Planning Your Digital Afterlife

My most recent article has been posted over on the OSC IB Blogs site: Planning Your Digital Afterlife I've re-posted it below. Visit the OSC-IB Blogs site and explore the posts on other areas of interest for students and for teachers


Do you own a portable phone? tablet? computer? Who do you/would you trust with the passwords, pins, puks, for the physical machines?

Do you know how many online accounts do you have?  Who do you/would you trust with the passwords, security questions' answers, login names?

mobile phone and coffee cupIf you were to die, what would happen to your digital legacy? Consider your e-commerce and banking  accounts, stored value accounts (Bitcoin wallet, Pay-Pal),  social media, email, cloud-backup and gaming accounts, accounts containing your intellectual property (writing, coding, digital art, etc), accounts holding virtual goods of real or sentimental value (family history, genealogy, land records, etc, and accounts or programs containing your health information. Then consider the contents of your computer, phone, tablet, etc., and the machines themselves: How do you access them? Fingerprint recognition?  Facial or eye recognition? Passwords and security questions?  What about file encryption? How would someone access and take care of all this at your request after your death?

It is very common to hire or appoint an executor,  solicitor, notary or lawyer to oversee the disposition of our material goods after our death. If you are an adult, you have probably made a will in order to help your family and friends sort out the paperwork after you (eventually, someday) die. If you have minor children, you will want to leave instructions as to how they will be cared for should you no longer be there.  An interesting list of reasons for writing a will can be found at this linkIt is more than likely that you need to hire or appoint someone do to the same for your digital "goods", or explicitly outline your wishes for the disposition of the digital side of your life in your "regular" will.

In an article on The ConversationRachel Connor writes, "In our already busy lives, does tending to our online existence give us one more thing to do? Perhaps so. But it’s about taking responsibility for our own stuff. If we don’t make the decisions about what to keep or discard – whether actual or online – then ultimately others will need to. And if we don’t leave clear directions about where to find our digital content, it makes things tougher for everyone." (link)

The BBC Radio 4 program "We need to talk about death" episode My Digital legacy  is a good introduction to this idea: "As we spend an ever increasing amount of time online, much of our lives, both professional and personal, have found their way onto the digital sphere. So what happens to it all when we die? Should we view our digital assets much like our physical possessions? And, if so, how should we manage our digital legacies?"

Most people think of death as something that comes after "old age". Not something you need to think about right now. But what if.....no matter how old you are,  you have an very serious accident? You die suddenly of an unsuspected illness or condition?  Who will be able to access your digital devices and accounts, in order to reset the devices,  delete the accounts (or memorialize them) download the contents (photos, music, writing, etc.) and realize any monetary value that may be involved.

This video raises some of the issues involved:

This book advertisement summarizes the considerations:

This video from the Berkeley School of Information is 5 years old (2013), an hour long, and US-oriented in the discussion of legalities, but the issues raised by the speakers help us extend our understanding of what happens to our data when we die, and to consider how we want to manage it. (A transcript of Stephen Wu's talk is at this link).

On The Next Advisor blog, Michael Osakwe writes that "Preparing for (death) is important for both your family’s financial health as well as your personal legacy. While Facebook or Twitter are likely to be the last things on your mind if you’re terminally ill or seriously injured, these online accounts have far reaching implications that will last even after you’re gone. Given how much we share online, these accounts could be invaluable to friends and family, as their continued existence allows them to stay close to us after we’ve died through the various photos, videos or thoughts we’ve shared." ..."Many experts now see online accounts as a part of our “digital inheritance,” an intangible, but important, aspect of our estate that we ought to include in our wills."  Read the rest of his article for advice about how to prepare, and what you should know about sharing your digital inheritance.

