Education Evolutions #118

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

Happy New Year to all readers that find their way to this little collection of articles and thoughts. After a short break for the holidays, I was excited to gather up a few items to share. There rarely is much of a shortage. Usually, it takes me longer to cull through and try to decide which ones to include than it does for just about any other part of the process. Still, it is an effort to connect with a small community and beyond around work that we can all read and have a good think about. For me, writing a little about them has its benefits too. In fact, I encourage anyone to do it.

I hope everyone had a nice respite over the festive period no matter what holidays are observed. I will say that vacations, especially ones that might bring gifts, always means more reading for me. I got a whole bunch of great books that I have been nose deep into already, as well as the regular periodical reading that I happen to do that renders this newsletter. I am firmly in the too much to read and never enough time to get to it all camp.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. I am a big fan of Douglass Rushkoff. He is an exceptionally smart social, technology, and media thinker and critic. He has written no shortage of books that have shaped some of my thinking. If you are not familiar with his work you should be. He has been a regular at times on NPR and PBS. Still, if he is new to you, this piece published in The Guardian is a good introduction. A usual, he points out some things that sometimes slip past the mainstream media but also finds a way to promote a thread of optimism, the genuine kind.

Additionally, I am adding a link to an extra item that I know will not entice everyone because of its length. Nevertheless, a writer often featured in this newsletter, Audrey Watters, has put together an impressive piece of writing The 100 Worst Ed-Tech Debacles of the Decade (103-minute read). Even if you do not read every word, just scanning it is worth it. Yet, when you have some time and inclination reading the whole thing is well worth the endeavor.

Since the first time I saw a trailer for the forthcoming film 1917, I was hooked on seeing it.  Continuing to see commercials for it in the run-up to its release kept reminding me of this excellent video on World War I, Cause and Effect: the unexpected origins of terrible things, which is five years old already. Adam Westbrook made a number of these video essays before joining the team at The New York Times. They are really good. Rewatching this one put me on another binge of sorts. I suspect I will share more.

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

How First-Year Comp Can Save the World – Inside Higher Ed – Deborah L. Williams (6-minute read)

While this article may be aimed at a higher education audience, I could not help but include it because it certainly can apply to secondary education, if not all levels. Of course, being a high school English teacher probably makes me predisposed to the kind of thinking in this opinion piece. Plus, I regularly admit that I teach young writers if I teach anything. Still, nearly every teacher of any subject would claim that they want to teach their young charges how to think better and yet writing is thinking. Not every teacher wants to reconcile that simple fact.

What I love about Willimas’ piece is how she deconstructs just some of the key pedagogical elements of a first-year composition class at university and then proceeds to expose how those elements would work pretty well in any course. It is a clever trick but it is far more than just a logical conceit. The truth is that she is right. Any class would benefit from “conferences, drafting and revision, [or] thoughtfully structured workshops.” I am not sure a reasonable argument could be made to the contrary.

Yet the real meat of Williams’ work is at the end, in the final section entitled “Principles of Consilience.” Not only does she provide some instruction about a work that I reckon a fair number of people are unfamiliar but she does so in delivering a poignant message about the need for more consilience, which another point pretty difficult to contradict. There is not a class at any level of education that would not benefit from “the ability to draw upon multiple intellectual disciplines to inform one’s perspective.” I also think Williams is right about another thing. The ability to teach and practice learning with greater consilience would make the world a much better place.

Smartphones Are Spies.
Here’s Whom They Report To.
 – The New York Times – Stuart A. Thompson and Charlie Warzel
 (8-minute read)

The New York Times recently began The Privacy Project which is chock full of plenty of articles being generated at an impressive piece. I could probably pull a piece from that effort almost every week. This one is specifically about mobile devices which are now nearly ubiquitous. I often wonder how much people actually pay attention to just how much the mobile phone in their pocket is a tracking device. It seems strange to me that people would not be aware of it, which may explain why pieces like this seem necessary to be published in major newspapers, or maybe people don’t care all that much. I can never be all that sure.

What might be more eye-opening for people is exposing the ways that companies pretty much get around any agreement that you believe that you might be entering with them through software development kits (SDKs). While a select few people may actually look at the terms and service agreements, the SDKs provide a kind of loophole that isn’t even covered by that clause that explains how the company can change the terms of the agreement without consent pretty much anytime they like.

Of course, not everything about this is all bad. The main problem is that you, as an end-user, are not given much choice about anything. More problematic is how companies deliberately obfuscate the amount of data that may be collected, how it will be used, who will get access to it, to name just a few possibilities. Plus, it can be sold almost anytime to third parties all because of that original consent. Of course, companies like Google and so many others will try to make the case that their services simply cannot function as well without this kind of tracking. However, there is a completely unregulated market predicated entirely on surveillance data. It truly is the oil of the age and we are so far from being able to get our heads around it let alone do anything about it. See the Rushkoff piece below.

We’ve spent the decade letting our tech define us. It’s out of control – The Guardian – Douglas Rushkoff (8-minute read)

I have been following Douglas Rushkoff’s for 25 years. It stings a little to write those words. Still, I remember listening to an interview with him promoting his excellent book Media Virus back in 1995 and thinking this guy was really on to something. Since then I have followed his career and writing, which began like so many of us with an excited, positive, and hopeful view of how technology was going to change the world for the better only to recognize his own naivety and offer a far more nuanced and sharply critical view of how technology is changing the world not necessarily for the better. It is all a little more complicated than that.

In this piece, Rushkoff shows how we all have come to the realization that digital technologies may not have lived up to the hopeful promise it so successfully marketed. As he explains, so much of the current protest and criticism focuses on the box while the forces unleashed are well gone from the scene. Another possible way to put it, we no longer live our lives mediated by technology as much as technology mediates our lives, which I find increasingly uneasy. How can anyone read the following and not be made to feel a little uneasy?

We’ve spent the last 10 years as participants in a feedback loop between surveillance technology, predictive algorithms, behavioral manipulation and human activity. And it has spun out of anyone’s control.

He then posits a pretty compelling notion that we are all sleepwalking into an array of virtually-engineered realities that cater to some of our most base impulses because they are, of course, some of the easiest to access and manipulate via our digital technologies. However, he then offers a potential antidote by continued use of technology to resist atomization in favor of connection to the local and using the network’s best asset, memory, to harness real facts, real metrics, and real commonalities that we have as humans in favor of a mutually agreed-upon reality. The kind that passes the eye-test and requires attention to what is immediately around us rather than the dislocated, distant connections dangled in front of us through digital technologies. Some of these ideas are rooted in his excellent book Program or Be Programmed, mentioned in the article and bridge to his current work in Team Human (both book and podcast). His work is highly recommended. As I said, I have been following him for a quarter of a century, even though it smarts a little to repeat that fact.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.