Education Evolutions #117

Close up of smartphone in hand flickr photo by shared under
a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Apologies to all as last week was one of those rare instances where I failed to get an issue of this newsletter out. Occasionally, Sunday slips away from me and I send something out late. Yet, last week I completely spaced sitting down and putting things together. I think the season just got me a bit busier than normal. I think that has only happened one other time in the 118 efforts. Sorry about that.

All that being said, this will be the last issue of this year. I will resume in a couple of weeks after the holidays.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. The Internet has a long memory, changing the way we live and creating a host of new challenges for young and old. This story is a look into another evolution in the kind of propagandizing efforts that can be unleashed across the web if you have enough money that is. How tech companies can continually be allowed to remain unaccountable on these fronts boggles the mind.

Continuing the effort to add some videos to this newsletter, here is one from EdWeek’s series on student motivation. This specific one is Why Autonomy Matters. Allowing students autonomy to make decisions is an excellent way to exercise their agency, which is always good to me.

Here’s hoping everyone enjoys the holidays and festive season.

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

Is Writing to Text the Only “High Quality” Curriculum? – Inside Higher Ed – John Warner (5-minute read)

First, full disclosure, I like John Warner a lot. The writing instructor and author wrote the recent titles Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities and The Writer’s Practice: Building Confidence in Your Nonfiction Writing, both of which are practically must-reads for anyone charged with teaching writing. Of course, I would require that English and language arts teachers from grades 6-12 read them but everyone would benefit immensely from those two books. Additionally, Warner was gracious and willing to interact with one of my students last year, before the student swerved and went in a different direction.

In this piece, Warner shares his frustration with the results from a recent report by the Fordham Institute. The fact that anyone takes any evaluation from the Fordham Institute’s edreformy agenda seriously at this point is an issue that Warner politely avoids, instead using the report as a platform to comment on the profoundly flawed consequences of the Common Core debacle regarding writing instruction. He squarely focuses on writing to text as an indicator of “high quality” curriculum. Since every standardized test makes almost exclusive use of writing to text, it has now nearly become the exclusive writing occasion in English and language arts classes.

If ever there were a perfect way to distort and destroy any chance a student might enjoy writing as an activity, let alone truly understand writing as thinking, David Coleman seems to have found it in developing the Common Core, as Warner cleverly suggests. Read this article for no other reason for the shortlist at the end, where Warner proposes his own criteria for a piece of high-quality writing curriculum. His criteria is considered, caring, and ultimately consequential for students and teachers alike. For anyone that thinks, “Right, I don’t have time to read a book about teaching writing,” read this article and spend some time rereading the list. Not doing so and continuing to focus almost exclusively on writing to text at the expense of any other occasion simply to serve standardized testing is tantamount to malpractice.

Tech companies monitor schoolkids across America. These parents are making them delete the data – The Guardian – Lois Beckett (8-minute read)

Student data privacy is an enormously under-reported and undervalued element in education today. While there are organizations and systems that are taking things seriously, I remain stunned at just how unaware schools, parents, and students remain about these issues. Worse still is when schools are complicit or actively seeking student surveillance. Yet given the range and depth of surveillance that is conducted on adults, it should not surprise anyone that that would pervade schools. On some level, education technology means surveillance, which is why a story like this needs wider availability.

I am fortunate enough to work with people that are taking student data privacy seriously and part of a growing effort to address this issue. However, the wider efforts are not large enough or growing fast enough in my estimation. There really is a need for legislation on this front, which seems unlikely at the moment. This is the first major effort I have seen primarily driven by a group of parents. It is inspiring. Still, I find it fascinating that I found this story about an American educational issue in a foreign newspaper. Perhaps I missed local coverage but I do not see a whole lot of mainstream media outlets focusing on these kinds of issues with any real focus. As far as I am concerned, all schools should demand that all student surveillance data be deleted every year.

How the 1% Scrubs Its Image Online – The Wall Street Journal – Rachael Levy (10-minute read)

This is a fascinating journey into a side of the web few likely knew even existed. Stories about gaming Facebook and other social media sites have been surfacing for a while now, especially in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal thanks to the like of investigative reporter Carole Cadwalladr, but I don’t know how many people were aware of how to game Google beyond the basics of search engine optimization. However, this article highlights just how it can be done by those willing and able to pay for it.

Essentially, there are firms that are able to engage in a blunt force, denial-of-service-style tactic by flooding the Internet with a favorable news blitz to overwhelmingly mute negative stories. What is exposed is a whole new flavor of “fake news” that puts the notion of public relations spin into hyperdrive. It is both enlightening and frightening. Furthermore, it exposes the make-believe notion that a company like Google can control, let alone prevent this kind of manipulation. The pretense that tech companies claiming to be platforms and not publishers can prevent bad actors on anything but the most superficial level is essentially myth.

Unless some major changes are enacted, this is another harrowing glimpse into the future of a world where artificial intelligence and algorithms distort reality, especially if you can pay for it. The fact that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos makes an appearance in the article as a client for these kinds of services is peak irony. Here is the pubic figure charged with stewarding the nation’s public education system actively trying to rub facts from public view as if they never existed, including who her own brother is. It is just another reason her appointment casts such a long and continually expanding shadow. It is some kind of intersection between technology and education.

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