Education Evolutions #66

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

A bit on the darker side this issue. Sometimes it happens that way, despite efforts to avoid it. Still, these articles shade thematically, to be sure. I just keep hoping that awareness of prevailing ideas and stories might help advance a more enlightened discussion and debate. Avoiding the uncomfortable just seems like a recipe for disaster. Of course, that old idea, “By the time you’ve read this it’s too late,” perpetually gnaws at me too.

I am not sure that there is a single unified theme but the balance of the individual and the collective is definitely in the running. Plus, it keeps on the regular thread of discarding any notion that technology is in any way “neutral, apolitical, or purely virtuous.”

The choice for “If you read only one article…” this week is a tough one. I am inclined to select Escape the echo chamber but it is a quick read. So the next best option is Google’s Selfish Ledger. If nothing else, watch the video. It would be fascinating to hear what people reading this think of that. Obviously, not everyone will think it quite as horrifying as I do. However, I think what scares me more is how much the terms of our technology misappropriates our individual agency without a lot of alternatives.

Hopefully, there is something to interest everyone.

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

The Soul-Crushing Student Essay – The New York Times –  Scott Korb (8-minute read)

The thing that I miss most about being away from the everyday classroom was teaching young writers. Fortunately, I have been able to keep at least a single connection to a course where I get to work with young writers. So many of the points that Korb makes in this opinion piece resonate with me but I would argue educators of all kinds should take heed of this professor’s observations. They are not even the first time I have read or heard many of these sentiments. I could make a strong argument one of the most significant consequences since the era of NCLB began has been a systematic degradation of peculiarity, as Kolb uses it, especially in the realm of writing.

Peculiarity, in life and in writing, is far harder to assess, measure, or rank on a rubric. There is little room for individual insight in situations where everything is standardized and normed. Worse still, the message students intuitively understand in this reality is a concentrated version of the nightmarish middle school desire to be like everyone else, parrot their teachers, or both. They know the bald nail gets beat down. I only wish this piece did not include, “much of what we call good writing cannot be taught,” which I categorically think is nonsense, though there is a difference between art and craft. Still, there is definitely more truth than fiction in this essay.

Google’s Selfish Ledger is an unsettling vision of Silicon Valley social engineering – The Verge –  Vlad Savov (8-minute read)

In the wake of the Google’s Duplex artificial intelligent voice calling demonstration, the discovery of this internal video provides an even more noteworthy view into the company that collects, categorizes, and capitalizes on personal data more than any company in the world. While Google insiders may shrug off the video as a thought experiment, as Savov highlights just how tone-deaf the company seems to be to the ethical implications of their actions and products. Plus, Google removed ‘Don’t Be Evil’ from its code of conduct. So they are really riding a public relations wave.

“I’m sorry, Dave…” I find things like this slightly terrifying. The very fact that a company that has been allowed to gather the amount of information that it does with practically no regulation is dreaming of realities like this is more than unnerving. And it is not just Google either. It is a handful of leviathan tech companies. Yet notions like Google overtaking users goals and eventually providing the targets, not to mention phrases like “topics would likely focus…reflect Google’s values as an organization” is enough to warrant a revision of Dante’s Inferno to include a new level. Yet, people seem more than willing to invite Google and Amazon, among others, even more directly into their homes and private lives with ever greater frequency and little thought of the consequences.

Escape the echo chamber – Aeon –  C Thi Nguyen (20-minute read)

This is definitely a long read but interesting nonetheless. Understanding echo chambers has become necessary knowledge nowadays. Between what seems like a natural predisposition toward susceptibility and algorithmic operations that function without our knowledge or complete awareness, learning a little more about the phenomenon is definitely worth the time it takes to read this piece.

Nguyen outlines and draws distinctions between echo chambers and epistemic bubbles, the latter might even be a bit newer to some. He provides some solid background and relies on landmark works from the field. Exposing the pernicious nature of echo chambers and how easily one can find themselves in one is a first step to avoiding them. While I feel like Rush Limbaugh references seem dated and almost quaint compared to some of the characters out there, this is still an interesting read even if the solutions proposed also seem a bit thin. If you visit the page, you can even have it read to you if you prefer listening although it takes a bit longer.

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