Education Evolutions #59

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

While I had designs on getting this pout a bit early this week, given that its a holiday weekend and all, those plans ran aground pretty quickly. So hopefully this finds you well and enjoying some spring-like weather somewhere.

I am still culling through a smattering of articles from the last few weeks while ensuring that some more timely stuff is included. Believe it or not it is kind of fun. It is always a short memory walk for me, reflecting on the pieces I thought were interesting upon discovery.

This week is a mixed bag but definitely still deeply in the shadow of the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal. The reverberations of that story breaking are seriously sparking a rethink of a whole lot of things. Of course, there is not a lot that is new but the stakes seem to be getting bigger and creepier with every similar story.

All three of these are short articles, so I don't really have a "If you read only one article..." pick. They are all worth your time. I suppose the last one,"Beware the smart toaster: 18 tips for surviving the surveillance age" is perhaps the most practical in terms of things that you can do given the circumstances we find ourselves.

Hope you have enjoyed the holiday weekend, however you liked. Maybe, just maybe, spring has finally sprung and warmer days are ahead.

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

How the “industrial era schools” myth is a barrier to helping educationtoday - Sherman Dorn - blog -  Sherman Dorn (5-minute read)

As an education historian and professor, Dorn makes truly some compelling statements about how much bad history is used as a stick to beat the field and teachers in particular. There is a lot to admire in his levelheaded analysis, brief as it may be. I am definitely with him on the idea "neither historians nor anyone else can definitively claim nothing has changed in a system such as schooling."

The problem as Dorn implies so well is that the history of schooling in this country is both profoundly complex and complicated. It all reminds me a bit of the concept of backward or downward compatibility in the telecommunications industry. In order for new standards and technology to be integrated smoothly, old standards cannot simply be abandoned. They have to remain operable. Imagine if landline phones just stopped working the minute mobile phone technology was introduced. Change is always hard and often slow in highly developed, long-standing systems. And American schooling has existed a lot longer than telecommunications of any kind.

Where Dorn discusses the persistence of certain practices, about halfway through the post, is worth reading on its own. Yet, "Weak understanding of education history is actively harmful to improving schools," might be the most profound statement of all. Anyone that says schools are still stuck in the Industrial Age not only has a weak understanding but is simply "making stuff up" to support an instantly dubious agenda if you ask me.

This Is So Much Bigger Than Facebook - The Atlantic -  Ethan Zuckerman (9-minute read)

We may be on the verge of a serious reckoning with regards to social media and the Internet on the whole. This piece highlights how the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica problem is merely symptom of a much larger problem. It is the business model of the platforms not bad actors that are "based on collecting this demographic and psychographic information and selling the ability to target ads to people using this data about them." Still, believe it or not, I remain hopeful.

I especially like the paragraph in the middle of this piece where Zuckerman comes clean on what his publication, The Atlantic is doing. That kind of candidness is at least refreshing. If you have any doubts about just how big the problem is have a look at this Doc Searls blogpost "Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica problems are nothing compared to what’s coming for all of online publishing." This makes the contention that all of us Internet users have been coerced into a bargain where we have had no negotiating power all the more true.

It is always hard to change the rules when their are forces making serious money leveraging existing circumstances. This is why I am often immediately dismissive of industries-should-regulate-themselves narratives. Too often it is in direct conflict with the notion if-it-can-be-done-it-will-be-done. Someone, bad actor or simply curious, will do it eventually. We humans are a flawed bunch. My hope is that this Facebook story is big enough and long enough to provoke recognition of just how flawed we can be as well as some genuine change.

Beware the smart toaster: 18 tips for surviving the surveillance age - The Guardian -  Alex Hern and Arwa Mahdawi (7-minute read)

While we may be on the verge of a reckoning, we certainly are not there yet. That is where this article from The Guardian comes in awfully handy. Considering just how little leverage we have had in the Internet bargain, here are some tips on how to take at least some power back from the uneven negotiation.

I have to admit that I often shudder at the mention of the phrase "best practices." It is too often a soft start to some thinly veiled coercive behavior modification from someone who is interested in changing a culture, education's appropriation of corporate gobbledygook. In this case, these best practices actually might benefit you should you adopt them.

I particularly like the numbers 2, 16, 17, and 18. A variation on number 2, if you have started buying into the Internet of things, make sure that you can turn the devices off whenever you are not using them. If you can't maybe its not worth owning. I also suggest one that is not in the list. Get an email address that is essentially for registrations and garbage that you don't really use for anything else. Then routinely go in and wipe it clean. Hopefully, you will find some of these helpful. I knew some of these already but some were genuinely new to me too.

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.