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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

$20 Laptops for Students from Google: The Questions to Ask



Google Chrome IconImage via WikipediaGoogle has announced to Forbes that it will begin renting laptops for $20 a month to students. (I cannot find the age of the students, thus some questions below.)

Running the Chrome OS, Google plans to use this as a testbed for enterprise companies.

As General Manager for Cellular One in the 90's - my staff and I knew that the whole future of our company was to get our service in people's pockets. A person has a vested interest in their phone number.
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You also have a vested interest in your documents, your email, your photos. If Google can capture these interests when a student is "young and broke" (and some would say foolish) they they have the student for life in their cloud.

I wouldn't be surprised if some schools jumped in with this as well.

This isn't a bad thing but free rides don't exist.
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Ask questions and get answers before you sign any dotted line, especially on behalf of your students and children.

The biggest issues revolve around disclosure to parents and privacy.

Terms of Service. 
You have to be eighteen to enter into a legally binding contract. Google Terms of Service confirms this in the first paragraph:
"If you don't have the legal authority to bind, please do not click the “I Accept” button below."
Are minors going to be accepting these terms?

Most students and most people aren't reading terms of service. Most parents have their students setting up their own laptops.

Parents need full disclosure about what terms they are accepting on behalf of their child.  There is no place I've seen where we put our age in on Google. If a parent is clicking "I accept" on behalf of their child then, I assume Google assumes that they are 18. We know this is not true.

Privacy.
Do students understand their privacy settings? Privacy rights according to terms of service?

Are parents given oversight into these issues? Are they receiving disclosure?

Capability
Students and parents need to understand school requirements. When netbooks became in "vogue" I had many students bring them to school only to learn that they couldn't really run the Internet and Microsoft Word at the same time. They definitely couldn't make movies.

Understand what you need to do before purchasing.

Ability to lock down and restrict access.
As more devices proliferate, the ability to secure and keep private our data increases.

Monitoring
Do parents know how to monitor? Do they have access to the machine through a userid and password? How about the cloud accounts?

Technically, a child could set up the machine and the parent would have no access to their data. Typically, no one realizes this is an issue until it is too late or until a problem happens.

Access.
Will schools allow students to print from these devices? Access their wifi?

OK, schools, so most parents understand your reasons for banning cell phones. How are you going to justify banning these handy devices?

Are schools ready to set them up for students when they want to bring them to school? Are we going to ban these devices too? (And why should we?)

Antivirus
Viruses are always a problem. With massive numbers of students (who notoriously don't update antivirus and go to sites where viruses and trojans abound) using these, will they become easy targets?

Return and Warranty.
I'm assuming nothing is stored on the hard drive. If it is, however, and the computer crashes, how much is too much? Google will find that certain people always tend to have problems.

The less someone pays for something, the less they care for it. Surely there has to be a penalty for negligence. Parents need to know what it is.

Data Collection.
The ability to opt out of tracking, etc. especially for younger students is very important. This has been ignored on many cell phones but is an issue for all of us on all devices. Google Adsense. Tracking cookies. We have laws protecting young children.

GeoLocation and GeoTagging.
Many cameras, etc. Geotag. This tiny piece of data reveals the exact latitude and longitude where a photograph was taken.

I think services that allow geotagging should turn off the service for photographs as a default until a child is a certain age. This should be disclosed to parents.

Digital Citizenship.
Most schools block everything. You're looking at massive numbers of students going online. Digital citizenship cannot be ignored. It is time to have it in every school. Immersive learning projects such as Digiteen should be in all schools.

Virtual School Infrastructure.
With more students having access, the ability to visit their classrooms and schools virtually is increasing in importance. Online gradebooks, online classrooms, online forums are important as well as the behavior in those spaces.

Bandwidth. Bandwidth. Bandwidth.
Can there ever be enough? You can't get in the cloud if you're stuck on the ground.

Kids in the Cloud
The fact is that kids under 18 are all over the cloud. Kids under 13 are all over Facebook. I've seen 7 and 8 year olds there. We can't pretend it isn't happening. Now that cloud computers are being targeted for children it is time to look this issue square in the eye and grow up about how we treat children on the Internet. They are not mature adults yet.

Sure, some of these are questions that already exist today.

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When technology gets less expensive and in the hands of more people, we have to know that ignorance is not bliss.

Ignorance is a problem when considering technology. The devil is in the details.
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