Education Evolutions #39

IMG_4227 flickr photo by Jemimus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

Another Sunday delivery, a little later than expected. It has been tricky to settle into a regular routine this fall for some reason. Not quite a theme this weeks as much as a collection of disparate things. Each article brings a slightly different take on our ever-growing relationship with the technology in our lives at home, work, and school.

What interests me most are the biggest and most complicated of problems relating to education, technology, and teaching. So many of them are predicated on some impending sense of urgency, usually imagined. Our collective rush to gain some kind of perceived edge or fight the feeling of being left behind drives a lot more change than we sometimes realize. If there is any unifying thread in these articles, perhaps it is to be found in that notion.

So a lot less overt politics this week than last but it is hard to avoid them altogether. Fighting the fallout of truly fake news during an administration that labels any unfavorable news as fake makes the challenge all the more difficult. Plus, how we manage our youngest and most vulnerable to discern fact from fiction, let alone manage their use of access devices is an ongoing, ever-evolving obstacle.

If you read only one, take a look at the first one, How Fiction Becomes Fact on Social Media. There are a number of angles and nuance attempting to be addressed as the issue is explored. It certainly frames the problem as a far more complicated one than we may realize without more serious thought.

Hopefully, you enjoy some of this reading on a slow Sunday evening, especially if you have no interest in the Super Bowl rematch.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

How Fiction Becomes Fact on Social Media  – The New York Times – Benedict Carey (10-minute read)

One of the most interesting elements of this article is that it appears in the Health section of The New York Times. Of course, there is plenty of psychology at play in the article, as it tackles cognitive biases and more aspects related to the brain. Still, things like fake news and social media being health concerns will likely get increasing play going forward.

Beyond that, this piece does reveal some of the complications that contribute to the fake news phenomenon that has nothing to do with bots and ne’er-do-wells leveraging technology. I have advanced some ideas here on how platforms are not neutral. In some instances, we are as much of the problem as the platforms, however.

Perhaps my favorite example is “Merely seeing a news headline multiple times in a news feed makes it seem more credible before it is ever read carefully, even if it’s a fake item being whipped around by friends as a joke.” I am not sure algorithms have much of a sense of humor. Even if they did, is it likely to be all that fun

We Need to Talk About Kids and Smartphones  – Time – Markham Heid (18-minute read)

This article is a sort of follow-up to a piece in The Atlantic which met with some controversy over the summer. It features the same researcher Jean Twenge penned the aforementioned item. There is plenty to interrogate about Twenge’s forthcoming study but it is precisely deep and rigorous questioning that should be at the heart of young people’s use of current connected technologies.

As we have collectively conspired to live more of our lives inside a computer, we have not always considered the consequences with as much enthusiasm. This has never been truer than with regards to our young. The television as a babysitter has long been supplanted by a smart device. I’ve seen iPads strapped to infant car seats – no lie.

Regardless of Twenge’s results, it is much harder to deny what University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine chair of neurology Frances Jensen said, “What this generation is going through right now with technology is a giant experiment, and we don’t know what’s going to happen.” It would be far too easy to dismiss that sentiment with a “Well, that’s always been the case,” kind of response.

The Makings (and Misgivings) of a Statewide Effort to Personalize Learning in Massachusett – EdSurge – Tony Wan (10-minute read)

While this article serves up quite a bit that reads like cheerleading, it is probably more important that educators know about the MAPLE initiative in Massachusetts. It may not have been on as many people’s radar, in fact, but it is an effort that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education couldn’t be more excited about. Many of the quotes included here ring all the right notes but we should all seriously examine exactly what anyone means when they talk about “personalized learning.” Quite often it doesn’t involve a lot of persons, actually.

There is an other-side-to-the-story source, of course, but it is from that pesky teacher’s union. Teachers unions as the chief obstacle to innovation and educational progress is a quite a tired trope. EdSurge is by no means the most unbiased online publication but they are far from the only media outlet that cannot let go of falling for that point of view.

Interestingly, the fact that LearnLaunch does not “recommend solutions” is hardly enough of a response to concerns about the “public/private partnership” in play here. LearnLaunch need not ever make a single recommendation to a school. Yet, they are getting the best market research available for free to pass on to the start-ups in their incubator program. Those companies can recommend all kinds of solutions with acutely aware knowledge and contacts. That notion seemed to elude Wan and all the favorable sources.

