Education Evolutions #64

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

After some thematic unities of the last few weeks, this selection is more of a randomized mix. In some ways, it was a bit of a slower week in terms of loads of finds worth sharing. Plus, I was deliberately trying to avoid longer reads after last week’s batch. That proved more of a limiting factor than I might have thought.

Also, this week is not quite as gloomy as the selection can sometimes be. The piece on algorithms might signal a bit more shade but it is definitely an issue that needs a lot more attention. The pace at which algorithms are supplanting human decision-making and intervention is an area where we all need to be a bit more informed. It is an area that is far too open to abuse without greater oversight.

As for the “If you read only one article…” selection this week, my choice clearer than it has been lately “OLPC’s $100 laptop was going to change the world — then it all went wrong.” It was interesting and insightful about a recent moment and device that held such great promise but could not quite deliver on expectations. In that way, it represents a lot of edtech efforts, for me. Yet, I will say that the ambition of this particular effort seemed a lot more admirable than most. It is hard to believe that One Laptop Per Child is more than decade past and or that it has become merely a footnote in the longer education technology story.

Spring has finally sprung but rain has made it a little easier to write this newsletter than a lazy Sunday sun.

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

How Does Your Practice Reflect the Modern Context? – Modern Learners –  Bruce Dixon (6-minute read)

I almost like this title more than the content actual post. It is an important question nonetheless. While the site is part of William Richardson’s advocacy efforts to change schools, including a strong edtech strain, it cannot be summarily dismissed either. As I am fond of saying if change is the only constant than learning is the only alternative. Part of that learning means that a teacher’s practice should change.

The continuum of behaviors provides an interesting frame, although I really do not like that it opens with a binary division. I guess I just don’t think it is at all that simple. Educators are not always the ones necessarily in denial. Very often it is policymakers that create contexts that are even more difficult, to name one. Institutional demands create a certain amount of inertia, whose force can be stronger than any amount of denial by a single educator. Truth be told, there are a number of educators that are neither in denial nor completely capable of the kind of autonomy being heralded here. Institutions generally beat individuals down, sadly. That seems to be missing amidst all the hoopla for changing schools.

Algorithms: Why you should learn what they are, how they affect you and your kids — and whether they actually work – The Washington Post –  Charles Tocci (8-minute read)

Understanding just how much and to what degree algorithms are controlling our lives is essential knowledge at this point, as far as I am concerned. Yet, much like the problems that involve data privacy, the government is exploiting the issues as much as any private firm. Here, professor Charles Tocci pulls back the curtain on one more way that public education is employing private companies that can hide behind intellectual property law to avoid transparency. In this case, it involves what school kids in cities like Chicago and New York are likely to attend.

The fact that many algorithms only deepen and widen discriminatory practices should be enough for some serious oversight. This couldn’t be more required in a city like Chicago, one of the most segregated cities of its size in the nation, not to mention the mayor’s shuttering of 50 schools mainly in minority neighborhoods. Every one of the suggestions Tocci makes in this piece are not even things that should require much debate. TYhey should simply be statutory requirements for our algorithms used by our public institutions.

OLPC’s $100 laptop was going to change the world — then it all went wrong – The Verge –  Adi Robertson (15-minute read)

This look back at the phenomenon of One Laptop Per Child is a fascinating exposé and piece of nostalgia. Apart from the in-depth history of the idea and program, there are some genuine innovative elements to the that have largely resonated more than the device itself. There is a pioneering aspect tot he story that is quite compelling. To think that OLPC is over decade old already and it already a holds a bit of wistfulness, not to mention that there are going to be new models this year. Time seems to fly a little faster in the digital world.

There is almost no question that OLPC pulled down prices for devices across the market. The original idea, despite not being realized exactly as planned was pretty audacious. Add to that the fact that Intel so quickly tried to hijack the emerging market is a testament to the quality of that idea. As with so many things, the problem became about managing expectations. Unfortunately, the article falls into one of the traps and tropes of edtech journalism, the metric trap. Educational technology is not going to show a boost in traditional educational metrics, nor should it. I would argue that is, one of many reasons, to tear down most those metrics. However, there is a kind of recovery for the author in the form of researcher Morgan Ames, towards the end of the piece, who comments on the trade-offs. There are trade-offs but if the costs were as cheap as OLPC there would not be seen as much of a problem. I would also submit that rooting edtech in open source software was also an idea that should get a lot more traction. Unfortunately, the promise of OLPC might be more disappointing on those grounds, at least for me.

