As a small town mayor and a teacher, I am an absolute realist. I live in a world of budget constraints, committees and compromise. I live in a complex world that is filled with data, with the realities of sometimes difficult lives and with constantly competing priorities.
But I’m also an idealist. This brings out the other side of my teaching hat where I want the very best for the kids I work with and it also shows up in my time as a Roman Catholic lay minister in my local parish church. As an idealist, I like to work in small ways at building a better world. A world that is more fair and just and a world where there is potential for change in all of our lives.
Over the past few months I’ve become increasingly concerned at revelations over online privacy. While I was never naive enough to believe that what I was doing online was completely private, I was surprised to learn about the scale of those operations. As a realist, I struggle to understand the need for control over this kind of data. As an idealist, I worry about the long term consequences of these programs and question their morality.
As one person I can’t change the world, but I can make changes in my own life.
1.) I’ve moved both of my websites to new servers and hosts outside of the US. My wesbsites (this blog and ideahive.org, my classroom community) have been hosted in the US with Bluehost ever since I made the move to self hosting and working with WordPress. Bluehost is a good host with great customer service who helped me get back on my feet several times after those technical bumps in the road that we all have. But in the end, I wanted to move my sites to a place where the laws are written more carefully to respect the creation of digital works. So over the past several weeks I’ve moved both of these sites to a hosting company called 1984 (irony fully intended) in Iceland. As a Canadian, Iceland may be a strange choice, but this has to do with my idealist side. Since their economic crash in 2008, Iceland has enacted the IMMI (Iceland Modern Media Initiative), which are the strongest set of laws in the world protecting the freedom of digital information and communication. My websites are innocuous. The blog of a classroom teacher in a small remote Canadian community and a classroom community built for middle school students. There is nothing needing whistleblower or dissident protection. But I’ve decided to support this initiative of modern laws and protections by bringing my business to a hosting company in Iceland. Consider it my $70 contribution to the cause.
2.) I’ve switched browsers from Chrome to Firefox. Chrome is fast and slick and I moved to it pretty quickly once it got moving. But I wanted to support a company working on open source initiatives and education. I wanted a browser that was easier to use in a do-not-track mode. I used to be a fan of Firefox when it first came out and I have been very pleased with it since I’ve moved back. I haven’t found any difference in speed between it and Chrome at all. It is stable and solid. Mozilla is also a company that is pushing for the web to be more open and transparent. They are pushing initiatives such as Open Badges and Webmakers. As an educator, these are things I can get behind.
3.) I’ve moved (mostly) from using Google to DuckDuckGo. This search engine has received a lot of press about their do-not-track initiatives, and, as with any business, they are running with it. I don’t blame them. Take the good publicity when you can. For the most part, DuckDuckGo is a powerful tool that searches up any information that I need as fast as I can get it from Google. This is true of basic stuff. I still head back to Google occasionally when I am looking for a specific piece of news or an image, but for most everything else, I’m breaking the habit.
4.) I’ve reaffirmed my belief in the power of open source projects. As I’ve written and spoken about at conferences previously, much of educational technology’s history was founded on open source projects. In the past few years I think we’ve lost much of that and given away control over many of our tools. There is no doubt that many corporations have designed powerful software for use in education. But I believe that we have given up a lot of control over both our own and our student’s data as a result. As well, we have also lost control over the design and capabilities of our learning environments. I think we are moving towards closed off proprietary silos. In my mind, education and learning are about sharing our perspectives and connecting with others. Closed platforms only let us see other people like us who are willing to pay the same bills we are.
I would like to say that I have plans in my classroom to leave all of the closed spaces behind. But I can’t. We aren’t there yet. There is no good open source substitute for a Skype call or a Google Hangout. Google docs (which is a cornerstone of collaboration in my classroom) doesn’t have an open source alternate. But I will keep searching for these things and work with open tools as a first choice. I’m not alone in this. Since the beginning of the NSA / Snowden scandal, the use of cloud computing facilities is down over 10% and some people are predicting a $35 billion loss to the cloud computing industry.
5.) Finally, I am leaving Gmail behind. I’ve been on gmail for years. I was one of the people who needed an invite to score up one of the coveted accounts at the beginning. But just as I set up my own hosting account to run my websites from, I’ve decided to move my email to the same space.
My new main email address will be: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve decided to preserve the prefix (spelling error and all) and keep the story.
My gmail address is still functioning and will forward email to this new account. I’m sure it will take some time to get everything moved in that direction. It’s a process.
I live in the real world and tackle complex, real problems. But I also see the need for us to make careful choices in how we work and what we do. I’m making some choices and voting with my feet and my wallet.