Education Evolutions #40


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 finds a series of items that are far less about technology and more about individual experiences in education, from the view of higher ed professor, K-12 teacher, and disenfranchised student. Each offers a different window into fundamental elements of learning and literacy. They are also primarily reflective in nature.

Perhaps I am simply in a reflective mood. There were some other pieces about technology that almost made the cut but these three pieces seemed to talk to one another, in a way, as I read them. Hopefully, that will resonate with some of you too. None of them is particularly long. So taking a look at all of them is not too much trouble.

Also, these pieces are a bit more upbeat, which is good medicine as the days seem ever shorter and the weather gets cold and wet. Some positive reflection can do us all some good.

If you read only one, take a look at the first one, Why I Don’t Grade. The list of terms associated with grading reads like a glossary with thoughtful commentary.

Hopefully, you enjoy these readings on a wet, autumnal Sunday afternoon.


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

Why I Don’t Grade – Digital Pedagogy, Critical Edtech, and Public Humanities – Jesse Stommel (11-minute read)

This is definitely not the first item I have shared about going gradeless but it might be the piece I wished I had written myself. I have chronicled some of my issues with grading students within these 40 newsletters, although it has been in bits and pieces. This post shares Stommel’s fairly overall approach and it is pretty insightful for its length.

Just reading through the thoughts on buzzwords associated with grades is enough to invite some contemplation. The ease with which he skewers some of the absolute silliness that is used to justify grades is impressive. One of my favorites is the first one on learning outcomes and just how “strange” it is to pre-determine what students will learn. How can we honestly expect students to value learning all that much if they don’t have at least some say in what the goal is?

Beyond that, I have been a proponent of self-assessment almost as long as I have been a teacher. However, students rarely arrive with the skill or the understanding of how to do it. In fact, there are quite a few adults that struggle with this. Helping students with this kind of effort actually proves to be one of the most teachable, always evolving and emergent. While Stommel is in higher education, not K12, everything in this post connects to all educators, regardless of level.

I’ve Been Thinking – edifiedlistener – Sherri Spelic (6-minute read)

This is a lovely chronicle of one individual’s journey of self-reflection and assessment. Also, it beautifully points out just how unfinished that process will always be. Spelic is a curious and thoughtful educator that can serve as an excellent example of a teacher that has sought to expand their own knowledge and practice in this new digital era. She has built a network of some pretty savvy thinkers too.

I particularly like her focus on writing as a way to think, learn, and understand. I know I am an English teacher but there may be no better way to do those three things than through writing. Yet, school has kind of hijacked the practice of writing almost exclusively for assessment or more precisely evaluation. Then we wonder why students hate doing it so much.

Here, Spelic writes to document just a part of her story but a part that invites others to do the same. Her reflection serves as an example of what she thinks, how she has continued to learn, and the many ways that her understanding continues to grow.

How a kid who didn’t read a book until he was 17 grew up to become a literary star – The Washington Post – Nora Krug (8-minute read)

This story is another journey of sorts, even though it is being reported more than shared directly. The first part of this is a story that is far more common than we would like to admit. I have lost count of how many students I have encountered who tell me they have never read an entire book, usually said with a sense of pride. Reynolds’ work might speak to them better than I could.

it is so easy to forget how difficult it can be for some youth to truly see themselves in the media they are asked to consume in school. This forgetting is even easier when working with fairly homogeneous student populations. Yet, regardless of context, youth of all kinds can struggle to identify with characters and points of view that are too far removed from their own. Opportunities to begin with themselves and then build on that can be too few. Moreover, I humbly submit, this fact can slow students’ ability to empathize and abstract more widely.

I have to admit I was not at all familiar with Reynolds’ work until I recognized one of my kids just checked out one of his more recent books in preparation for a book club at our public library. The timing couldn’t have been better to take a closer look.

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.