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- 11/04/14--07:10: _Maggie's Digital Co...
- 11/04/14--15:28: _The Future of Educa...
- 11/07/14--12:16: _Hack Education Week...
- 11/13/14--09:27: _Convivial Tools in ...
- 11/14/14--10:57: _Hack Education Week...
- 11/15/14--11:04: _Digital Labor & Geo...
- 11/16/14--08:49: _From "Open" to Just...
- 11/18/14--11:00: _Men Explain Technol...
- 11/21/14--13:31: _Hack Education Week...
- 11/28/14--17:52: _Hack Education Week...
- 12/01/14--00:00: _The Monsters of Edu...
- 12/02/14--14:30: _Top Ed-Tech Trends ...
- 12/04/14--18:25: _Top Ed-Tech Trends ...
- 12/05/14--15:53: _Hack Education Week...
- 12/06/14--18:50: _Top Ed-Tech Trends ...
- 12/09/14--16:51: _Top Ed-Tech Trends ...
- 12/11/14--00:00: _Top Ed-Tech Trends ...
- 12/12/14--00:00: _Support Hack Education
- 12/12/14--11:36: _Hack Education Week...
- 12/13/14--18:07: _Top Ed-Tech Trends ...
- 11/04/14--07:10: Maggie's Digital Content Farm
- 11/04/14--15:28: The Future of Education: Programmed or Programmable
- 11/07/14--12:16: Hack Education Weekly News: US Midterm Elections
- 11/13/14--09:27: Convivial Tools in an Age of Surveillance
- 11/14/14--10:57: Hack Education Weekly News: Free MOOC Credentials for Veterans
- 11/15/14--11:04: Digital Labor & Geographies of Crisis #DL14
- 11/16/14--08:49: From "Open" to Justice #OpenCon2014
- 11/21/14--13:31: Hack Education Weekly News: Feminist Hacker Barbie
- 11/28/14--17:52: Hack Education Weekly News: #Ferguson
- 12/01/14--00:00: The Monsters of Education Technology
- 12/02/14--14:30: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2014: Buzzwords
- 12/04/14--18:25: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2014: The Business of Ed-Tech
- 12/05/14--15:53: Hack Education Weekly News: FBI Seizes LAUSD iPad Documents
- 12/06/14--18:50: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2014: School and "Skills"
- 12/09/14--16:51: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2014: MOOCs, Outsourcing, and Online Education
- 12/11/14--00:00: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2014: Competencies and Certificates
- 12/12/14--00:00: Support Hack Education
- 12/12/14--11:36: Hack Education Weekly News
- 12/13/14--18:07: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2014: The Common Core State Standards
I was asked to be a "guest speaker" for Digital Writing Month. Here's my contribution, my provocation. This first appeared on the DigiWriMo blog and on Hybrid Pedagogy. Ed-tech likes to see itself as a protest movement. I think it's time we start to protest the protest. Thanks to Jesse and Sean for editing and to Bob for the inspiration.
Over the course of the last 6 months or so, I’ve felt a real shift in what it means (for me) to write – to work, to be – online. And let’s be clear: this affects me offline too.
I’m hardly the first or the only person to notice that the great promises of the Web – freedom! knowledge! access! egalitarianism! creativity! revolution! – are more than a little empty. I’m hardly the first or the only person to notice that the online communities in which we participate increasingly feel less friendly, less welcoming, more superficial, more controlling, more restrictive.
Online, we seem to be more and more short-tempered and sharp-tongued. It feels less and less sustainable. It’s taking a toll on me, personally – the status updates, the sneers, the threats, the responsibilities, the accolades, the comments, the deadlines. All of it.
I’ve long been “a critic” of ed-tech, to be sure. That’s what my work, my writing is known for.
But what I’m feeling now is new. It’s different. As such, I recognize – for me, my work, my writing – with a growing sense of urgency that I need to re-evaluate my own use of digital technologies. As a writer. as a worker, as a human.
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
Well, I wake in the morning
Fold my hands and pray for rain
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin’ me insane
It’s a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
It's hard to mark the moment in the early 1960s when Bob Dylan "changed," when -- as we'd tell the story now, at least -- enough was enough.
Bob Dylan recorded “Maggie’s Farm” in 1965. There are lots of interpretations of the song’s lyrics, and much to be said about the song’s origins and its subsequent performances.
