Education Evolutions #80

The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

We got our first snow of the season in New England and, as usual, it was just enough to make everything a bit of a nuisance. No need to stop anything although it definitely delayed some. It might just stick around for the holiday weekend and makes things seem more holiday-like.

This week kind of ended up having a Facebook theme to it. Sometimes that happens even when I do not necessarily plan it that way. What is interesting is that these three articles are all different in scope but are united by some commonalities that are hard to ignore. If you ask me the obvious conclusion is that Facebook is not a very good company. They are certainly lacking considerably in the area of ethics, albeit that is not eactly a new notion.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. It is just slightly longer and could quickly become a rabbit-hole if you are not careful. Still, it is really important to be aware of just how far things have been allowed to go without any plan or concern for individual or public welfare. Entire empires have emerged in the last 25 years that transcend national borders or governments. Yet all empires rise and fall, if only from under their own weight.

Have a great Thanksgiving holiday.

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

Brooklyn students hold walkout in protest of Facebook-designed online program – New York Post –  Susan Edelman (3-minute read)

This story caught my attention, despite being in a paper that I don’t necessarily read all that much. It is a bit sensational, which is the Post‘s stock and trade, but it is about Summit Learning which I have been following for some time now. For those that don’t know, Summit Learning is the Facebook personalized learning platform that has been gaining traction around the country. It began as a system built for the Summit Charter schools in California before Mark Zuckerberg discovered it and decide to put his money and resources into the product. I have seen it in action being used in multiple school settings in Rhode Island.

Summit sells all of the promises of “personalized learning” which are many. It is not a curriculum, although it can provide that too. It is more a learning management system with dashboards and analytics built-in. The first thing to understand, however, is that every personalized learning system that is being peddled by edtech is significantly deficient in the “person” part of that phrase. They are “teaching machines,” which Audrey Watters points out in this Twitter thread is an ill-fated idea that has been around a very long time. Having seen Summit, I can only amplify Watters and sympathize with the students. It is not personal, personalized, or even all that good for that matter. The only thing a student can really exercise any control over is pace and even that is iffy.

On a side note, as a journalism teacher, I read this and immediately thought I have a model article here. If ever there was an example of a golden quote it is this “It’s annoying to just sit there staring at one screen for so long,” which is the first one used in the article. To hear something like that as a reporter covering a story like this has to make the eyes light up.

Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis – The New York Times –  Sheera Frenkel, Nicholas Confessore, Cecilia Kang, Matthew Rosenberg and Jack Nicas (24-minute read)

Continuing on the anti-Facebook theme, this lengthy Times piece is a consolidation of a lot of coverage of the company over the last couple of years. While there is a lot more nuance and backroom insight in this piece, there is not as much new as might be expected for anyone that has been following this closely. Anyone that did not think that the company was not employing the very politically motivated delay, deny, and deflect strategy was not paying attention.

The main revelation that seems to have fueled the most subsequent fallout is the role that Sheryl Sandberg played in the whole affair. I also must admit, I was not aware of just how politically connected she was in Washington, although I am not altogether surprised. Sandberg has been getting a bit of a hammering as everyone seems to have some trouble reconciling the operator that now emerges from the Lean In evangelist she became a couple of years ago.

Still, I am amazed anyone continues to use Facebook at all, anymore. Never a fan, I so rarely look at it, I have all but deleted my account entirely. The only reason I haven’t is so many people continue to insist on using it despite it being a pretty awful outfit. Plus, this kind of information is just one more reason why we as a culture need to stop raising up corporate CEOs as some kind of heroic figures. Simply put, they are not – so far from it, in fact.

Targeted Advertising Is Ruining the Internet and Breaking the World – Motherboard –  Dr. Nathalie Maréchal (12-minute read)

Sticking with the Facebook theme once again, this article begins with them but expands to include all of the tech giants and their flotsam and jetsam of companies that feast on their wake. This piece is well sourced with all kinds of links to additional sources and stories that are referenced. It is pretty sobering reading.

How on earth it is legal for these companies to harvest your data even if you are not a user of their products or aggregate credit card purchases to be folded into profiles about you is unconscionable. In my mind, there is an emerging dystopian story in which an individual’s behavior will be bought and sold in a future’s market just like any other commodity.

One major takeaway is that tech companies have long lost their ability to even remotely claim that they are capable of policing themselves or should not subject to regulatory oversight. As I have mentioned and this article does too, Europe is way ahead on this although it is unclear how effective it is or if it goes far enough.

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