When building modern web applications, it can be daunting to do it alone. We take all of the help we can get!

Handling payments, sending automated emails, and creating the infrastructure to serve a worldwide audience is hard, so we have worked with a handful of trusted third-party services to help power our platform.

We wanted to share some of our favorite services. We hope this will illuminate what Personally Identifiable Information or PII (digital information about you) is shared and why. If you want to read more about our data practices and the other services we use, check out this longer explanation of how we handle data security.

 

DigitalOcean

DigitalOcean is a leading cloud computing platform that we use to host our application and database servers. They help us support learners around the world with reliability and fast load times.

Though DigitalOcean hosts our databases that contain Personally Identifiable Information from the platform, we take several measures to keep the data secure, including end-to-end encryption and private networking.

DigitalOcean has taken steps to comply with GDPR that you can read about here.

 

Stripe

We get a lot of questions about how we handle credit card payments securely. We never store credit card information or any other information that can be used to create payments. Instead, we utilize Stripe — one of the leading credit card processors for small businesses globally.

When we let Stripe take care of your payments, we offload all of the sensitive data to them, including your real name, email address, and credit card number. Stripe has their own rigorous standards to ensure that they handle your payment data securely. They have also been a leader in documenting best practices for GDPR.

 

Postmark

Postmark helps us send automated emails like password resets, weekly course summaries, and @mentions from the platform. They’re run by an awesome company called Wildbit that, like us, has never taken investment.

When they send you an email, we make sure they have as little Personally Identifiable Information as possible — they usually only have your name and email address.

You may be interested in this awesome resource Postmark created for smaller companies getting ready for GDPR.

 

Working with trusted partners focused on user security is a must for us here at TechChange. What third party services does your organization work with?

 

Image pictured here from https://www.digitalocean.com/

One of the biggest promises of online learning is the potential to create truly data-driven learning experiences. But this same potential also creates ethical grey areas around the acceptable uses of learners’ data inside and outside of the learning experience. With the implementation of GDPR on May 25th, this grey area is increasingly legal too.

As a company, we have always taken the ethical side of education very seriously. While we are a registered for-profit company, we are also a B corporation and will always put our social mission before profit. This has made it easy for us to treat learner data correctly.

As part of our effort to be compliant with GDPR and transparent to our users, I wanted to share some of the principles we live by when handling data:

1. Require as little Personally Identifiable Information as possible.

To take a course with us, we require you to register an account with us. At that point, you must provide us with the following information:

  • Your name (you could use a fake name)
  • Your email address (you could use a throwaway account)
  • A username
  • A password

You will also have to opt in to accept our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. You can optionally choose to receive marketing emails from us.

We never require users to provide us with demographic information or other such data without their explicit consent. We strive to make it clear that providing such data is not required for completion of a course.

2. Your data is your data.

While we use data from our learners in aggregate to better identify valuable resources, learning patterns, and generally improve our course experience, we ultimately realize that any data a learner generates is their data. While we already let learners export their own data by emailing us at support@techchange.org, we are working on automating that process so that learners can export that data whenever they want.

Whereas many companies treat the data of its users as their property to use how they want, we understand that we are privileged to be able to learn from that data and improve our own course experience.

This means we will never sell your data and will always make sure you have the ability to access your own data.

3. Keep your data safe.

To us, data security isn’t just a box to check, but rather a fundamental underpinning to our business. We will always do our best to make sure your data is safe by following industry standards for data security and constantly looking to improve our own practices.

These are just a few of the ways we work to keep data safe:

  • If we share your data with a third party, it is solely for the purpose of providing a certain service and we only share the bare minimum information possible. We will always vet those third parties for their own safety measures. You can read more about some of the third parties we use here.
  • We provide direct access to databases and servers only to essential staff members.
  • We encrypt our databases so that, even if a server is compromised, your data is still out of reach.
  • We don’t keep all of our data in one place. Even if one of our databases is compromised, this does not mean all data is compromised.

If we ever find out that there has been a data breach, we will contact our learners as soon as possible and take all available steps to remedy the situation.

Want to learn more? We have an additional resource here that is available if you want to learn more about how we handle data at TechChange!

