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.

Education Evolutions #65

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 think it is fair to say that we have reached a point where our individual lives are more entwined in relationships with corporations than perhaps any time since the age of the company towns at the turn of the last century. Maybe there is something peculiar about a century passing. It is definitely long enough that no living memory any longer exists. Documented history becomes increasingly important. Consequently, sorting out the past and how it might be impacting the present gets a bit trickier. Still, there are a lot of interesting parallels between the beginnings of the 20th and 21st centuries.

This week’s articles are loosely organized around our increasingly entangled relationships with companies and how technology mediates our day-to-day lives. It gets both complex and complicated, making for a real mess. Yet the notion that technology is in any way “neutral, apolitical, or purely virtuous” must be discarded.

The choice for “If you read only one article…” this week is a bit tricky. Yet, since most readers are classroom teachers, “Google’s Got Our Kids” is probably the best choice. Written by a teacher, it is the most direct of the selections. The other two articles swim in deeper waters of philosophy, theory, and ethics. It is also the shortest of the group, so it is the easiest read of the three. However, none of these items are significantly longer than the others.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there.

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

The New Octopus – Logic –  K. Sabeel Rahman (12-minute read)

I have been recently remarking how much our current moment is reminiscent of turn of the 19th century and the days of Teddy Roosevelt. This article does a much better job of striking the parallels in stark relief. However, it also does even better at explaining the subtleties of corporate power and how much they can upset the delicate balance required for healthy democratic principles.

Possibly the best thing about Rahman’s piece is the reframing of privacy rights as a way to impose structural limits on amassing corporate power as much as it is about individual rights, maybe more so. Ultimately, there are some really big problems that need to addressed and potentially require some new and more conscientious thought than has worked previously. Regardless, we need to confront the “democratic capacities of the public and the powers of private firms” or risk losing democratic capacities altogether.

Google’s Got Our Kids – The Outline –  Joanna Petrone (8-minute read)

There is something poignant about this piece in its balance and recognition that Google is not all bad. There are plenty of positive attributes to the products and services that Google provides. Nevertheless, the over-reliance and dependence on Google in schools should no less be a serious concern. It doesn’t matter how positive or beneficial the effort is if it means the collection of unchecked power (See The New Octopus for more on that).

What is more important to recognize is just how much educators are complicit in the new mindspace landgrab that has been underway for the better part of the last decade. It has only accelerated at geometric proportions with the introduction of the Chromebook. Plus, you know how serious it is in when looking at how much competitive companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon are trying desperately to play catch-up before it is beyond too late to catch Google in the K12 field. Of course, it is all free or nearly free because, as Petrone correctly reiterates, the children are really the products. An even more keen insight often not even considered, when or if students transfer their Google Drive from the education domain to their own private account, none of any prior restraints on Google targeted advertising are in place.

I am a data factory (and so are you) – Rough Type –  Nicholas Carr (10-minute read)

This blogpost by Nicholas Carr, of “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” fame, is an important discussion on the metaphors that we use to understand the current conundrum we find ourselves regarding the entanglements of power, technology, democracy, and daily life. There is a lot of carefully considered thought about the importance of metaphors we choose and their potential impact in shaping our thinking. I have been convinced for some time that one of the biggest challenges is that there may not be many metaphors that adequately help our understanding. We simply may not have them.

I do, however, like the idea of data framed in similar ways to oil, which is one that has I have begun to see a lot more recently. There is a lot of power in that metaphor, incomplete as it may be. One thing that I would refute a bit with Carr is that we are neither data mines nor factories. In many ways, we are both. It is not strictly a binary issue. It is more complicated than that, which lends support to my claim that we currently lack the proper metaphors. As it is evolving, digital technology hybridizes a host of existing metaphors. Our devices are more than tools; our data is more than oil; our lives are mediated more than ever by the technology we use every day, individually or as a society.