The song first appeared on Bringing It Back Home, an album that's often used to mark one of the many shift in Dylan's career. But it was the performance of the song at the Newport Folk Festival that same year – loud and electric – that elicited those infamous boos from the audience and prompted that final split between Dylan and the folk music movement.
Some point out that, like a lot of Dylan’s music, the song is simply an adaptation of an earlier folk song – in this case the Bentley Brother’s 1929 recording of “Down on Penny’s Farm,” which also criticizes rural landlords who systematically exploit day-laborers.
Some say “Maggie’s Farm” is a pun on the surname of Silas McGee, on whose farm in Greensboro, Mississippi Dylan performed “Only a Pawn in Their Game” during a voter registration rally, as featured in the D. A. Pennebaker documentary Don’t Look Back.
Some argue that “Maggie’s Farm” is a protest song against protest music, condemning those in “the scene” who are quick to profit off of the creativity and the fury of others, all the while pretending that they do so as part of some larger progressive political project.
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
Well, he hands you a nickel
He hands you a dime
He asks you with a grin If you’re havin’ a good time
Then he fines you every time you slam the door
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
New Media, we were told, would displace Old Media. The Internet would change things. Radically.
Old institutions – those which controlled who could be published, those who would be deemed experts, and as such who could be heard – would crumble. New voices would be recognized; new voices would be heard.
A radical democracy of "the folk," if you will.
The readable, writable Web would encourage a flourishing of cultural production, distributed and supported through more equitable frameworks. Creatives, no matter who or where, would be able make a living being creative.
As a freelance writer on the Web, I write. I speak. My writing is read and shared widely. Despite that, as a freelance writer on the Web, I still struggle to be heard. I struggle to make ends meet. I have to hustle for gigs, and I have to hassle folks for payment. I always have to hassle folks for payment.
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
Well, he puts his cigar
Out in your face just for kicks
His bedroom window
It is made out of bricks
The National Guard stands around his door
Ah, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
I’ve long been an advocate for writers – well, all of us really – to own our own domains. A domain of one’s own, much like the room of one’s own as Virginia Woolf insisted women demand, is an important and necessary space to think and to work.
In this so-called Information Age, having a domain of one’s own isn’t simply a means to produce writing; it’s a means to distribute it as well. To publish. To manage and control one's “intellectual property.” To manage and control the metadata surrounding its dissemination and consumption.
The Web promised openness. Open access. Open knowledge. A wide open space for creativity. Collaboration. Distribution.
Instead what we have today is a mass of information silos and content farms.
What we have today, if we're honest with ourselves, are old hierarchies hard-coded onto new ones.
New media, new websites often demand we sign over our intellectual property. If they don’t ask outright for copyright, they demand a license to such – “you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with [whatever].”
[Whatever] sells ads against that content. [Whatever] grants access to data to their partners.
[Whatever] [Whatever] [Whatever] – that seems to be the response from most folks in ed-tech. A shrug. An acquisition. One that implies, insists even, we should be happy to work on someone else's farm: the LMS, the academic journal.
To work there oneself is one thing; to demand one's students work in these silos, on these farms as well… that's horrifying.
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
Well, she talks to all the servants
About man and God and law
Everybody says She’s the brains behind pa
She’s sixty-eight, but she says she’s twenty-four
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
I’m frustrated with so much of ed-tech. Surveillance. Control. Frustrated and exhausted by the demands that we participate in technologies that are exploitative and extractive. I'm increasingly concerned that we're asking people to participate in technologies, practices, online communities, "farms," -- that are profoundly, profoundly unsafe.
How does one protest that?
Refuse to participate online?
Move one’s participation elsewhere? New songs? New communities?
Dylan's protest in 1965 was to plug in. Mine, I don't know… it might be to unplug.
But if nothing else, I tell you this: I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s Farm. And I think you need to think about your own work. Where you work. For whom.
And then you must consider where you demand your students work. For whom they work. Who profits. Where that content, where that data, where those dimes flow.
On whose farm are you working? On whose farm are you demanding your students working? To what end? For whose profits?
Are they safe there? Are you safe there? Are you sure?
What exactly is the protest song those of us rushing to embrace technologies are singing?
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
Well, I try my best To be just like I am
But everybody wants you
To be just like them
They say sing while you slave and I just get bored
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
Image credits: Patrick Emerson
Here is the transcript of my talk tonight at Pepperdine University. Many thanks to Linda Polin for inviting me to speak to her students.