All of the top seeds survived the first round unscathed. In beating their competition, CAPS LOCK CRAZY, Russian Radio Appeal, The New Cartographers, and The Thorough Beards continued the streak of top seeds never losing to the bottom seed. But not all of the 2-seeds were as lucky. Here’s the bracket as of now:

Battle of the Bands - Sweet 16

 

We have more exciting matchups this week with heavyweights CAPS LOCK CRAZY and Hierarchy of Fonts slugging it out. But, first, here are 5 things we learned from the Round of 32:

  1. There is no statistical correlation between Zombies and winning.
    Two band names heavily featured zombies, but only one made it through to the Sweet Sixteen. Though zombies may be all of the rage these days, zombies alone do not seem to be enough to win.

  2. Dollar Signs in Band Names Are So 2008.
    Just like the dollar sign in Ke$ha, Ca$h Money Mug$ is out. Perhaps Ca$h Money Mug$ should never have made the band name wall in the first place, but it seems more likely that putting special characters in your band name just isn’t that cool.

  3. Puns are the best.
    So far, the most dominant band names have involved wordplay. Schroedinger’s Server, Beauty School Valedictorian, The Thorough Beards, and The New Cartographers. All winners, and all punny.

  4. Ready, Aim, Advocate: Overrated or overmatched?
    Despite being one of the strongest two seeds, Ready, Aim, Advocate only barely made the Sweet Sixteen. Maybe the band name isn’t as strong as initially believed or perhaps It’s A Different Noodle was drastically underseeded. Either way, the Selection Committee needs to reevaluate their reliance on the RBI (Really Bad Index) as a valuable indicator of potential tournament performance.

  5. Nobody correctly predicted every matchup.
    That’s right. After only 16 matchups, not a single perfect bracket exists! Unfortunately, nobody is going to win 1 Billion TechPoints this year from the coffers of TechChange CEO & President Nick Martin, but there are still more amazing matchups coming up!

Ready for the Sweet 16? Vote below.

We’re continuing to the next round of our Battle of the Band Names from last week’s Round of 32! We’re parodying the currently-on-going NCAA’s Basketball Tournament to choose the best of the band names we’ve come up with over the last year (all written on a whiteboard in our old office). We’re asking you for help in choosing the best band name!

It was a long Sunday night for the TechChange Selection Committee. After everybody else was long asleep, brackets printed, hours of analysis on ESPN consumed, and even the angry tweet of Nate Silver had lost its glimmer, the Selection Committee left the nerd attic with a bracket that will make March Madness look like child’s play.

There aren’t a billion dollars online for a perfect bracket. Nobody will emerge victorious with a ring. This won’t affect anybody’s lottery pick.

This is simply for glory.

Over the past year, we have amassed an incredible number of potential band names in our office. With every random utterance of an unexpectedly catchy phrase, somebody yells “Band name!” And the ingenious, or just lucky, speaker gets the enviable task of adding the new band name to the already cluttered wall–basking for a moment in the limelight.

In the spirit of March Madness, we selected the best of the best and placed them in a seeded* bracket. In the end, our highly scientific process created the bracket below.

battle-of-the-bands-bracket

Help us choose the winner of the Battle of the Band Names by casting your votes below! Each week, we will release a new set of matchups (and an updated bracket) until we find our winner. The winner will become the official band name of the Official TechChange Band.**

The stakes have never been higher.

Make your voice heard.

* We believe our Selection Committee is as qualified, if not more qualified, than the NCAA’s Selection Committee. We would have seeded Louisville much higher.
** We are currently looking for talented guitarists, bass guitarists, drummers, keyboardists, accordionists, singers, songwriters, and woodblock players for our band.

This year, Starbucks announced that it would make its internet speed in coffee shops 10 times faster by switching from AT&T to Google. Though it has not revealed which 7,000 locations around the U.S. would receive the new Google internet first, I was lucky enough to experience it my hometown of Wichita, Kansas over the holidays. As I hopped on the Starbucks Wifi, I was greeted by a welcome page covered in Google logos. In a confused, still uncaffeinated stupor, I dared to try a speed test.

And it is awesome.

