Education Evolutions Newsletter #21


sas-ipad flickr photo by zandwacht shared under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

Education Evolutions:
Select Readings on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

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

  • Impersonal PersonalizationCurmudgucation Blog – Peter Greene  (3 minute read)
    In this dark scenario, Peter Greene paints the picture of personalization which is one of the next waves of edtech and edreform. The term “personalization” means different things to different people. It really depends on who you ask. Most often it looks and sounds a lot like what Greene explains upon a deeper investigation that cuts through all the hyperbole and promises. However, it is something everyone needs to learn a little something about because it is coming in some form or another. Rhode Island has already made serious top-down efforts to push this and Massachusetts has already begun preparing to advance it across the state with efforts like MAPLE and more. Not every effort towards personalization is awful but a whole lot of them are some variation on an adaptive, algorithmic assessment agony perpetrated on kids. Greene’s acerbic wit on the topic is sound regardless.

  • 5 Radically Different Approaches to Technology in SchoolsThe Huffington Post – Lynn Perkins  (7 minute read)
    This might be a slight oversimplification but it does provide a nice high altitude survey of some major technology efforts that are being tried across the country. Notice the first one, A Fully Personalized Curriculum, especially after the article above. AltSchool is just one of a handful of systems that are advocating this approach. At the minute, personalization technology efforts have the strongest foothold in charter schools. Of course, STEM continues to be a viable approach for anchoring technology and is regularly being combined with a number of other trends like design thinking and makerspaces. Despite the Google focus being articulated in the Collaborative Learning section that is often paired with Project Based Learning (PBL) too. Promoting Equality sounds like a great approach but there is mounting evidence that edtech efforts are accomplishing quite the opposite. Last, what might be most ironic about the No-Tech Perspective is how popular it is in places like Silicon Valley, especially at schools where titans of the tech industry decide to send their kids.

  • The IKEA Effect in EducationMy Island View blog – Tom Whitby  (10 minute read)
    “Caring doesn’t scale, and scaling doesn’t care” is an aphorism occasionally voiced around edtech circles by some of the more insightful proponents, although probably not enough. Education companies are forever chasing scale. It is where so much boxed curricula is designed and distributed, even better if it involves technology. Yet, so few of the things that really impact learning, especially personal, as opposed to personalized, learning are all that easy to scale. Whitby’s blogpost uses a clever turn of phrase to capture what is almost the diametric opposite from the worst kind of personalization Peter Greene showcases. Even though the metaphor uses IKEA, when some assembly required, customization or do-it-yourself phrasing might be better fit for purpose, it puts the person at the center of any personalization not technology, When framed as Whitby writes, technology can serve as an amplifier for the best kind of personal learning, the kind that requires genuine craft and workmanship by human beings for other human beings.

As always, thanks for supporting this newsletter.

Education Evolutions Newsletter #20


sas-ipad flickr photo by zandwacht shared under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

Education Evolutions:
Select Readings on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

