Education Evolutions #57

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

Reviewing my week’s reading, I was a bit surprised at just how much quality material there was in the hopper. It always takes a little bit of time to cull through what I have marked as possibilities and consider which pieces might be best to include. This week there was just a whole lot more than I remembered reading.

That being said this is probably the darkest newsletter issue I have ever put together. I certainly did not intend for that. Yet, as I was reviewing articles and trying to pick there was a kind of momentum that took hold. These stories all related to one another and seemed so connected in a powerful, albeit kind of scary, way.

As is often the case, I don’t really have a pick for “If you read only one article…” this week they are all excellent and important reads. Dark they may be but they definitely provide a view into a world in which we almost all now live.

Try to get some rest and for my fellow New Englanders let’s hope we don’t see any more wintery Nor’easter s. I am all ready for spring and the lion March has brought to be replaced with a more pleasant lamb.

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

Tim Berners-Lee: we must regulate tech firms to prevent ‘weaponised’ web – The Guardian –  Olivia Solon (6-minute read)

It is hard to believe that the World Wide Web is 29 years old. For most people, it might seem more like 25 years but still, that is a lot longer than I think many of us realize. Reading this certainly made me pause to reflect that I am of the last generation of people to remember what life was like before a ubiquitous. Tim Berners-Lee has been pretty outspoken for some time about the dangers of increased centralized commercial control. So, this open letter on a milestone anniversary is no real surprise. What he says in it, however, should garner more attention.

Who knew that Berners-Lee was such a talented stylist as well. His letter has more than a few lovely turns of phrase. “I want the web to reflect our hopes and fulfill our dreams, rather than magnify our fears and deepen our divisions,” has to be one of my favorites. Still, the fact that any company accounts for nearly 90% of anything should cause everyone concern, whether it is Google and search or any other enterprise. Also sobering are some of the statistics about the global digital divide, especially considering the kinds of profits that the largest tech companies have been able to glean.

Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach – The Guardian –  Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison (16-minute read)

This story is kind of blowing up the Internet at the minute if you haven’t already come across it. As prescient as Tim Berners-Lee’s comments about weaponizing the web seemed only a week ago, the speed with which massive amounts of evidence supporting that claim would come to light is hard not to register as staggering. This story is no doubt just the beginning of a deep new wrinkle in a much longer and larger story that is unfolding in real time. The 13-minute video embedded in this story is also well worth the screening.

There are so many elements of this story that should be Defcon alarming about the digital world I don’t even know where to start. What is important to keep in mind is that this was unlikely the first time something like this was done and it was conducted with insider assistance, not some foreign adversary. I am not even sure that we have metaphors to completely understand the level of invasiveness and insidiousness of this data breach and manipulation. Sans all hyperbole, this story essentially renders every software user agreement utterly meaningless. The curtain is being drawn on just how easily these kinds of actions are able to be undertaken.

How An Entire Nation Became Russia’s Test Lab for Cyberwar – Wired –  Andy Greenberg (20-minute read)

If the previous article was not enough to inspire some genuine horror about privacy, security, and the new world we find ourselves, this story might be an even darker view of the nascent possibilities that already exist. Again, I go back to my previous statement. We don’t even have the metaphors to make sense of some of this stuff, at least beyond a superficial level.

The programmer Dave Winer, a pioneer of Really Simple Syndication (RSS), takes a stab by explaining that we are in the midst of an asymmetrical war and preparing for a conflict long past. That may be the best set of metaphors I have seen to date. I especially think the Battlestar Galactica one might be the most insightful but probably less broadly communicative since there are so many people that still will not have any idea what the reference even means. All I can say is that is a bit scary and this one is from last June. So to think what has evolved in the nearly nine months has passed might be scarier.




Education Evolutions #56

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

Well, if you are in New England, I hope that you have endured the late winter storm without too much trouble. Furthermore, I hope that you get everything sorted before the next one arrives in nary a day. I suppose March really does “come in like a lion” sometimes. I can only hope the lamb awaits.