I mean, not just good enough for email, but good enough to watch Netflix (even ultra HD!), stream music, or, um, actually do work for a change and run one of our global live video events on Google Hangouts on Air.

Those familiar with Google Fiber may not be surprised that Kansas has some of the early adopters of the new WiFi. After all, our state capitol did change its name to Google for a month.

But what is surpising is how much this signals a shift. Back in 2008, Starbucks ditched T-Mobile for AT&T Wi-Fi, which showed a movement away from T-Mobile “hotspots” to the incentivization of AT&T data plans for smartphones. Then, Starbucks turned to free internet to remain current with competitors.

Now, we’re seeing a new shift as Google has made huge dents in both the smartphone and laptop market. Android has captured 81% of smartphone market share, while Google Chromebooks account for 21% of laptop sales in 2013. Not to mention the intimidating foray of Fiber into internet connectivity.

According to Wikipedia, Starbucks has 20,891 stores in 62 countries, and that’s growing daily. The comparison here might not be to AT&T and T-Mobile for mobile Wi-Fi access, but rather to when AT&T and Apple partnered to launch the iPhone. Bandwidth like this in a public place may not just threaten other carriers and internet providers, but even coworking spaces and office environments.

Sorry, playwrights and up-and-coming writers. Collaborating nerds are going to take over the local Starbucks. With speeds like this, Starbucks may even disrupt coworking spaces like 1776, which essentially rent seats to small teams with great bandwidth and good support.

Of course, this experience was in Kansas. As I returned to DC to find that our office Comcast had gone out again, I made my way over to Starbucks. Where I barely get 0.6 Mb/sec download speeds.

I had to remember: We’re not in Kansas anymore.

But perhaps soon in Starbucks, we might as well be.

Written by Jennifer Estevez.

Check out our entry here: http://kng.ht/1erYBej

Have you heard of the #NewsChallenge? It’s a funding source for innovative ideas managed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Since 2007 the Knight Foundation has run various challenges and given away over $75 million to over 400 winners. In August the Knight Foundation launched its latest #NewsChallenge on the theme of Health asking, how can we harness data and information for the health of communities.

When the health theme was announced we immediately realized it would be the perfect time to present a new and fun idea we had been kicking around the TechChange offices for a while, a Massively Open Online Conference (MOOCon). Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which enroll thousands for a single class, are rapidly growing in popularity. Coursera, Edx and Udacity offer MOOCs from big names in education including Harvard, MIT  and most recently the Wharton School of Business. Even Google is getting in the game with MOOC.org. However, as this Time article points out, MOOCs face a major problem; very low completion rates. While thousands sign-up, only a small fraction go onto finish, and even then it can be difficult to measure the learning impact of those who enroll.

That’s what got us thinking. If a MOOC has great engagement from the start, but limps to a finish, why not just limit the experience to those exciting first few days? In this way, a conference adaptation would have a lot of potential. The concept of the MOOCon is still in its infancy. Hewlett Packard is the founding partner of one of the first ever instances, the Global STEMx Education Conference, and it starts today (September 19th). The MOOCon idea is incredibly inclusionary because it can offer a quality learning opportunity without the high costs of travel or admission.

TechChange’s mHealth course is incredibly popular, so it became the natural topic for our MOOCon idea. The online conference would run for three days, non-stop, and be open to participation by anyone, anywhere with a connection to the world wide web. Those that join our MOOCon would participate from their computers at work or home in a highly interactive environment.  Participants would have the opportunity to hear from mHealth experts, network with other participants in forums and chat rooms, and engage in public health data simulations. We think this proposal gets to the heart of the challenge,  creating a public-facing innovation that educates and ignites conversation about how mobile phones can harness data and information for the health of our communities.

What do you think of the concept? Have any ideas for the MOOCon or want to put in your opinion? For the next three days all the #Newschallenge entries are open for feedback. Checkout out our Entry and over 600 others at: https://www.newschallenge.org/challenge/healthdata/feedback/massively-open-online-conference-on-mhealth

By Jennifer Estevez, co-facilitator for TC108a. Learn more about the course here.

