Category Archives: Teaching & Learning

Education Evolutions #70


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

Apologies for such a late delivery. The festive day left me with a lot less time than normal to put this all together. It was all for good reasons, mind you. Plus, I am also facing a major obstacle in that the World Cup is underway.

No single sporting event so captures my attention and imagination. I absolutely love the every-four-year international tournament, despite all its warts and dark side. I just cannot help it. World Cup summers are my favorite of all summers. Sadly, I reckon nothing will be even closely the same when Qatar hosts the event.

As usual, no real theme in this issue, although it is definitely a bit on the dour side. Sometimes it just works out that way. I guess we are just coming to some pretty hard reckonings with some over-exuberant decisionmaking regarding the unprecedented proliferation of technology in our lives. Perhaps reckoning is far too premature a characterization. Maybe we are beginning to experience some profound realizations. Counter-actions still seem a ways off.

There is no real choice for “If you read only one article…” again, which is not altogether uncommon. All are of similar length, actually. They all evoke a rising sense of frustration that a lot of people feel, I think, but have a hard time articulating. These are complicated times.

Still trying to decide whether I will keep the newsletter up over the summer. No conclusions. So, this could be the last one for awhile, not sure just yet.

Hope everyone had a nice Father’s Day. I did.


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

Ed-Tech That Makes Me Want to Scream – Inside Higher Ed –  John Warner (10-minute read)

I must confess I find myself feeling more and more like I could have written this. I have long said that edtech tends to solve a lot of old pedagogical problems that do not interest me as much anymore. For example, there is no shortage of tools that make grading multiple-choice items easier and faster than ever. I am just not interested in multiple-choice items all that much anymore, despite their prevalence on standardized tests. Yet, surveillance has been a growing concern for the last year or two, only heightened with all this Facebook nonsense of late.

Kids have already kind of been robbed of the ability to make stupid mistakes without public incident thanks to social media. Every misstep is potentially publicized and archived, never to be just be ignored or even better forgotten. Now, we are creating tools that they will be required to use that only double-down on the Kafkaesque before they are even capable of reading Kafka or understanding the concept. It is hard not to feel a profound dehumanizing effect.

How Pro-Eating Disorder Posts Evade Filters on Social Media – Wired –  Louise Matsakis (14-minute read)

This is a fascinating example of how algorithms can exacerbate already entrenched problems. I am glad that this piece opens with the concession that eating disorder sites have been around almost as long as the Internet. The same could be said about a lot of ethically suspect topics. Yet algorithms seemingly act as accelerants for these debased efforts on social media.

The key element in the article really revolves around just how savvy the users and participants have become to avoid detection. That is an insight that has a lot more far-reaching consequences. Certainly, groups of people with eating disorders are far from the only people employing the same kinds of strategies and tactics. More worrisome is just how quickly more surveillance will likely be part of the answer in addressing these kinds of problems. Algorithms cannot make complex ethical decisions and generally amplify biases inherent in their creation, leading to extremely brittle ethical contexts. This is just one example of a much greater and profound problem where we have yet to find very good solutions.

How to Fight Amazon (Before You Turn 29) – The Atlantic –  Robinson Meyer (14-minute read)

This article provides a good primer on the recent history of anti-trust activity in the United States. It also begins to make a case for Amazon’s growing monopoly status, while profiling a young attorney named Lina Khan. I wish that it went a lot further on the topic. I suppose that a read of the “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” paper referenced will have to do. Plus, this piece ends with some clever novelty.

Pinpointing the moment of perception change in an article like this is a really important as a way to provide some context. Like so many of our prevailing cultural attitudes, they are rooted in the Reagan administration. For me, that 1980 inauguration has looked more and more vividly like the trigger for a seismic shift in our nation’s history. One that continues to reverberate to this day. Since the break up of the Bell system in 1982, something that was a dozen years in the making, it seems like monopoly efforts have only seemed to accelerate since. The possible exception would be the Microsoft case but they settled. Facebook, Google, Amazon are all good contenders now.

