Education Evolutions #68

The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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

No overarching theme this week. Back to the hodge-podge selection of articles this week. It was even a little trickier this week, as I discovered I hadn’t marked as many as I normally do. I chalk that up to the holiday and the fact that the school year’s close is nigh upon us. Things always get a little tense at the end of second semester and there are a few weeks where almost everything but suffers a bit in an effort to get to the final day. I am sure that many can relate to that.

If there were some kind of theme it might involve the questioning of what and how we know what we think we do, which I start to scratch a bit in response to the first item. It is an itch that has been absorbing a lot of my peripheral thinking recently. It is one of those things that I think as an educator should be a little more central to our everyday work than it probably is, actually.

The choice for “If you read only one article…” is completely up for grabs too this week. It kind of all depends on particular preference since they are all quite a bit different. They are also all pretty similar in length too, so reading all three is far less challenging than it is other weeks. So, give them all a look if you get a chance.

Have a good week as the curtain on this year has begun closing.

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

Why Rich Kids Are So Good at the Marshmallow Test – The Atlantic –  Jessica Mccrory Calarco (8-minute read)

This is a fascinating read for a number of reasons. One, the marshmallow test has been held up as a keystone study in all kinds of ideas about child development. Two, while psychology may be in the midst of “replication crisis” referenced in this article, we all may be finding ourselves in a bit of an epistemological one. Three, standardized test scores have somehow become de facto metrics for anything involving children in this country even when they are as suspect as any test being more carefully scrutinized.

On some level, the marshmallow test is one of the most significant victories of public relations in our time. Since its publishing, it is one of the most repeatedly referenced and used studies around, especially in education. I can’t even count how many classes I have taken in my lifetime where it has been mentioned and practically considered gospel. Yet, these new efforts in the field of psychology force us to questions what we think we know which is almost always a good thing. While I haven’t read the new study, how are standardized tests, with their own deeply skewed results regarding class and wealth, considered by anyone as a valid metric in a study like this or almost any other for that matter?

How Technology Is Changing Visual Art – The New York Times –  The New York Time (6-minute read)

I love this series in The New York Times and have included other installments. I am definitely a sucker for the behind-the-scenes, how-things-are-made pieces, especially when they involve jobs or workflows that already interest me. The whole idea of asking professionals about the tech they use is interesting on its own and a clever concept by the Times to be sure. This one seems a much more organic instance than some of the others, as tech has always profoundly impacted art and how it is created.

One of the cooler things about this piece is how it manages to work on two levels, the specific and the general. I really like how using the development of the one story serves as background for the wider conversation about how Uong uses tech in his work on a daily basis. It provides genuine insight and the pictures used are fantastic in supporting the text of this article. I almost wish that they made short three or four minute videos that accompanied these stroies too. That would be even cooler.

Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018 – Pew Center for Research –  Monica Anderson and Jingjing Jiang (10-minute read)

With the latest findings from Pew arriving recently, this is an almost required entry in a newsletter like this. The findings are not as interesting as I might have liked. They are obviously different from the last major study Pew did with teens but there is not a lot of surprising information here. It seems like the biggest takeaway is that Facebook is not as big a deal with teens. Anyone that spends any significant time with teens would already probably know that. When it comes to platforms teens can be a fickle bunch and wholesale abandon one for another seemingly almost overnight.

Upon closer look, the things I found most interesting is the divide around Facebook in terms of class. Not long ago MySpace appealed to almost the same demographic that is the current strength for Facebook, and we all know how MaySpace endured. Different companies to be sure but interesting connection nonetheless. Also, I wonder what the exact questions were to elicit the responses because I am not sure how many teens think of “platforms” as such. Also, in my experience, teens can be remarkably good at compartmentalizing their tech usage. So, I am not altogether sure that a teen would mention or even think of their usage of YouTube essentially as a de facto search engine. If they were asked about searching, they would likely respond with Google. Yet, the number of kids that default to YouTube when looking for just about anything is pretty significant and I am not sure they think of that as “searching.”