So if there is a theme to this issue it has to be around media literacy. Even the first item about the teacher strike West Virginia has a media literacy component to it, as the grassroots membership was able to wield considerable power through traditional and social media to organize and prevail. The second two pieces get more into the weeds on the theme but it is one that probably requires a deeper dive than most.

I don’t really have a pick for “If you read only one article…” this week. Not because they are all so strong but more because I jammed a whole lot of extra links and references in this week. Nearly any one of the top-level articles may well be a rabbit hole all its own. The journey would be well worth it for any of the picks. I do always hope that commentary might serve as a guidepost for the start of your reading adventure.

Stay well and warm. With more winter weather on the way in the northeast, may the power remain intact and you have a chance to enjoy what is hopefully that last snowfall of the season.

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

West Virginia Walkouts a Lesson in the Power of a Crowd-Sourced Strike – The New York Times –  Jess Bidgood & Campbell Robertson (7-minute read)

I find it pretty hard not to be inspired by the teachers in West Virginia. Steeped in historical resonances of labor history, the teachers bravely acted with the kind of collective resolve that one would think unions can only dream about. Yet, this article points out just how incapable the union leadership was in organizing this collective action. If anything that should be an even more powerful lesson. Union leadership needs to represent their membership, not their personal interests, or become too cozy with the other side. Here the membership ensured that they were heard by all parties and may be a preview of what can be expected in the inspired movements already afoot.

Also, this Guardian piece provides a little more background for those not closely following the story. Another element this Guardian article highlights is the wider implications of the strike. Oklahoma, are already the lowest paid teachers in the nation, not to mention most schools already only meeting four days a week for budget reasons. Despite some tradeoffs, there is good reason for Okie teachers to be emboldened by what happened in West Virginia. Still, an even bigger catalyst may yet be in the offing, for those that may be unfamiliar with Janus v. AFSCME.

No, ‘cognitive strengthening exercises’ aren’t the answer to media literacy – A Long View on Education –  Benjamin Doxtdator (12-minute read)

I think I state this every time I include something by him but I really like Benjamin Doxtdator’s writing. He is clever, insightful, extraordinarily well-read, and sources his blogposts better than almost anyone. Here he reacts to a keynote by another extremely clever thinker and writer Danah Boyd, someone I have referenced here previously too. This piece goes deep but it covers a lot of ground that is becoming increasingly important to educators across the spectrum. Literacy of all kinds is both complex and complicated, the media version notwithstanding.

While Boyd’s talk is also worth a look, reading Doxtdator’s response might be enough. He by no means cherrypicks bits and pieces to take Boyd to task. In fact, Boyd readily admits being at a bit of a loss in her keynote. In fact, knowing this makes the response that much more powerful. Reading this is like sitting at the table for a conversation between two really clever people, although the number is growing and now also includes another powerhouse Renee Hobbs, wrestling with an exceptionally thorny problem. Of course, there are no easy answers but this conversation is an important one and educators need to be paying closer attention to it. It kind of gets at one of the broader aspects of education as an enterprise.

YouTube, the Great Radicalizer – The New York Times –  Zeynep Tufekci (6-minute read)

Sticking with the theme this opinion column from Tufekci seemed like an almost too perfect way to wrap up this issue. While the way YouTube’s algorithms make suggestions is sobering, our concerns should not be limited only to Google. Amazon and Netflix, just to name a couple more super suggestors, might all be worthy of far greater scrutiny (a topic I have included previously). YouTube might hold an even more acute status, however. What a lot of adults and educators, in particular, may not realize is how YouTube has become an almost default search engine, replacing the more often assumed Google search page.

If ever there was a clarion call for us to redouble our efforts on the media literacy dilemma showcased in the previous installment, this commentary is it. If you have a look at the Danah Boyd piece, Tufekci’s comment “What we are witnessing is the computational exploitation of a natural human desire: to look ‘behind the curtain,’ to dig deeper into something that engages us,” seems like exhibit A for what Boyd calls weaponizing the very act of asking a question. Plus, I couldn’t agree more with her final thought on the topic.

Education Evolutions #55

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

I hope everyone who had a February break enjoyed it. It was nice for me, although I felt like I arrived back at school and spent the week swimming the length of the pool on one breath. It was a bit intense upon reentry. Still, it made me look forward to curating and commenting on some articles to share with all of you.

