Press Your Luck – No Whammy, No Whammy: How a Game Show from the 80’s Got Our District Moving in the Right Direction for Data Privacy and Protection

If you read the title above and your mind instantly wanders to the corny animation of Whammy and Sammy stealing all the money from contestants on what was the most technically advanced game show in 1983, your mind works like mine and you are probably wondering what a game show has to do with creating a Trusted Learning Environment(TLE).  Like many of you reading this post, I knew my district was taking several steps to ensure we protected the information we had collected.  We only collected what we needed, we had a robust firewall, we had hired a good network team, we had an authenticated wireless network, and - although most of us didn’t know it well – we threw the acronym FERPA out there from time to time when it came to sharing information about our students.  There was obviously more to it, but all in all, nothing bad had happened and we were doing just fine as a district. 
 
We had gotten by with a less than stellar strategy: hope.  We simply hoped nothing bad would happen that we would undoubtedly react to the best we could.  We were not taking crucial preemptive steps to ensure privacy and protections.  We had our oars in the water, but we were all rowing in different directions at different speeds.  With the ever-evolving landscape of security threats and information protection, it became more and more evident to me that “hope was not a strategy.”
 
Hope was not going to train our staff and students, hope was not going to read privacy policies, hope was not going to negotiate contracts from a data protection perspective.  We simply needed something more, but what was it that we needed?
 
This brings me back to the game show.  Michael Larson, an ice cream delivery man from Ohio, took the same “hope is not a strategy” approach after watching other contestants on Press Your Luck:  simply hope to avoid a whammy to win, “big bucks.”  The game, if you have never seen it, consists of an electronic board with 18 shuffling electronic tiles of money and whammies.  If you land on money, you collect.  If you land on a whammy, you lose your money and your turn.  Larson started to video record every episode and repeatedly play them until he eventually found a pattern in which tiles #4 and #8 always had big dollar amounts and extra spins, never a whammy.  He taught himself how to consistently land on those two tiles.  He then used what was left of his savings to buy a plane ticket to Los Angeles to try out for the show.  He went to California with a strategy other than hope.  
 
At the time of filming, the most money ever won on a game show was around $36,000.  Michael Larson with his preparation and strategy walked away with over $110,000 in cash and prizes.  Larson knew hope was not a strategy and he did everything he could to make sure he was ready for anything that came his way on the show.  He would eventually take over 40 consecutive turns on the board without hitting a whammy, shattering the previous record of 8.  At first, CBS thought Larson had cheated and refused to pay up but, after review, realized he had simply put in the work and beat what they thought was a foolproof system. 
 
The lesson from Press Your Luck mirrors all of us we journey through the digital realm and create a learning environment that is safe, secure and trusted by our students, staff, and community of stakeholders.  We can hope or we can prepare. 
 
Turns out, the blueprints for preparation have already been developed with CoSN’s Trusted Learning Environment initiative.  I knew the trajectory we needed to take, I knew we had to start with step one with this strategy.   We had to create urgency around data privacy and protection with key decision makers and those on the front lines.  Luckily, I had a great story to tell about Michael Larson and a game plan for how we would accomplish our goals using CoSN’s Trusted Learning Environment.  
 
To learn more about the TLE visit, http://trustedlearning.org.
 
Dan Layton joined Zionsville Community Schools as a science teacher in 2005 and taught Biology, Genetics/Biotechnology, and Advanced Placement Biology. He left the classroom in 2012 to become an administrator and has been the Chief Technology Officer at Zionsville Community Schools for 3 years.  In addition to these educational roles, he has also taught graduate level statistics courses at the University of Indianapolis.  Dan firmly believes in the massive potential of our youth to not only be prepared for the “real world” but to be prepared to make the “real world” a better place through their ability to generate ideas, see those ideas to fruition and to defend the worth of those ideas.

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