Education Evolutions #65

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 think it is fair to say that we have reached a point where our individual lives are more entwined in relationships with corporations than perhaps any time since the age of the company towns at the turn of the last century. Maybe there is something peculiar about a century passing. It is definitely long enough that no living memory any longer exists. Documented history becomes increasingly important. Consequently, sorting out the past and how it might be impacting the present gets a bit trickier. Still, there are a lot of interesting parallels between the beginnings of the 20th and 21st centuries.

This week’s articles are loosely organized around our increasingly entangled relationships with companies and how technology mediates our day-to-day lives. It gets both complex and complicated, making for a real mess. Yet the notion that technology is in any way “neutral, apolitical, or purely virtuous” must be discarded.

The choice for “If you read only one article…” this week is a bit tricky. Yet, since most readers are classroom teachers, “Google’s Got Our Kids” is probably the best choice. Written by a teacher, it is the most direct of the selections. The other two articles swim in deeper waters of philosophy, theory, and ethics. It is also the shortest of the group, so it is the easiest read of the three. However, none of these items are significantly longer than the others.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there.

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

The New Octopus – Logic –  K. Sabeel Rahman (12-minute read)

I have been recently remarking how much our current moment is reminiscent of turn of the 19th century and the days of Teddy Roosevelt. This article does a much better job of striking the parallels in stark relief. However, it also does even better at explaining the subtleties of corporate power and how much they can upset the delicate balance required for healthy democratic principles.

Possibly the best thing about Rahman’s piece is the reframing of privacy rights as a way to impose structural limits on amassing corporate power as much as it is about individual rights, maybe more so. Ultimately, there are some really big problems that need to addressed and potentially require some new and more conscientious thought than has worked previously. Regardless, we need to confront the “democratic capacities of the public and the powers of private firms” or risk losing democratic capacities altogether.

Google’s Got Our Kids – The Outline –  Joanna Petrone (8-minute read)

There is something poignant about this piece in its balance and recognition that Google is not all bad. There are plenty of positive attributes to the products and services that Google provides. Nevertheless, the over-reliance and dependence on Google in schools should no less be a serious concern. It doesn’t matter how positive or beneficial the effort is if it means the collection of unchecked power (See The New Octopus for more on that).

What is more important to recognize is just how much educators are complicit in the new mindspace landgrab that has been underway for the better part of the last decade. It has only accelerated at geometric proportions with the introduction of the Chromebook. Plus, you know how serious it is in when looking at how much competitive companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon are trying desperately to play catch-up before it is beyond too late to catch Google in the K12 field. Of course, it is all free or nearly free because, as Petrone correctly reiterates, the children are really the products. An even more keen insight often not even considered, when or if students transfer their Google Drive from the education domain to their own private account, none of any prior restraints on Google targeted advertising are in place.

I am a data factory (and so are you) – Rough Type –  Nicholas Carr (10-minute read)

This blogpost by Nicholas Carr, of “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” fame, is an important discussion on the metaphors that we use to understand the current conundrum we find ourselves regarding the entanglements of power, technology, democracy, and daily life. There is a lot of carefully considered thought about the importance of metaphors we choose and their potential impact in shaping our thinking. I have been convinced for some time that one of the biggest challenges is that there may not be many metaphors that adequately help our understanding. We simply may not have them.

I do, however, like the idea of data framed in similar ways to oil, which is one that has I have begun to see a lot more recently. There is a lot of power in that metaphor, incomplete as it may be. One thing that I would refute a bit with Carr is that we are neither data mines nor factories. In many ways, we are both. It is not strictly a binary issue. It is more complicated than that, which lends support to my claim that we currently lack the proper metaphors. As it is evolving, digital technology hybridizes a host of existing metaphors. Our devices are more than tools; our data is more than oil; our lives are mediated more than ever by the technology we use every day, individually or as a society.


Education Evolutions #64

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

After some thematic unities of the last few weeks, this selection is more of a randomized mix. In some ways, it was a bit of a slower week in terms of loads of finds worth sharing. Plus, I was deliberately trying to avoid longer reads after last week’s batch. That proved more of a limiting factor than I might have thought.

Also, this week is not quite as gloomy as the selection can sometimes be. The piece on algorithms might signal a bit more shade but it is definitely an issue that needs a lot more attention. The pace at which algorithms are supplanting human decision-making and intervention is an area where we all need to be a bit more informed. It is an area that is far too open to abuse without greater oversight.

