Education Evolutions #58


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

So after last week’s dark journey into data vulnerabilities and weaponization of the digital landscape, I felt compelled to find something that was a bit brighter. It was hard. The sheer volume of unsavory events regarding data in our digital increasingly existence seems to grow apace. Case in point, the second article below and what is going on there is completely legal – Yikes!

I am still amazed at just how many great reads that I have backlogged from the week off. In some ways, it makes it easier to find emergent themes but not always quite as easy to see positive stories, such can be the nature of journalism sometimes. Still, what I continually try to remember is that there are always solutions for most of the problems we encounter, even if we do not always have the courage or will to execute them.

All that said, this week’s “If you read only one article…” has to go to the last one “A Grand Bargain to Make Tech Companies Trustworthy.” Authored by two heavyweight legal scholars, one being the co-founder and director Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, it attempts to present if not a solution, certainly a way to think about one. It is definitely the kind of article that gives me hope.

Let’s hope that spring is truly on its way because I really do not want to see snow in a New England April. For those in farther climes, I am sure a seasonal change is more than due too.


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

Early Academic Training Produces Long-Term Harm – Psychology Today –  Peter Gray Ph.D. (6-minute read)

I have grown over the course of my career as a teacher to increasingly believe education should adopt an element of the medical profession’s Hippocratic Oath, primum non nocere (first, do no harm). For whatever reason, the field of education has abdicated this notion, to a large degree, despite having a duty of care. I would present as evidence continually yielding to the edreform attempts to increase high-stakes standardized testing or zero-tolerance policies, to name a few. Still, here is an interesting presentation of just how damaging some of the trends, driven by edreform, can be. May we find new and more effective ways to resist the most insidious efforts.

I have to admit that I really like a lot of Peter Gray has to say, generally. I even had some really nice correspondence with him a few years ago. Regardless, I am not sure that it should require lengthy academic studies to validate something most people, parents and educators alike, can see with their own eyes. What is more startling, however, is how old some of the studies cited are. To think that German study that helped them reverse policy was conducted over 50 years ago!

I am not sure that I like all the nomenclature used in the piece but it is hard not to appreciate some of the conclusions. Even where there may be no obvious causality, the correlations should be enough to give anyone pause for thought. Instead, we press ahead in schools with things like typing programs for elementary children who do not have hands big enough to even properly span a keyboard – because they need to be able to perform on a newly computerized, standardized test. I know I would much rather my kids be using their hands to paint or something similar.

A US university is tracking students’ locations to predict future dropouts – Quartz –  Amy X. Wang (5-minute read)

Here is one more story in the ever-growing list of even creepier data collection, prediction, and algorithmic bias that poses more ethical questions than I can even count. The very notion that the kind of data generated in this story by ID card swipes is being collected is problematic enough. However, the notion that this data is used the way that it is pushes things well beyond expectations and more likely understanding.

Once again, the amoral way that powerful entities have conned us all into looking at data is horrifying. Ownership of data being generated by us as individuals is beyond deeply disturbing. In this specific case, not only do the students not own the data they are creating, they seemingly have no control or agency with regard to it whatsoever. The university can collect and use whatever data that student ID card is capable of generating with no oversight or regulation.

The idea that someone could not opt out of this kind of operation seems not only unethical but ought to be illegal. This is not even a case of student data being aggregated anonymously to understand trends or developments. This is a comprehensive effort to use of highly invasive data to target individuals for a range of interventions. While the specific interventions in this article may seem benign or even well-intentioned (although I clearly question that from the start), there is nothing to prevent far more unscrupulous efforts using this data. In fact, given that there is no way for students to avoid being part of this kind of program, by virtue of the fact that it uses their university ID card, the cynic in me cannot help but believe that more underhanded efforts are already afoot.

A Grand Bargain to Make Tech Companies Trustworthy – The Atlantic –  Jack M. Balkin and Jonathan Zittrain (9-minute read)

As a critical pairing to the article above, this piece goes a long way to helping anyone understand some of the issues at stake, regarding data we generate, how it may be used, but more importantly the moral and legal implications. When it comes to data, who owns it, how it can be collected or used, where responsibility is placed, and why these things matter are all addressed, at least in part, in this article. It is complicated and, as I have often remarked, I am not even sure we have the metaphors required for understanding. Its use of older metaphors might be one of the better attempts.

Data is almost never truly neutral and certainly its uses are anything but neutral. I think the fiduciary example is a powerful one. I am not as crazy about the copyright one, considering how many outrageous advantages are ceded to corporate copyright holders. Still, I do not disagree with its use as a conceptual model. At least, this piece starts to advance a conversation in a coherent and comprehensible way.

I am not sure how feasible the idea of a Digital Millennium Privacy Act is, to be honest. As is so often the case some very powerful interests need to see something like this as beneficial. At the minute, I am not sure that this is the case, Microsoft’s claims notwithstanding. Sadly, more revelations like the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica debacle are probably required in this country. Europe seems so vastly far ahead of us on this front, however. So there is an outside possibility that they may produce a gravitational pull. Then again, China has a pretty powerful gravitational pull too and it is going in a completely different direction. What’s worse is that our own government may also be a principal abuser.

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