Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Education Technology Website Review: GENi revolution (Financial Education)

This blog post is a review of the free Personal Finance website, GENi revolution. Really, it is...but first you get my back-story.

Technology integration is my passion, but it is not what led me to become an educator. I entered the world of high finance in 1993, becoming a licensed stock broker shortly after my 22 birthday, and didn't leave the industry until 2005. During that time I had many positions, from quoter (someone who give stock quotes over the phone) to a investment specialist/relationship manager working exclusively with clients investing a million dollars + with the firm. I taught many different seminars, specializing in educational seminars for women. I thrilled in teaching my clients about WHY they needed to invest and why my recommendations were sound. I did not believe in just telling them what to do and expecting them to follow my instructions with no questions asked (that is not a wise investment strategy). I LOVED the educational aspects of my career, but I HATED sales, with a passion. Especially when my firm would tell me to push a particular product or service, even when I did not feel a client needed it. Finally, after much soul searching and prayer, I came to the conclusion that this was no longer where I needed to be, and that if I truly wanted to affect the financial futures of others, I needed to start in the classroom, before they could go into debt or waste 20 years of not investing in their 401(k). So, I left the world of finance and became a teacher.

I was very fortunate. I did not have to complete an educational degree program before I could get into the classroom. Because of my prior experience in one of a select group of careers, and the fact that I live in Arizona, I qualified for a provisional Career & Technical Education certificate. I had to prove extensive experience in finance to get my certificate. Then I had to get 2 years of teaching experience, pass certain AEPA exams, complete several college classes in CTE education, and get a favorable review to allow me to get a regular certificate. I don't know if you know how hard it is to convince a school to hire you, with no formal teaching experience (not even student teaching) and not being in an education program at a university. All I had was a certificate that said I could teach business and marketing. Thank goodness computers falls under that, because I finally found a school trying to fill a recently vacated computer teacher position 2 days before school started. Long story short, I was hired and  I soon convinced them of the importance of personal finance education, especially for our particular student population. The course is now required to graduate from our school, and I couldn't be happier!

I actually use a paid program from Knowledge Matters to supplement my teaching of Personal Finance, but I recently came across GENi revolution, created by The Council for Economic Education. This is a free online game that teaches students key financial concepts and I LOVE it! I will be supplementing all future courses with "missions" from this game. The quick and dirty is that it requires critical thinking, applied business math, inquiry, and online research skills. And it's a GAME! That's FREE! It has 15 missions covering investing, budgeting, savings, career choice, post-secondary education decisions, financial planing, and economic outlook. Did I mention? It's FREE!

As an educator, you have the ability to add students, create teams, create classes, and monitor progress through a very simple interface.

If you notice, students can play a desktop or mobile version of GENi. But there is also two additional games: Murktide Invasion and Beyond the Mission which allows students to dig even further into more advanced financial concepts. I will leave the discussion of those two games to a later date.

The interface for playing the game is actually very intuitive and easy to work with (BTW, you can also play). 

Students start with the Situation Map to choose a mission. Missions do not have to be done in order. The focus for each mission is listed below:

Based on the way I teach my Personal Finance course, I would group all the missions involving investing together and have students work through them in the order that compliments my teaching plans. You have that flexibility with this game.

Every mission has a briefing that gives students their objective. The missions require students to view short, informational videos about the subject (found in the backpack), use a regular calculator as well as various financial calculators, and answer questions throughout the mission to check for understanding. They receive immediate feedback and recommendations for next steps if they are struggling with the questions.

The game feels like you are solving a mystery and requires students to find the information needed to answer questions, so students are challenged to think critically. But the students are also engaged and enjoy playing the game.

This game is a great learning tool for any teacher interested in teaching any or all of these financial concepts. There is a book (Supplemental Materials) that you can purchase for use in the classroom to complement the game, but it is not required to be able to play the game successfully. The audio and video component of instructions, along with the students ability to replay as many times needed, allows for immediate differentiated learning for all students. The game also allows those students with stronger skills to move ahead at their own speed.  It challenges students to think, requires the use of math skills, and allows them to analyze information and make a decision based on that information. All around, it is a great learning tool.