As for the “If you read only one article…” selection this week, my choice clearer than it has been lately “OLPC’s $100 laptop was going to change the world — then it all went wrong.” It was interesting and insightful about a recent moment and device that held such great promise but could not quite deliver on expectations. In that way, it represents a lot of edtech efforts, for me. Yet, I will say that the ambition of this particular effort seemed a lot more admirable than most. It is hard to believe that One Laptop Per Child is more than decade past and or that it has become merely a footnote in the longer education technology story.

Spring has finally sprung but rain has made it a little easier to write this newsletter than a lazy Sunday sun.

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

How Does Your Practice Reflect the Modern Context? – Modern Learners –  Bruce Dixon (6-minute read)

I almost like this title more than the content actual post. It is an important question nonetheless. While the site is part of William Richardson’s advocacy efforts to change schools, including a strong edtech strain, it cannot be summarily dismissed either. As I am fond of saying if change is the only constant than learning is the only alternative. Part of that learning means that a teacher’s practice should change.

The continuum of behaviors provides an interesting frame, although I really do not like that it opens with a binary division. I guess I just don’t think it is at all that simple. Educators are not always the ones necessarily in denial. Very often it is policymakers that create contexts that are even more difficult, to name one. Institutional demands create a certain amount of inertia, whose force can be stronger than any amount of denial by a single educator. Truth be told, there are a number of educators that are neither in denial nor completely capable of the kind of autonomy being heralded here. Institutions generally beat individuals down, sadly. That seems to be missing amidst all the hoopla for changing schools.

Algorithms: Why you should learn what they are, how they affect you and your kids — and whether they actually work – The Washington Post –  Charles Tocci (8-minute read)

Understanding just how much and to what degree algorithms are controlling our lives is essential knowledge at this point, as far as I am concerned. Yet, much like the problems that involve data privacy, the government is exploiting the issues as much as any private firm. Here, professor Charles Tocci pulls back the curtain on one more way that public education is employing private companies that can hide behind intellectual property law to avoid transparency. In this case, it involves what school kids in cities like Chicago and New York are likely to attend.

The fact that many algorithms only deepen and widen discriminatory practices should be enough for some serious oversight. This couldn’t be more required in a city like Chicago, one of the most segregated cities of its size in the nation, not to mention the mayor’s shuttering of 50 schools mainly in minority neighborhoods. Every one of the suggestions Tocci makes in this piece are not even things that should require much debate. TYhey should simply be statutory requirements for our algorithms used by our public institutions.

OLPC’s $100 laptop was going to change the world — then it all went wrong – The Verge –  Adi Robertson (15-minute read)

This look back at the phenomenon of One Laptop Per Child is a fascinating exposé and piece of nostalgia. Apart from the in-depth history of the idea and program, there are some genuine innovative elements to the that have largely resonated more than the device itself. There is a pioneering aspect tot he story that is quite compelling. To think that OLPC is over decade old already and it already a holds a bit of wistfulness, not to mention that there are going to be new models this year. Time seems to fly a little faster in the digital world.

There is almost no question that OLPC pulled down prices for devices across the market. The original idea, despite not being realized exactly as planned was pretty audacious. Add to that the fact that Intel so quickly tried to hijack the emerging market is a testament to the quality of that idea. As with so many things, the problem became about managing expectations. Unfortunately, the article falls into one of the traps and tropes of edtech journalism, the metric trap. Educational technology is not going to show a boost in traditional educational metrics, nor should it. I would argue that is, one of many reasons, to tear down most those metrics. However, there is a kind of recovery for the author in the form of researcher Morgan Ames, towards the end of the piece, who comments on the trade-offs. There are trade-offs but if the costs were as cheap as OLPC there would not be seen as much of a problem. I would also submit that rooting edtech in open source software was also an idea that should get a lot more traction. Unfortunately, the promise of OLPC might be more disappointing on those grounds, at least for me.

Education Evolutions #63

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

This week is a mix of big ideas floating around the larger education and technology fields at the minute. They are not entirely connected in any explicit way. Yet, they are definitely connected, when considering how many edreform agendas advance edtech with the convenient bonus of broader and deeper surveillance. The sheep’s clothing fashion of the moment is personalized learning which I will probably devote more time to in future.

