Education Evolutions #58

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

So after last week’s dark journey into data vulnerabilities and weaponization of the digital landscape, I felt compelled to find something that was a bit brighter. It was hard. The sheer volume of unsavory events regarding data in our digital increasingly existence seems to grow apace. Case in point, the second article below and what is going on there is completely legal – Yikes!

I am still amazed at just how many great reads that I have backlogged from the week off. In some ways, it makes it easier to find emergent themes but not always quite as easy to see positive stories, such can be the nature of journalism sometimes. Still, what I continually try to remember is that there are always solutions for most of the problems we encounter, even if we do not always have the courage or will to execute them.

All that said, this week’s “If you read only one article…” has to go to the last one “A Grand Bargain to Make Tech Companies Trustworthy.” Authored by two heavyweight legal scholars, one being the co-founder and director Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, it attempts to present if not a solution, certainly a way to think about one. It is definitely the kind of article that gives me hope.

Let’s hope that spring is truly on its way because I really do not want to see snow in a New England April. For those in farther climes, I am sure a seasonal change is more than due too.

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

Early Academic Training Produces Long-Term Harm – Psychology Today –  Peter Gray Ph.D. (6-minute read)

I have grown over the course of my career as a teacher to increasingly believe education should adopt an element of the medical profession’s Hippocratic Oath, primum non nocere (first, do no harm). For whatever reason, the field of education has abdicated this notion, to a large degree, despite having a duty of care. I would present as evidence continually yielding to the edreform attempts to increase high-stakes standardized testing or zero-tolerance policies, to name a few. Still, here is an interesting presentation of just how damaging some of the trends, driven by edreform, can be. May we find new and more effective ways to resist the most insidious efforts.

I have to admit that I really like a lot of Peter Gray has to say, generally. I even had some really nice correspondence with him a few years ago. Regardless, I am not sure that it should require lengthy academic studies to validate something most people, parents and educators alike, can see with their own eyes. What is more startling, however, is how old some of the studies cited are. To think that German study that helped them reverse policy was conducted over 50 years ago!

I am not sure that I like all the nomenclature used in the piece but it is hard not to appreciate some of the conclusions. Even where there may be no obvious causality, the correlations should be enough to give anyone pause for thought. Instead, we press ahead in schools with things like typing programs for elementary children who do not have hands big enough to even properly span a keyboard – because they need to be able to perform on a newly computerized, standardized test. I know I would much rather my kids be using their hands to paint or something similar.

A US university is tracking students’ locations to predict future dropouts – Quartz –  Amy X. Wang (5-minute read)

Here is one more story in the ever-growing list of even creepier data collection, prediction, and algorithmic bias that poses more ethical questions than I can even count. The very notion that the kind of data generated in this story by ID card swipes is being collected is problematic enough. However, the notion that this data is used the way that it is pushes things well beyond expectations and more likely understanding.

Once again, the amoral way that powerful entities have conned us all into looking at data is horrifying. Ownership of data being generated by us as individuals is beyond deeply disturbing. In this specific case, not only do the students not own the data they are creating, they seemingly have no control or agency with regard to it whatsoever. The university can collect and use whatever data that student ID card is capable of generating with no oversight or regulation.

The idea that someone could not opt out of this kind of operation seems not only unethical but ought to be illegal. This is not even a case of student data being aggregated anonymously to understand trends or developments. This is a comprehensive effort to use of highly invasive data to target individuals for a range of interventions. While the specific interventions in this article may seem benign or even well-intentioned (although I clearly question that from the start), there is nothing to prevent far more unscrupulous efforts using this data. In fact, given that there is no way for students to avoid being part of this kind of program, by virtue of the fact that it uses their university ID card, the cynic in me cannot help but believe that more underhanded efforts are already afoot.

A Grand Bargain to Make Tech Companies Trustworthy – The Atlantic –  Jack M. Balkin and Jonathan Zittrain (9-minute read)

As a critical pairing to the article above, this piece goes a long way to helping anyone understand some of the issues at stake, regarding data we generate, how it may be used, but more importantly the moral and legal implications. When it comes to data, who owns it, how it can be collected or used, where responsibility is placed, and why these things matter are all addressed, at least in part, in this article. It is complicated and, as I have often remarked, I am not even sure we have the metaphors required for understanding. Its use of older metaphors might be one of the better attempts.