Your digital life may not, as yet, be as complicated as those described above, but you can probably organize it into the following categories, described in Sandi S. Varnado,  Your Digital Footprint Left Behind at Death: An Illustration of Technology Leaving the Law Behind, 74 La. L. Rev. (2014).
A. The Digital Items Used to Access Other Digital Items, for example e-mail accounts: Your email could be the master key to locating and accessing many other digital items. Your address book and calendar may be  tied to your email account.
B. Digital Items of Sentimental Value, for example collections and social media accounts: Collections of photographs and videos, documents, books, music, and other collections that can be stored either on a computer or through an online account.
C. Digital Items of a Financial Nature, for example accounts used to manage, spend, or earn money.

The following web sites give specific details to help you make plans your digital inheritance:
CNet In depth coverage: Logging-Out, Death in the digital age 
Your Digital Inheritance: What Happens to Your Social Media Accounts When You Die?
You’re Going To Die Someday. Who Do You Trust With All Your Passwords?
Digital Wills
Digital Life after Death – When it comes to your Will, have you thought about your Post Mortem Digital Assets?
Facebook Legacy Contact: Who Can Access Your Account When You Die?
How to Automatically Delete Your Facebook Account After You Die
Inactive Account Manager: What Happens to Your Google Accounts When You Die?
How to Close Twitter Account When User Dies
How to Delete Instagram Account When Someone Dies

Thinking about your relationship to your data and digital legacy may cause you to pay more attention to it (copyright), to who has access to it (privacy), to the image of you it  leaves on line (digital fluency, literacy, responsibility, citizenship, etc.)  All good for discussion in any IB class!
The image at the top of this post is in the public domain, obtained from pixabay.com

MOOCs, Artificial Intelligence, and Models of Thinking

My most recent article has been posted over on the OSC IB Blogs site: MOOCs, Artificial Intelligence, and Models of Thinking  I've re-posted it below. Visit the OSC-IB Blogs site and explore the posts on other areas of interest for students and for teachers


A little background reading for this post:

First, a quick Wikipedia definition of MOOC, in case some of you have been in a universe far far away for the last 10 or so years: "A massive open online course is an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as filmed lectures, readings, and problem sets, many MOOCs provide interactive user forums to support community interactions among students, professors, and teaching assistants (TAs). MOOCs are a recent and widely researched development in distance education which were first introduced in 2006 and emerged as a popular mode of learning in 2012." to see some of the courses offered, go to Open Culture's "1300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities" web page.

Next, a quick overview of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in modern life. Here's a quick collection of ways you might be experiencing AI in 2017: Smart vehicles - self driving cars will be available in the near future; driverless busses are already in operation.  Perhaps your car already has an AI parking system? Surveillance - AI can be trained to take input from security cameras and warn human security officers to investigate further. Fraud services - Financial, computer, and other services use AI to detect unusual activity on your account to block potential fraud. Have you been asked to authorize a financial transaction, or informed that your email account was signed into on another device?  Writing, essays, news - AI is being used to write simple stories, like financial news summaries, sports recaps, property descriptions, and other data-driven stories.

Customer Service - Have you used "live chat" for customer support on a web site?  This is one of the more ubiquitous applications of AI today! Many of these chat bots are automated responders, but some are able to extract information from the site and present it to you on request.  Video Games - many modern games are written with performance based modifiers involved. Have you played a game with a memory of your interactions and objectives?  Predictive Purchasing  - Does a merchant offer you coupons, rewards or special deals based on your purchasing history? Do any of your computer apps offer you recommendations for radio, music or movies?  Smart homes - Do you have any management systems in your home which learn from your behaviour, and automatically take action, for instance, turning down the heat at night?  Virtual assistants - Do you make use of Siri, Cortana, or Alexa?  Do you use Google maps to find the quickest way for you to get from A to B?  Have you flown on a commercial flight that uses autopilot for takeoff and landing?  Does your email program include an efficient spam filter? Social Media - Do you use a site that can recognize and tag faces of your friends, and personalize your news feed, offering you targeted advertisements? To read much more, see Wikipedia's AI page.

