Being Prepared

Upon the death of a close friend recently I realized that I needed to double check my accounts to make sure that I have everything set up for being dealt with in the event of my death. Over the years I have done things to make sure most of my accounts are handled but it is always good to check things over.

The first thing that I have done is printed a copy of my usernames and passwords document. Now you might say ‘Cary why do you have that in an electronic copy that can be printed?’ Well, the doc is all in code so it is not super helpful for anyone who has a look at it. That is why after I printed it, I also hand wrote what the code meant. Both of these items were placed with my Will and Trust documents in a lockbox in the US that my family has access to. Though it has been at least a year so if I make it home this year I will print another copy and update the file.

The next thing that I think about is my Google Account. Since many things henge off of access to my Google account I regularly check my account information. I already regularly go into and check on my privacy and security settings. Running password checks and security checks to make sure that everything is running smoothly.

Once you are in the account management section do a search for “inactive account manager”. This is a place where you can designate up to 10 people to have access to your Google data if you are inactive for 3 months, 6 months, 12 months or 18 months. You can choose to give them access to part or all of your Google data. You can also choose to have your entire account deleted upon inactivity. There are features set up to make sure that this doesn’t happen by accident as well. For example, every few months I receive an email reminding me that I have this set up and who I have designated.

Facebook has a similar service which can be found in their Legacy Contact information section. This allows you to designate a person who can control your account if needed as well as allow them access to download the data associated with your account.

One of the key things that I do with all of my accounts is regularly check that I have an alternate email and phone number attached to them. I generally use my work email since I check it regularly and this forces me to change that information every few years as I change schools or email addresses. I also attach a phone number to my account. I have recently had several friends who lost access to Facebook accounts and had a difficult time proving that they were themselves because the phone number attached to the account was old and no longer useable.

While none of us want to think about these things, it is important that we do and we keep our accounts as updated as possible so that we can control what happens with our data.

Switzerland Summit

Off again to another summit! This time at a boarding school in Hasliberg, Switzerland. We already knew that this summit would be unique when we agreed to present, because it would include all of the students and teachers from the school. All of the events I have worked before have only had a handful of students who volunteered to help and occasionally sit in on the sessions So this would be an interesting experience.

Ecole d’Humanite begins at grade 6, but most of the students who came to my sessions were high school aged. The school runs parallel US and Swiss programs, so the summit had English and German sessions. The school has about 115 students who board with them in the mountains. The campus is made up of multiple buildings that have classrooms on the bottom floor and dorms on the top floors.

This is also the first summit where I have fully worked as part of the ‘core’ team. I did this a bit in Tashkent, but not to the same extent. Being part of the ‘core’ meant that I worked 9 out of 10 sessions over the two days. When I was first invited I wondered if I would have enough presentations ready. It turned out this wasn’t an issue because the school wanted sessions repeated so that everyone could attend as many different sessions as possible. Also because my sessions revolved around the basics. I ended up just doing 4 sessions on repeat. Google Keep, Google Sites, Google Sheets and Google Drive!

It was interesting having the students in the class, but they were for the most part, just like teaching adults. Once we got over a few hiccups about the way their Chromebooks were set up, the sessions flew by. At the beginning the students seemed a bit unsure about interacting with us during the sessions, but they quickly loosened up and asked questions and stopped us for clarifications.

Each day we were invited to eat lunch with the students, which allowed us time to talk to them about their lives at school. Their normal school day as them in the core content classes in the mornings and elective classes or activities in the afternoon. For example they may go skiing or snowboarding in the afternoons, or take care of their school goats, or take blacksmithing classes.

The school is a very small close knit community that seemed like a positive place to be. The summit experience of teacher teachers beside students I think worked well. I would love to get in touch with the school in a few months to find out what the impact of the summit has been. I think that training everyone together has helped them have a clearer understanding, as a whole school, of the possibilities available to them within G Suite.

I mean just look at these classroom views!

Tashkent – November 2019

On November 21st I set off on another adventure in my professional journey. When I was in Serbia, Sarah mentioned to me that she was planning on hosting a Summit at her school in November. I said, “ Hey keep me in mind, I would love to help”.