Data is almost never truly neutral and certainly its uses are anything but neutral. I think the fiduciary example is a powerful one. I am not as crazy about the copyright one, considering how many outrageous advantages are ceded to corporate copyright holders. Still, I do not disagree with its use as a conceptual model. At least, this piece starts to advance a conversation in a coherent and comprehensible way.

I am not sure how feasible the idea of a Digital Millennium Privacy Act is, to be honest. As is so often the case some very powerful interests need to see something like this as beneficial. At the minute, I am not sure that this is the case, Microsoft’s claims notwithstanding. Sadly, more revelations like the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica debacle are probably required in this country. Europe seems so vastly far ahead of us on this front, however. So there is an outside possibility that they may produce a gravitational pull. Then again, China has a pretty powerful gravitational pull too and it is going in a completely different direction. What’s worse is that our own government may also be a principal abuser.

Education Evolutions #57

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

Reviewing my week’s reading, I was a bit surprised at just how much quality material there was in the hopper. It always takes a little bit of time to cull through what I have marked as possibilities and consider which pieces might be best to include. This week there was just a whole lot more than I remembered reading.

That being said this is probably the darkest newsletter issue I have ever put together. I certainly did not intend for that. Yet, as I was reviewing articles and trying to pick there was a kind of momentum that took hold. These stories all related to one another and seemed so connected in a powerful, albeit kind of scary, way.

As is often the case, I don’t really have a pick for “If you read only one article…” this week they are all excellent and important reads. Dark they may be but they definitely provide a view into a world in which we almost all now live.

Try to get some rest and for my fellow New Englanders let’s hope we don’t see any more wintery Nor’easter s. I am all ready for spring and the lion March has brought to be replaced with a more pleasant lamb.

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

Tim Berners-Lee: we must regulate tech firms to prevent ‘weaponised’ web – The Guardian –  Olivia Solon (6-minute read)

It is hard to believe that the World Wide Web is 29 years old. For most people, it might seem more like 25 years but still, that is a lot longer than I think many of us realize. Reading this certainly made me pause to reflect that I am of the last generation of people to remember what life was like before a ubiquitous. Tim Berners-Lee has been pretty outspoken for some time about the dangers of increased centralized commercial control. So, this open letter on a milestone anniversary is no real surprise. What he says in it, however, should garner more attention.

Who knew that Berners-Lee was such a talented stylist as well. His letter has more than a few lovely turns of phrase. “I want the web to reflect our hopes and fulfill our dreams, rather than magnify our fears and deepen our divisions,” has to be one of my favorites. Still, the fact that any company accounts for nearly 90% of anything should cause everyone concern, whether it is Google and search or any other enterprise. Also sobering are some of the statistics about the global digital divide, especially considering the kinds of profits that the largest tech companies have been able to glean.

Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach – The Guardian –  Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison (16-minute read)

This story is kind of blowing up the Internet at the minute if you haven’t already come across it. As prescient as Tim Berners-Lee’s comments about weaponizing the web seemed only a week ago, the speed with which massive amounts of evidence supporting that claim would come to light is hard not to register as staggering. This story is no doubt just the beginning of a deep new wrinkle in a much longer and larger story that is unfolding in real time. The 13-minute video embedded in this story is also well worth the screening.

There are so many elements of this story that should be Defcon alarming about the digital world I don’t even know where to start. What is important to keep in mind is that this was unlikely the first time something like this was done and it was conducted with insider assistance, not some foreign adversary. I am not even sure that we have metaphors to completely understand the level of invasiveness and insidiousness of this data breach and manipulation. Sans all hyperbole, this story essentially renders every software user agreement utterly meaningless. The curtain is being drawn on just how easily these kinds of actions are able to be undertaken.

How An Entire Nation Became Russia’s Test Lab for Cyberwar – Wired –  Andy Greenberg (20-minute read)

If the previous article was not enough to inspire some genuine horror about privacy, security, and the new world we find ourselves, this story might be an even darker view of the nascent possibilities that already exist. Again, I go back to my previous statement. We don’t even have the metaphors to make sense of some of this stuff, at least beyond a superficial level.

The programmer Dave Winer, a pioneer of Really Simple Syndication (RSS), takes a stab by explaining that we are in the midst of an asymmetrical war and preparing for a conflict long past. That may be the best set of metaphors I have seen to date. I especially think the Battlestar Galactica one might be the most insightful but probably less broadly communicative since there are so many people that still will not have any idea what the reference even means. All I can say is that is a bit scary and this one is from last June. So to think what has evolved in the nearly nine months has passed might be scarier.