Education Evolutions #67

The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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

This week’s newsletter is the mindfulness issue. It is a topic that certainly has been gaining a lot of attention in recent years and one that has interested me for many more. Consequently, I happen across related articles occasionally. Given the rising awareness, finding pieces across mainstream media is a lot easier of late. If the topic interests you at all, these articles are definitely worth a look. If not, there is still the crossover with tech.

I came across a few related articles recently that were connected in some way and then a reader sent me another piece unaware of how directly connected it already was to some of my other recent readings. It made things fall into place with relative ease. Then it just became a matter of sitting down and pulling it all together.

Apart from that, the holiday weekend threw my normal schedule off a little bit this week. So, apologies for the late arrival. I almost missed this week.

The choice for “If you read only one article…” this week is an easier one. Regardless of any interest in mindful practices, the first piece is the way to go. Have a look at “Siempo’s new app will break your smartphone addiction” even if you do not necessarily struggle with the problem. I am surprised there are not more efforts like this. The degree to which digital devices have the capacity to be customized is an area that has never been fully exploited in my mind, even if the manufacturers create obstacles to users exercising those possibilities. The other two articles have much more meditative focus.

Enjoy the day off.

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

Siempo’s new app will break your smartphone addiction – TechCrunch –  Sarah Perez (8-minute read)

This story came to me courtesy of one of the readers of this newsletter and sort of inspired the theme for this week. I have often included articles about technology’s addictive properties. Interestingly, the solutions most common are all predicated on avoidance. While there is certainly something to be said for that approach, it may not always be the most practical. Plus, there are obvious benefits to technology too. So throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as they say, may not always be the best option. Unfortunately, no iPhone option yet, so I haven’t been able to try it.

What I like about this app is that it allows you to customize your phone with far greater control than comes native to the device. It is a pretty easy and novel way to seize more control for those that struggle with this kind of thing. The preferences can be adjusted to accommodate a less intrusive experience and dulls many of the addictive-inducing features built into many of the apps and elements of the handset. Endorsed by the Center for Humane Technology, which is an organization new to me and worth checking out in its own right, even the story of how the app came out of a hardware effort is kind of fascinating.

Neuroscience shows how dance music and meditation have similar effects – Quartzy –  Darin McFadyen (12-minute read)

This is a fascinating piece that walks through an array of parallels between listening to music and meditation. If you have ever made a connection on your own, this will seem less surprising but just how closely related they are might be. It is also remarkably sourced with a number of linked studies.

Most interesting is just how many similarities there are between the two experiences. McFadyen walks through a number of more direct connections. Beginning with obvious intersections between music and meditation in a more abstract spiritual context, he covers quite a bit of ground, like music’s ability to pull us immediately into the present and potentially Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “flow” state or the cathartic emotional release music can trigger. Considering how important music can be in a student’s life and the clear spread and benefits of mindfulness practice, this provides some great background knowledge. There may even be some creative ways to use music to directly assist the advancement of mindfulness.

You’ve heard of mindfulness, now meet its dynamic young cousin sophrology – The Guardian –  Amy Fleming (8-minute read)

Prior to reading this article, I had never heard of sophrology but it is recognized relaxation method in Europe. It seems to be a Western fusion of a number of Eastern traditions, reframed in a remixed context. It is making inroads in the UK and I can only imagine that it will be a matter of time before it becomes more visible Stateside.

It is hard to get a complete sense of the method and there are certainly is no shortage of alternatives. It is also harder to investigate since there is very little material freely available. Maybe it’s only me but that seems like a red flag but it might be too early to tell. Still, the comparisons between sophrology’s founder Alfonso Caycedo and meditation advocate Jon Kabat-Zinn are encouraging. I would be curious to meet someone that knows more about the method.

Education Evolutions #66

The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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

A bit on the darker side this issue. Sometimes it happens that way, despite efforts to avoid it. Still, these articles shade thematically, to be sure. I just keep hoping that awareness of prevailing ideas and stories might help advance a more enlightened discussion and debate. Avoiding the uncomfortable just seems like a recipe for disaster. Of course, that old idea, “By the time you’ve read this it’s too late,” perpetually gnaws at me too.

