Category Archives: Education Evolutions Newsletter

Education Evolutions #94


The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

In one of those rare instances, I missed last week’s issue. Under a digital pile of grading that I have not seen in years, having reentered the classroom fulltime again, it had not even occurred to me until about Tuesday. While I thought about trying to put a late issue together, the week evaporated before I had a chance.

So this week is kind of a makeup with a lot of extra links baked into the mix. A theme also kind of emerged this week, revolving around surveillance and privacy. Both issues may be building toward a much-needed reckoning, but it seems to still be a lot further off in the future than I might like.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the first one. It is a good introduction of primer on issues of privacy, especially in regards to data. It also opens the door to a much bigger conversation that does not seem to be happening enough. Meanwhile, the reality depicted in the third article continues to run rampant.

This weekend offered New Englanders the sweetest preview of spring yet. Still, the new week looks like it will be starting with a sleety rain that might look a lot like snow.


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

Privacy’s not an abstraction – Fast Company – Chris Gilliard (6-minute read)

Chris Gilliard is one of the best people online writing and commenting about privacy issues that I have ever come across in my Internet reading. He is thoughtful, thought-provoking, and has a command of the subject that he can relate in very plain and human terms. This article is an example of all those qualities. In fact, this article is almost too brief but still well worth the read.

My main takeaway is this idea we are living at a moment in time where surveillance is simply the norm. I am reminded of tales told about the former Soviet Union and its Eastern Block of countries. Surveillance was a given. In many stories, it was a constant spectre, everpresent and suffocating. As Americans, we shared and repeated those stories. We still do (See Oscar-nominated Best Foreign Language Film Cold War), because the Soviet Union was the enemy and we didn’t do things like them. There is a cloying irony to all that now. As Gilliard points out, “the privileged will continue to pay for luxury surveillance…while marginalized populations will pay another price.”

As surveillance capitalism increasingly becomes the norm, the very idea that there are alternatives drifts further from memory. Perhaps even worse, we educators may well be indoctrinating an entire generation to this norm, inoculating them from the very idea that it might not actually be all that normal. For an even deeper more dramatic sense of how this might be the case, take a look at this presentation by Audrey Watters. I am pretty sure I have linked to it before but it provides some definitive food for thought. Her thesis, “All along the way, or perhaps somewhere along the way, we have confused surveillance for care,” is one all caregiving professions, like education, would do well to consider.

More States Opting To ‘Robo-Grade’ Student Essays By Computer – National Public Radio – Tovia Smith (10-minute read)

This is article is a little older but resurfaced because its MCAS season in Massachusetts, one of the tests referenced in the piece. Of course, the MCAS garnered all kinds of press on its own this week. Still, robo-grading writing has to be one of the dumbest ideas in education. Beyond falling under the just-because-we-can-doesn’t-mean-we-should category (although this one really is more that we-think-we-can, anyway), robo-grading a student’s writing is antithetical to the point of writing at all.

We already diminish the act of writing for students by making nearly every instance of it an assessment. Rarely are students asked to write for any other purpose other than to be graded. Better still, their writing is most commonly predicated on whether they have read something, where the writing serves as a kind of test. Then educators regularly wonder why so many kids hate reading and writing beyond a certain point in their schooling. Of course, it is a significantly complex issue beyond that. However, every time I see the robo-grading issue, I have to keep raising questions like – What message are we sending students when we essentially say what you have written values so little that a human is not even going to be bothered to read it?

The question above doesn’t even get to some of the foolishness that is perpetuated by standardized testing, generally. Yet, this article denotes how Massachusetts is now intrigued by the prospects. One of the blessings and curses of routinely being education’s highest-ranking state is that a Massachusetts endorsement becomes a de facto endorsement nearly nation-wide. This is an issue that needs to constantly needs reframing for its ridiculousness. Plus, for all the talk about how it is cheaper, cheaper for who? Last time I checked, standardized testing costs only seem to increase.

Your digital identity has three layers, and you can only protect one of them – Quartz – Katarzyna Szymielewicz (8-minute read)

Sticking with the surveillance theme, here is another piece that explores just how difficult it is to resist or control. As Szymielewicz, explains quite early in the piece, “the data you choose to share is just the tip of an iceberg.” We pretty well surrender any data that we opt to put into the digital public as part of the user agreements for all these online spaces that maintain the artifice of seeming public but are anything but. Plus, who actually reads the user agreements anyway? If you decline, you cannot use the service. If you agree, explicit in just about every agreement of this kind is the provision that the company can change the terms at any point, often without consent or even informing you. Any of those emails that you receive from a tech company about their user agreement are from the few that actually do provide notice, which is not all that common.

Again, we see another situation where it is easy to say look at what those people over there do, we’re not like them (now it’s China). Increased reliance on algorithms, AI, and all the other vaporware or even believing in any of the broken techno-utopian promises makes any distinctions seem awfully flimsy. The most truthful statement in this piece is “Market players do not care about you—they care about numbers,” which has been proven so often as to be undeniable, but that is true about all the digital devices we surround ourselves with too. It is baked into the very nature of what digital is.

