Education Evolutions #69

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

Keeping with the hodge-podge selection of articles this week. As we enter the final stretch of the second semester here in New England, I deliberately tried to keep these selections short. It forced me to forsake a couple of longer items that may make it in as the summer begins. I have not continued this newsletter in the summer in the past and have been mulling that possibility over of late. Feel free to send me any thoughts on that, if you are so moved.

If there were some kind of theme it might involve the questioning of what and how we know what we think we do, which I start to scratch a bit in response to the first item. It is an itch that has been absorbing a lot of my peripheral thinking recently. It is one of those things that I think as an educator should be a little more central to our everyday work than it probably is, actually.

The choice for “If you read only one article…” is up for grabs again this week. All of them are interesting and easily read in a short sitting. The facial recognition piece is probably the most important. The school design piece is probably the most fascinating. Meanwhile, the medieval teenager piece is probably the most offbeat. So, give them all a look if you get a chance.

Have a good week as the summer is nearly upon us.

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

Unproven facial-recognition companies target schools, promising an end to shootings – The Washington Post –  Drew Harwell (12-minute read)

This is the next wave of privacy destruction by opaque companies selling unproven vaporware products under the guise of greater security. As facial recognition becomes more sophisticated I see this only getting far worse unless it is strictly regulated. The other issue in play here which rarely gets addressed is how the proprietary nature of practically all technology companies perpetuate their opaqueness. Worse still, when public institutions employ this kind of surveillance technology and endorse these proprietaries, they violate almost all sense of the open, transparent, and public values that underlie our democratic government.

To his credit, Harwell captures a lot of the concerns, problems, and potential consequences associated with mass surveillance systems marketing themselves to schools. This is an insidious kind of fleecing of public money on promises of effectiveness by private companies with virtually no accountability. Perhaps most frustrating of all, the almost belligerent willingness to surrender privacy in the name of safety actually posses a far greater threat to security. In a surveillance state, everyone is at risk and only the overlords are safe.

Century-Old Decisions That Impact Children Every Day – National Public Radio –  Anya Kamenetz (8-minute read)

Architecture is a such a fascinating way to examine schools, especially given how often schools are being designed and built a the moment. Quite simply spaces are not neutral and they can have pretty profound impacts on learning. Aside from the sheer physical layout of the space, so many other environmental factors can affect students, like noise levels, air quality, even lighting. There are plenty of interesting studies in this area to back those claims.

This article and accompanying radio package provide a nice introduction to looking at schools with an architectural and interior design lens. Alexandra Lange’s book The Design of Childhood just made my summer reading list, if I can find it at a public library. School design is a topic that has interested me more ever since I saw British professor Stephen Heppell speak. He has even developed something he calls the Learnometer, a device to measures a handful of environmental factors which I would love to get my hands on at some point. Regardless, the design of the physical spaces remains compelling stuff.

This Is What It Was Like to Be a Teenager in the Middle Ages – Time –  Rachel Moss (10-minute read)

Working with teenagers makes this kind of history particularly interesting. I was immediately reminded of how many conversations I have had about how old Romeo and Juliet are and how troubled students are when they realize that they are probably not both high schooler age. Here is some proof courtesy of a historian.

Pieces like this are great reminders of the old adage, “The more things change the more they stay the same.” It also confirms just how fuzzy the edges of adolescence can be. I suspect a fair number of people know someone nigh on 30 years-old that probably still qualifies as one. This article also reminded me of Jon Savage’s book Teenage, a look at the pre-history of the teenager and youth culture. Still, this is a wonderful window into the perceptions of young people in days of yore. Students tend to be particularly interested in this kind of peculiar history when relevant. So this may have longer usefulness than the title might have suggested.

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