Well, it took a few weeks for her to get confirmation that it was happening but she emailed me and said, “You still willing to come?” I said “Yup!” and asked if there were plans to host a staff bootcamp. Turns out that her school was interested in doing just that, so I spread the word at my school and got three secretaries interested in going!

On the 21st of November off we set. We all ended up on the same flight out of Moscow to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Since the flight options weren’t great it meant that we got to Tashkent with a whole day to spend hanging out. Check out my travel blog for more on the adventures I had outside of the Summit!

One of the nice things about going on one of these summits with colleagues is that you get to see how they grow over the course of a summit. The three ladies that traveled with me to this summit were secretaries from the school from different areas within the school which made it interesting because I wanted to see what they were able to take away from the summit.

The summit started on Friday with a boot camp for the staff and while they were in their session, I was able to go on a tour of the school with the Tech Director.

At about lunchtime, Sarah arrived back at school after picking up Kim. Bogdan was already at the school because he was in charge of the Staff Bootcamp. So we got to talking and having conversations about our jobs. This is one of the things that I love about attending these summits – having time to talk with colleagues who are in similar jobs and who face similar issues in their job.

Once Sarah and Kim and I sat down and started talking, we quickly realized that we really wanted to find a way to do this more often with each other – share ideas, have conversations, just talk about our jobs and support each other. So for example, we started talking about 3D printing and Kim was able to share some really awesome resources and Sarah was able to share some really outstanding tips and tricks that she’d learned from having 3D printers at her school in Amsterdam.

Which is all very good because we are in the super early stages with the idea of 3D printing at our school. Learning some of the do’s and don’ts before we get a printer will hopefully save us time and effort when it actually arrives.

We also got to help Sarah with a lesson that she was working on with a class. She was finishing up a lesson that the 2nd graders were doing in support of their unit. She asked me to help a group of kids figure out a way to take their Google slides and make them into an invitation. She left me alone with the kids and I asked them what their invitation should look like. They talked about some designs and they thought about what the paper should look like. They finally decided on “a four-fold card”, but they only had three slides so we had to make a ‘please come’ slide. We folded a piece of paper so that we would know what the card would look like. Then we played around with which way the pictures would go. It was really interesting because at one point I knew that when you print one of these you have to have one image upside down.

I said to the kids “I know there is a problem that you guys are not gonna see until after we print it, so, in an effort to save paper, I’m gonna try to show you what that problem might be.” I took their little four-sided folded invitation and I wrote the number one, two, three, and four on each of the sides.

When we unfolded the paper they realized that one of the numbers was upside down. The kids were like “Oh, what are we going to do?”

I said, “Well, we could flip one of the slides upside down.”

They were like, “Can you do that?”

I said “yeah” and so I showed them how to flip one of the slides upside down.

They helped me do that and also fix it so that it was the way the slide originally looked because when you flip a slide it doesn’t flip exactly.

Then we printed one and tested it. They decided that they approved of the design. Then, they thought that they actually wanted four different prints because they wanted the front of the card to be different and not always the same slide. They had three slides and they wanted each slide to be first on the prints. We rearranged the slides so that we had three different print layouts. Then they wanted a “thank you, please come” kind of note, so we added all of that to the layouts. We printed them and then made sure that we got everything right and that they folded correctly. Finally, we printed a bunch off. They learned how to fold them which is kind of funny because once they folded some of them, some of the other kids began to finish up and they had a little bit of an assembly line going where they were teaching other kids how to do all the folds. They were super excited about all their invitations and wanted to immediately take them around to everybody.

So the next day, Saturday, was the day of the actual summit, which was basically a school summit for Sarah’s school with all of her teachers and staff members who were interested in coming to it. Sarah had planned a Bootcamp for the Sunday as well so some teachers came only on Saturday, some only on Sunday, and some came both days. Saturday was a typical summit where there were different 45-minute workshops and teachers could choose which ones they wanted to go to because there were four of us presenting. It was actually really good because it meant that in each block of time one of us had a bit of time off and could wander and see what other people were presenting.