The first MOOC I signed up for was Harvard's CS50, David Malan's 2012 enormously successful online Introduction to Computer Science course. It is one of the 50 most popular MOOCs offered to date. You can find the original course at this link on the Harvard site, and the updated course at this link at the EdX site.  The course is "Harvard University's introduction to the intellectual enterprises of computer science and the art of programming for majors and non-majors alike, with or without prior programming experience. An entry-level course taught by David J. Malan, CS50x teaches students how to think algorithmically and solve problems efficiently. Topics include abstraction, algorithms, data structures, encapsulation, resource management, security, software engineering, and web development. Languages include C, Python, SQL, and JavaScript plus CSS and HTML. Problem sets inspired by real-world domains of biology, cryptography, finance, forensics, and gaming. As of Fall 2016, the on-campus version of CS50x, CS50, was Harvard's largest course."

A post on Open Culture in May 2017 alerted me to another course I plan to take, Artificial Intelligence, offered by MIT.  "This course introduces students to the basic knowledge representation, problem solving, and learning methods of artificial intelligence. Upon completion of 6.034, students should be able to develop intelligent systems by assembling solutions to concrete computational problems; understand the role of knowledge representation, problem solving, and learning in intelligent-system engineering; and appreciate the role of problem solving, vision, and language in understanding human intelligence from a computational perspective."

If you read my previous posts about AI ( Animating Still LifeTransforming the meaning of evidence and truth ) you won't be surprised at my interest in the role AI is playing in our perception of truth and fact. I think I need to understand AI a little better.

Near the beginning of the video below,  Prof. Winston introduces the course, saying "Well, it must have something to do with thinking. So let's start up here, a definition of artificial intelligence, by saying that it's about thinking, whatever that is. My definition of artificial intelligence has to be rather broad. So we're going to say it's not only about thinking. It's also about perception, and it's about action. And if this were a philosophy class, then I'd stop right there and just say, in this subject we're going to talk about problems involving thinking, perception, and action...

"But this is not a philosophy class. It's an engineering school class. It's an MIT class. So we need more than that. And therefore we're going to talk about models that are targeted at thinking, perception, and action...That's what we do at MIT. We build the models using differential equations. We build models using probabilities. We build models using physical and computational simulations. Whatever we do, we build models. Even in humanities class, MIT approach is to make models that we can use to explain the past, predict the future, understand the subject, and control the world.

"That's what MIT is about. And that's what this subject is about, too. And now, our models are models of thinking. So you might say, if I take this class will I get smarter?  And the answer is yes. You will get smarter. Because you'll have better models of your own thinking, not just the subject matter of the subject, but better models of your own thinking. So models targeted at thinking, perception, and action..." The transcripts of the MIT videos are at this link.

The group that brought you the fake faces I wrote about in Transforming the meaning of evidence and truth  Nivdia, this month (December 2017) has revealed that they have developed "an unsupervised learning method for computers which allows for sweeping changes to video content it’s fed. By using the new method, they were able to produce startling results." (link) The system can change day into night, winter into summer, and house cats into cheetahs and cougars, Corgis into German Shepherds and Huskies, with minimal training materials. The Nivdia white paper is available at this link and a summary is in this post at The Verge. All the videos that accompany the paper are at this link.

I made the image below with 3 simple programs on my Mac: a web browser, Seahorse and ComicLife. The landscape is found here, the face is a screen shot from this page. You can probably tell that I made the composite image, but would you identify the face and landscape as being computer generated?

Why Cite?

My most recent article has been posted over on the OSC IB Blogs site:  Why Cite?  I've re-posted it below. Visit the OSC-IB Blogs site and explore the posts on other areas of interest for students and for teachers


I want to share an interesting research report with you, which I learned about from IB ÜberLibrarian John Royce's blog, Honesty, honestly... in a post titled WHYs before the event posted on 6 November 2017, Royce introduces us to a paper by Allison Hosier (of the University of Albany, SUNY) published in the Communication in Information Literacy (CIL) Vol 9, No 2 (2015),  Teaching information literacy through “un-research” .

