Monthly Archives: February 2018

Education Evolutions #54


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

So after a week like this, it gets a little harder to walk into work for anyone that works in a school. I don’t have a whole lot to say but to ignore the tragedy in Florida altogether seemed strangely inappropriate. For me, it is not so much fear as sadness that makes it challenging. Yet, I wonder if we might not have reached a turning point as I have seen significantly more student reaction across the country. Amidst all the comments about teens and social media, we might just be on the verge of seeing a powerful collective action by young people that we haven’t seen in this country in decades.

No real theme this week, although I guess two of the three pieces are pretty political. Although that is not exactly by design as much as it is timing. I definitely think there is a need for educators to be more politically aware than maybe ever before, as public schools are squarely in the crosshairs of politicians and have been for some time. How active they are is a personal choice but paying attention doesn’t seem like a viable option.

That being said, my pick for “If you read only one article…” this week has to be the second one, “Inside The Virtual Schools Lobby: ‘I Trust Parents’” Turnitin has become a pretty ubiquitous tool employed by schools across the spectrum and a lot of administrators like it and teachers adopt it. While one often referenced feature is the ability to create a database of canned comments that can be used to provide feedback for students, the product is at its core a plagiarism detector. Yet, that core function introduces a whole range of additional issues that do not seem to factor in the almost blind adoption that it encourages.

Hope you have a good week of vacation if you are in New England. No issue next week as I will be spending some quality time with the family and dialing down the devices a bit. Also, enjoy the Winter Olympics if you are into that. I think they are awesome.


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

Government moves to scrap national standards and charter schools – Stuff –  Brad Flahive (3-minute read)

This was a huge surprise to see. A nation recognizing the folly of what Pasi Sahlberg has so excellently dubbed the global edreform movement otherwise referenced as GERM. The fact that New Zealand looks like they might be coming to their senses and ditching both national standards and charter school inspires extraordinary hope.

Granted it is only a bill that has been introduced into the Kiwi legislature. Still, this is a story that is definitely worth following. I cannot even fathom an American legislator having the courage to suggest that national standards and charter schools “were driven by ideology rather than evidence.” Of course, that would be a statement of fact but that has never really entered into the conversation on these shores. Maybe, just maybe, New Zealand will spark a new response to GERM that provides the beginning of a more sustained effort to turn the tide toward much better and sensible ideas about education.

Classes should do hands-on exercises before reading and video, Stanford researchers say – Stanford | News –  David Plotnikoff (6-minute read)

This was an item that resurfaced for me recently but I found it interesting for reasons of timing, perhaps. While this piece is a kind of commercial for BrainExplorer, an interactive tabletop learning environment. Did you catch that? I am not sure it could have been mentioned more in a piece this brief.

However, it was a great reminder of a teaching strategy that has actually been around for some time, the inductive teaching method. It is a method I first formally understood from a master teacher that turned me on to Models of Teaching, early in my career. It is a remarkably effective method and has even been adapted in a whole host of ways, including POGIL, which a chemistry colleague used to use all the time. Inductive teaching is a method I have probably been trying to master my entire career.

Inside The Virtual Schools Lobby: ‘I Trust Parents’ – NPREd –  Anya Kamenetz (22-minute read)

I include a lot of pieces about virtual schooling for a variety of reasons. I have taught virtual classes for years and have even participated in some audits of a couple of online institutions. Those experiences have made me believe that there is a place for online schools. However, I also think that that place has limitations and is rife with potential for malfeasance. This NPR story highlights exactly the kind of suspect activity that I see way too often.

Most online schools exist under a statutory charter school provision. This article does a good job of explaining that in a bit more detail than most. What it does better is begin to show in stark relief the chords that connect the charter school network, for-profit virtual school outfits, and the political networks that advance them, especially the extremely dubious American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). All of their efforts to manipulate and influence policy are particularly virulent. It requires a much keener eye than most are probably prepared to maintain. Like I said, I think there is a place for virtual schools but it is a niche, not the norm.

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Education Evolutions #53


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

After last week, I felt like I was off my newsletter game a bit. Of course, this week I had even more selections to pick through as a result. I have been trying to keep things limited to three more often than not, knowing everyone is busy. Plus, if one, or more, is on the longer side, it seems like three is plenty. So apart from the occasional extra article linked in my commentary, I am trying to be a bit more disciplined about sticking to just three. We will see how long that lasts, I guess.

If there is a theme to this week at all, it might be how the data that we generate regularly just might be used against us in ways that we are not always aware or have even considered very thoughtfully. The trouble is that we often do not consider the implications of all the data tracking maybe with the kind of critical thought that we should, instead opting for the self-satisfaction associated with convenience and ease.

That being said, my winner for “If you read only one article…” this week has to be the second one, “A Guide for Resisting Edtech: the Case against Turnitin.” Turnitin has become a pretty ubiquitous tool employed by schools across the spectrum and a lot of administrators like it and teachers adopt it. While one often referenced feature is the ability to create a database of canned comments that can be used to provide feedback for students, the product is at its core a plagiarism detector. Yet, that core function introduces a whole range of additional issues that do not seem to factor in the almost blind adoption that it encourages.

Hope you have a good week and enjoy Valentine’s Day without getting a cavity.


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

How big data is helping states kick poor people off welfare – Vox –  Sean Illing (6-minute read)

For anyone that is unfamiliar with just how algorithms can be biased and used in unanticipated ways to benefit some and punish others, this is a good primer. Perhaps the subtitle is more telling with the quote, “These systems make our values visible to us in a way that calls us to a moral reckoning.” What’s more, the values made visible may just be those of a very select few and not the wider body politic. whether we have the stomach for a moral reckoning remains to be seen.

