Education Evolutions #94

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

In one of those rare instances, I missed last week’s issue. Under a digital pile of grading that I have not seen in years, having reentered the classroom fulltime again, it had not even occurred to me until about Tuesday. While I thought about trying to put a late issue together, the week evaporated before I had a chance.

So this week is kind of a makeup with a lot of extra links baked into the mix. A theme also kind of emerged this week, revolving around surveillance and privacy. Both issues may be building toward a much-needed reckoning, but it seems to still be a lot further off in the future than I might like.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the first one. It is a good introduction of primer on issues of privacy, especially in regards to data. It also opens the door to a much bigger conversation that does not seem to be happening enough. Meanwhile, the reality depicted in the third article continues to run rampant.

This weekend offered New Englanders the sweetest preview of spring yet. Still, the new week looks like it will be starting with a sleety rain that might look a lot like snow.

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

Privacy’s not an abstraction – Fast Company – Chris Gilliard (6-minute read)

Chris Gilliard is one of the best people online writing and commenting about privacy issues that I have ever come across in my Internet reading. He is thoughtful, thought-provoking, and has a command of the subject that he can relate in very plain and human terms. This article is an example of all those qualities. In fact, this article is almost too brief but still well worth the read.

My main takeaway is this idea we are living at a moment in time where surveillance is simply the norm. I am reminded of tales told about the former Soviet Union and its Eastern Block of countries. Surveillance was a given. In many stories, it was a constant spectre, everpresent and suffocating. As Americans, we shared and repeated those stories. We still do (See Oscar-nominated Best Foreign Language Film Cold War), because the Soviet Union was the enemy and we didn’t do things like them. There is a cloying irony to all that now. As Gilliard points out, “the privileged will continue to pay for luxury surveillance…while marginalized populations will pay another price.”

As surveillance capitalism increasingly becomes the norm, the very idea that there are alternatives drifts further from memory. Perhaps even worse, we educators may well be indoctrinating an entire generation to this norm, inoculating them from the very idea that it might not actually be all that normal. For an even deeper more dramatic sense of how this might be the case, take a look at this presentation by Audrey Watters. I am pretty sure I have linked to it before but it provides some definitive food for thought. Her thesis, “All along the way, or perhaps somewhere along the way, we have confused surveillance for care,” is one all caregiving professions, like education, would do well to consider.

More States Opting To ‘Robo-Grade’ Student Essays By Computer – National Public Radio – Tovia Smith (10-minute read)

This is article is a little older but resurfaced because its MCAS season in Massachusetts, one of the tests referenced in the piece. Of course, the MCAS garnered all kinds of press on its own this week. Still, robo-grading writing has to be one of the dumbest ideas in education. Beyond falling under the just-because-we-can-doesn’t-mean-we-should category (although this one really is more that we-think-we-can, anyway), robo-grading a student’s writing is antithetical to the point of writing at all.

We already diminish the act of writing for students by making nearly every instance of it an assessment. Rarely are students asked to write for any other purpose other than to be graded. Better still, their writing is most commonly predicated on whether they have read something, where the writing serves as a kind of test. Then educators regularly wonder why so many kids hate reading and writing beyond a certain point in their schooling. Of course, it is a significantly complex issue beyond that. However, every time I see the robo-grading issue, I have to keep raising questions like – What message are we sending students when we essentially say what you have written values so little that a human is not even going to be bothered to read it?

The question above doesn’t even get to some of the foolishness that is perpetuated by standardized testing, generally. Yet, this article denotes how Massachusetts is now intrigued by the prospects. One of the blessings and curses of routinely being education’s highest-ranking state is that a Massachusetts endorsement becomes a de facto endorsement nearly nation-wide. This is an issue that needs to constantly needs reframing for its ridiculousness. Plus, for all the talk about how it is cheaper, cheaper for who? Last time I checked, standardized testing costs only seem to increase.

Your digital identity has three layers, and you can only protect one of them – Quartz – Katarzyna Szymielewicz (8-minute read)

Sticking with the surveillance theme, here is another piece that explores just how difficult it is to resist or control. As Szymielewicz, explains quite early in the piece, “the data you choose to share is just the tip of an iceberg.” We pretty well surrender any data that we opt to put into the digital public as part of the user agreements for all these online spaces that maintain the artifice of seeming public but are anything but. Plus, who actually reads the user agreements anyway? If you decline, you cannot use the service. If you agree, explicit in just about every agreement of this kind is the provision that the company can change the terms at any point, often without consent or even informing you. Any of those emails that you receive from a tech company about their user agreement are from the few that actually do provide notice, which is not all that common.

Again, we see another situation where it is easy to say look at what those people over there do, we’re not like them (now it’s China). Increased reliance on algorithms, AI, and all the other vaporware or even believing in any of the broken techno-utopian promises makes any distinctions seem awfully flimsy. The most truthful statement in this piece is “Market players do not care about you—they care about numbers,” which has been proven so often as to be undeniable, but that is true about all the digital devices we surround ourselves with too. It is baked into the very nature of what digital is.

I think this article goes a little soft towards the end when it gets into what Europe has begun doing with regard to data and privacy. While the Europeans seem to have a head start on some of these issues, their system is better than what is offered in America, which is tantamount to nothing, it is far from perfect. The EU also just approved the highly controversial Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive. The call for building trust sounds like a reasonable position but even the call “to treat users as active players, not passive participants” seems self-defeating at its core. It is the continued framing of humans as “users” that seems flawed from the jump.

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