For an intrapreneur, the ability to innovate and quickly solve problems within their institution is one of the strongest tools in their arsenal. Companies are looking to hire creative and innovative team members in the hopes of not becoming stale or falling behind more flexible and agile start-ups. To stay ahead of the competition,senior managers are creating roles for innovation specialists or advisors, experts who have previously used creative thinking to launch successful projects. However, in labeling enterprising individuals as “innovators”, these managers may doom intrapreneurs from succeeding before they even start.

Here are 6 reasons why:

1. As an official innovator you are forced to take risks in the spotlight.

As the person who is looked upon to dazzle with your new creative solutions all eyes are on every move you make. But as real innovators know, the only way to create real change is to take risks, and with those risks often comes the potential for failure. Being under the spotlight can magnify failures and make innovators more risk averse— influencing their ability to create the type of disruption needed for real organizational change.

2. There is a human bias against new ideas.

Although ‘innovation’ has become an increasingly popular buzzword, the overwhelming majority of people maintain a strong, innate bias against new ideas—paradoxically, even those ideas they claim to want. For a work to be truly creative, it has to depart from the norm; that very departure makes many people uneasy. A 2011 Cornell study on the subject found the following:

  • Creative ideas are by definition novel, and novelty can trigger feelings of uncertainty that make most people uncomfortable.
  • Objective evidence shoring up the validity of a creative proposal does not motivate people to accept it.
  • Anti-creativity bias is so subtle that people are unaware of it, which can interfere with their ability to recognize a creative idea.

Which brings us right to our third point…

3. Co-workers comfortable with the status-quo will be suspicious.

Let’s face it, many people have the attitude, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” These people will never understand the need for change or why they would even need to hire someone to that end. Innovative ideas can displace colleagues or at the very least create more work for them. Any time the word innovation is thrown out as a solution to a problem, it may mean a new way of doing business that will put jobs in jeopardy. Not everyone is adaptable in the workplace and this fear can cause distrust, or negative perceptions, of innovators.

4. You’ll have permission to do everything but the ability to do nothing.

"I'll be happy to give you innovative thinking. What are the guidelines?" says the employee to his boss.

As an innovator you have free reign to be as creative as possible and you’ll even have the resources to back that up. What you won’t necessarily have is buy-in from everyone at your organization, or even your senior management when you start developing your new ideas. Without buy-in, success will be difficult and you’ll likely spend most of your time convincing others of your great ideas instead of implementing them.

5. Collaboration between Innovation Specialists is difficult.

In an ecosystem where innovation is part of the culture and ideas may come from anywhere, innovators can create collaborative projects where everyone gains. However, when ‘innovation specialists’ are scattered throughout the organization and asked to work together, the competition for results does not lend itself to inclusive innovation, but can instead fragment the most creative forces within the organization.

6. Your work could turn into an Innovation Showcase.

The scope that technology can now reach is so exciting and sexy that it can produce a constant desire for new ideas. When a hyper-innovation environment is created, it becomes difficult for innovators to get the support they need for long-term sustainability of novel ideas. Senior managers who don’t truly understand the process of innovation may demand a never-ending supply of ideas instead of real or lasting change for the organization.

Google’s relatively new service, Hangouts On Air, provides a powerful tool for live streaming videos to a mass audience. In an effort to streamline how we run live events, we have experimented with Hangouts On Air for our last few efforts with promising results.

In the past, we have relied on a service provided by OpenTok with success. We were able to stream events live over the internet with low bandwidth usage and a powerful API that allowed for simple embedding and integration into our online learning platform. We remain advocates of OpenTok and will continue to use their services for certain events. However, we have found Google Hangout offers many of the same services while simultaneously making the process a little more straightforward and instantly archived. The potential for Google Hangout On Air to further synchronous, online education via live events is tremendous. Here’s the breakdown:

So, what does Google Hangout On Air let us do that’s so great?