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

  • The Essential Selfishness of School ChoiceGadfly on the Wall – Steven Singer  (10 minute read)
    This blogpost is not new and I am surprised that I did not include it earlier. This might be the best explanation of school choice I have ever seen. The single line, “You took your slice, and now the rest of the pie is ruined. No one else can take a whole piece. Your choice has limited everyone else’s.” cuts to the core of precisely the kind of “choice” that will become advocated with increasing frequency now that Betsy DeVos has ascended to head the federal Department of Education. What’s more, so much of the recent talk about “choice” advances as if there has never been any which is complete rubbish. Parents have always had options and Singer does a good job of explaining them, as well as the problems associated with the current bunch. The “choice” we will see advocated is the worst kind of aspirational con job, peddling the false idea that people will somehow be able to take the tax dollars associated with their child to pay for the kind of elite private schools that people like DeVos and other political operatives sent her children too.
  • How Playing With Math Helps Teachers Better Empathize With StudentsKQED MindShiftKatrina Schwartz  (10 minute read)
    While this title is a little misleading, this article highlights some of the best kind of professional development. It is about a K through college kind of atmosphere that brings together like-minded educators interested in learning more. Math Teachers’ Circles are those chances when K12 teachers get a chance to work with professors from the academy in a way that reminds everyone why they may have fallen in love with their discipline in the first place. Even better it is the kind of environment that fosters the idea that we are all learners first and that may be the best way to truly improve teaching. I immediately identified with the teacher that needed to revise the narrative she held about her math ability. If there was a Math Teachers’ Circle close, I might be tempted to attend and I am not even a math teacher. Alas, there are no active ones all that close I looked.
  • DeVosian Threat InventoryCurmudgucation Blog – Peter Greene  (10 minute read)
    Peter Greene is a teacher and active blogger with a razor-sharp eye on edreform. In this post, he runs the rule over what can be expected from a Betsy DeVos-led DoE. Most of these topics are based on a lot of the efforts already afoot that are likely to be super-charged under DeVos’s direction, if it can be called that. Perhaps more than anything, preparation needs to start in earnest for the fresh waves of coming attacks that will rain down on teachers and unions. That is no joke. The energy and action that fueled the rallies against her confirmation will need to be sustained to resist the normalizing of a whole host of efforts that can potentially damage the very notion of a public education. As Greene notes, DeVos may not be able to get states to do exactly what she wants but that is what many thought about Arne Duncan and the Common Core.
  • Ed-Tech in a Time of TrumpHacked Education – Audrey Watters  (29 minute read)
    As I looked back on previous newsletters, I was kind of surprised that Audrey Watters has not made more appearances. This is the text from a presentation given at University of Richmond by edtech’s Cassandra. It is long but a very worthwhile read. As much as I advocate for technology use in education, I am not a technological evangelist. The issues raised in this talk are things that I spend a lot of time thinking about actually. What troubles me most is how ignorant or wildly misinformed a lot of education’s administrators and decision-makers are about what Watters highlights in this piece. For some time now, I have grown more gravely concerned about just how much students, including my own children, are increasingly living in a state of almost constant surveillance. The depth and breadth of what is already in place are startling and most parents and educators remain almost entirely unaware. Data, big or otherwise, can deliver enormous power. In fact, in our digital age, data can easily lead to precisely the kind of power that can absolutely corrupt.

As always thank you for supporting this newsletter.

Education Evolutions Newsletter #19


sas-ipad flickr photo by zandwacht shared under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

Education Evolutions:

Select Readings on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

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

  • Why we teach our students to read between the liesThe Times of Higher EducationDonald E. Hall  (5 minute read)
    It is remarkable just how many references to Germany in the 1930s have been surfacing in the media since the inauguration. Here Hall extends the same type of “lie-based storytelling environment” to 1990s Rwanda, where he taught prior to the nation’s collapse. He suggests that our nation has arrived at a crossroads, where we are bombarded fact and fiction with such speed and volume that it is easier to be fooled than ever. As a college professor, he claims this has never been more true for our young people. This is ultimately an impassioned plea for the best of what the liberal arts and sciences offer, a strong focus on inquiry, research, focusing on facts and evidence, critical thinking, argument, and valuing a diversity of models and interpretations for a given challenge. That list is diminished the more all schools and universities are expected to operate in a vocational capacity, despite the genuine value of vocational education. Any kind of education must be more than job training.

  • Can Democrats Save Public Schools from Trump and DeVos?The New RepublicGraham Vyse  (11 minute read)
    There was a time when the Democratic party included an education caucus that has long died away. Vyse’s incisive read on the current political situation as it relates to education includes an uncomfortable truth, that it requires Democrats walking away from “our school’s are failing” narrative and the failed policies of the Obama administration. Considering that they were little more than the continuation of his Republican predecessor’s policies, it might seem to be an obvious move. Yet, as recent events have shown the current political climate is fraught with a number of challenges which could complicate things considerably. Vyse truly shows understnading, however, when he suggests that Democrats “let the GOP own testing tedium and teacher-trashing. Make Republicans the sole defenders of schooling as a market commodity, not an enlightened egalitarian ideal.” Were that to happen and the failures truly laid bare with the likely incoming DeVos, we could see a genuine turnaround instead of flashy propaganda.

  • Community-Focused Versus Market-Driven EducationDigital Pedagogy LabMatthew Metzgar  (11 minute read)
    Should DeVos head the Department of Education, the market-driven, competition-is-good approach to education will likely kick into overdrive under the guise of school choice. Yet, we have been operating in an increasingly market-driven, league tables type paradigm for quite some time now. It might be hard to remember that there are alternatives. Metzgar outlines four specific reminders that are backed with evidence and proven results, just click some of the links. Best of all he explains them in a clear and understandable way without oversimplification. Arguably, the best item of the bunch is number three Use of Test Scores versus Portfolios/Public Exhibitions, which involves human judgement and takes more time. Furthermore, he shares relevant insights about what a public education is intended to be and why. Forcing schools to compete and creating a market deprives the public from owning the system they fund with their taxes. Profit-driven, school choice goes one step further and extracts funding from a community, benefitting corporate interests and not necessarily the community they serve.

