Education Evolutions #70

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

Apologies for such a late delivery. The festive day left me with a lot less time than normal to put this all together. It was all for good reasons, mind you. Plus, I am also facing a major obstacle in that the World Cup is underway.

No single sporting event so captures my attention and imagination. I absolutely love the every-four-year international tournament, despite all its warts and dark side. I just cannot help it. World Cup summers are my favorite of all summers. Sadly, I reckon nothing will be even closely the same when Qatar hosts the event.

As usual, no real theme in this issue, although it is definitely a bit on the dour side. Sometimes it just works out that way. I guess we are just coming to some pretty hard reckonings with some over-exuberant decisionmaking regarding the unprecedented proliferation of technology in our lives. Perhaps reckoning is far too premature a characterization. Maybe we are beginning to experience some profound realizations. Counter-actions still seem a ways off.

There is no real choice for “If you read only one article…” again, which is not altogether uncommon. All are of similar length, actually. They all evoke a rising sense of frustration that a lot of people feel, I think, but have a hard time articulating. These are complicated times.

Still trying to decide whether I will keep the newsletter up over the summer. No conclusions. So, this could be the last one for awhile, not sure just yet.

Hope everyone had a nice Father’s Day. I did.

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

Ed-Tech That Makes Me Want to Scream – Inside Higher Ed –  John Warner (10-minute read)

I must confess I find myself feeling more and more like I could have written this. I have long said that edtech tends to solve a lot of old pedagogical problems that do not interest me as much anymore. For example, there is no shortage of tools that make grading multiple-choice items easier and faster than ever. I am just not interested in multiple-choice items all that much anymore, despite their prevalence on standardized tests. Yet, surveillance has been a growing concern for the last year or two, only heightened with all this Facebook nonsense of late.

Kids have already kind of been robbed of the ability to make stupid mistakes without public incident thanks to social media. Every misstep is potentially publicized and archived, never to be just be ignored or even better forgotten. Now, we are creating tools that they will be required to use that only double-down on the Kafkaesque before they are even capable of reading Kafka or understanding the concept. It is hard not to feel a profound dehumanizing effect.

How Pro-Eating Disorder Posts Evade Filters on Social Media – Wired –  Louise Matsakis (14-minute read)

This is a fascinating example of how algorithms can exacerbate already entrenched problems. I am glad that this piece opens with the concession that eating disorder sites have been around almost as long as the Internet. The same could be said about a lot of ethically suspect topics. Yet algorithms seemingly act as accelerants for these debased efforts on social media.

The key element in the article really revolves around just how savvy the users and participants have become to avoid detection. That is an insight that has a lot more far-reaching consequences. Certainly, groups of people with eating disorders are far from the only people employing the same kinds of strategies and tactics. More worrisome is just how quickly more surveillance will likely be part of the answer in addressing these kinds of problems. Algorithms cannot make complex ethical decisions and generally amplify biases inherent in their creation, leading to extremely brittle ethical contexts. This is just one example of a much greater and profound problem where we have yet to find very good solutions.

How to Fight Amazon (Before You Turn 29) – The Atlantic –  Robinson Meyer (14-minute read)

This article provides a good primer on the recent history of anti-trust activity in the United States. It also begins to make a case for Amazon’s growing monopoly status, while profiling a young attorney named Lina Khan. I wish that it went a lot further on the topic. I suppose that a read of the “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” paper referenced will have to do. Plus, this piece ends with some clever novelty.

Pinpointing the moment of perception change in an article like this is a really important as a way to provide some context. Like so many of our prevailing cultural attitudes, they are rooted in the Reagan administration. For me, that 1980 inauguration has looked more and more vividly like the trigger for a seismic shift in our nation’s history. One that continues to reverberate to this day. Since the break up of the Bell system in 1982, something that was a dozen years in the making, it seems like monopoly efforts have only seemed to accelerate since. The possible exception would be the Microsoft case but they settled. Facebook, Google, Amazon are all good contenders now.

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