Education Evolutions #48

IMG_4227 flickr photo by Jemimus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

Well, this tiny newsletter returns. I hope everyone had nice holidays. It was nice to take a slightly low-tech approach to the festive season. I certainly spent more time away from a computer than normal. It wasn’t a complete drought but it was refreshing.

Having taken a week off from producing this publication means that there is no shortage of choices to be included. It was difficult to choose, honestly. Plus there is a whole lot going on in the world at the moment, I cannot be the only one who feels as though it is impossible to keep up. Nevertheless, here are some of the most interesting things I read in the last couple of weeks.

I don’t know if there is an “If you read only one article…” this week. With the time lapse, I already picked four articles. However, I think there is a whole lot of wisdom in the ‘The difficulty is the point’: teaching spoon-fed students how to really read. It does include some strong language as a fair warning to everyone. Even though it is ground in a foreign university setting, there is no shortage of observations that will ring true for almost any teacher. There is simply more to it than an exploration in teaching literature, although that focus offers plenty of value as well even if you are not that fussed with the topic of literature.

Enjoy the week and if you are in northern climes stay as warm as you can.

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

It’s Time We Hold Accountability Accountable – Teachers Going Gradeless – Arthur Chiaravalli (11-minute read)

I have to confess that part of the allure of this blog post was the title, which is kind of awesome. As teachers are constantly reminded of accountability, I often wonder exactly who is accountable and for what in the educational field, not to mention what exactly is lost in the fixation on what can be measured. The fact that this post uses writing as a mechanism to discuss the topic also appealed to me greatly. Chiarvalli’s quick exploration of “what exactly it means to be accountable” is thoughtful and highlights the transactional nature at its etymological roots.

The key notion that this bargain that has been handed to educators from policymakers known as accountability is profoundly limiting in damaging ways for especially for students is not something that gets enough attention. The idea that “accountability has caused the focus of administrators, teachers, and students to solidify around the narrow prescriptions and algorithmic thinking found on most tests” is growing harder and harder to rebuke. What’s more introducing Goodhart’s Law (“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”) to the mix should help most reasonable educators see the folly of all of this.

For Chiaravalli, teachers have to be the start of resisting the dehumanizing impacts so often associated with accountability. The simplest way to begin is fostering meaningful relationships with students and avoid using grades as motivational carrots and sticks. No doubt engaging in genuine conversations about accountability resisting its baser consequences is a bit harder than that but it is a pretty good start.

‘The difficulty is the point’: teaching spoon-fed students how to really read – The Guardian – Reading Australia – Tegan Bennett Daylight (16-minute read)

There are a lot elements in this article that may be more appealing to humanities teachers given that it is written by an Australian literature professor. However, it is much more wide-reaching and relevant than that narrow audience. What is described is very much afoot here in the United States. bennett Daylight explains succinctly, “Universities are businesses. Students are customers. The more customers, the better the business does.” I would even humbly submit that elements of this worldview are encroaching across our K12 system apace.

As insightful as the “logic of capitalism overrides everything” observation is there are quite a few other gems in this piece that will resonate with any teacher. One aspect I found most interesting is the recognition of something as simple as an attendance requirement and the powerful consequences it can have. Recognizing the importance of place and what live in-person experiences have to offer is increasingly important in a world where there are so many things to enable us to retreat from it. As Bennett Daylight explains the English One requirement forces a kind of confrontation for students that can be uncomfortable but nevertheless powerful one – “that difficulty is the point,” as the title suggests.

Reading and writing are difficult, at least they certainly can be for many. It is one of many the reasons so many students eschew studying literature longer than is required of them. Yet, perhaps the most powerful lesson of literature or even deep and broad literacy remains, “Language is power, and when we find the right way to frame our experience, we’re not being crushed by it.” It is so much harder for anyone to ignore, dismiss or even hate when they are face-to-face with another human being, especially so when that fellow human being can offer support, guidance, or even inspiration.

The Other Tech Bubble – Wired – Erin Griffith (13-minute read)

Given how the volume of tech-related articles have taken a slightly critical turn in recent months, this is a fascinating insider view of the tech industry and how it may or actually may not be adapting to the cultural and societal shifts that are occurring. In my mind, we have rarely been critical enough and I include myself in that assessment. Aside from the allure of shiny and new, Griffith offers a sharp explanation of the context that may have accelerated tech’s most recent everything-is-rosy rise. As usual, it is a probably a whole lot more complicated. However, where this article offers insight is how Silicon Valley is reacting.

The subtitle “Silicon Valley Techies Still Think They are the Good Guys” sadly is only readable in the tab title as a theme it resonates through the whole piece. There is no end to the mentality that drives the “quest to move fast and break things—regardless of what broken objects are left in their wake,” sadly. It is this disruption ethos that has also taken root in education, which is creating some profoundly dangerous and potentially long-lasting consequences.

No one should be surprised when the public looks at the field of education with the feelings expressed by an investor in this piece, “It’s the exact same story of too many people with too much money. That breeds arrogance, bad behavior, and jealousy, and society just loves to take it down.” It has already begun at the higher ed level, as university presidents salaries are now being scrutinized with more attention and Republican have begun taking an anti-college agenda. While these issues might not be entirely related, the sentiment is attractive and can spread rapidly.

Why Logan Paul Should Really Worry Us – Vanity Fair – Richard Lawson (8-minute read)

I would not be surprised if nobody that reads this newsletter had ever heard of Logan Paul prior to last week. I confess I only discovered who he was a couple weeks prior to his recent notoriety because he made a recent appearance on a Top Chef episode that I watched with my wife. Yet, I am very aware of just how much of a tectonic force YouTube has become in the last few years. I think it is difficult for many to comprehend that a number of people are able to make pretty substantial livings and amass mammoth followings of celebrity status by regularly posting videos to YouTube.

This is one of many pieces I read this week about Logan Paul’s appalling episode but it is probably the shrewdest and perceptive one. Observations on the lack of guidance or parenting, the compelling nature of online content, and the insularity that can be created via online communities are all legitimate issues that we have not collectively addressed with a lot of critical thought or deep understanding.

Still, as novel as some of this might seem, there is a distinct recognition that we have seen this phenomenon before, albeit maybe in less virulent packages. “The idiot machine will still keep churning,” as Lawson remarks. It always has and always will. The only real difference now is that more of them can gain greater followings faster before the wider public is even aware that they exist.


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