As always thank you for supporting this newsletter.

Education Evolutions Newsletter #18


sas-ipad flickr photo by zandwacht shared under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

Education Evolutions:

Select Readings on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

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

  • Once a fearsome murderer invaded a Zen master’s homeseanmichaelmorris.com – Sean Michael Morris  (9 minute read)
    Fair warning, this is a politically charged post that takes direct aim at our newly inaugurated president, cleverly comparing him to the fictional character Veruca Salt. Yet it is all the foundation for a penetrating examination of agency and its relationship with power. One of Morris’ best lines, “agency doesn’t so much exert itself upon others as it does float within the intersection of freedom and authority.” It also becomes a damning indictment of the current state of our educational system. Regardless of your political leanings, this is worth reading if for only a deeper look at this sentiment, “[Agency] does not give us power over another, but it gives us mastery over ourselves. And an education that does not encourage or facilitate this agency is not an education.” As a professor he is talking about higher education but he might as well be addressing any level of education.

  • Why paper is the real ‘killer app’BBC Capital – Alison Birrane (9 minute read)
    As techno savvy as I might be with all the various devices I might use in a day, I am a serious advocate for paper. Quite simply, tools matter. Tools shape how and what we think. This is especially true for writers. Plus there are few things as liberating and expedient as a piece of paper. I have often made statements like, “a notepad will never run out of batteries or have a screen freeze half way through a task…And you can sketch, draw a diagram or stick-figure illustration — sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words — which isn’t as easily done on a smartphone.” Digital devices and apps require humans to meet them on their terms, for the most part. Pen and paper has its limitations but they are less about dictating terms of use.

  • Mississippi Attorney General Sues Google Over Student-Data PrivacyEducation Week’s Digital Education blog – Benjamin Herold (3 minute read)
    This legal development is likely the beginning in a wave of litigation that could gather strength regarding student data. There are already multiple efforts arising dedicated to a deeper, clearer understanding of what kind of data is being collected about students and why. The Consortium of School Networking (CoSN) a leading education technology organization has made student data privacy a major agenda item and locally Cambridge Public Schools has is one of a handful of school systems that has begun demanding more from vendors. Mississippi’s attorney general is brave to be taking on a company with the size and power of Google. It may take others to join, however, to gain any real traction, especially in an era where the administration is already suggesting a that 75% of regulations on business can be cut.

As always thank you for supporting this newsletter.

Education Evolutions Newsletter #17


sas-ipad flickr photo by zandwacht shared under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

Education Evolutions:

Select Readings on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

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

  • Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s education chief, is living proof white people haven’t gotten over Brown v. Board of EducationSalonAmanda Marcotte  (7 minute read)
    In light of the DeVos hearings this week, it is hard to avoid including more about her. This is a fascinating opinion piece that traces the legacy of the landmark case to today’s class and race problems persist, especially in urban school systems. I find all this emphasis on “choice” to be extremely disingenuous. Parents have been able to choose private schools over public for quite some time. Who can afford a private school is another matter but Marcotte highlights just how much this rhetoric of choice will ultimately be a ruse that results in even more segregation than we already have. There is not a voucher that is going to cover the difference between the gutted public schools and where Trump or DeVos sent their kids.

  • Some Colleges Have More Students From the Top 1 Percent Than the Bottom 60. Find Yours.The UpshotThe New York TImes (9 minute read)
    The fact that access to the most elite colleges has not really changed all that much should not seem all that surprising. It mirrors the society and culture at large. At many of the most selective institutions of higher education, including half the Ivy League, the top 1% dominates the student body. Given the rise in tuition costs, schools can easily, even consciously, segregate their student body by socio-economic class even more than the public K12 system, if they choose. What deserves more genuine concern is the impact on social mobility universities can have. Given declining financial support it is hard to see how students from lower incomes have much of a shot attending the most selective institutions and reaping the benefits therein.

  • How Dropping Screen Time Rules Can Fuel Extraordinary LearningMediumMimi Ito (3 minute read)
    There has been a lot of attention paid to the idea of screen time, even in this newsletter, since the American Association of Pediatrics changed their stance on the topic. Mimi Ito is one of the leading scholars on adolescents in the digital age and makes a strong case that the very notion of screen time may have outlived its usefulness. In a world filled with screens, it is increasingly hard to limit exposure. Plus, not all time in front of a screen is equal. Her recommendations are insightful, particularly the list of questions to consider from Blum and Livingstone. This is practical, positive stuff.