In the Abstract, Hosier writes:
"Students who write essays on research topics in which no outside sources are cited and where accuracy is treated as negotiable should generally not expect to receive good grades, especially in an information literacy course. However, asking students to do just this was the first step in the “un-research project,” a twist on the familiar annotated bibliography assignment that was intended to guide students away from “satisficing” with their choice of sources and toward a better understanding of scholarship as a conversation. The project was implemented as part of a credit-bearing course in spring 2014 with promising results, including a more thoughtful choice of sources on students’ part. With some fine-tuning, the un-research project can offer an effective alternative to the traditional annotated bibliography assignment and can be adapted for a variety of instructional situations."

and in the Conclusion:

"The un-research project led to promising changes in the quality of students’ work with regard to their ability to evaluate sources and think of scholarship as a conversation. Moving away from assignments that compel students to treat the sources they find as items on a checklist, with little or no relationship to the end product, can help them value finding and using sources that meet specific rhetorical needs. The un-research project is a step in this direction. "

I urge you to download and read Hosier's paper, and to think about using some of the learning experiences she describes yourself, with your own students, no matter what subject you teach.

In his blog post, Royce considers Hosier's project in more detail, and quotes other sections of the paper:  "...in their research projects, many students often seemed to treat all information as equal; the quality or credibility of the source was not a factor in deciding whether or not to use information or ideas found...This came across in an annotated bibliography exercise,  where “Essentially meaningless comments such as, “This source is good for my research because it relates to my topic,” and “This is a good source because it comes from the library,” were common”. These students seemed to have little appreciation of how the information or ideas affected the student’s own thinking or might be used in furthering arguments or conversation."

The un-research consisted of asking students to write a short essay, but
  • Not to do any research.
  • Not to cite any sources.
  • Not to use any quotes.
  • Not to worry (much) about accuracy.
Then, they were asked to
  • Choose one source that supports a point made in the original un-research essay. Explain how the source supports the original point.
  • Choose one source that adds a new piece of information to the original essay. Explain how this new piece of information would affect the original work.
  • Choose one source that reveals an inaccuracy in the original essay or that challenges its point of view. Explain how this source would be incorporated  into the essay.
  • Choose a quote from one source that would enhance the essay. Explain how the quote would be used in a revised draft of the essay.
Royce writes, "This transformed the exercise. No longer were students just looking for information, they were looking for information with intent, looking for relevant information.  They were beginning to appreciate how to build on what was already known or thought and that they might need to engage in conversation (or argument) in support of their own thoughts.  They appreciated that, without citations, the information and ideas given in their original essays was of little value because the accuracy of the content could not be directly trusted or verified...It is worth noting that there is not a single use of the P-word in the whole paper, no mention of academic honesty.  It is all about academic writing and scholarship, about the purpose of academic writing.  Academic writing is not about showing off what we know. It’s about contributing to the conversation."

IB students always have an essay or assessment hovering on the horizon, and their writing is expected to be academic. This includes citing sources!  How will they know a "good", "appropriate" source when they meet one, in print or on the internet?

This video from the McMaster Libraries might help:

This handful of pages from the University of California at Santa Cruz Library also gives guidelines.

The IB guide, Effective citing and referencing (2014), gives guidance to "members of the International Baccalaureate (IB) community in understanding the IB’s expectations with regards to referencing the ideas, words, or work of other people when producing an original document or piece of work."

On page 2, "Why Cite?" lists reasons for citation:

"Proper citation is a key element in academic scholarship and intellectual exchange. When we cite we:
  • show respect for the work of others
  • help a reader to distinguish our work from the work of others who have contributed to our work
  • give the reader the opportunity to check the validity of our use of other people’s work
  • give the reader the opportunity to follow up our references, out of interest
  • show and receive proper credit for our research process
  • demonstrate that we are able to use reliable sources and critically assess them to support our work
  • establish the credibility and authority of our knowledge and ideas
  • demonstrate that we are able to draw our own conclusions
  • share the blame (if we get it wrong)."
Let's add another built point with Royce's and Hosier's understanding about academic writing: "When we cite, we  contribute to the academic conversation."

Image: "School" flickr photo by CollegeDegrees360 https://flickr.com/photos/83633410@N07/7658288734 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license