It also meant that Sarah didn’t have to be one of the people who gave a workshop, though she did. She made a point of telling her staff members before she started the summit that if they were interested in something that the other speakers were doing to go to their workshop over something with her because she worked at the school and they could see her any time. I thought it was a really good point to make because I think some teachers would have gravitated towards her because she was known and familiar when in reality it was a good opportunity for them to hear different voices and get different tips and information from different sources.

I presented three different sessions. Google sheets 101, calendar, email tips, and tricks, and introduced deduction to Google Drive. Two of those were sessions I had never presented before which was totally fine because it gave me a chance to create resources and to learn the best way to aim those sort of beginner presentations for those elements.

For example, in sheets 101, I have to be very careful not to go too fast with sheets because a lot of people do not find them intuitive, but confusing. I am at quite a proficient level with the sheets, so I don’t find them that way and I tend to jump and assume people know things when they really don’t. So as Maureen told me before I left Moscow “Cary, remember to go slow. Go slow.” So I kept that in my mind and I tried very hard to do just that!

Calendar and email was also interesting because I use them personally but I don’t use them professionally so it was interesting to try to figure out which features are on both sides and there were a couple of things that I needed to get Sarah to give me screenshots for because we don’t use them at my school. I can’t open Gmail on my school account and look at the options that are available. Also, because we don’t have certain things set up in calendar I can’t see those features. So it was interesting to try to create resources for something that I theoretically know exists but don’t actually have practice with. My introduction to Google Drive was just a basic one that I’ve done in the past which is always really nice. Surprisingly, people who have been in drive for a while often attend because they feel like they’ve missed the basics on Google Drive and they don’t use it to the best of their ability, so they come and they always learn something which is really rewarding.

It is actually great to have people in a group who are mixed because then they give tips to each other and it’s not all me talking which is lovely and sort of the whole way Apps Events works. I mean, we tell people, “If you’re in a session and you decide 10 minutes in that this session is the wrong level for you or it’s not the right topic for you or you really know it all then leave and go find another one that’s better for you.” So, the whole workshop summit system with apps events is around the attendees choosing what’s best for them and advocating for themselves.

We as presenters really don’t care if someone gets up and leaves in the middle of our session or comes in and joins in the middle of our session. We plan for that. We sort of expect it. Because of this attitude we also don’t mind if halfway through a session everybody in the room sort of lets it be known that they need the session to change direction in some way. For example, for everybody in the room the session’s too basic and so can you teach us other stuff or the session’s too advanced can you go back and teach us more basic stuff, or we really, really need as a group to learn about this feature, for example. That’s one of the things I love about these Apps Events workshops is how they’re so completely agile and fluid enough that we can really take into consideration the audience that we have in our session and we can adapt and change for them as we need to. I think that’s one thing that I love about doing these workshops because I love having that agility in classrooms and I love doing that and teaching adults is similar.

On Sunday we went back to the school and Sarah, Kim, and Bogdon gave a Bootcamp for the staff. Kim and Bogdon were the ones mainly giving the Bootcamp. Sarah was supporting both of them and making sure that they didn’t need anything. I went to school for a little while just to make sure everybody got started and also to bring my suitcase because I was going to be spending Sunday night with Sarah. Then I went into Tashkent so now you have got to go back to my personal blog to learn about Tashkent!

After a few hours I came back to the school and was there when the Bootcamp was finishing up and what was really interesting was all three days all of the staff members at the school were buzzing about what they were learning, how they were learning, and the possibilities of what they were learning. I was out in a sort of foyer area several times and teachers didn’t always know who I was. It was interesting because they were talking freely around me and no one was complaining about how the PD was not helpful or they didn’t understand why they had to come to it or “oh my gosh, why am at school on a Saturday”. It was all super buzzy and like, “Oh I got an idea for this…’ and ‘I could do this…’ and ‘Oh I want to do this in my classroom on Monday’. That is really, really awesome because that helps teachers motivate themselves to try things more than anything else. I found for example that your principal telling you that you have to do something does not motivate you as much as you going to a workshop and seeing something really cool and wanting to come back and try it. It was really nice to see that even after working a full week, having training on both Saturday and Sunday and knowing that they were going to work on Monday the teachers were still buzzy, excited, interested, and motivated. It was really awesome..