  • CWRU, Cleveland Clinic and Microsoft Transform LearningYouTubeCase Western Reserve University  (3:19 minute view)
    Also courtesy of a newsletter reader, here is a video that showcases some awfully cool technology that could serve education in some actually transformative ways. As interesting as the anatomy example might be, I couldn’t help but wonder about possibilities of just how powerful visualizing information three-dimensional holographic ways can be. There have to be so many opportunities that have not even been dreamed of yet. While a few are listed, I am not sure that it even scratches the surface. The bigger problem is likely to be the cost and time associated with developing content like this. It strikes me as something that could take a while but have heavier long-term  implications.

  • Pixar Easter Eggs – Facebook Video – Disney (2:40 minute view)
    This one is simply for pure fun. If you are not one of the people who has already added to the 9.5 million views of this video give it a look. If you have children or have just watched a lot of Pixar’s films it is a real treat to see how many little elements linked between films.

As always thank you for supporting this newsletter.

Education Evolutions Newsletter #16


sas-ipad flickr photo by zandwacht shared under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

Education Evolutions:

Select Readings on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

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

  • Poet: I can’t answer questions on Texas standardized tests about my own poemsThe Answer Sheet @ The Washington PostValerie Strauss  (14 minute read)
    This piece presents quite a dark irony that makes for fascinating reading. Reading a poet wrestle with the poor questions that were conceived about her work is interesting enough but Sara Holbrook’s eloquent takedown of the entire standardized testing juggernaut is even more so. For one, the fact that one of her poems was not even formatted correctly only kicks off the calamity. The way she addresses the questions is both clever and poetic. Plus, I lover her final reflection. Best of all, this is a call to action to end the madness.

  • There is no “technology industry”Medium – Anil Dash  (6 minute read)
    Dash makes an important argument in this piece which requires us to examine how we think about the conglomerates that call themselves technology companies and all of its implications. Companies that we often think of technology companies have more in common with General Electric now than the romanticized Silicon Valley start-ups. Technology has become so pervasive that nearly all commercial enterprises are tech companies. Even more important, Dash explains how the labels and language we use matters. It is central to how we understand these companies and their impact on society and our lives. Unquestionably best line in the piece, “ Marc Andreessen famously said that “software is eating the world”, but it’s far more accurate to say that the neoliberal values of software tycoons are eating the world.” Education just happens to be one more morsel for those omnivorous values and tycoons.

  • Rich and poor teenagers use the web differently – here’s what this is doing to inequalityThe World Economic ForumRosamond Hutt (3 minute read)
    I am admittedly not the biggest fan of PISA but this is a fascinating development. It would seem that the OECD’s information correlates with what we have known here in the United States for some time. Want to know where the good schools are? Look where the money is. As the report explains, “Equal access does imply equal opportunities.” This is a truth that should be more obvious than it is. Too many assumptions are made about the availability of information and opportunities online. It is interesting that the recommendation is more about basic literacy than tech devices or service. All that being said, I am tired of test results being used as the data and justification for decisions and conclusions.

As always thank you for supporting this newsletter.

Innovative Smartphone Photography Course Grows

Reflecting on her experience taking Smartphone Photography at the high school, senior Sadie Morgan explained, “If you commit to the class and really do the projects, you can end up with really cool stuff from it. You learn so much that you can use in the future. It is cool. I now use one of the editing apps whenever I do smartphone photography and certain tips on composition.”
Photo: Sterling Worrell

Photography teacher Sterling Worrell.

Last year, Sterling Worrell created and began teaching Smartphone Photography, a hybrid course, in the high school art department. The course focuses on the fundamentals of photography, specifically creating with the tools and technology available using mobile devices. It is one of the school’s more innovative efforts that integrates technology and teaching in new ways that capitalize on changes forge new possibilities. Since the beginning, the course and students have featured at major educational technology events in the commonwealth, including Learn Launch’s 2016 Across Boundaries Classroom of the Future and Massachusetts Computer Users in Education (MassCUE) fall Global Connections, Digital Learning conference. Looking back on the inspiration for the course, Worrell said, “Two things: I was looking forward to the challenge of utilizing mobile devices in the classroom, instead of banning them like so many teachers do. Also, there are just a lot of bad pictures taken with phones. So I wanted to teach students how to treat their phone like a camera.” Worrell has been teaching film and digital photography for years, making this course a natural progression. “This is taught like a photo course. It is almost all about how to take good images. The focus is on the type of technology and learning how to use the tool to create the images. Each kind of camera has different pros and cons.”
Photo: Paige O'Connor editing photographs

Paige O’Connor reviewing photographs with fellow students.