  1. We can embed it like a YouTube video into our site. In the Hangout On Air interface, once you have initiated the Hangout On Air, we can click a button and pull up an embed code. We can throw it onto any page we want and it will automatically start playing for anybody on the page.
  2. Google archives for us. You could say we are hoarders here at TechChange. For every course, we like to keep track of every resource we offer, what works and what doesn’t, and how people engage with us. Not only that, but we want to make sure we can provide resources equally to all students. Our greatest fear is losing a recording of a live event. Any Hangout On Air we host is instantly converted to a YouTube video that we can add to the course as an archive. Our current system requires us to screen capture part of the webpage, which we then have to process and upload to YouTube. Needless to say, Hangouts On Air saves us a substantial amount of manpower.
  3. Screen share is integrated. Though we love working with the Screenleap API, we’ve been hard pressed to find a reliable solution for capturing both our screen shares and our live video streams at the same time. With Google Hangouts on Air, archiving is automatic and includes video, audio, and screen share in the same archive. We still plan on using Screenleap extensively for tool demos, support, and others (see Hangouts on Air drawbacks 1 and 2 below), but being able to easily capture these presentations is a huge benefit.

Then why not use it for everything?

  1. The Hangout On Air API does not allow for deep integration. Although Hangout On Air is pretty powerful out of the box, we have minimal flexibility in modifying how it works and are always at the mercy of Google. There is nowhere to request direct support and asking for a new feature is about as useful as asking Fox to renew Firefly. Using Screenleap and OpenTok, we are able to allow participants and experts to publish to a live session with one click of a button. This type of deep integration is incredibly powerful, which is why we will still use both of these services extensively, especially in cases when recording an archive is less important (such as office hours, live simulations, etc).
  2. Hangouts require a Google+ account and plugin installation. Not all of our presenters have Google+ accounts. Some people want to stay off the social media grid, others come from countries where Google is inaccessible. For those who simply want to avoid Google+ we provide them access to extra accounts. Additionally, an extra plugin is required to run Hangouts. Our presenters hail from all over the globe, so when working with presenters who may have minimal internet connection or have to work from an internet café where installation of software isn’t allowed, this can be a deal breaker.
  3. Google Hangouts have a delay. Though we think we are safe from any possible wardrobe malfunctions, we cannot prevent an approximately 30 second to one minute delay when live streaming with Google Hangouts On Air. This means that our synchronous event is a little asynchronous. When our students ask questions, they are usually asking them a minute after we have already moved to a new topic. The facilitator must deftly (or not so deftly) return the conversation to the previous topic. In general this works fine, but there are times when it can be jarring.

Through experimenting, testing, and iterating, we have become pretty comfortable running Hangouts On Air as our main live streaming service when capturing an archive is vital. We hope that, as we keep using it, we will find even better ways of integrating and using it to further our online education model. Beyond that, though, we’re hoping to get a clearer answer to the question, How well does this work with mobile?

We have been able, with shaky results, to both watch the Hangouts On Air from a smartphone and broadcast a presenter too. It’s not quite stable enough for us to use, but if Google can make the process smoother, this would substantially improve our live events offering on mobile phones.

By Kate Pawelczyk, UNICEF – Cross-posted from Voices Of Youth

Maps can represent many things – adventure, discovery, a journey, a return home or even a sense of order – but now they are also representing youth empowerment.

In 2011 UNICEF staff from New York and Rio de Janeiro, a team of digital innovators, government officials, community leaders and other partners came together on a mission: to train young people to create maps which depicted the social and environmental risks in their surroundings.

Two years, 12 communities and two countries later, this process of training youth to map and participate in the improvement of their neighborhoods is Voices of Youth Maps, a UNICEF initiative which promotes the use of digital mapping to empower young people.

Voices of Youth Maps is now looking for up to 50 tech-savvy individuals from around the world who are ready to help test the newest feature of the digital mapping technology: a system that allows users to draw attention to the most urgent issues they have mapped.

Creating maps, promoting change

There is no better way to see the potential of digital mapping than in Morro dos Prazeres, a neighborhood in the heart of the Santa Teresa area of Rio de Janeiro. In 2011 the first training of young digital mappers took place in Prazeres with UNICEF, the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science and the MIT Mobile Experience Lab. Since that first training, 50 youth mappers in Prazeres have collected information on social and environmental risks with a specially designed mobile and web app called UNICEF-GIS.

