Education Evolutions #61

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 often opt not to publish this newsletter during breaks from school and teachers across New England begin spring break this week, I still felt compelled to get this one out. Next week may be a different story. I may still churn an issue out but it should not be a complete surprise if nothing arrives next Sunday either. I’ll see how the week goes, actually.

Plus, this week there just seemed to be too much worth sharing. In a week that saw both Mark Zuckerberg and Congress exposed a bit more than usual, edtech journalist Audrey Watters poignantly remarked that maybe tech journalists should do a better job of explaining how things work. I could not agree more. I would even include those writing about educational technology. Far too many repackage thinly veiled corporate marketing and perpetuate the idea of magic solutions.

Listed below is a rather eclectic mix of pieces this week. I do really try to seek out articles that offer a variety of points of view. They offer me the opportunity to challenge and refine my own thinking. That was key in my including the Sue Thomas piece. I am not sure I agree with her but I actually respect the point of view she is researching and advancing as a serious and reflective endeavor.

As for the “If you read only one article…” selection this week. The third selection “The Noisy Fallacies of Psychographic Targeting” earns that distinction. It highlights just how much dubious claims and mythmaking can sweep through our understanding and consciousness, especially when coupled with some shady sleight-ofhand diversionary tactics employed by profit-seeking enterprises offering the latest edtech solutions.

Even though spring break has started, the season still seems pretty far from arriving. I cannot believe how cold it is in mid-April.

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

I love my digital life – Sue Thomas’ on Medium –  Sue Thomas (5-minute read)

I came across this post and found it an interesting departure from much of the current conversation, despite the post being five years old. I am not entirely sure that I buy some of it but I still found it interesting to read and think about. I will say that the differences between our digital and physical lives can be hard to distinguish and I am a middle-aged adult. I can only imagine what it must be like for the teenagers in my classroom. If nothing else, this post made me reevaluate why the idea that a kid’s mobile phone might feel more like oxygen to them.

My personal fascinations have led me to a lot of hours in front of a computer and online from the earliest days of computers becoming personal and invading our homes. Plus, the restrictions my parents and teachers placed on my time in front of screens and interfaces likely only made the fascination deeper. Still, as I read this I felt a stronger sense of ambivalence and suspicion. I am not yet sure that it is discomfort from wrestling with the ideas that Thomas puts forth or a too-easy, reactive dismissal of some of the thoughts presented here. I certainly am not sure I agree with everything but I cannot summarily ignore it.

If nothing else, Thomas’ sentiments, in part, explain a whole lot of desktop wallpapers adorning the computers of friends and colleagues (It seems like an emoji would be appropriate here!). Apparently, the idea has gotten some legs since the publication of this post. She finished a book on the subject and is now offering retreats at Othona in West Dorset, UK. Broadchurch fans will recognize the locale.

“Unfreezing” Teachers: Why So Many Technology Initiatives Are Stagnating – Leading Innovation in Schools: From Someday to Monday –  Tom Daccord (5-minute read)

Tom Daccord is a name familiar to many in the edtech space, especially if you live in the Boston area. The former history teacher left the classroom to create a successful educational technology consulting company with partner Justin Reich, even claiming the ubiquitous name EdTechTeacher as a brand. They do some interesting work, to be fair, and I have even attended and presented at their events.

However, this blog post discloses none of the pertinent personal information before essentially blaming teachers for not getting with the edtech, innovation program. Using references to the father of social psychology, Kurt Lewin, he justifies his conclusions. It is not that this post is devoid of any sound reasoning, it is that it is far too oversimplified and misses some pretty significant factors, like the prevalence of competing demands placed on teachers and administrators, not to mention any recognition that any “galvanizing vision of how learning can be different when technology” includes a whole range of dubious assumptions. Interestingly, I quickly found that Lewin’s ‘changing as three steps’ model has its own unreliable legacy.

Of course learning can be different with technology but that difference is not de facto better. That notion seems completely absent. In fact, I would argue that is the single biggest myth going in education today. Another completely absent notion is how mandatory and standardized testing is antithetical to any concept of the popular edtech buzzwords like innovation or vision, let alone educationally sound concepts of “student-centric” and “creativity-focused.” That fact seems almost lost entirely in writing about educaiton today. Without acknowledging any of this, it is hard to take any of this thinking very seriously as anything other than marketing, which it seems to be if you read a little closer and think a little deeper.

The Noisy Fallacies of Psychographic Targeting – Wired –  Antonio García Martínez (10-minute read)

This might be one of the most interesting pieces to come out in the wake of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica revelations. What this article does better than most is provide a proper context in which the wider story can be placed. How effective the Cambridge Analytica data heist even was has been mostly lost in the drama of Facebook being dragged through the mud, deserved though it may be.

Garcia Martinez provides a bit of history as to where psychographics comes from and just how soft it is as a concept. He also goes into a bit more detail as to how easily the data heist was able to be accomplished. Then he explains the two “leaps” made in what Cambridge Analytica was trying to do, “guessing about individual political inclinations based on rather metaphysical properties like ‘conscientiousness;’ and predicting what sort of Facebook user behaviors are also common among people with that same psychological quality.” If it sounds shaky it is because it is.

Another thing this piece does well is highlight where journalism might be falling down on the job and informing the public about the nuance instead of the drama. Thus, more myths and misunderstandings march on. Perhaps the most insightful comment is made at the end, “just because a product doesn’t work doesn’t mean you can’t sell it.” This might just be the motto of a whole lot of edtech enterprises. And don’t forget Facebook has been selling personalized learning in schools for a few years now. Better still and completely underreported, “Facebook employs psychologist whose firm sold data to Cambridge Analytica.” Of course, I don’t think Zuck commented on that mcu during his discussions with Congress.

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