I think this article goes a little soft towards the end when it gets into what Europe has begun doing with regard to data and privacy. While the Europeans seem to have a head start on some of these issues, their system is better than what is offered in America, which is tantamount to nothing, it is far from perfect. The EU also just approved the highly controversial Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive. The call for building trust sounds like a reasonable position but even the call “to treat users as active players, not passive participants” seems self-defeating at its core. It is the continued framing of humans as “users” that seems flawed from the jump.

Education Evolutions #93


The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

It seems as though the email version of this newsletter got held up last week and many may have missed it. Apologies. I am not sure the exact reason for it, something to do with the service that I use to distribute it. Anyone can easily subscribe through this site by clicking the button on the right.

This week is a mix of short reads that keys more specifically on students. From complications in learning to strategies to building stronger relationships, there is a little something for everyone. Each is interesting in its own way and sharpens the focus on students and their experiences. They are good reminders of not just things that might work but remembering a student’s point of view in the process too.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. Even if you do not fancy yourself a writing teacher, writing is the coin of the academic realm. More than that, it is a highly underrated means of connecting with students that probably is not leveraged enough outside of the English classroom. My advice is to try some of these ideas out when you can, no matter what you teach.

I thought spring was here and then awoke to the thinnest blanket of snow one day this weekend. It may have been wishful thinking but I think we can will it so.


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

You probably won’t remember this, but the “forgetting curve” theory explains why learning is hard – Quartz – Nikhil Sonnad (4-minute read)

I am kind of surprised that I had never come across the idea of the forgetting curve before. While Ebbinghaus used himself as the subject of his own experiments, chastens the validity of the work a little, it is no less fascinating. Of all the discoveries he made, the forgetting curve seems to be one of the most important and relevant. There is no question memory certainly plays a major role in learning, one that sometimes gets too easily dismissed in the always-connected-online-world that we now find ourselves living. It is awfully hard to make meaningful connections without strengthening the memory, although that is a different kind of memory altogether.

I have been hoovering up quite of bit of material linked to memory of late, so there must be something in the ether. Either that or it may just be symptomatic of the algorithmic contagion of my web reading. Still, the idea of how to better leverage spaced repetition or distributed practice has been on my mind a lot recently. I have been reconsidering how to weave that into my classes with greater regularity for certain material that seems to cause students greater consternation.

On another note, Ebbinghaus seems to be responsible for the notion of the “learning curve” too, making this discovery a little more novel. Plus, the Star Wars references were far from lost on me, as I appreciated their humor quite a bit.

Brain – Book – Buddy: A Strategy for Assessment – The Effortful Educator blog – Blake Harvard (4-minute read)

As I mentioned, there might be something algorithmically sending memory my way. This post presents a clever strategy for anyone that makes use of a lot of multiple choice item tests or exams. It is definitely memory related in its approach too. Broken into three stages, as the name suggests, students answer the same set of if items by themselves, using a book or notes, and then discuss with a peer. While this seems like it might take three times as long, it is hard not to see how there might be some value.

This approach looks like a great formative assessment technique or preparatory one for major summative assessment. As long as students take each step seriously, which may not always be true, this could be really helpful as a means of self-assessing content knowledge. Given that this comes from an AP teacher, I can absolutely see this as being a pretty effective technique for preparing for that kind of test.

Interestingly, I like this approach and see a second beneficial element, which is the need to generate a series of items about the same content, which has other advantages too. I must admit that I am not a major fan of multiple choice items, which this seems completely tailored for, and I don’t use them a whole lot. My reasoning for that is that they rarely show what a student knows but more acutely identifies what they do not know. This technique undermines that criticism a bit since it is focused on helping students identify where they are the fuzziest for themselves with some greater validity. I could see this being useful for anyone that regularly uses multiple choice.

Four Quick and Easy Ways to Build Relationships with Students Through Their Writing – Matthew M. Johnson blog – Matthew M. Johnson (6-minute read)

In spite of the almost immediate use of John Hattie as a warrant for the main idea here, I really like what is on offer here. The handful of techniques are all good suggestions about ways to easily build up relationships with students. Best of all, as Johnson explains, they are little opportunities that do not take a lot of time but can have strong impacts. I can even see how used strategically to strengthen the connection, some of these ideas could work on a whole array of levels for any teacher in any subject area.

One of the benefits of being an English teacher is that students often feel a stronger connection, particularly so if they are asked to do any kind of personal writing as part of your class. I am not always sure if that is the most valid claim, but it certainly is a common one. On some level, simply asking a student to write something personal or even just responding to them in a personal way can strengthen or deepen a relationship between student and teacher. This is one of the inherent benefits of asking students to write, especially in low-stakes or non-assessment contexts, that rarely gets enough recognition.

Of the suggestions, make genuine connections is the one that I find routinely the most valuable. Simply responding to work like a reader, not a grader, is one of the most powerful moves that can be made with a young writer. It is something that any teacher can do, no matter their comfort level in teaching writing, by the way. I quite like the wisdom of letting students speak first in conferencing too. I am not a big smile person, at least as it is posed in this piece, but I know colleagues who regularly employ that technique. I am not sure about the results but they have been doing it for a while.