Education Evolutions #56

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

Well, if you are in New England, I hope that you have endured the late winter storm without too much trouble. Furthermore, I hope that you get everything sorted before the next one arrives in nary a day. I suppose March really does “come in like a lion” sometimes. I can only hope the lamb awaits.

So if there is a theme to this issue it has to be around media literacy. Even the first item about the teacher strike West Virginia has a media literacy component to it, as the grassroots membership was able to wield considerable power through traditional and social media to organize and prevail. The second two pieces get more into the weeds on the theme but it is one that probably requires a deeper dive than most.

I don’t really have a pick for “If you read only one article…” this week. Not because they are all so strong but more because I jammed a whole lot of extra links and references in this week. Nearly any one of the top-level articles may well be a rabbit hole all its own. The journey would be well worth it for any of the picks. I do always hope that commentary might serve as a guidepost for the start of your reading adventure.

Stay well and warm. With more winter weather on the way in the northeast, may the power remain intact and you have a chance to enjoy what is hopefully that last snowfall of the season.

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

West Virginia Walkouts a Lesson in the Power of a Crowd-Sourced Strike – The New York Times –  Jess Bidgood & Campbell Robertson (7-minute read)

I find it pretty hard not to be inspired by the teachers in West Virginia. Steeped in historical resonances of labor history, the teachers bravely acted with the kind of collective resolve that one would think unions can only dream about. Yet, this article points out just how incapable the union leadership was in organizing this collective action. If anything that should be an even more powerful lesson. Union leadership needs to represent their membership, not their personal interests, or become too cozy with the other side. Here the membership ensured that they were heard by all parties and may be a preview of what can be expected in the inspired movements already afoot.

Also, this Guardian piece provides a little more background for those not closely following the story. Another element this Guardian article highlights is the wider implications of the strike. Oklahoma, are already the lowest paid teachers in the nation, not to mention most schools already only meeting four days a week for budget reasons. Despite some tradeoffs, there is good reason for Okie teachers to be emboldened by what happened in West Virginia. Still, an even bigger catalyst may yet be in the offing, for those that may be unfamiliar with Janus v. AFSCME.

No, ‘cognitive strengthening exercises’ aren’t the answer to media literacy – A Long View on Education –  Benjamin Doxtdator (12-minute read)

I think I state this every time I include something by him but I really like Benjamin Doxtdator’s writing. He is clever, insightful, extraordinarily well-read, and sources his blogposts better than almost anyone. Here he reacts to a keynote by another extremely clever thinker and writer Danah Boyd, someone I have referenced here previously too. This piece goes deep but it covers a lot of ground that is becoming increasingly important to educators across the spectrum. Literacy of all kinds is both complex and complicated, the media version notwithstanding.

While Boyd’s talk is also worth a look, reading Doxtdator’s response might be enough. He by no means cherrypicks bits and pieces to take Boyd to task. In fact, Boyd readily admits being at a bit of a loss in her keynote. In fact, knowing this makes the response that much more powerful. Reading this is like sitting at the table for a conversation between two really clever people, although the number is growing and now also includes another powerhouse Renee Hobbs, wrestling with an exceptionally thorny problem. Of course, there are no easy answers but this conversation is an important one and educators need to be paying closer attention to it. It kind of gets at one of the broader aspects of education as an enterprise.

YouTube, the Great Radicalizer – The New York Times –  Zeynep Tufekci (6-minute read)

Sticking with the theme this opinion column from Tufekci seemed like an almost too perfect way to wrap up this issue. While the way YouTube’s algorithms make suggestions is sobering, our concerns should not be limited only to Google. Amazon and Netflix, just to name a couple more super suggestors, might all be worthy of far greater scrutiny (a topic I have included previously). YouTube might hold an even more acute status, however. What a lot of adults and educators, in particular, may not realize is how YouTube has become an almost default search engine, replacing the more often assumed Google search page.

If ever there was a clarion call for us to redouble our efforts on the media literacy dilemma showcased in the previous installment, this commentary is it. If you have a look at the Danah Boyd piece, Tufekci’s comment “What we are witnessing is the computational exploitation of a natural human desire: to look ‘behind the curtain,’ to dig deeper into something that engages us,” seems like exhibit A for what Boyd calls weaponizing the very act of asking a question. Plus, I couldn’t agree more with her final thought on the topic.