On Sunday, Kim left for Munich to go back home and Sarah and I had half of the day to continue to chat. Even though we had three packed days we were still scrambling for time to do some talking and just brainstorm some thoughts together. In the middle of it, we realized that we needed some way to organize all this stuff so I started a Google Drive, a spreadsheet, a document and we sort of got ourselves in a position where hopefully we’re organized and we can share information with each other in some way. And then Christmas break happened, so we’re still working on that and hopefully that something will continue soon!

All in all, it was a great summit and it was awesome to be able to present so many times to a staff of people who all had a mutual goal of understanding and learning. It was also super awesome to spend time with colleagues who have the same job.

Warsaw – December 2019

On December 5th and 6th I had the opportunity to visit the American School of Warsaw with a focus for looking at their design studio setups. We had a very loose plan to watch a lesson or two but mostly spend time with Adam, Caroline, and Michael talking about their programs.

It was a great experience to spend time with Adam who had set up spaces from scratch in the middle school, but who had also helped the elementary school teacher stock their space and carts. This opportunity allowed me to discuss what they had gotten right, what they had gotten wrong and what they would do differently if they were starting from scratch. Which gave me lots of opportunities to think, question and edit plans we had.

It was also great to see the school that was only just ahead of where we were and not 15 steps ahead of where we are. Many times we go visit schools who are at sort of at an endpoint in their journey and it’s very difficult to see what it might look like along the way but with Warsaw their elementary is at a sort of in-between point so it was nice to be able to see sort of what the middle might look like. This gave us the chance to actually see next steps and not just imagine them because when you see it just at the end, it’s hard to imagine how they got there.

As far as spaces, they are in the same spot as we are, a sort of designated early years space, but the upper elementary is working out of mobile carts. This gave us a chance to think along with them about what would be a good elementary space, what that space might look like, and what it could include. They’ve already begun this thinking so it was nice to be able to sort of join in the discussion with them.


While we only visited for a day and a half we had many great conversations which helped clarify my thinking around things like equipment lists, what to buy, and what not to buy. I also have a clearer idea of ways to progress with some of the vocabulary that is introduced around the purpose of the room. For example, I loved that they used the PYP Approaches to Learning (AtL) as the skills that they focus on teaching in the space. I think this is a great way to focus the purpose of the learning that happens in the space.

Helping to us embed skills learned it into the curriculum instead of ‘adding another thing’ to the pile of teaching already occurring. ATLs are transferable to all subject areas and are also something that we’ve already been using. All in all it was a great visit and it motivated me to progress further with purchasing and stocking the room.

Serbia – September 2019

I was lucky enough to present at another Google Summit for Apps Events. This time the summit was in Belgrade, Serbia and I got to present not one but four sessions. I think that this is also the first time that I have attended one of these summits with a colleague. This was fabulous because it gave me the chance to watch her grow her Google skills and comfort level!


Even before it starts I find that there are things I love about these summits.

  • They are well organized while at the same time they feel spontaneous and adaptive.
  • The people who work them are awesome to be around and interact with they are also encouraging and motivating
  • The summits are a chance to meet up with other Google super Geeks and Geek out!

I ended up presenting four sessions during this summit after one of the other presenters was unable to attend and I was asked to present more. I presented twice on Google Sites, once on Google Drive Basics and once on Google Keep. This particular summit was mostly for the International School of Belgrade teachers, but there were a few other educators and tech folks from other schools who attended as well. It does help to have teachers from other schools join as it means that a wider range of questions gets asked. They also share ideas and things that they have done in their schools, which always adds to the experience.

These summits are great for educators who want to see and hear about real ways that the G Suite is being used in the classroom. That is why they are so well received. Even though this is my 3rd Summit I learned some trick, tip or new technique to use right away when I return to work. This has happened at every summit that I have attended, which is part of the reason I keep going!