Education Evolutions #38

IMG_4227 flickr photo by Jemimus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

This week found me pecking away to prepare this for everyone on Sunday again. I am starting to feel like it just happens to be a weekend effort rather than a specific day one. As much as I try to distribute this consistently on the same day, I have not been as successful as I would like. So, I think I am just going to consider it a weekend edition from now on and stop sweating it.

A theme definitely emerged again this week, as I scrolled through all that comes across my radar and travels across the internets. The engagement of our attention and how we use it with regard to our interaction with technology rose to the surface during the selection process. These articles also had a stronger political tone to them as well. Rather than soften or avoid it, I figured I would just embrace it.

My hope for this newsletter has always been to inspire people to think more deeply about things related to education, technology, and teaching. It is awfully hard for politics, on some level, not to work its way into any worthwhile exploration of those issues. Yet, that’s not all bad. I do make the effort to look for things that challenge me as much as confirm my own thoughts.

These are all a bit similar in length. If you read only one, take a look at the second one, Google and Facebook Failed Us. It raises the most interesting implications of our complicitness in what and how we consume information in the digital age.

Hopefully, this collection will spark some thought, maybe even a sustained reaction. There is no question that there is plenty of flint in these items.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

Technology is destroying the most important asset in your life – Quartz – Zat Rana (8-minute read)

There are reasons why mindfulness is gaining so much momentum in the popular zeitgeist, especially in education. As technology expands its role in every aspect of our lives a greater need for attending to our attention becomes ever more critical. While mindfulness is just one practice that can help in focusing consciousness and attention, it is the need to do so more than the practice that requires addressing. The others Rana mentions here are pretty good ones.

Explicit teaching of focusing consciousness and attention is not something that we have necessarily done a  good job within education. I would argue that this failure is more central to slower adoption of education technology by many teachers than lazy Luddite resistance. It taps into a fear that teachers cannot put their finger on exactly but nevertheless feel in a visceral way. Teachers are held increasingly accountable while simultaneously trying to make productive use of technology that, in some cases, becomes the ultimate distraction device.

Of course complicating the problem is that adults are just as likely to struggle in these areas as students. Attending to our attention has become a core challenge of modern life and is not likely to go away anytime soon. It is not a new problem either but it may never have been quite as difficult as it is now.

Google and Facebook Failed Us – The Atlantic – Alexis C Madrigal (8-minute read)

This article presents what many might consider a pretty radical proposition, that the tech giants that currently have the greatest grip on the currency of information are falling down on the job. The case study comes on the heels of the Las Vegas horror. Yet, taking a more critical, even jaundiced eye to the titans of Silicon Valley is quickly becoming fashionable, albeit long overdue. There is a dawning realization that algorithms and artificial intelligence may not be good enough – ever. They certainly are not good enough now and I would suggest that the notion that they ever will be is profoundly flawed.

Madrigal is right when writing, “As news consumers, we can say this: It does not have to be like this.” We can go one step further and push beyond news to far more areas of what we consume. The question is do we have the will to do so. It is no doubt increasingly harder when “You Are Already Living Inside a Computer.” Again, Madrigal makes another critical point that can be extrapolated far beyond news when stating, “More humans must be added to the decision-making process, and the sooner the better.” The greatest potential danger of a techtopia, in my mind, is not just the dehumanizing effect but the possible lack of humanity altogether.

Why The 1 Percent Needs Google and Facebook – Washington Monthly – Jonathan Taplin (7-minute read)

Continuing the trend started in the previous article, this one builds on some of the darker, cultural undercurrents that may be at play and making it even more challenging to direct our attention and demand more from our technology and information sources. Taplin makes a heady case that we are possibly at a pivotal point in our history, one that we have seen before but perhaps not with the same power imbalance.

When the companies that dominate the Internet claim to be nothing but mere platforms, they abdicate responsibility for what content, values, and propaganda their platforms propagate. The pretense that platforms are in some way inherently neutral no longer really has much weight. They may have the potential to be neutral but only in as much as we humanly engage actively in making them so. The deceptive notion of emotionless, rational algorithms alone preserve neutrality is myth.