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Education Evolutions #69


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

Keeping with the hodge-podge selection of articles this week. As we enter the final stretch of the second semester here in New England, I deliberately tried to keep these selections short. It forced me to forsake a couple of longer items that may make it in as the summer begins. I have not continued this newsletter in the summer in the past and have been mulling that possibility over of late. Feel free to send me any thoughts on that, if you are so moved.

If there were some kind of theme it might involve the questioning of what and how we know what we think we do, which I start to scratch a bit in response to the first item. It is an itch that has been absorbing a lot of my peripheral thinking recently. It is one of those things that I think as an educator should be a little more central to our everyday work than it probably is, actually.

The choice for “If you read only one article…” is up for grabs again this week. All of them are interesting and easily read in a short sitting. The facial recognition piece is probably the most important. The school design piece is probably the most fascinating. Meanwhile, the medieval teenager piece is probably the most offbeat. So, give them all a look if you get a chance.

Have a good week as the summer is nearly upon us.


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

Unproven facial-recognition companies target schools, promising an end to shootings – The Washington Post –  Drew Harwell (12-minute read)

This is the next wave of privacy destruction by opaque companies selling unproven vaporware products under the guise of greater security. As facial recognition becomes more sophisticated I see this only getting far worse unless it is strictly regulated. The other issue in play here which rarely gets addressed is how the proprietary nature of practically all technology companies perpetuate their opaqueness. Worse still, when public institutions employ this kind of surveillance technology and endorse these proprietaries, they violate almost all sense of the open, transparent, and public values that underlie our democratic government.

To his credit, Harwell captures a lot of the concerns, problems, and potential consequences associated with mass surveillance systems marketing themselves to schools. This is an insidious kind of fleecing of public money on promises of effectiveness by private companies with virtually no accountability. Perhaps most frustrating of all, the almost belligerent willingness to surrender privacy in the name of safety actually posses a far greater threat to security. In a surveillance state, everyone is at risk and only the overlords are safe.

Century-Old Decisions That Impact Children Every Day – National Public Radio –  Anya Kamenetz (8-minute read)

Architecture is a such a fascinating way to examine schools, especially given how often schools are being designed and built a the moment. Quite simply spaces are not neutral and they can have pretty profound impacts on learning. Aside from the sheer physical layout of the space, so many other environmental factors can affect students, like noise levels, air quality, even lighting. There are plenty of interesting studies in this area to back those claims.

This article and accompanying radio package provide a nice introduction to looking at schools with an architectural and interior design lens. Alexandra Lange’s book The Design of Childhood just made my summer reading list, if I can find it at a public library. School design is a topic that has interested me more ever since I saw British professor Stephen Heppell speak. He has even developed something he calls the Learnometer, a device to measures a handful of environmental factors which I would love to get my hands on at some point. Regardless, the design of the physical spaces remains compelling stuff.

This Is What It Was Like to Be a Teenager in the Middle Ages – Time –  Rachel Moss (10-minute read)

Working with teenagers makes this kind of history particularly interesting. I was immediately reminded of how many conversations I have had about how old Romeo and Juliet are and how troubled students are when they realize that they are probably not both high schooler age. Here is some proof courtesy of a historian.

Pieces like this are great reminders of the old adage, “The more things change the more they stay the same.” It also confirms just how fuzzy the edges of adolescence can be. I suspect a fair number of people know someone nigh on 30 years-old that probably still qualifies as one. This article also reminded me of Jon Savage’s book Teenage, a look at the pre-history of the teenager and youth culture. Still, this is a wonderful window into the perceptions of young people in days of yore. Students tend to be particularly interested in this kind of peculiar history when relevant. So this may have longer usefulness than the title might have suggested.