The one drag about this selection is that only after writing the comments below and looking at it with a bit more detachment, this group might seem a bit dystopian – again. Apologies for that. Still, I firmly believe that the more we know about the world in which we are living the more we might do about it. This newsletter is my small effort in service that idea.

As for the “If you read only one article…” selection this week, it is kind of a pick ’em. Apart from the first one, the other two are some pretty long reads. Both interesting and worth it but they certainly require some time and focus. Yet, “Palantir Knows Everything About You” might be the most informative about that which lies just out of view. Plus, it is an introduction to Peter Thiel who is someone definitely worth knowing a bit more about. Think what a Koch brother might look like if they were from Silicon Valley. If you are short on time, everyone that works in education should probably know a lot more about A Nation at Risk.

Maybe, just maybe spring has finally sprung. If only we could dry out just a little in New England.

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

‘A Nation at Risk’ demanded education reform 35 years ago. Here’s how it’s been bungled ever since – The Washington Post –  James Harvey and David Berliner (8-minute read)

This week marked the inauspicious introduction of A Nation at Risk, possibly the most damaging document ever written about American education. Not only was it politically motivated, it was just plain wrong. This NPR piece is reasonably evenhanded as a refresher on the history of the document (However, Anya Kamentz trots out all the usual suspects in support of this nonsense. Mainstream media typically gives voice to the Fordham Institute or other foundations pretending to be anything other than propagandists of an anti-public education agenda. I mean at least Diane Ravitch actually worked in Education at the highest levels of government.). Nevertheless, the rhetoric and lies populated by A Nation at Risk continue to persist unabated and generally form the foundational warrants for nearly every education reform that we have seen in the intervening years. Facts tend to be inconvenient for making policy at all kinds of levels (Read a decent primer about the Sandia Report.).

While I can appreciate their call for making adjustments to NAEP and how it is reported, even submitting that it is a valid metric contributes to the problem. Apart from cynically wanting to say, “Good luck getting those new benchmark labels adopted,” acknowledging the flawed assessment only serves as an endorsement. It undercuts their far more sensible call for the end of “policy-making grounded in testing and tax cuts.” Still their emphatic support for the idea that the richest nation in the history of the world can and should be able to ensure equity for its infant, adequate health care, living wages, and affordable day-care sound great but lack resonance after the recent passage of Congressional “tax reform.”

Palantir Knows Everything About You – Bloomberg –  Peter Waldman, Lizette Chapman, and Jordan Robertson (25-minute read)

I am guessing that most people reading this have never heard of Palantir, the company. Some certainly would have quickly jumped to the Lord of the Rings reference. Some people may have heard of Peter Thiel but I am not even sure about that. Regardless, it will be hard to forget any of these names once you have read this piece. It does about as good a job as any of beginning to hang some labels on the vast digital web that is hoovering up information about everyone and selling it for profit.

The entire time I read this, all I could do is remember watching the television show Person of Interest and thinking if the dramatization between humans, “The Machine,” and “Samaritan” was this well developed I can only wonder how far along it must be in the real world. This piece provides a window into that question. It also means that it is increasingly important to understand how much algorithms are supplanting human judgment in all walks of life. I think I am now wholly committed to reading Weapons of Math Destruction over the summer now. I wanted to read it when it was first published but now… Anyone want to start a book club with me?

The Internet Apologizes … – New York Magazine –  Noah Kulwin (25-minute read)

Admittedly another long read but a fascinating one. As part of the rising tide of Internet and technology scrutiny, this reflective confessional of sorts is both revealing and insightful. With a cavalcade of technology insiders that have had a chance to witness to see what they have wrought this is a whole lot of deep thinking about many of the issues that are currently coming to a head and highlighted by the Facebook fallout.

The rise of Silicon Valley strikes me as very similar to the rise of the auto industry with ridiculous claims like, “What is good for Ford is good for America.” We collectively continue to double-down on technology with dreamy hopes of some kind of strange techtopia when perhaps a more circumspect approach might actually serve us better. Avoiding or dismissing technology entirely does not seem like much of an answer but blind faith, no matter where or how it starts may be worse. At least the individuals quoted here have taken some degree of responsibility and acknowledged the damage that may have helped unleashed. I am not sure what good it will do but I always remain hopeful in that aphorism, “When we know better, we do better.” It is kind of one of my mantras as an educator.