It was a pleasure to share the website I created with my grade 4 class last year with other educators. It was good to finally be able to show them an actual working site instead of a theoretical site as I usually have to do when I present. By showing the teachers an actual working site they were able to see what could actually be done when building a Google Site in a classroom setting. Teachers engaged in my session and many even began creating websites during the session that they hoped to finish and use when they got back to their classes. A few already had a site created and asked some good questions about possible changes that they could see being useful to their site.

One of the things that I realized during the session is that a lot of teachers know enough to create and use some of the Google tools, but don’t fully understand how they work or why things work like they do. For example, one teacher had a site with hidden pages but didn’t realize that he could do hide pages using the “hide from navigation pages” setting instead of manually hiding them by burying them under subpages.

I think that learning these more detailed settings is a part of my job because I have time to explore. This how I differ from many teachers who use technology. I often find that teachers don’t always fully understand the ins and outs of the tech they use. They learn the basics, just enough to use something, but then just get on with using them and rarely get back to learning more in-depth elements. Of course, this isn’t all teachers and all situations, nor is it necessarily a bad thing. This is how many teachers get started using tech until they get comfortable and build enough skills to progress further.

The issue is if they get stuck but don’t have anyone who can support them, what do they do? These summits are great for teachers who are at this point, but what about the ones who can’t get to a summit or the summit comes at the wrong time in their development? This is why having a Tech Integrationist/Coach at your school is so important. Even if your teachers are very highly skilled, there will always come a point where they will need support. Having educators who are given the time to go further, research, and build new skills is essential.

This is the dilemma of staffing a school, do you keep Tech Integrationists/Coaches on staff when they are ‘not needed’? Or, do you change their roles in some way and keep them so that when they are needed they are ready to help and support their coworkers. One thing that I am thankful for is that I work overseas so that my school has the financial flexibility to make the decisions to keep Tech Integrationists/Coaches on staff to support their teacher’s and student’s growth and learning.


Check out my travel blog for more about Belgrade.

How the heck did it get to week 6 already!

Well it is now week six since I have been back in the classroom. A lot has happened and as a class we have progressed quite a ways!

One of the things that we have tried was the kids creating their own schedules. It just happened at sort of the perfect time when other than math, they were working on projects to finish in each subject area. I was struggling to effectively teach the math lessons because of the levels of the students. While racking my brain for an idea, I thought why don’t I teach math in smaller groups while the rest of the class gets on with work.

What I didn’t want though was the students coming to pester me for what to do next. So if they had a plan for their day then they could just get on with work. So I created a template for the day that they would fill out for themselves in the morning. The top of the page had a list of the items that they needed to completed. Below you can see an example of what a student did on her sheet.

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I also wanted the students to be responsible for their learning. In order to do this I make a section in their daily plan for them to place a short comment about what they had done during their time and where I could find it.

One of the things I found is that I was able to have shorter, quicker math lessons with the students which were more targeted and allowed them to get to work practicing their math skills. This was good but I was finding that the students was that I was still having trouble teaching math lessons and hitting everyone’s levels as they needed.

This got me thinking and I decided to try recording myself teaching the math lessons. This would allow each student to access the lesson when they were ready not when I was. This also freed me up to help more students when they needed my assistance.  So I created a document that allows them to access the links to the recordings and gives them the problems that are do from their problem set packets. They can also find the recordings on their class website.

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What this has allowed me to do is allow the students to work through the math lessons as fast as they want. I still set an expectation for what lesson they should have completed by what day, but they can work through those lessons at their own pace.

We have had to put this on hold for a bit since we have now gotten to a point where we are working on lessons that don’t lend themselves to this practice, but I hope to be back working this way again before the end of school.

I have enjoyed making the math lessons for the kids but I have also realized that I say “so” way too often! The kids even point it out to me now!

We also had a wonderful opportunity to work with a Grade 2 classroom to learn about reading Signposts. The Grade 2 students learned about the Contrasts and Contradictions signpost and then taught my kids how to look for them in a piece of reading. The Grade 2 students were excited to teach the Grade 4 students. This week it will be our turn we hope!