When people ask me how I ended up becoming an education technology writer, I’m never quite sure how to answer. I don’t have a degree in “education” or “technology” or even “writing.” I sometimes joke that I took an aptitude test in junior high that gave me one career option — freelance writer — a result that, truth be told, caused me to panic a bit and dismiss the idea altogether.
So there wasn’t really one moment when I decided this was what I was going to do, and there isn’t really a clear path that I can trace for you that got me to where I am today. Instead, there were lots of little episodes, things I didn’t always think deeply about at the time, that have shaped my views about education and technology and that have prompted me to ask, “Wait, what are we doing? Why?” and then to write about it online.
So let me tell you a story about one of those little episodes — a story that I hope can be useful at cracking open those questions “What are we doing” in ed-tech and “Why”:
In 1991, after two years of university back east, I dropped out of school. About a year later, I had a baby. I moved back to Wyoming, where I was born and my folks lived. I recognized that I would need to get a college degree, particularly if I ever wanted to “escape" my hometown again. But Wyoming only has one university, and it was 150 miles away from where I lived. I didn’t want to relocate, so instead I enrolled at the local community college that had just launched an outreach program in association with UW, offering a handful of bachelor’s degrees.
The outreach program was geared towards what we sometimes call “non-traditional” or “adult” learners, so many of the classes were held in the evenings or on weekends. And as the community college hadn’t really built out a large faculty for teaching upper division classes, a number of our courses were offered via “distance education," with an instructor and classes in community college campuses across the state connected through the wonderful, cutting-edge technology of the conference call.
We were also encouraged to take advantage of correspondence courses from other regional universities.
I’d heard some not-too-nice things about the community college statistics instructor, so I decided to take Introduction to Statistics through a correspondence course. I received in the mail a giant box containing the textbook, the worksheets I needed to complete and return to the professor, and half a dozen or so videotapes containing all his lectures.
I really had a hard time with the course.
I know this experience colors my views on online education today, particularly when I hear that some combination of videos and exercises — whether it be Khan Academy or MOOCs — is going to make us all more adept at math and science and engineering. I just don’t believe that the ability to rewind or replay a video is that useful in helping a student struggling to understand a concept. Me, I rewound and replayed those statistics videos a lot. It didn’t help.
But my experience with the correspondence course did help me understand, I think for the first time in my life as a student I think, how our models and our theories and our practices in education shape and are shaped by the technologies we use.
Receiving this box of materials in the mail was a literalization of the idea that education involves “content delivery.” That is, the courseware for Intro to Statistics was quite literally delivered to my doorstep. I’d insert the videotapes into the VCR, and the content would be delivered to my living room and purportedly into my brain. “Content delivery” is not always quite so literally enacted, of course, but it’s still the paradigm education operates within.
This is not a new paradigm, of course. But for me this was the moment — looking with frustration at this this box of videotapes — that I realized that that’s what education privileges.
Whether it’s in a textbook or in a video-taped lecture, it’s long been the content that matters most in school. The content is central. It’s what you go to school to be exposed to. Content. The student must study it, comprehend it, and demonstrate that in turn for the teacher. That is what we expect an education to do, to be: the acquisition of content which becomes transmogrified into knowledge. (The focus is certain content, of course and thus certain knowledge — that which has been decreed significant by a host of institutional, cultural, historical, political, intellectual forces.)
That model of thinking about teaching and learning and arranging courses and classrooms is incredibly old. And despite all of the hype and hoopla about new technologies disrupting old models of education, we see this fixation on knowledge acquisition becoming hard-coded into our practices in the latest ed-tech software — software that now promises to make the process more “personalized” and more efficient.
That is, despite all the potential to do things differently with computers and with the Internet and with ubiquitous digital information, school still puts content in the center. Content, once delivered by or mediated through a teacher or a textbook, now is delivered via various computer technologies.
One more story from my time at Casper College: In 1994, Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the largest crime bill in the history of the US. It’s best known for its ban on assault weapons. But one “small" provision ended the ability for prison inmates to receive Pell Grants.
Prior to that, inmates did often pursue their degrees through distance education classes. I know, because thanks to distance education, I had classes with them.
I still remember the first evening of my Political Violence course, as the professor asked all the students in the various remote campus locations to identify themselves. A couple from Riverton. A couple from Sheridan. One from Powell. And there were three students on the conference call from the Wyoming State Penitentiary. Three inmates. Three students. Let me tell you: our class discussions of terrorism, gun ownership, police violence, political activism, war, the legal system, and the death penalty were much, much richer for their presence.
