Education Evolutions #126

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

I realized this week that the service I have been using to deliver this newsletter to many is no longer distributing things as quickly as I thought. While I post it online too, it really started in email form. So I was a little surprised when I received the email midweek for a newsletter that I had finished and published on Sunday as usual. All I can say about it is sorry and now that I am aware I will have to investigate some other possible methods for pushing it out.

This week the selection seemed to defy any notion of theme. A little bit about writing, digital life, and grades are on the docket and none of the articles is particularly long so there is a chance you could easily be enriched by reading them all. They are an eclectic mix that certainly falls under the wider remit I have set up for this newsletter.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the second one, which rarely happens. It is a quick read, slightly out of the ordinary style, and filled with some strong and intuitive observations. If you cannot remember the last time you cleaned up your Google drive or lamented the state of it, which is just about everyone I meet, then this is a good read.

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

A dirty secret: you can only be a writer if you can afford it – The Guardian – Lynn Steger Strong (5-minute read)

As an English and journalism teacher and someone who sits down and writes more regularly than I ever have in my life, hoping to generate work worth reading, I found this article compelling. At this point in my life, completely out of choice, I am generating somewhere around 3000 to 4000+ words a week, whether it be this newsletter or the articles I have been writing after every Liverpool match (now on the verge of winning their first league title in 30 years) over the last five years. Of course, I would bever claim to be a writer by profession. I am a teacher. Yet, I am a writer too, despite it not being my primary vocation.

I made a decision some time ago that I needed to be a practicing writer if I was going to be teaching young writers anything genuine or meaningful. For me, that meant committing to the discipline of writing regularly for real audiences, however many I might find. I had no illusions about making money from the work but occasionally wonder about what kind of possibilities there might be. Ultimately, I felt if there was any hope of writing anything that required a long, sustained effort, I had better prove to myself that I could put in the kind of graft that is required to do it before making the attempt. Perhaps I will one day.

However, this article is proof of something that may well be unfortunately true of nearly all creative fields. Making any kind of money via creative work is profoundly difficult in the prevailing system by which we live. Steger Strong pretty well nails it with the notion that “long-term creative work than time and space – these things cost money – and the fact that some people have access to it for reasons that are often outside of their control continues to create an ecosystem in which the tenor of the voices that we hear from most often remains similar.” While it is not exactly that every productive creative individual needs a supporting patron, we are not necessarily as far from it as we might like to think. This piece is about the cost of writing but it could potentially be about any creative or artistic field, which is not necessarily a good thing for anyone.

What the Death of iTunes Says About Our Digital Habits – The Atlantic – Robinson Meyer (6-minute read)

This is a creative and insightful commentary that uses the recent death of Apple’s everpresent music app iTunes symbolically as symptomatic a far greater shift in the way we consume and operate in digital spaces. Much has changed in the last decade regarding how we interact and use digital devices. The computer truly became as ubiquitous as all the science fiction once upon a time stories suggested. The final hurdle of ordinariness arrived with the smartphone that enabled nearly anyone to walk with a computer in their pocket at all times.

Aside from the creative structure and setup if this piece in the numbered list, Meyer also offers some penetrating perceptions about how our relationship to the various devices has evolved as we migrated to living increasingly inside a computer-mediated reality. His assessment of Gmail’s victory seems particularly keen in moving from hard drives to the cloud. In a way, looking back as Meyer has done, Google’s email app was the thin edge of the wedge needed for companies to convince customers that owning things was so 20th century and the future was leasing in perpetuity.

The colonization of the digital world, which looks increasingly like the real world, began and continues apace. All the promise of online and free would eventually give way to the subscription because nobody could find a more creative way. Meyer’s items 10 and 11 are the most critical and reflective of all. They are also the most thought-provoking and telling. Boundaries have broken down but not always in a good way. The digital world privileges timelessness and dislocation among other things. As a consequence “the clock is always running, and that the work will never end” seems right on the mark to me.

What If We Didn’t Grade?: A Bibliography – Jesse Stommel’s blog – Jesse Stommel (7-minute read)

The move towards ungrading remains one of the most interesting and important things happening in education. While Jesse Stommel works at the university level and has been one of a handful of leaders exploring the prospects of going gradeless in higher education, there are plenty of secondary teachers doing so too. I often wonder where the movement is likely to be more embraced and successful. More than that, anyone that wants to engage or explore the prospects might suffer from no clear or obvious place to begin the journey. This post seems to fill that void.

I have included a number of items on this topic and I am always on the lookout for more. Over the course of my teaching career, I have seen first-hand the adverse affects grading has had on my classroom and my students. I have often commented that I feel I have spent the majority of my time as a teacher trying to diminish grades as much as I can, although I have never gone completely gradeless. Honestly, I am not sure that it would fly. Of course, grades are a requirement of the institution. Yet, as Stommel suggests, it has never been as simple as “just removing grades.” It certainly requires a lot of reflection and entering into a wider discussion.

What is so great about this post is that he has already considered many of the questions and shares them, as well as links to no shortage of resources to investigate as part of that reflective process. Some of the resources I have seen before but many I have not. Consequently, I am encouraged to dig around in some of the readings he recommends at length, as I continually reassess how grades work in my classroom and where they might be headed. It seemed only natural to share this with more people, especially those giving grades a serious think, as well.

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