While Taplin’s argument in this piece also can be considered radical by some, it is hard to deny the power of the claim that the “Internet as a propaganda machine that really changed the game in 2016.” His other claims, though reasonably well documented, might even have the whiff of conspiracy theory. The very idea of a common good or public services, including education, do seem to be under some attack. What’s more, we do seem to have arrived at a kind of reckoning, culturally, politically, and technologically, especially in the West.

Then again, perhaps we are in a perpetual state of reckoning, lest we forget that all decent democratic efforts require a healthy antagonism to continue flourishing and keep all sides honest. Thus, we should always beware of efforts to suppress or avoid those necessary conflicts. Ugly though they may be, they might just be one of the most necessary points of our focused and direct attention.

Education Evolutions #37

IMG_4227 flickr photo by Jemimus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

Well, another week with a delayed delivery. Despite the best of my hopes of getting this out on Saturday morning, my children’s soccer schedule again conspired against me. Add a visitor for the holiday weekend and time moved a bit more fluidly than normal

No real theme for the week, more a smattering of different items that build on broader themes that I have returned to often in the newsletter. The importance of art, our propensity to favor profits over people, and going gradeless are all areas that have gotten play here in previous issues.

The first item is long but well worth the click. Filled with exceptional multimedia elements and fascinating content, I suspect it will be in the mix for awards later in the year even. It is an impressive piece of digital journalism. Take the time to dig into it. You will not be disappointed. Pius, it came to me from one of you which makes it an even cooler inclusion.

So hopefully, this collection will give you some thoughtful enjoyment over the holiday. Enjoy the extended weekend, if you have it.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

This is Your Brain on ArtThe Washington Post – Sarah L. Kaufman (12-minute read)
This one comes courtesy of a reader of this newsletter and everyone should look at if for no other reason than to see an exquisite example of the kind of online publishing that the best newspapers, like The Washington Post, New York Times, and The Guardian can create. It is beautiful and a first class digital reading experience.

From a content experience, this piece highlights a host of things that we might have intuitively known but begins to introduce the scientific explanation and backing. The phenomenological investigation of the arts is nothing new but this article provides a window into some of the latest discoveries.

Perhaps most clever is how Swan Lake is used as a leitmotif through the whole feature, demonstrating the very neural turn-ons being highlighted. The whole work is as impressive as it is informative. If you only look at one article from this newsletter this week, this is the one.

Platforms Over PeopleA Long View on Education blog – Benjamin Doxtdator (7-minute read)
I have featured blogposts by Doxtador before in this newsletter because he often writes the kind of posts I wish that I had written. This is one of those posts. In a response to reading an article in MIT Technology Review, he keys in on one of the biggest challenges associated with artificial intelligence, the political one. It is the one that may get steamrolled in the rush for leverage and profits.

Looking at Accenture, Doxtador asks precisely the kinds of questions that we should always be asking, including “What returns will flow back to [citizens] instead of benefitting the corporation?” It would make a lot more sense to me if politicians began asking that rather than seemingly starting with how taxpayers can give the company a sweetheart deal. Companies will almost always leave if they think that they can get a better deal.

I am certainly more aligned with the idea that we should be mounting a resistance to surveillance capitalism which is a horse that has already left the barn and put in some distance before the chase. I have my doubts that it is even remotely likely to happen and the idea of nationalizing anything is definitely anathema to our current cultural climate. Still, referencing some spot-on observations by Noam Chomsky always catches my eye too.

The Gradeless Garden: Why natural, neutral, and nothing is not enough Identity, Education, and Power on Medium – Arthur Chiaravalli (7-minute read)
I have been highlighting some gradeless articles this year. The whole movement is interesting to me for a host of reasons. Yet, this post is one of the most honest and thoughtful examinations on the topic. Chiaravelli’s garden analogy is an apt one but it is the recognition that destroying-one-system-allows-another-one-to-emerge that is rarely addressed, if ever, by those advocating going gradeless.

Despite the best of intentions, academic spaces are never neutral spaces. They cannot be. As Chiaravelli understands, “our classrooms, our schools, our students, ourselves” are all contested ground, whether we like it or not. Furthermore, that ground is being increasingly contested with greater frequency and insidiousness.

What I like most of all about this is the interrogation at the heart of the discussion and realization that inclusion, like most of what we do in teaching is a process of constant construction. The work is so rarely ever done. The results cannot ultimately be controlled but the process and the building effort can continue, reach, grow, and improve.