That’s an important shift in the model of education. The content — the assigned readings, the lectures, the videos — were not, could not possibly be, the center of that class. The content could not be “delivered,” because our analysis of political violence had to be constructed and deconstructed and negotiated, with full recognition of those who were in the class and had experienced, enacted forms of political violence — whether those students were in the pen or not.
The class — connected through telephony — was networked, as in turn was the learning.
Peer learning, networked learning — we talk a lot about these quite a bit in ed-tech today. We make some gestures to that end — the possibilities afforded to us, not so much by conference calls, but by newer forms of connectivity. By the Internet.
But more often than not, we still lasso technology for the more traditional purposes and practices of education: for content delivery. We keep designing education technology with an emphasis on knowledge acquisition, despite all our glee about a move into an information age where our relationship to knowledge will supposedly be transformed.
We are still designing ed-tech for the past and not for the present and certainly not for the future.
Education Theories / Ed-Tech Models
So these are the two models of ed-tech I want to talk about tonight: programmed instruction and the programmable web.
I realize, of course, that I’m making an all-too-tidy divide — as though there are just two theories, two models, two visions, two technologies, two choices, two futures.
And yes I’m using these phrases as shorthand, recognizing that they both have their own complex meanings and histories and pedagogies and ideologies and practices. But I firmly believe that these are histories and pedagogies and ideologies and practices that we in ed-tech need to pay much more attention to.
Ed-Tech as Programmed Instruction
Most education technology today, particularly that which is used in classrooms, would fall into the “programmed instruction” category. And frankly we shouldn’t be surprised by that. If you buy my premise that education has been and is focused on “content delivery” — you needn’t, of course — then an embrace of programmed instruction certainly makes sense.
Programmed instruction is a technological intervention in that content delivery mechanism.
As my experience with the Intro to Statistics videos underscores, programmed instruction pre-dates the Web. It pre-dates the computer.
It is, I contend, the driving force behind the development of the field of education technology throughout most of the twentieth century.
Education psychologist Edward Thorndike wrote in 1912 that “If, by a miracle of mechanical ingenuity, a book could be so arranged that only to him who had done what was directed on page one would page two become visible, and so on, much that now requires personal instruction could be managed by print.”
And a decade later, Thomas Edison said “I believe that the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system and that in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks. I should say that on the average we get about two percent efficiency out of schoolbooks as they are written today. The education of the future, as I see it, will be conducted through the medium of the motion picture… where it should be possible to obtain one hundred percent efficiency.”
Here we can see the origins — the original aspirations, even — of ed-tech: the idea that some sort of mechanism could be developed to not only deliver content — that’s what Edison imagines — but to handle both instruction and assessment. As such, Thorndike’s comment anticipates the development of the teaching machines of the 1920s and thereafter. You can draw a straight line, in fact, between Thorndike and behaviorist B. F. Skinner, the name mostly commonly associated with “teaching machines” and the person who coined the phrase “programmed instruction."
Skinner devised the idea for the teaching machine after visiting his young daughter’s classroom and observing what he thought were the “inefficiencies” in it. Students all had to move at the same pace, he said, and when they completed assignments and quizzes, they did not receive immediate feedback and instead had to wait until the teacher had graded and returned the work — days later — to see how well they’d done.
Skinner’s machine offered educational materials broken down into the smallest possible steps. To move through the materials, students had to correctly answer the questions presented by the machine. A correct answer would reveal the next question, and the student could move on.
This, of course, fits with Skinner’s theories of behaviorism and his notions of operant conditioning. All teaching — with or without machines — was viewed by Skinner as reliant on a “contingency of reinforcement.” The problems with human teachers’ reinforcement, he argued, were severalfold. First, the reinforcement did not occur immediately; that is, as Skinner had observed in his daughter’s classroom, there was a delay between students completing assignments and quizzes and their work being corrected and returned. Second, much of the focus on behavior (as it is traditionally defined) in the classroom has to do with punishing students for bad behavior rather than rewarding them for good.
“Any one who visits the lower trades of the average school today will observe that a change has been made, not from aversive to positive control, but from one form of aversive stimulation to another,” Skinner wrote. Operant conditioning could train students to work better, just as Skinner had trained pigeons. And with the application of behaviorism and the development of teaching machines, “There is no reason,” he insisted, “why the schoolroom should be any less mechanized than, for example, the kitchen.”