Education Evolutions #63

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 is a mix of big ideas floating around the larger education and technology fields at the minute. They are not entirely connected in any explicit way. Yet, they are definitely connected, when considering how many edreform agendas advance edtech with the convenient bonus of broader and deeper surveillance. The sheep’s clothing fashion of the moment is personalized learning which I will probably devote more time to in future.

The one drag about this selection is that only after writing the comments below and looking at it with a bit more detachment, this group might seem a bit dystopian – again. Apologies for that. Still, I firmly believe that the more we know about the world in which we are living the more we might do about it. This newsletter is my small effort in service that idea.

As for the “If you read only one article…” selection this week, it is kind of a pick ’em. Apart from the first one, the other two are some pretty long reads. Both interesting and worth it but they certainly require some time and focus. Yet, “Palantir Knows Everything About You” might be the most informative about that which lies just out of view. Plus, it is an introduction to Peter Thiel who is someone definitely worth knowing a bit more about. Think what a Koch brother might look like if they were from Silicon Valley. If you are short on time, everyone that works in education should probably know a lot more about A Nation at Risk.

Maybe, just maybe spring has finally sprung. If only we could dry out just a little in New England.

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

‘A Nation at Risk’ demanded education reform 35 years ago. Here’s how it’s been bungled ever since – The Washington Post –  James Harvey and David Berliner (8-minute read)

This week marked the inauspicious introduction of A Nation at Risk, possibly the most damaging document ever written about American education. Not only was it politically motivated, it was just plain wrong. This NPR piece is reasonably evenhanded as a refresher on the history of the document (However, Anya Kamentz trots out all the usual suspects in support of this nonsense. Mainstream media typically gives voice to the Fordham Institute or other foundations pretending to be anything other than propagandists of an anti-public education agenda. I mean at least Diane Ravitch actually worked in Education at the highest levels of government.). Nevertheless, the rhetoric and lies populated by A Nation at Risk continue to persist unabated and generally form the foundational warrants for nearly every education reform that we have seen in the intervening years. Facts tend to be inconvenient for making policy at all kinds of levels (Read a decent primer about the Sandia Report.).

While I can appreciate their call for making adjustments to NAEP and how it is reported, even submitting that it is a valid metric contributes to the problem. Apart from cynically wanting to say, “Good luck getting those new benchmark labels adopted,” acknowledging the flawed assessment only serves as an endorsement. It undercuts their far more sensible call for the end of “policy-making grounded in testing and tax cuts.” Still their emphatic support for the idea that the richest nation in the history of the world can and should be able to ensure equity for its infant, adequate health care, living wages, and affordable day-care sound great but lack resonance after the recent passage of Congressional “tax reform.”

Palantir Knows Everything About You – Bloomberg –  Peter Waldman, Lizette Chapman, and Jordan Robertson (25-minute read)

I am guessing that most people reading this have never heard of Palantir, the company. Some certainly would have quickly jumped to the Lord of the Rings reference. Some people may have heard of Peter Thiel but I am not even sure about that. Regardless, it will be hard to forget any of these names once you have read this piece. It does about as good a job as any of beginning to hang some labels on the vast digital web that is hoovering up information about everyone and selling it for profit.

The entire time I read this, all I could do is remember watching the television show Person of Interest and thinking if the dramatization between humans, “The Machine,” and “Samaritan” was this well developed I can only wonder how far along it must be in the real world. This piece provides a window into that question. It also means that it is increasingly important to understand how much algorithms are supplanting human judgment in all walks of life. I think I am now wholly committed to reading Weapons of Math Destruction over the summer now. I wanted to read it when it was first published but now… Anyone want to start a book club with me?

The Internet Apologizes … – New York Magazine –  Noah Kulwin (25-minute read)

Admittedly another long read but a fascinating one. As part of the rising tide of Internet and technology scrutiny, this reflective confessional of sorts is both revealing and insightful. With a cavalcade of technology insiders that have had a chance to witness to see what they have wrought this is a whole lot of deep thinking about many of the issues that are currently coming to a head and highlighted by the Facebook fallout.