In Reading we are also reading any book that they want from the book room. At first I think they thought that this would mean that they could just read and that would be it, but ha ha ha they don’t know me that well yet! Anyway they are creating Booksnaps of their book. A Booksnap is like a social media post for your book. The image below is the Booksnap from a student’s book about the setting of her book.

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Our current unit of inquiry is in the PYP Theme of Sharing the PlanetScreen Shot 2019-05-27 at 7.59.54 PM.png

We have tons of interesting experiences within this unit which you can see some of on the class website link.


Back at it – Part 2

Well we survived week 1!

I am enjoying being back in the classroom. The kids and I are getting our routines and expectations sorted. Going paperless is proving easier than I though as long as I just make myself stop each time I want to print something and think about another option.

For example I have switched the homework to being completely paperless, which is awesome because I don’t have to wait until Friday to mark it. Most of the students turn it in before the due date so I have a look at it and make comments and return it before Friday even rolls around. Today I began getting next week’s ready and one of the students happened to be in the room, I let her choose the slide theme. Then she pointed out that the Reading homework was the same and said we should read something like a blog, and I went ding ding ding! I need to find an article that connects to our unit so within 5 minutes I had two articles pulled up which I will choose from tomorrow. Ran out of time today!

I also love the idea that I can see how they are thinking and processing by looking at what they type as they type it. We had an activity this week where they watched 3 videos with automation in them and they then tried to make connections to our key concepts of Function, Causation, and Connection. Some were finding it difficult and some were just being lazy and going for the quick answer. That was until they noticed that I was leaving them comments as they typed to ask them for more details. It was easy for me to see who might be struggling without me distracting them. Now you may say but you could do the same thing by walking around the room and reading over their shoulders, which would be correct, but this class gets distracted by that type of activity. So I am trying my technique to see if it both helps them stay on task and helps them give their best answer.

I am also using all of the resources I have available to me. Maureen, our Literacy Coordinator, is coming in and helping me teach poetry, which I am hopeless at, but getting better thanks to being taught how to write it with my kids. Check out some of our work here.

I have also enlisted Ryan, my co-integrationist, and Beth, our PYP coordinator’s help in teaching fractions, which I am not great at either! As with Poetry I am learning lots of new things about both how to teach math and how to do math!

I have gotten good feedback from the parents about our 4MS website which we basically update daily. I have also gotten good feedback from the parents about the homework so all is good at the moment, but Spring is in the air and hormones will kick in soon so I fully expect the honeymoon period to end soon!

Returning to the Classroom – Part 1

For the rest of the year I will be covering for a grade for maternity leave. I’m excited about this temporary change because it gives me a chance to put into practice some of the theories and ideas that I’ve had about connected classrooms, but haven’t been able to try in a classroom environment myself. For example, when I was getting myself organized to go back into the classroom with a class list and checklist sheets, first I created them with the idea that I would print them, and then I realized I have an iPad therefore I have no need for printing! That got me thinking about what else I could migrate to an electronic version only. I already use Google slides to post the morning directions, and to put directions for activities onto the board. That led me to think about other ways I could use technology with regards to my classroom.

One of my ideas was to create this website (note that not all docs will be accessible). I’ve explained to my students that this will be like a bulletin board that they can access at home. My idea behind the website is to have it mirror the bulletin boards that are in the classroom, with the same items that you would normally have on those boards such as anchor charts, central ideas, vocabulary, brainstorms etc. This would allow students the opportunity to have something that they can access at home if they want to refer to any of the vocabulary or ideas that we developed in class. This would be especially useful if they are doing work at home.

One of the other things I like about the website is that it can be built together with the students in the classroom as we do and create things. For example, when we make a class definition, we can type it onto the website straight away. This enables the students see their ideas on the screen, which they can use as a reference when they’re thinking around those ideas and topics. They can use the definitions that we develop in class without having to try to remember what the were.