Education Evolutions #92


The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all and may the luck of the Irish be with you on this day and every day. There are definitely glimmers of spring in New England as the snow is melting by the day. Hopefully, the temperature has turned a corner and the bitter cold is behind us.

This week is one of those mixed bags that runs across a number of topics. While I like it when there are themes that might run through the week, most weeks do not quite work like that. So from the college scandal to taking our reading public to the invasion of smart devices into everyday life, this issue runs the gamut.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. Do not be put off by the reading time. If you have not seen or read this piece, you are missing some penetrating analysis about the rise of smart devices and the surveillance state that rides in their wake. Legal efforts to protect privacy cannot catch up quickly enough but informed consumers must begin to martial some kind of defense. What we often forget is just how much collective actions can inspire change with regards to companies, laws, culture, and more.

Spring seems just around the corner now in New England. After all the snow, we may well be in the soup before we know it.


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

What I want high school seniors to hear loud and clear… – Chicago Tribune – Heidi Stevens (4-minute read)

It would be nigh impossible to write this newsletter and not address the college admissions scandal story that broke this week. While there was no shortage of interesting articles on the subject. Some were better than others, providing a bit more insight or criticism. However, this one was probably the one with the most impact. At least, it was the one that stayed with me the longest.

There is no question that Stevens and I are of the same mind when it comes to this topic. For all those fortunate enough to have gone to college or university, and especially those that finished, there are elements of this should have great resonance. Surely, anyone with a college-age child who comes home during their first year has to take a breath and remember what a feast college truly is, as their kid lectures them on all the new topics, subjects, and discoveries that they are sure you were unaware of.

Also, as someone who took a slightly different path, spending years at a large community college before transferring to small liberal arts university, prestige and name-brand nonsense never meant a whole lot to me. I knew I couldn’t afford that game anyway. What I did know, courtesy of a lot of really great teachers along the way, is that the key ingredient was always going to be me, as Stevens highlights. When it comes to learning at any level, it is never really about anyone else.

For the Love of Reading: Developing a Teacher Reader Identity – NCTE Blog – Shelby M. Boehm (3-minute read)

I saw this post a few weeks back and nearly added it at the time. While I know that I am an English teacher reading and writing are central to all academia. What’s more, all teachers are reading and writing teachers whether they like it or not. Given that fact, even if it creates a little discomfort in some of us developing a reading identity that we can publicly share with our students is the kind of thing that can have resonance far beyond what we might recognize.

For me, it is about sharing something about yourself with your students. It reveals your interests, curiosities, and taste. That kind of information is what helps build relationships. Above and beyond that, it models that reading is important and a regular practice. If we expect our students to be interested, even excited, about learning, we had best show them the way. Certainly, reading is one of the simplest and easiest ways to continue learning independently. Then there is pleasure reading, which might need even more representation if we have any hope of encouraging it in students.

This post also reminded me of so many of my colleagues that I know who are readers. It is the French teacher that I always see with a book. Novels, non-fiction, it doesn’t matter, her reading is wide and deep and inspires some fantastic conversations. It is the math teacher I know who has a distinct love of young adult literature. She too reads widely and deeply with all sorts of other fascinating books on her hand or on her desk. There are others too. I am not sure if their students recognize this about them but it is no secret. Even a fellow English teacher recently encouraged our department to post what we are reading and what is up next outside our doors. It has been great.

The House That Spied on Me – Gizmodo – Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu (20-minute read)

Even if you think, “This article seems too long,” at least watch the embedded video for the gist of the story in a quarter the time. The video is good but the read is decidedly better but it does include some really insightful commentary from a cybersecurity expert. Even the construction of this article is great, the way that incorporates the two writers and weaves together a monitor and the monitored. I’ll just say this is not the Jetsons home we may have envisioned.

I am not even sure how anyone that reads this would not have a moment of pause. The degree of intimacy in our personal lives that is being violated here should be illegal if you ask me. I know that a major selling point of “smart” devices is this faux ease and convenience that is promised but this article certainly pokes holes in that premise. For one, there are very few standards in this space that companies even abide. Consequently, as is highlighted in this article, just getting the various items to work with another immediately eliminates any convenience.

All of those headaches are what the convinced have to deal with but what about those that want no part of any of this. It is getting harder and harder to avoid this level or kind of surveillance. We are rapidly normalizing it. Products that don’t come with a chip that connects to the Internet are becoming increasingly hard to find in certain spaces. Televisions are mentioned specifically in this piece but it by no means stops there. As Ian Bogost put it so clearly in a piece that made it in past issue of this newsletter, “You Are Already Living Inside a Computer.

The most telling line is “When you buy a smart device, it doesn’t just belong to you; you share custody with the company that made it.” Even worse, people are readily paying to have companies spy on them, whether they fully appreciate it or not, and the prospects of opting out are diminishing without disengaging from mainstream modern life completely. Perhaps worst of all, even if you are able to stave off this slouching toward total surveillance in your own life, you may not be able to avoid it in the public sphere or when entering someone else’s home.