The rise of Silicon Valley strikes me as very similar to the rise of the auto industry with ridiculous claims like, “What is good for Ford is good for America.” We collectively continue to double-down on technology with dreamy hopes of some kind of strange techtopia when perhaps a more circumspect approach might actually serve us better. Avoiding or dismissing technology entirely does not seem like much of an answer but blind faith, no matter where or how it starts may be worse. At least the individuals quoted here have taken some degree of responsibility and acknowledged the damage that may have helped unleashed. I am not sure what good it will do but I always remain hopeful in that aphorism, “When we know better, we do better.” It is kind of one of my mantras as an educator.

Education Evolutions #62

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

I was not entirely sure I would get this issue out. The last day of a vacation tends to be a bit of a helter-skelter sprint to finish all those things I hoped to do over the break but maybe fell short. That’s probably still the case but I yielded to this particular compulsion.

This week features an almost entirely education-wide focus. Sure there is some tech and teaching mixed in there but, for the most part, these selections are about the big systems that shape education for better or worse. I have often been accused of being negative about these kinds of things. I disagree. Actually, I really am an optimist with the greatest of hopes. I just happen to be frequently disappointed. Even these articles, as much as they might stir me up, still fill me with hope in spite of any disappointment.

As for the “If you read only one article…” selection this week, it has to go to the third selection “How Education Reform Ate the Democratic Party.” If you have ever wondered about terms like neoliberalism, wondered how the political party that used to support educators and the working class changed, or why we seem so bereft of alternative ideas about education, that has to be considered a must read. It is part history lesson and primer on how the field of public education finds itself in its present state.

Well, I return to school tomorrow, as many fellow New Englanders do after spring break, and it is only just yesterday started to actually feel like spring.

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

25-Year-Old Textbooks and Holes in the Ceiling: Inside America’s Public Schools – The New York Times –  Josephine Sedgwick (8-minute read)

This article got a lot of play on the Internets after it was published. It seemed almost irresponsible not to include it on that chance that some might not have seen it yet. It is pretty sobering. It is not as balanced it probably could have been, although I am not certain how balanced the story can be. It is heavy on states that are in the midst of strikes and walkouts. It may not represent schools everywhere but it certainly represents a whole lot. I wish that they were far more transparent about the difference between true public schools and charters because it is not entirely clear.

It is pretty inarguable that states have been shortchanging education spending now for decades. Considering just how many unfounded demands have been placed on schools in the NCLB era alone, there is almost no possible evidence to contrary, even if the net spend has increased. As increases in demand and desire for more technology grow there is no end in sight to a need for more funding. However, how the money is spent might require a bit more oversight. We educators should never forget that part of the push for more technology buttresses the standardized testing regime and student surveillance. I am not sure how they can be divorced but I wish that more time and energy was spent on that problem.

Pearson Tested ‘Social-Psychological’ Messages in Learning Software, With Mixed Results – Education Week –  Benjamin Herold (8-minute read)

The fact that this report is not presented almost without making the acknowledgment of serious ethical problems the most front and central focus might be the most alarming thing of all. The fact that Pearson conducted this kind of research effort using children without any parental consent is serious enough. Let me be clear, without consent or knowledge, children were subjects. That they were brazen enough to publish their work more so. However, why there has not been a backlash of outrage is shameful. We should be demanding state-level departments of education to take action against the company.

However, an even graver concern should be that this kind of massive, widescale “research” experimentation will be done with impunity by technology companies on children in educational settings under the guise of product development. That is almost without question. What Pearson has done is essentially confirm that fact with the publication of this paper. Moreover, it simply doesn’t matter how well-intentioned or positive the results might be. This is the kind of thing that should be illegal and subject to major financial and legal penalties, especially after the insights gained from the Cambridge Analytica fiasco.

How Education Reform Ate the Democratic Party – The Baffler –  Jennifer C. Berkshire (12-minute read)

This is not really a new story as one that just goes underreported. This story reads like a rewrite of how the Democratic party essentially sold out to big money in the 1970s. Here Berkshire details how big money neoliberalism finances advancing charter schools and attacking teacher unions. Even better this article is essentially a history lesson on how America’s attack on teachers began and it is a fascinating one.

Something I observed long ago and stated for years without the forcefulness of Berkshire is how little attention has been paid to how much Clinton-era Democrats essentially won elections by co-opting the Republican platform. I still cannot for the life of me fathom just how many people buy into “logic of the market” nonsense for education, let alone a host of other aspects of society. I just keep hoping that the power teachers unions have been flexing in some of the hardest hit states will spark a broader and more intelligent conversation.