and steps 1-4 need to be trained before steps 6-8). How far you break these tasks down is up to you. For instance, you might assume your learners can read, can use a computer, etc. Sometimes they may not. And this should all be identified in your learner analysis and then carried into the task analysis.

Example: The task here was to survive a night in minecraft. For this task I had to create a hierarchical chart so that I knew the order to present the content and a procedural analysis so that I knew the steps to ‘use the crafting table’ and knew exactly where that process should fit into the training solution. Normally your content will not fit as neatly as mine does – but this is an example and should be neat. They can look very complicated as more tasks are added. Also note that some authors recommend putting your tasks into performance measures such as ‘demonstate building a shelter’ whereas I just wrote build a shelter. Either way is ok as long as you understand the tasks. This could vary by project.

Hiarchal analysis:


The next type is procedural. Thus information is not put into a taxonomy format (ie facts first, concepts 2nd) but rather it is taught from the beginning of the process. This is the procedure used for using the crafting table which needs to be taught according to hierarchical analysis above. Please note that I am just showing the process here. If you going to do a process map you would need to use different shapes for starting, choices, and steps. I just used all rectangles here because I do not have process mapping software on my machine.


You can also make these via text if that is easier. For instance here is an example of installing an app in an ipad:

1.0 Turn ipad on
2.0 Open Store
2.1 Search for desired app
2.2 Select app
2.2.1 Enter Password
3.0 Close the app store
4.0 Go to main screen of ipad to watch app installing
4.1 App installed
5.0 Open App to test

Now there are other types of task analysis that you will see throughout the literature however they can fit into one of the two analyses above and thus I do not see a reason to define them further as I believe this just confuses the designer. Essentially any activity you generate will fit into the hierarchal or procedural analysis (ie cognitive/information processing and if/then).


Task Analysis Methods for Instructional Design by David H. Jonassen, Martin Tessmer, and Wallace H. Hannum 1998