inBloom & Net Neutrality: I’ve Got the Blues


Blue_SadTwo things happened in the news this week that have me really bummed out.

The first is that inBloom announced that it is winding down. The purpose of inBloom was to be a data repository for student data; a resource that would help teachers make sense of vast amounts of student performance data to then better individualize instruction. It seems like the words were no sooner out of my mouth last week when I posted that educators were worried about the wrong thing with big data when THIS happened!

inBloom partnered with states, districts and schools to store these data, but along the way they made an assumption that turned out to be their undoing: they assumed that states, districts and schools would help parents understand how and why these data were being collected, stored and analyzed. But these states, districts and schools, for the most part, did not do that. So parents were left only knowing that some third-party was collecting and storing all of these data about their kids and not understanding what the privacy implications were or what potential benefits for their kids’ learning might be gleaned from those data.

Some commentators have reduced this outcome to “parents don’t want their kids’ data available for mining,” but I think that’s rather a gross oversimplification and disrespects the intelligence of parents. I think, instead, this outcome is due to something much simpler: poor communication. I think that if someone (anyone) had explained to parents, look, this is how we are protecting the privacy of your child and, further, here is what we are looking for in the data, and further yet, here is how we expect teachers will be able to better help your child with what we learn from the data….well, I don’t know too many parents who wouldn’t be interested in trying something that would help their children achieve more in school.

But because this critical communication didn’t happen, inBloom became the whipping boy for everyone’s fears of what “big data” knows about us. And I think it was kind of the perfect storm, given the context of the NSA looking at our phone records, the fact that inBloom was supported by the Gates Foundation and the Gates Foundation’s support of Common Core and the controversy of Common Core. Not to mention certain talking heads who fanned the flames of paranoia. (In the meantime, of course, Facebook and Amazon, for example, probably know when we blow our noses.)

The outcome is disappointing to me. I’m a strong believer in collecting and analyzing performance data and changing our approaches based on what we learn from those data. I evaluate educational apps every day that have no meaningful performance reports. I would like nothing better than for app developers to collect more performance data and iterate their apps to improve the instruction and thereby increase student learning. But here’s the thing….none of that is going to be possible unless we, collectively, can educate parents and assuage their concerns about their children’s information being “kept” somewhere up there in the cloud.

The second thing that happened this week that is even worse for all of us is that reports have surfaced that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is getting ready to release new guidelines for net neutrality. What is net neutrality? The New York Times defines it well: “It is the principle that Internet users should have equal ability to see any content they choose, and that no content providers should be discriminated against in providing their offerings to consumers.” It’s something that I think we all take for granted…that when we use the internet to search that we will get everything relevant returned to us, that all pages will be served up to us at the same speed, that our experience online will be the same regardless of the content. Basically, we have an expectation that the pipeline that delivers this information (i.e., your internet service provider or ISP) is agnostic about what information you get. Right? We expect that all internet traffic will be treated equally.

Well, these net neutrality rules were based on the same kinds of rules that we have for our phone service or electricity…in other words, highly regulated public utilities. But the problem is that companies like Comcast and Verizon are not public utilities…and this week a federal appeals court ruled that they are not subject to the same kind of regulation.

What does this mean for us, the consumers? This: if the FCC can’t enforce the agnosticism of the pipeline, then the companies that control the pipeline can charge content providers for preferential treatment. Imagine this scenario: companies that pay more get faster server speed. Little startups that can’t pay as much (like mine, for example) are dead slow by comparison, leading to frustration and customer attrition that has nothing to do with the product or service. I can’t say it better than Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron: “Giving ISPs the green light to implement pay-for-priority schemes will be a disaster for startups, nonprofits and everyday Internet users who cannot afford these unnecessary tolls.”

I just signed this petition to keep net neutrality: http://act.freepress.net/sign/internet_fcc_break/. Please consider adding your voice.

So those are the two things that have me feeling the blues this week. What are your reactions to these events? Can you say anything that will give me a pick me up?

About karen mahon

i am a behavior and learning scientist. i hold an ed.d. in educational psychology and am trained as an instructional designer. i have spent more than 15 years working in education and instructional software design.
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2 Responses to inBloom & Net Neutrality: I’ve Got the Blues

  1. Amelia Fox says:

    Don’t have a “pick me up” for you – but thanks for the great post!

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