Reinforcing stereotypes and negative narratives is only part of the problem, the underlying assumptions are far greater problems and the technology only seems to amplify them. These are the kinds of issues that big data creates almost out of whole cloth. For anyone that thinks, “I don’t care if [they] collect data on me I am not doing anything wrong and don’t have anything to hide,” perhaps they should think again. All kinds of data is collected and can be interpreted to justify all kinds of assumptions, be they ethical, defensible, or not. It might be easy for some to dismiss this kind of thing since it seems to most acutely impact those most vulnerable. However, I would strongly suggest that we are all far more vulnerable than we think.

A Guide for Resisting Edtech: the Case against Turnitin – Digital Pedagogy Lab –  Sean Michale Morris and Jesse Stommel (23-minute read)

I have long resisted Turnitin specifically for some of the reasons included in this article, namely that the whole system operates on a negative, police-state paradigm. I would also humbly submit that plagiarism is a far more thorny issue than many teachers would like to believe. The line between what might be cited, what could be cited, and what should be cited is rarely black and white, especially when students are often being asked to find what expert think at the same time they are asked to articulate what they themselves think. It quickly becomes messy business, except in the most obvious copy-and-paste attempts to cheat. Still, this long-read dives into issues that are even more nuanced and important.

On some level, this piece does an excellent job of turning the whole Turnitin concept on its head. Not only does the product insert itself into the relationship between student and teacher, it engages in some other more insidious activities that should cause any educator pause. The first paragraph sizes it up quite succinctly in stating that Turnitin seizes “control of student intellectual property” and “can strip mine and sell student work for profit.” Framed like that, which is pretty accurate, I find it hard to reconcile how it can be used in any way that is ethically justifiable. Quite simply, it disenfranchises students, who also happen to be the most vulnerable and powerless players in the arrangement. What this post does even better is explain how the product undermines critical thinking, as well as digital literacies and citizenship, areas that educators should be actively trying to strengthen in students at all levels.

The techlash against Amazon, Facebook and Google—and what they can do – The Economist –  Eve Smith (23-minute read)

There is little question about the rise in scrutiny that the largest tech firms have begun inviting. Any corporations that grow as large and dominant in the marketplace as the three mentioned in the headline are bound to attract the gaze of governments. Interestingly, Europe seems to be way ahead of the United States in this regard and has been for some time. The times may be changing but consumerism continues to rule the day in this country. We have long sacrificed things like privacy for convenience.

What is most interesting to me about this article is how many of the suggestions would benefit consumers, even though they seem incapable of applying the kind of pressure required to compel the companies into putting some of these suggestions into practice. Perhaps the heat that they are drawing might be encouragement enough but I remain unconvinced. I suspect these three, in particular, will continue to find every way possible to exercise their dominance until they are forced to do otherwise. I also think that we are still pretty far from actually enacting any regulations or other means of control any time soon in the country.

Education Evolutions #52


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

This week, I very nearly failed to get his issue out. The sick season finally caught up with me and I could outrun it no longer. So I have been distinctly under the weather.

Nevertheless, this week’s readings are a quick mix. They are all of similar lengths and should make it easy to read them all. They range from a bit more upbeat to the Orwellian.

Given the heavy nature of the last two items, “If you read only one article…” this week has to be the first one, “Panicked about Kids’ Addiction to Tech?” We are the strongest models of behavior for the young people in our lives, at home or in the classroom. That makes it ever more important that we model mindful use of tech and talk about issues with young people. It also suggests that maybe the “addicted to tech” idea may not be the best way to look at the challenge.

Hope you have a good week and enjoy the Super Bowl, if you are into that sort of thing.


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

Panicked about Kids’ Addiction to Tech? – NewCo Shift –  Danah Boyd (6-minute read)

Danah Boyd is one of the sharpest minds regarding teens and the Internet on the planet. She started doing her PhD research back in the early days of MySpace and continues to add to the field of literature with her insights. In this piece, she reiterates that the “addiction narrative” is part of the problem but so too are adults, especially parents. As sobering as it can be to read that, anyone with kids should.

Boyd presents some really good suggestions. I cannot say that I have always put them into practice but I have become increasingly mindful of my own use of tech and devices in my home around my kids. I do verbalize what I am doing sometimes but I also can get aggravated when anyone peers over my shoulder. So, I am far from perfect and have plenty of work to do.

Hundreds of Apps Can Listen for Marketing ‘Beacons’ You Can’t Hear – Wired –  Lily Hay Newman (5-minute read)

I almost included this last week after coming across it referenced in some other readings. Yet, last week’s articles seemed so dark, I couldn’t do it. Still, this is pretty harrowing stuff. It is enough to make me consider turning my phone off completely with greater frequency. The idea that ultrasonic beacons can be used with the microphones in smartphones is beyond unsettling.

It boggles my mind that this is even legal, but it is one more example of just how fast technology changes and slow our ethics and laws are to catch up. It should definitely make everyone take a look at the apps on their phone with a much closer eye as to what access they have to what. What should be scarier still, is that this kind of thing will somehow be turned into a convenience that some people love. Surveillance keeps encroaching on us all on the coattails of convenience.

China’s Surveillance State Should Scare Everyone – The Atlantic –  Anna Mitchell and Larry Diamond (10-minute read)

Speaking of surveillance, this exposé on some of the things going on in China is, not surprisingly, pretty alarming. The piece paints a horrifying picture but one that looks a lot more likely than not. Perhaps more than ever the idea that simply disengaging altogether might be the most radical act seems increasingly true.

For all the clamor about companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook on these shores and abroad, the fact that there are state-sponsored Chinese companies more than willing to build the kinds of surveillance systems suggested here is more chilling. As China’s international influence grows unchecked there may be more nations amenable to these kinds of tactics than Americans might realize.