Education Evolutions #64

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

After some thematic unities of the last few weeks, this selection is more of a randomized mix. In some ways, it was a bit of a slower week in terms of loads of finds worth sharing. Plus, I was deliberately trying to avoid longer reads after last week’s batch. That proved more of a limiting factor than I might have thought.

Also, this week is not quite as gloomy as the selection can sometimes be. The piece on algorithms might signal a bit more shade but it is definitely an issue that needs a lot more attention. The pace at which algorithms are supplanting human decision-making and intervention is an area where we all need to be a bit more informed. It is an area that is far too open to abuse without greater oversight.

As for the “If you read only one article…” selection this week, my choice clearer than it has been lately “OLPC’s $100 laptop was going to change the world — then it all went wrong.” It was interesting and insightful about a recent moment and device that held such great promise but could not quite deliver on expectations. In that way, it represents a lot of edtech efforts, for me. Yet, I will say that the ambition of this particular effort seemed a lot more admirable than most. It is hard to believe that One Laptop Per Child is more than decade past and or that it has become merely a footnote in the longer education technology story.

Spring has finally sprung but rain has made it a little easier to write this newsletter than a lazy Sunday sun.

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

How Does Your Practice Reflect the Modern Context? – Modern Learners –  Bruce Dixon (6-minute read)

I almost like this title more than the content actual post. It is an important question nonetheless. While the site is part of William Richardson’s advocacy efforts to change schools, including a strong edtech strain, it cannot be summarily dismissed either. As I am fond of saying if change is the only constant than learning is the only alternative. Part of that learning means that a teacher’s practice should change.

The continuum of behaviors provides an interesting frame, although I really do not like that it opens with a binary division. I guess I just don’t think it is at all that simple. Educators are not always the ones necessarily in denial. Very often it is policymakers that create contexts that are even more difficult, to name one. Institutional demands create a certain amount of inertia, whose force can be stronger than any amount of denial by a single educator. Truth be told, there are a number of educators that are neither in denial nor completely capable of the kind of autonomy being heralded here. Institutions generally beat individuals down, sadly. That seems to be missing amidst all the hoopla for changing schools.

Algorithms: Why you should learn what they are, how they affect you and your kids — and whether they actually work – The Washington Post –  Charles Tocci (8-minute read)

Understanding just how much and to what degree algorithms are controlling our lives is essential knowledge at this point, as far as I am concerned. Yet, much like the problems that involve data privacy, the government is exploiting the issues as much as any private firm. Here, professor Charles Tocci pulls back the curtain on one more way that public education is employing private companies that can hide behind intellectual property law to avoid transparency. In this case, it involves what school kids in cities like Chicago and New York are likely to attend.

The fact that many algorithms only deepen and widen discriminatory practices should be enough for some serious oversight. This couldn’t be more required in a city like Chicago, one of the most segregated cities of its size in the nation, not to mention the mayor’s shuttering of 50 schools mainly in minority neighborhoods. Every one of the suggestions Tocci makes in this piece are not even things that should require much debate. TYhey should simply be statutory requirements for our algorithms used by our public institutions.

OLPC’s $100 laptop was going to change the world — then it all went wrong – The Verge –  Adi Robertson (15-minute read)

This look back at the phenomenon of One Laptop Per Child is a fascinating exposé and piece of nostalgia. Apart from the in-depth history of the idea and program, there are some genuine innovative elements to the that have largely resonated more than the device itself. There is a pioneering aspect tot he story that is quite compelling. To think that OLPC is over decade old already and it already a holds a bit of wistfulness, not to mention that there are going to be new models this year. Time seems to fly a little faster in the digital world.

There is almost no question that OLPC pulled down prices for devices across the market. The original idea, despite not being realized exactly as planned was pretty audacious. Add to that the fact that Intel so quickly tried to hijack the emerging market is a testament to the quality of that idea. As with so many things, the problem became about managing expectations. Unfortunately, the article falls into one of the traps and tropes of edtech journalism, the metric trap. Educational technology is not going to show a boost in traditional educational metrics, nor should it. I would argue that is, one of many reasons, to tear down most those metrics. However, there is a kind of recovery for the author in the form of researcher Morgan Ames, towards the end of the piece, who comments on the trade-offs. There are trade-offs but if the costs were as cheap as OLPC there would not be seen as much of a problem. I would also submit that rooting edtech in open source software was also an idea that should get a lot more traction. Unfortunately, the promise of OLPC might be more disappointing on those grounds, at least for me.

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