At this school the students are still given homework. In this particular classroom, the homework, until this week, consisted of a piece of paper glued into a notebook containing the homework activity tasks. The task was then completed on pages inside the notebook. This week, I started the homework with a slideshow. Instead of a piece of paper, they have a slide for each activity. This means they can either do the work on paper, take a picture of it and put it into the slideshow, or do the work directly in the slideshow. Some of the students in this class are from the Grade Two class that we trialed this with two years ago. This means that some of them are already familiar with the system. I was pleased to see the students excited about their homework as I presented this new system. Additionally, having the homework in Google Classroom allows me to grade it bit by bit, instead of having to wait until the very end of the week to look at it. It also means that it’s easy for me to put things up onto the board if we have something that connects to what we’re studying in class. For example, this week, the students were asked to find a poem in their native language to share with the class. When we share these, it will be much easier for me to click into all of their Google Classroom assignments instead of trying to go to their notebooks.

One of the things that I’m struggling with the moment is the fact that this class did not have a very high iPad use before I came and I’m seeing behaviors that I saw in my last school the first year we handed out the iPads. Behaviors like students spending more time decorating pages in Book Creator than putting content on pages. Also, students are playing with their iPads as opposed to using it as a tool. I know that this is just growing pains and they behaviours that they will grow out of quickly as they further understand my expectations of them around technology use.


There is also the discussion to be had about privacy around these records which maybe I will write a post on at a later date!

So, that sentence is how I finished my last post. So that is where I will start this one. The problem with public records and privacy was briefly mentioned in the part of the documentary we watched on Aaron Swartz. The issue is that anything that is public record is technically freely available for anyone to access, but that it also contains personal data about anyone involved. It can contain every bit of personal data that someone may need to cause you all kinds of issues.

I for one know that this is an absolute fact. I used to work for a lawyer in Memphis. While I was working for them I was sent to the courthouses and county records offices many times. It is very, very easy to get copies of lawsuits that have been filed with the courts, you only need to go to the office and request a file by the case number, if you don’t have that don’t worry there is a giant book that you can look through where all cases have been registered and you can just scan it and pick a number! Once you have done this you are given a copy of the lawsuit in its entirety, without any information being withheld. So if any personal information about you is in that lawsuit then, well anyone can get it.

Another place to get this information is the county clerks office. I once had to drop off one of the lawyer’s car registration and outside the office were two huge books. One with every car registered with that office by license plate number and one by name. They weren’t even inside the office these were sitting in the hallway where anyone could walk up and get them. Not only did it have the person’s name but their current address as well.

So I find it very funny that the very people, the gov’t, that are creating privacy laws to “protect” us, are some of the worst offenders of breaches of privacy.

Another area that scares me about privacy is all of this family history DNA. There are some laws around DNA protection. One being the GINA (Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act), which only really protects you from being discriminated by for employment and health insurance. It does not protect your privacy and as you can see in this quote it doesn’t even protect you in all areas of insurance. I find it interesting that the three areas were you are likely to need insurance because of a genetic condition, long-term, life and disability are all excluded from this law, but possibly covered by others. This kind of thing is what allows for abuses to happen more easily because it confuses the process.

Federal and military insurance. Lastly, the law does not cover long-term care insurance, life insurance, or disability insurance. Beyond GINA, additional laws and policies do offer other protections against genetic discrimination (see “Genetic Discrimination and Other Laws” page).  (NHGRI, 2017)

What amazes me is that there are tons of people who are applying for these tests, including my own relatives, and they may or may not have considered that they are giving these organizations permission to test their DNA. According to two sites I looked at the DNA is still owned and controlled by you.  I question this because we all know that at any point these organizations can change their user agreements and you have no way to fight that. Also, all of this information is being stored electronically and well all know that there are backups of backups all over the internet so how would you know if your data is protected. I for one use and I know that it isn’t that hard to copy records from one person’s account to another person’s account. So while you may delete the data whose to say someone else doesn’t have it.

Also from their own website:

Note: If you have given your consent to participate in ongoing research efforts and you delete your results, we will stop using information about you in any future research. However, information cannot be withdrawn from studies in progress, completed studies, or published results.