The development of teaching machines and programmed instruction would lead to a new profession, something that Simon Ramo called in a 1957 essay a “teaching engineer” — “that kind of engineering which is concerned with the educational process and with the design of the machines, as well as the design of the material.”
(A bit of trivia for you: Simon Ramo received a patent for one of his ed-tech inventions at age 100. He is often called “the father of the intercontinental ballistic missile.” The connection between the military and ed-tech, however, is a story for another day.)
So there we have it: the birth of the instructional technologist. Note the focus in that phrase on instruction and technology (not on, say, learning and technology.) Designing the machine. Designing the material. Despite the intervening decades, instructional technology is not so far removed from programmed instruction, and the profession needs to wrestle with that, I think.
Ed-Tech and the Programmable Web
Programmed instruction reflects and reinforces — as I suggested earlier, hard-codes even — content as the center of learning, the center of certain theories of learning and of their associated classroom practices. Content is at the heart of many of the mechanisms we’ve spent the last hundred years or so building to aid education. Content continues to be at the heart of many new mechanisms as well.
But I think new technologies and — let’s give recognition where recognition is due — many older learning theories have demonstrated that there are alternatives.
Think back to my anecdote about the class discussions with my peers in the penitentiary. The network there was enabled by conference calls. Today, we’re more likely to point to the Internet, not the telephone, as the technology that enables networked communication.
But I want to specifically talk about the Web, which is — or could be, at least — a significant shift away from programmed instruction.
And the shift isn’t simply about a new technology for content delivery. It isn’t about giving Classroom A access to Digital Content B or connecting Classroom A with Classroom B so they can jointly listen to the same lecture. Despite the ease of distribution that comes with Internet technologies, these examples still position content in the center of the educational enterprise. We can’t act as though “access” to content is the pinnacle of what new technologies can afford us. We can’t act as though “digital distribution” of content is the pinnacle either.
I want to posit as an oppositional force, a resistance, an alternative to “programmed instruction” — all that history of Skinner and textbooks and testing: the “programmable web.”
What’s interesting and important and (in my most hopeful moments I can even say) potentially transformative about the Web isn’t just that we are networked. It’s that the pages that we can load in our browsers can be read and can be written. They can be written in human language; and they can be scripted in computer language.
The phrase “Web 2.0," coined circa 1999 — the read/write Web — feels more than a little passé in 2014, particularly as we see the corporate vultures who’ve swooped in to re-write what “social” looks like online and to encourage us to read and write in their information silos.
But the readable, writable, programmable Web is an important development in education technology. Perhaps one of the most important. As such, we can’t just let that go. We can’t just surrender the Web to the technology industry, just as we shouldn't surrender ed-tech to programmed instruction.
The readable, writable, programmable Web is so significant because, in part, it allows us to break from programmed instruction. That is, we needn’t all simply be on the receiving end of some computer-mediated instruction, some teacher-engineering. We can construct and create and connect for ourselves. And that means that — ideally — we can move beyond the technologies that deliver content more efficiently, more widely. It means too we can rethink “content” and “information” and “knowledge” — what it means to deliver or consume those things, alongside what it makes to build and control those things.
One of the most powerful things that you can do on the Web is to be a node in a network of learners, and to do so most fully and radically, I dare say, you must own your own domain.
I think we’ve been taught that owning a domain is beyond the reach of most of us — we don’t have the technical skills to manage servers, DNS, databases, and the like. Again, we’re told we should leave it to the engineers. But there are a growing number of tools and services that make owning and managing your own domain quite doable. (I’ll talk about some of these in my workshop tomorrow.)
Supporting students in owning their own domain is one of the most important things we in education technology can do. We can frame this, at the very least, as giving them “skills" that will be useful in their personal and professional lives, but the implications are much broader.
I typically point to the University of Mary Washington as an example of a school that gets this and that is leading the way for others. UWM gives each faculty and student their own domain — and I don’t mean simply webspace on the university’s servers. UWM helps everyone buy the domain of their choosing, and they host it for the duration that the student is enrolled. They offer a simple interface that helps with installing open source software like WordPress. And then when a student graduates, everything — all the content that a student has created, everything they’ve uploaded onto their site — can go with them, as UWM hands them the keys to their domain. It is theirs.
Thanks to technologies like RSS — short for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication — one can weave together the output from these spaces, syndicating them into one place. While the content remains distributed, housed on individual blogs, feeds can pull copies into a centralized site. This is how the University of Mary Washington managed blog posts for many of its courses. Students blog on their own sites, but tag their posts with keywords associated with a particular course. An RSS feed then posts content with that keyword to a course website.