UNICEF used the maps the young people created to work with the local municipal government to find and fix the most life-threatening issues documented by the young mappers. Spurred by the work of the mappers the community also decided to address the issue of garbage, which was captured on the maps, launching a community-based Reciclação program for recycling and garbage disposal.

Mapping successes bring a new challenge

In 2012, expansion of digital mapping in Rio and in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, revealed a new challenge. With so many reports coming in, those responsible for assessing the digital maps could no longer quickly see which reported issues were most important. A life-threatening landslide risk near a school demanded more urgent attention than a pothole in the road; a way to rank reports by urgency was needed.

To help create a solution, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation provided UNICEF with a grant from its Prototype Fund to test ideas on how to rank the reports and improve the mapping technology. Working with an organization called Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases and Disasters, and with technical advice from MIT, UNICEF developed its Urgency Rank Prototype.

Now the prototype is complete, and Voices of Youth Maps needs your help to test it. During a month-long program the selected testers will learn about how the Urgency Rank works, upload real reports to a map and provide feedback on the system.

If you are between 18 and 25 years old, have access to a computer and the Internet, and have an interest in environmental issues you can apply to test the Urgency Rank Prototype by filling out this form.

Applicants should submit their forms by 30 July 2013.

Note to applicants: The selection process will not be on a first-come, first-served basis. In selecting the participants we will strive to have representation from as many regions of the world as possible, as well as gender balance.

Since the Urgency Rank system is a prototype reports that are submitted will not be acted upon or reported to any authorities.

By Nicole Emmett, graduate student, George Washington University

Imagine you’re a citizen in a country where over half of the population is under the age of 18 and few are over the age of 55. You enter the job market along with 400,000 other qualified youths, only to learn that you’re all competing for a meager 9,000 jobs. The prospects don’t look good. You’re frustrated. There are so many other problems your family and community are facing. A job and an income would help tremendously. You just want to be heard but you can’t find a voice. If only there was a way to be a part of the conversation with your local community, its leaders, and perhaps even Members of Parliament…

The country you were just imagining is real. Uganda has the world’s youngest population with the highest rate of youth unemployment at 62% in 2012. And that’s not the only problem the country is facing. Ugandans also worry about disease, adequate food supply, clean drinking water, health, and education among many, many other issues. But how can aid agencies or the government determine which of these many issues are important to the people they serve? Are the issues determined by demographics such as location, age, or gender? That’s where uReport comes in.

uReport is an SMS-based system that allows Ugandans (specifically youth) to speak out about what’s happening in their community. By texting the word JOIN to 8500 and providing additional information such as home district, age, and gender, any Ugandan can become a uReporter! UNICEF Uganda created the platform using the free, open-sourced software RapidSMS which allows the aid agency to quickly and easily push out information and polling questions to uReporters via SMS.

In the first year, 89,000 Ugandans became uReporters. Today there are more than 200,000! uReporters receive weekly SMS messages with information on topics such as female genital mutilation, disease awareness, safe water, early marriage, education, and health. In return, uReporters respond to survey questions with a simple yes or no, and have the option to provide more details via text. uReporters provide invaluable information to UNICEF, who then can share the information with other aid agencies and the Ugandan government, improving service delivery across the country.

UNICEF and other agencies have also begun to use uReport as an extension of their monitoring and evaluation system. uReport is a simple, inexpensive, and effective way to get real-time feedback on projects in the field and to ensure that aid programs are being targeted correctly. And because users provide demographic information at the time of registration, UNICEF can dissect the data and decide where to concentrate their resources and programs. This is so important at a time where every aid agency is working with limited resources and must get the most bang for their buck.

uReport has proven so successful in its first two years that even the Ugandan Parliament has joined in! Oleru Hude Abason, a Member of Parliament from the Yumbe district, was one of the first MPs to join uReport as a way to keep in touch with her constituents needs. Parliament has even created their own version of uReport – U Speak – to conduct constituent outreach. While it may have not been the original intent of the application, uReporters are now able to interact with government officials and hold them accountable like never before.

The success of uReport has been astounding. It’s innovation for information, improved service delivery, and real-time policy creation and has the potential to do so much more. It is Uganda’s next killer app!