Education Evolutions #84

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

It has been a few weeks off from the newsletter but happy New Year! Well, I am back at it.I hope everyone had a pleasant festive season. Hopefully, I will be able to keep this little effort going well into the new year.

This week is a bit of a mix as usual. Having taken a few weeks off from compiling this passion project, I bookmarked a whole lot of items that culled through. I probably have enough articles since the last one to write at least a months worth of issues. The end of the year tends to be a pretty busy period.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the first one, if your interest is primarily technology, and the second one, if your interest is primarily education. All three are good and relatively short this week. So giving them all a look is not without possibility by any stretch.

Here is hoping that the new year is off to a cracking start for everyone.

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

How Much of the Internet Is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually. – New York Magazine –  Max Read (9-minute read)

This is a sobering read. Part of what makes it so is how true it all rings, despite all of the insistence on counterfeit. Anyone paying close enough attention would find it hard to disagree with most of the claims in this piece. Considering that the Inversion has already taken place without too much resistance, it does make for a far more challenging problem to solve.

Most insightful is that it is not really truth that has been lost as much as trust. It reminds me of an old Internet saw that “content was king,” when in fact contact has always actually worn the crown. For as much as the Internet drowns in content, email was the original killer app. Plus, I would suggest that the reason Facebook has not completely imploded yet is that it serves as chief digital means of contact for a whole lot of real people, despite being absolutely awash in bots. Real people continue to want an easy place and means of following the lives of friends and family in an undemanding way.

Maybe most fascinating is how Read signs off with “we’ll all end up on the bot internet of fake people, fake clicks, fake sites, and fake computers, where the only real thing is the ads.” We may already be there. In the funhouse fantasia of social media people voluntarily morphed into ads. Nearly everything posted online is a construction, usually, one that favors the narrow selection of best hits from someone’s existence.

A Modest Proposal: Teaching without Students – radical eyes for equity – blog – PL Thomas (4-minute read)

I like PL Thomas quite a bit. He is an academic writer that I revisit often and have been even reading one of his books recently. This post raises a paradoxical premise with real insight. Granted the perspective is coming from a higher education perspective but Thomas has taught at the high school level too. SO his perspective is not just that of the detached research professor that has never been in charge of a K12 classroom.

The earnestness with which Thomas riffs on Swift’s satire is part of what makes this so compelling, not to mention the premise itself. Students being trapped in behaving like students happens a lot earlier than university, sadly. Students have been brought up to believe that there should be a rubric for just about everything, which might as well be a de facto prescription for “fulfilling assignments versus engaging with authentic behaviors.” As standards and rubrics have proliferated education, school has increasingly become a compulsory box-ticking exercise.

Focus and attention are finite. Greater focus on accountability means focus on actual learning or inquiry often becomes blurred. When greater value is placed on that which can be measured, we find what we are looking for at the expense of those things that defy measurement. How can curiosity, autonomy, and agency, among a lot of other traits be measured anyway?

Baltimore County schools spent $147 million on laptop program. Four years in, it’s showed little results. – The Baltimore Sun – Liz Bowie (7-minute read)

I expect that there will e a lot more articles like this in the mainstream press in the next couple of years. I also like that you can watch a kind of summary video version of the article at the top if you like. As more and more school systems have decided to pour millions of dollars into laptop programs, there will be an impulse to look for a return on investment. This is particularly going to be true in urban areas where resources are already at a premium and accountability efforts are hawkish. While some of the most progressive school systems have had laptop programs for a number of years now. In fact, Maine’s pioneering effort is now over 15 years old.

First, the notion that standardized test scores measure learning on any level is seriously suspect for more reasons than I can count. Yet, that never stops any politician from using them as a cudgel to beat public schools. Second, adopting a laptop program should never even be sold or justified as a way to improve test scores. They are not compatible efforts. At best they might be coincidental. The best argument for students having laptops in the classroom is more about current classrooms reflecting the world around them. Any other grounds are even more debatable, if not downright dubious. However, that will not stop mainstream media from quoting disgruntled policymakers, lamenting about the costs of these programs, because that kind of thing will always be news.

Moreover, it should be no surprise that test scores do not increase but that students misbehavior with the devices does. Anyone that works in a school for a single day should have the wherewithal to recognize that a laptop can serve as the ultimate distraction device, should it be allowed and a student is so inclined. And what teenager isn’t, exactly? Also, what never really gets mentioned in these pieces is how the influx of computer distribution came on the heels of increased teacher accountability measures across the country.

So schools all over the nation simultaneously cracked down on how teacher demands and how they would be evaluated while handing students the ultimate distraction devices and then regularly wonder why it is so difficult to see any change. Why would a teacher faced with an already challenging student population want to take instructional risks with the kind of potential chaos that every student with a laptop invites? Not to mention, if teachers are under any pressure whatsoever to raise test scores and it is nearly well-established fact that computers are not likely to help in that endeavor where is the motivation to use the devices in any particularly progressive or innovative way? Why that kind of understanding never seems to make it into these kinds of articles frustrates me a great deal.

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