Education Evolutions #68


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

No overarching theme this week. Back to the hodge-podge selection of articles this week. It was even a little trickier this week, as I discovered I hadn’t marked as many as I normally do. I chalk that up to the holiday and the fact that the school year’s close is nigh upon us. Things always get a little tense at the end of second semester and there are a few weeks where almost everything but suffers a bit in an effort to get to the final day. I am sure that many can relate to that.

If there were some kind of theme it might involve the questioning of what and how we know what we think we do, which I start to scratch a bit in response to the first item. It is an itch that has been absorbing a lot of my peripheral thinking recently. It is one of those things that I think as an educator should be a little more central to our everyday work than it probably is, actually.

The choice for “If you read only one article…” is completely up for grabs too this week. It kind of all depends on particular preference since they are all quite a bit different. They are also all pretty similar in length too, so reading all three is far less challenging than it is other weeks. So, give them all a look if you get a chance.

Have a good week as the curtain on this year has begun closing.


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

Why Rich Kids Are So Good at the Marshmallow Test – The Atlantic –  Jessica Mccrory Calarco (8-minute read)

This is a fascinating read for a number of reasons. One, the marshmallow test has been held up as a keystone study in all kinds of ideas about child development. Two, while psychology may be in the midst of “replication crisis” referenced in this article, we all may be finding ourselves in a bit of an epistemological one. Three, standardized test scores have somehow become de facto metrics for anything involving children in this country even when they are as suspect as any test being more carefully scrutinized.

On some level, the marshmallow test is one of the most significant victories of public relations in our time. Since its publishing, it is one of the most repeatedly referenced and used studies around, especially in education. I can’t even count how many classes I have taken in my lifetime where it has been mentioned and practically considered gospel. Yet, these new efforts in the field of psychology force us to questions what we think we know which is almost always a good thing. While I haven’t read the new study, how are standardized tests, with their own deeply skewed results regarding class and wealth, considered by anyone as a valid metric in a study like this or almost any other for that matter?

How Technology Is Changing Visual Art – The New York Times –  The New York Time (6-minute read)

I love this series in The New York Times and have included other installments. I am definitely a sucker for the behind-the-scenes, how-things-are-made pieces, especially when they involve jobs or workflows that already interest me. The whole idea of asking professionals about the tech they use is interesting on its own and a clever concept by the Times to be sure. This one seems a much more organic instance than some of the others, as tech has always profoundly impacted art and how it is created.

One of the cooler things about this piece is how it manages to work on two levels, the specific and the general. I really like how using the development of the one story serves as background for the wider conversation about how Uong uses tech in his work on a daily basis. It provides genuine insight and the pictures used are fantastic in supporting the text of this article. I almost wish that they made short three or four minute videos that accompanied these stroies too. That would be even cooler.

Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018 – Pew Center for Research –  Monica Anderson and Jingjing Jiang (10-minute read)

With the latest findings from Pew arriving recently, this is an almost required entry in a newsletter like this. The findings are not as interesting as I might have liked. They are obviously different from the last major study Pew did with teens but there is not a lot of surprising information here. It seems like the biggest takeaway is that Facebook is not as big a deal with teens. Anyone that spends any significant time with teens would already probably know that. When it comes to platforms teens can be a fickle bunch and wholesale abandon one for another seemingly almost overnight.

Upon closer look, the things I found most interesting is the divide around Facebook in terms of class. Not long ago MySpace appealed to almost the same demographic that is the current strength for Facebook, and we all know how MaySpace endured. Different companies to be sure but interesting connection nonetheless. Also, I wonder what the exact questions were to elicit the responses because I am not sure how many teens think of “platforms” as such. Also, in my experience, teens can be remarkably good at compartmentalizing their tech usage. So, I am not altogether sure that a teen would mention or even think of their usage of YouTube essentially as a de facto search engine. If they were asked about searching, they would likely respond with Google. Yet, the number of kids that default to YouTube when looking for just about anything is pretty significant and I am not sure they think of that as “searching.”