So, I hope you will check out GENi revolution. It is free and easy to access.  Our students are graduating HS without the basic money skills they need to survive in this world. Including some form of financial education in your social studies, econ, math, business, etc. class will better prepare your students to be successful in the real world.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Bit Torrents, Peer2Peer File Sharing, and Copyright Infringement

I am a teacher. I teach, and am passionate about, Digital Citizenship. Part of what I teach is about illegally downloading materials. I actually just finished teaching this part of the curriculum to my current class. One of my students is my own 18 year old son. I have also discussed this with all of my children for years. So, they know right from wrong. Despite that, we received the following email from our internet provider this morning:

The email went on to list all the details of the illegally downloaded game, when, where, and how it was downloaded, and advised us that further behaviour like this would result in us losing our internet. My youngest son had downloaded an illegal copy of Jak and Daxter. He tried to deny it at first. Then I told him I had received an email with all the details. So now he tried to justify it. His argument was sound, and one that, while I agree with his reasoning, is not recognized by the courts. But, unfortunately, it is an argument that many believe will protect them from civil suit.

His argument was this. He had bought the disk a few years ago, when the game first came out. However, because games on CDs are not very durable, his game was no longer readable by the game system. He looked for a used copy at GameStop and tried to find a way to buy it online, but there was nothing available. He felt that since he had legally purchased the game originally, but could no longer play it, it was okay for him to download a free copy. He even tried to argue that this was his digital backup (which actually is a valid argument that I will discuss later). The issue here is that the courts have not recognized original legal ownership as a valid excuse for downloading through a Bit Torrent  or peer2peer file sharing site. In addition, anytime you download from bit torrent or P2P sites, you risk infecting your computer with viruses. 

Note: bit torrent is the way files are shared through P2P, but I list them separately, as some sites call themselves bit torrent and some call themselves P2P. I want to make sure that students are aware that BOTH can be illegal

Based on what I have read, the argument about digital backup (Copyright FAQ) applies when you have a DVD or a CD that you make a copy of on your computer. Producers of music and videos use to try and prevent you from copying this material, stating it was to prevent piracy. Since then, it has been ruled that you have a legal right to make a backup (or archive) copy of media that you have purchased on a disk. In this case, it does not apply. If he had made a copy from his original disk, he would have been within his rights. But downloading an illegal copy from the internet is not protected under this rule.

I am not a lawyer, but I do pay attention to this because I teach it. I do not necessarily agree with all of the laws, but it is not my place to argue the laws in the classroom. It is my job to teach the laws the way they apply, advise my students that it is always better to err on the side of caution, and if they don't like the laws, to go about changing them the right way.

As educators and parents, it is our job to share this information with the youth in our care. Google copyright infringement penalties sometime and see just how seriously the RIAA takes this and how many lives have been ruined over a few songs downloaded from a bit torrent or P2P site. Sharing copyrighted material is NOT allowed without the express permission of the copyright holder. In our digital world, where everything is immediately available, it is hard for many people to comprehend that just because it is on the internet does not mean it is legal. Most people would never walk into a store and steal a DVD, CD, or game. But when it's on the internet, the lines between right and wrong get fuzzy. Copyright is not a tangible thing in the digital world. Since we cannot hold it in our hands, it is harder for some people to make the connection with a real item to be sold for the benefit of the creator of that product. It is not always an easy topic to teach or comprehend (as shown by my son's challenges). But we must continue to teach our students that when someone creates something, it is theirs. They own it, and we do not have the right to access it and share out without fair compensation to the creator.

Below are some good websites to help teach this concept:

Respect Copyrights written to appeal to those who have received a take down or copyright notice.

RIAA Tools for Parents website by the people who actually pursue copyright infringers.

Don't Be a Douche Yes, Jack Black says douche. But this is an entertaining way to explain why copyright law exists. 

BBC Story on Tracking Illegal Downloads this shows how tracking illegal downloaders has become an entire industry that is taken very seriously.

Copyright Alert System article on CNET about how internet providers are tracking illegal downloads.

Center for Media & Social Impact a great resource for all things copyright and fair use. Intended for college students, but the lessons work well with my HS students.

Minnesota Woman Fined $220,000 for Illegal Downloads I have followed this story for years, she should have taken the original ruling of $30,000.

Nintendo Copyright FAQ right from the horses mouth. How Nintendo feels about piracy.

Ignorance of the law does not release the violator of those laws from the responsibility of their actions. With all of the articles, media, and sites out there dedicated to informing the public about copyright laws and an equal number dedicated to telling people how to get around the system, claiming ignorance would be pretty hard. We must do our best to teach our students and children what the laws are, but more importantly, why they exist and how illegal downloads hurt everyone.