If there is a theme in these selections, I suppose it is the political realm. A dear friend informed me when I was a young man, “It’s all politics. There is a political dimension to everything.” I remember resisting that, at first but recognized its wisdom over time. We humans are always engaged with assumptions about power and status, even we are not always entirely conscious of it. On some level, I hope these articles, maybe even this entire newsletter effort, makes us all a little more conscious and aware in general.

I don’t really have a pick for “If you read only one article…” this week. They are all pretty strong in their own right. If anything it might depend on your mood. Hopefully, the commentary might be the thing that invites you to peruse and ponder one or more of the issues included here. If privacy is becoming a concern, give the first one a look. If you are a bit tired of assessment mumbo jumbo, the second is definitely worth your time. And if you know nothing about how students protests are protected the third one will be eye-opening.

It is nice to be back in the swing of preparing this newsletter. I hope it finds you well and refreshed for the new week. Also, enjoy the Oscars, if you are in that kind of thing.

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

The six big privacy concerns for edtech – edscoop –  Patience Wait (3-minute read)

This is a pretty strong short list of things that we should all be giving some deeper thought. Sadly, policymakers have still yet to truly take up these concerns with any real threat of action. Legislative action is the only way to even truly address all but perhaps the third one, which is more about individuals. I think the biggest challenge is that these issues kind of exist in the abstract for most of us. Yet, these concerns are why there has been an increased push to start protecting our children. It is certainly a good place to start.

One of the many unfortunate byproducts of something like the Parkland event, albeit not the most immediate, is the rising call for increased security. The surveillance state expands significantly on the back of security and convenience. The rise of more cameras and more tracking is almost certain, while any gun control efforts will require far more labor. Also, our fondness for the free and easy continues our passive passage to making products of ourselves, as companies like Google and Amazon stockpile the data we generate and claim it as their own.

The Misguided Drive to Measure ‘Learning Outcomes’ – The New York Times –  Molly Worthen (12-minute read)

While this opinion piece is written by a college professor, I think she taps a series of resonant chords that K12 education has been feeling more acutely and longer than higher education. The accountability mandates simply are not the same between secondary and higher education. However, so many of the points made here apply to the deeply flawed notions we have about assessment, culturally, and our collective failure to resist efforts to blame with an upstream mentality. Businesses blame universities for not delivering prepared employees, universities blame secondary schools for not delivering prepared students, and so on with an eye toward each tributary.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy is how education as a field continues to use and even cede the very language of our field. As Worthen states, “We end up using the language of the capitalist marketplace and speak to our students as customers rather than fellow thinkers.” We have been started doing that at the K12 level some time ago and we don’t even charge for it at in public schools. The list of ironies laid bare in this piece are more than worth the reading and consideration. I only wish more administrators had the courage to consider them too, not to mention the need for them to lead the resistance rather than lead the acquiescence.

Here’s What Happened When the Supreme Court Ruled on Whether Students Can Protest During School – Time –  Olivia B. Waxman (7-minute read)

As a journalism teacher, I have to confess a bit more familiarity with the Tinker case, but I am by no means an expert. This article provides a nice primer on the topic for anyone not aware of what the law allows. I add this with the obvious nod to the protests that are likely to be seen across the country in the coming weeks. Students are protected far more than schools sometimes seem to recognize, as is the case with the Houston superintendent. There are a whole lot of ways that adults can be the ones that get in the way of students, despite the best of intentions.

I mentioned on Twitter that the Houston superintendent was so backward that he thinks he is facing the right direction and still believe that. There is no way that his proclamation would stand up in court. Furthermore, he would do well with a refresher on the Tinker case. Yet, as Mary Beth Tinker states in the piece,”You can’t stop students from expressing themselves peacefully in schools — and besides, why would we want to?” That to me is the deepest and most profound question. Discovering what you truly care about, recognizing political implications of life, and exercising your agency in the political process, especially as our democratic experiment seems more fragile than it has in decades, that is the very stuff of growing up and becoming a truly educated adult.