If your data has gone into a study then you have lost control over it!

The second site I found, Family Tree DNA, seems to be run by a university. Which may offer a bit more protection than a private company. But again what happens if these companies are sold, go bankrupt or change their agreements. How are you protected?

Now at no point am I suggesting more ridiculous laws like GDPR, which just cause more issues than they solve. What I am suggesting is that it is time for governments to stop trying to put band-aids on problems after the fact and get some people who understand what is coming and what is possible and have them start working on solutions.



“The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008.” (2017, April 17)National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI),

Going down the Rabbit Hole

Last week we spent our class looking at arguments around who owns the code. This is a very interesting argument and one that I can see both sides. There are the people who say…

“I wrote it, I built it, I spent my time, it was my idea so it is mine.”

Then there are people who say…

“If I buy it I should be able to see how it is made and go in an customise it for my own purposes”

I think that this is a question that has no real answer. One analogy that was made was that if you buy a house but the builder locks the basement and doesn’t give you the key how is that “buying a house”. I can totally see that side but when I purchase a painting, I do not have the rights to all of the sketches, drafts, and ideas that the artist has had around that painting.

But really there is no real answer to these questions because it is a cyclical argument neither side is 100% right or 100% wrong, both are right in some ways and wrong in someways or in some circumstances.


I do think that there is an answer to some of the questions about who owns some of the data that is on the internet. One of the documentaries we watched was about Aaron Swartz who had strong feelings about access to data on the internet. Data that if it were not on the internet would otherwise be free to access.

Personally, I think that these are areas that the internet has huge potential to change for the better. For as long as information has been accessible there have always been limitations. In the early days it was literacy, then came language of print being different from the language of literacy (for example Latin texts), then came access being denied because the data was locked away because it was expensive to make or at least that was the excuse (books being chained to libraries).

These days it is still about access because most ‘public’ data is stored in locations that may be difficult or expensive to get to.  If you can get access to the physical space you may then run into difficulties with permission to copy the data or costs of gaining a copy. I have myself run into this when doing family history research. All of the documents that I wanted were public access if I went to the county courthouse. But once I got there I had to pay something like $.10 a sheet for really, really crappy photocopies of books that were twice as big as the photocopier in the first place!

So the way the internet can help is if the government spends their money digitizing these records so that people can gain access from any location. This sounds like a simple solution. It is actually relatively cheap and in 2018 even simple to accomplish. This is where Aaron Swartz ran into the issue though. While the documents that are in public records are free you still have to pay for them. Yes, you read that right you still have to pay for them.

According to the documentary, the government should only be able to charge what it costs to make the documents public. The reality is that this is a big money business. Just take a look at JSTOR for example which is a non-profit which makes quite a lot of money from allowing users to access documents such as published journal articles. Most of which are free if you can get access to a library that they are housed in.

Going back my personal experience I have been doing family history and all of the documents that I am looking for are public access but only if I want to travel to the National Archives in Washington, DC. Because I cannot physically go there I have to rely on the internet. What I have found is that has a contract with the National Archives, which goes something like this. Since Ancestry is a part of the Church of Latter-day Saints and one of the elements of that church is to do genealogy research, they have a vested interest in archives. So they have contracted with the Archives to scan all documents relating to family histories if they receive sole rights to the digital copies for a period of time and then in theory that data will become publicly accessible via the web.

The issue here is that Ancestry is a publically traded for-profit company that is selling access to public records. Yes, you get more than just access and they probably argue that the extras are the part you are paying for, but let’s face it they are making money off of data that should be free to access.

There are way more things to discuss around data access,  like legal documents (which are a huge breach of privacy, FYI!), government official documents, police records, etc. etc.

There is also the discussion to be had about privacy around these records which maybe I will write a post on at a later date!




Feel free to read some more about some of these ideas and more:

While not about access to data Astroturfing is a problem about the validity of data.

Analog vs Digital Rights

Who owns digital files downloaded from cloud services?

Who owns digital content?

This video is about how to control the data being transmitted by your email.