Learning on the Web means that the intellectual relationship isn’t restricted to student and content. The relationship isn’t only among student, content, and instructor. The exchange isn’t about a student demonstrating to an instructor that content has been “successfully delivered” and processed. Learning on the Web opens that intellectual exchange up in new ways. Authority, expertise, participation, voice — these can be so different on the programmable web; not so with programmed instruction.
The Domain of One’s Own initiative at University of Mary Washington purposefully invokes Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own: “A woman must have money, and a room of her own, if she is to write fiction.” That is, one needs a space — a safe space that one controls — in order to do be intellectually productive.
Intellectual productivity on the Web looks a bit different, no doubt, but there is this notion, embedded in the Domain of One’s Own project, that it is important to have one’s own space in order to develop one’s ideas and one’s craft. It’s important that, as learners, we have control over our content and our data. We aren’t simply receptacles for content delivery mechanisms, as imaged by the machines of programmed instruction; and we aren’t simply the sources for learning outcomes and learning analytics — data that can be used to feed the new algorithms of today’s fancier teaching machines.
Having one’s own domain means too that we have much more say over what we present to the world — in terms of our “public profile,” our professional portfolio, what have you. Control over the look and feel of the site. Control over the content. Control over what’s shared. Control — a bit more control, not total — over one’s data.
If we are to resist “programmed instruction” — or at least do things differently in this so-called information age — we shouldn’t just talk about new education technologies that do the same old thing, but more efficiently. We have an amazing opportunity here. We need to recognize and reconcile that, for starters, in the content that programmed instruction — as with all instruction — delivers, there is a hidden curriculum nestled in there as well. Education — formal institutions of schooling — are very much about power, prestige, and control.
If we see learning as a process that develops the self, then control over that process and then control over the presentation of that self seems crucial. Again, this is why owning one’s own domain on the Web is so important.
And it’s something that we need to scrutinize in education technology — in all technology, really. Programmed instruction doesn’t simply fix the content; it fixes the relationship between learner and instructor (whether machine or human). There is no reciprocity there, for starters. And there’s little opportunity to express oneself outside the pre-ordained — the programmed — design.
Ed-tech works like this: you sign up for a service and you’re flagged as either “teacher” or “student” or “admin.” Depending on that role, you have different “privileges” — that’s an important word, because it doesn’t simply imply what you can and cannot do with the software. It’s a nod to political power, social power as well.
Many pieces of software, despite their invocation of “personalization,” present you with a very restricted, restrictive set of choices of who you “can be.” It’s what Amber Case calls the “templated self.” She explains this as
A self or identity that is produced through various participation architectures, the act of producing a virtual or digital representation of self by filling out a user interface with personal information.
Facebook and Twitter are examples of the templated self. The shape of a space affects how one can move, what one does and how one interacts with someone else. It also defines how influential and what constraints there are to that identity. A more flexible, but still templated space is WordPress. A hand-built site is much less templated, as one is free to fully create their digital self in any way possible. Those in Second Life play with and modify templated selves into increasingly unique online identities. MySpace pages are templates, but the lack of constraints can lead to spaces that are considered irritating to others.
While Amber’s examples here point to mostly “social” technologies, education technologies are also “participation architectures.” How do these technologies produce a digital representation of the learner-self?
Of course, you could argue that the education system is already incredibly interested in “templating” students as well as “templating” knowledge. We see this in graduation requirements, course requirements, essay requirements, disciplinary requirements, tenure requirements, and so on. Many education technologies loyally reinscribe these into the digital world. The LMS is perhaps the perfect example. The call for more adaptive technologies (often connected to textbook, assessment, and LMS technologies) — reliant on they are on data models and algorithms — are the next wave of tools that produce the “templated learner.”
Programmed instruction has long sought to work to that end, but this architecture now extends elsewhere.
Programmed instruction programs the learner. Necessarily. By design.
The programmable web need not.
See I don’t want to overreach here and make an argument that the Web is some sort of technological or ed-tech utopia. Despite all the talk about “leveling the playing field” and disrupting old, powerful institutions, the Web replicates many pre-existing inequalities; it exacerbates others; it creates new ones. I think we have to work much harder to make the Web live up to the rhetoric of freedom and equality. That’s a political effort, not simply a technological one.