Freshman Paige O’Connor underlined the importance of capturing and making high-quality images. “The angles and composition of you place your subject is so important,” O’Connor said. “I enjoyed just learning how to compose, how to compose, and bring the audience’s eye to the actual subject of the image, as opposed to all of the other things that might be in the picture.” Course alumnus Morgan had previously taken film photography and explained some distinctions, “This was different in that you can see right on the screen and take as many pictures as you want. It was a cool course to take because I got to learn different functions that were on my phone that I didn’t know that were there and basically how to take good photos.” With such a sharp technical focus on how to take a good photograph with a phone, Worrell can be more flexible in the course. While there are tasks to develop keener vision, like lessons in composition or light and shadow, students drive the goals and inquiry of the course. One significant and consistent development is student interest in how to skillfully edit their images. This has become a theme in every iteration of the course so far.
Photo: Sadie Morgan in art class

Sadie Morgan inking a drawing for art class.

“It is a different kind of platform that you are working with. Everything can be so easily edited on a smartphone. There is such instant gratification with smartphone photography,” Morgan said. “We learned the best apps to use for editing, the best ways to edit without overdoing, so you can make a nice photograph. You learn to edit yourself, instead of just using Instagram filters.” The hybrid nature of the course means that class meets three times face-to-face in traditional classroom sessions and two sessions are conducted completely online. It is a format that the high school has employed for several years now, a blended learning experience that also includes flexibility in scheduling. Worrell helped pioneer the approach in Hopkinton beginning over six years ago. Worrell has been an avid advocate for hybrid courses and sees multiple benefits. “It gives students the chance to be more efficient. They have more freedom to do what they need to get done during a day. Another thing is if I present something online, the student that already knows it can move on and the student who might need more time can review it as much as they need. No one has to be limited to the speed of my presentation.” Online sessions provide lesson content delivery based on course themes and broader opportunities for student-to-student interaction. Using the learning management system (LMS) Canvas, students access project tasks, review photographic works from professionals and fellow students, as well as engage in virtual critiques which compliment the face-to-face ones that are at the heart of any art course.
Photo: John Thornton edits photographs

John Thornton editing photographs for class.

Current student and senior John Thornton has found the hybrid schedule to be truly beneficial. “It’s given me the first and last periods free which has given me a lot more flexibility with my schedule, especially with applying to colleges and managing my other classes. I can actually do more,” Thornton said. O’Connor added to the benefits of the hybrid aspect, “It’s good because you can do a lot on your own with more independence.” The course also attempts to develop responsible and effective use of social media to find and reach audiences for student work, although negotiating the division between personal and school presences online poses a challenge. The pros and cons of personal versus professional accounts on social media channels remains a theme that is discussed in the course. “We use VSCO as our portfolio but we don’t spend as much time on the sharing of work on social media,” Worrell said. Still, considerable amounts of student work are made public with the possibility of reaching broader audiences. In fact, the culminating project for the class is ambitious with Worrell challenging students. “They have to use photography to make the world a better place, to bring awareness, and try to provoke change around their topic of choice. Then get it to their target audience,” Worrell said.
Photo: Student editing photographs on smartphone

Student reviewing photographs from a recent shoot.

The project requires students to research and speak through photographs about a concern of interest. It can be personal, local, regional, or even global. Students are asked to bring attention to the topic and use photographs to provoke others to act. It is driven by the challenge of empowering young artists to institute change through their work. The project yields thoughtful results. Morgan’s final project examined human obsession with media and digital devices. “It is a common theme in pretty much all the work I do,” Morgan said. “It is so prominent in people today. It is a problem that I have too. So I wanted to get that across, that it is important to disconnect, and see the world a little bit.” O’Connor’s “The Bystander Effect” project responds to the stormy topic of bullying. “I wanted to show the effects of bullying and its bystanders. So I have someone covering their eyes, ears, and mouths,” O’Connor said. “If they didn’t see anything, they pretend nothing happens. If they didn’t hear anything, they can pretend nothing happens. If they didn’t say anything, they can pretend nothing happens.” Thornton’s The Faces project takes on an even more politically charged topic. “It’s a collection of portraits of queer students at our school. Because of a lot of contemporary media, we can’t have “coming out” stories anymore. So, I wanted to show more than that narrative about this community.” Photo: From "Overconnected" photography project by Sadie Morgan Photo: From "The Faces" photography project by John Thornton The course serves as a gateway to a more formal study of visual imagery, its ability to communicate power and provoke. Worrell sees additional benefits as well. “It definitely is attracting kids that are not usually taking art classes.”
Photo: Group of students reviewing photographs

A group of students reviewing photographs after a class shoot.