I am not sure that there is a single unified theme but the balance of the individual and the collective is definitely in the running. Plus, it keeps on the regular thread of discarding any notion that technology is in any way “neutral, apolitical, or purely virtuous.”

The choice for “If you read only one article…” this week is a tough one. I am inclined to select Escape the echo chamber but it is a quick read. So the next best option is Google’s Selfish Ledger. If nothing else, watch the video. It would be fascinating to hear what people reading this think of that. Obviously, not everyone will think it quite as horrifying as I do. However, I think what scares me more is how much the terms of our technology misappropriates our individual agency without a lot of alternatives.

Hopefully, there is something to interest everyone.

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

The Soul-Crushing Student Essay – The New York Times –  Scott Korb (8-minute read)

The thing that I miss most about being away from the everyday classroom was teaching young writers. Fortunately, I have been able to keep at least a single connection to a course where I get to work with young writers. So many of the points that Korb makes in this opinion piece resonate with me but I would argue educators of all kinds should take heed of this professor’s observations. They are not even the first time I have read or heard many of these sentiments. I could make a strong argument one of the most significant consequences since the era of NCLB began has been a systematic degradation of peculiarity, as Kolb uses it, especially in the realm of writing.

Peculiarity, in life and in writing, is far harder to assess, measure, or rank on a rubric. There is little room for individual insight in situations where everything is standardized and normed. Worse still, the message students intuitively understand in this reality is a concentrated version of the nightmarish middle school desire to be like everyone else, parrot their teachers, or both. They know the bald nail gets beat down. I only wish this piece did not include, “much of what we call good writing cannot be taught,” which I categorically think is nonsense, though there is a difference between art and craft. Still, there is definitely more truth than fiction in this essay.

Google’s Selfish Ledger is an unsettling vision of Silicon Valley social engineering – The Verge –  Vlad Savov (8-minute read)

In the wake of the Google’s Duplex artificial intelligent voice calling demonstration, the discovery of this internal video provides an even more noteworthy view into the company that collects, categorizes, and capitalizes on personal data more than any company in the world. While Google insiders may shrug off the video as a thought experiment, as Savov highlights just how tone-deaf the company seems to be to the ethical implications of their actions and products. Plus, Google removed ‘Don’t Be Evil’ from its code of conduct. So they are really riding a public relations wave.

“I’m sorry, Dave…” I find things like this slightly terrifying. The very fact that a company that has been allowed to gather the amount of information that it does with practically no regulation is dreaming of realities like this is more than unnerving. And it is not just Google either. It is a handful of leviathan tech companies. Yet notions like Google overtaking users goals and eventually providing the targets, not to mention phrases like “topics would likely focus…reflect Google’s values as an organization” is enough to warrant a revision of Dante’s Inferno to include a new level. Yet, people seem more than willing to invite Google and Amazon, among others, even more directly into their homes and private lives with ever greater frequency and little thought of the consequences.

Escape the echo chamber – Aeon –  C Thi Nguyen (20-minute read)

This is definitely a long read but interesting nonetheless. Understanding echo chambers has become necessary knowledge nowadays. Between what seems like a natural predisposition toward susceptibility and algorithmic operations that function without our knowledge or complete awareness, learning a little more about the phenomenon is definitely worth the time it takes to read this piece.

Nguyen outlines and draws distinctions between echo chambers and epistemic bubbles, the latter might even be a bit newer to some. He provides some solid background and relies on landmark works from the field. Exposing the pernicious nature of echo chambers and how easily one can find themselves in one is a first step to avoiding them. While I feel like Rush Limbaugh references seem dated and almost quaint compared to some of the characters out there, this is still an interesting read even if the solutions proposed also seem a bit thin. If you visit the page, you can even have it read to you if you prefer listening although it takes a bit longer.