Let me repeat that, because it has pretty significant implications for ed-tech, which is so often developed and implemented at the whims of political decisions — decisions made by politicians, administrators, decisions influenced by budgets, vendor pitches, and the latest Thomas Friedman New York Times op-ed. Decisions like ending Pell Grants for prisoners, for example.
To transform education and education technology to make it "future-facing” means we do have to address what exactly we think education should look like now and in the future. Do we want programmed instruction? Do we want teaching machines? Do we want videotaped lectures? Do we want content delivery systems? Or do we want education that is more student-centered, more networked-focused. Are we ready to move beyond “content” and even beyond “competencies”? Can we address the ed-tech practices that look more and more like carceral education — surveillance, predictive policing, control?
See, these are political questions and they are philosophical questions. I don’t think it’s quite as simple as a choice between programmed instruction or the programmable web. And instead of acting as though ed-tech is free of ideology, we need to recognize that it is very much enmeshed in it.
US Midterm Elections
Americans voted on Tuesday — or, a small percentage of them did. According to early figures, about 36.6% of the eligible population cast their ballot in this year’s midterm elections, the lowest turnout since 1942 (which was, it’s worth noting, in the middle of the Second World War).
As such, it’s a little hard to trumpet the results as a mandate. Nevertheless, the results, as they were, were a major win for the Republican party, which now takes control of the US Senate and maintains control of the House of Representatives. The Republicans also won 31 governorships. And they now control“at least 66 of 99 state legislative chambers nationwide.” This could have a major impact on education policy, particularly as those state legislatures dictate public education funding. Yahoo. The Republicans are also probably going to fuck with any semblance of progressive environmental policies we have on the books too, so ya know. Maybe climate change can take us all out before the government has a chance to pass too much legislation. Who knows.
Anyway, here’s how Politico summarized the results of Tuesday's voting as they pertain to education:
It was a crushing night for teachers unions and their allies. After pumping well over $60 million into races across the country, the unions could point to just two bright spots: They succeeded in ousting Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett. Incumbent state Superintendent Tom Torlakson came out on top in California. Otherwise, it was a bloodbath. And not just because of the near-total Republican sweep of the mostly hotly contested Senate seats and gubernatorial races. Ardent foes of the Common Core were poised to take over as schools chiefs in Arizona and in Georgia, defeating more moderate candidates that the unions had fought hard to elect. A ballot measure to raise money for public schools by hiking certain corporate taxes went down to a huge defeat in Nevada. A proposal to reduce class sizes (and hire new educators) was trailing in Washington state, despite a huge lead in pre-election polling. And the unions’ preferred measure for expanding access to pre-K — and raising wages for child-care workers — failed in Seattle.
Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander (formerly the Secretary of Education under President Bush) will now likely lead the Senate’s education committee. The Chronicle of Higher Education profiles him.
From Inside Higher Ed: What a GOP-led Congress Means for Higher Ed
Voters in New Yorkapproved a $2 billion ed-tech bond measure. Maybe they can talk to LAUSD about how to spend billions on iPads.
The most expensive political contest in California was for the state superintendent of public instruction. The race was between two Democrats – incumbent Tom Torlakson, who was supported by teachers unions and challenger Marshall Tuck, a former charter school executive. As noted above, Torlakson won (by 4% points).
“Billionaire-Backed Group Spends Unprecedented $290K in Minneapolis School Board Race.” The billionaire in question is former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, who poured over $1.3 million into the campaigns of state and local “education reform” candidates.
86% of the candidates backed by Michelle Rhee’s group Students First won their respective races.
In Other Education Legal and Political News…
The New York Times looks at how Russian President Vladimir Putin is purging his country’s textbooks (and how one of his friends is profiting). Phew – good thing there isn’t any insidery political bullshit in the US textbook industry.
Security guards escorted about a dozen students out of a Jefferson County School Board meeting this week. The students are protesting the board’s plan to review their AP curriculum to make sure it encourages patriotism and discourages civil disobedience.
The Department of Education has found Princeton to be in violation of Title IX“for failing to promptly and equitably respond to complaints of sexual violence, including sexual assault, and also failing to end the sexually hostile environment for one student. In addition, the policies and procedures used by the university to investigate and respond to assaults and violence did not comply with Title IX.”
Leicester City Council is the first local government authority in the UK to give its 84 community schools permission to openly license their educational resources.
Internet connectivity continues to be a problem for online assessments, according to Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium field testing. And in related news, Louisiana plans to delay online assessments. The state will continue to use the paper and pencil version of the PARCC assessments.
The Louisiana Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit by some 7000+ former Orleans Parish School Board employees, who claimed they were illegally terminated after Hurricane Katrina.
“The North Carolina State Board of Education has issued a warning to a charter-school chain for failing to comply with an agency order to disclose the salaries of school administrators,” reports ProPublica, who wrote about financial improprieties of that same chain, Charter Day School Inc, last month.
The Chronicle of Higher Education trolls us with this headline “Are We Forgiving Too Much Student-Loan Debt?”
“What’s Big Business Got to Do With Education Reform?” asks Edsurge’s Charley Locke.
Iguala, Mexico mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, have been arrested in Mexico City. The two are suspected of being involved in the disappearance of 43 students from a local teachers college.
Dante Martin, a former member of the Florida A&M University marching band, has been found guilty of manslaughter in the hazing death of fellow band member Robert Champion.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
The History Channel, which features intellectually rigorous shows like Ancient Aliens, will be offering “the very first television network-branded online course for credit” in partnership the University of Oklahoma. (Here are Laura Gibbs’ thoughts on the MOOC.)
“Can Libraries Save the MOOC?” Is this a trick question?
FutureLearn made an animated film to promote its MOOCs, and it’s… um… interesting.
From the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning: “The Employer Potential of MOOCs: A Mixed-Methods Study of Human Resource Professionals’ Thinking on MOOCs.”
From The Chronicle of Higher Education: “What Georgia Tech’s Online Degree in Computer Science Means for Low-Cost Programs.” And from Rolin Moe: “What We Cannot Learn from the Udacity/GT Partnership.”
The Indian School of Business. has joinedCoursera.
Meanwhile on Campus
Harvard University has been spying on folks again. Last year it was caught searching faculty emails. This week, “the university acknowledged that as part of a study on attendance at lectures, it had used hidden cameras to photograph classes without telling the professors or the students.” The Chronicle of Higher Education write-up of the revelation contains this wonderful sentence: “But putting aside the question of whether the methodology was ethical, what did the researchers learn about classroom-attendance patterns from their study, and what were the motives behind the experiment?” Yes. Let’s put aside the ethics of surveillance and data collection in education. Carry on!
The University of Texas Systemplans to launch a competency-based degree program.
The publisher Elsevier has refused to make a deal with Dutch universities, which are demanding open access to academic publications.
A student was shot in a Delaware State University residence hall.
Another student has died from injuries she sustained at the recent school shooting in Washington, bringing the death toll from the incident to 4.
Ikeoluwa Opayemi, age 7, has been allowed back to school in Milford, Connecticut after her school reversed its decision to make her stay home due to fears of Ebola. Opayemi has been in Nigeria - where there is no Ebola.
Via The New York Times: “A sexual harassment case that has been unfolding without public notice for nearly five years within the Yale School of Medicine has roiled the institution and led to new allegations that the university is insensitive to instances of harassment against women.”
LAUSD is still struggling with its new student information system. (See a related HR update below.) From the LA School Report: “Superintendent Ramon Cortines called for Microsoft to send in the calvary and the Seattle-based company responded by sending a total of one — count ‘em, one — expert to help with the glitch-plagued student data program serving 650,000 students.” I love that. Anything on your computer breaks, you call Microsoft, as if the company is just some sorta IT help desk.
Coming soon to China: Apple University
Oh sure, public funding of universities is getting slashed, but apparently it’s boom time for higher education consultants! Whee!
Unboxing the Chomsky archive at MIT.
Go, School Sports Team!
From Inside Higher Ed: “The National Collegiate Athletic Association does not have a rule against allowing convicted felons to participate in NCAA sports and it does not anticipate changing its policy, even as it faces public pressure following the revelation that a star football player at Alcorn State University is a registered sex offender.”
Tom Corbett, who (thankfully!) lost his reelection bid as governor of Pennsylvaniasays that Penn State“probably” should not have fired Joe Paterno for his role in the university football team’s sex abuse scandal.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Six Indiana University men’s basketball players have been cited for alcohol violations or have failed drug tests this year, including a student who was hospitalized Saturday after being struck by a vehicle driven by a teammate. That player had also been drinking, and neither student is of legal drinking age.”
From Slate: “The resignation of the Wolverines’ villainous athletic director is why we like college sports.” Wait. We like college sports?
From the HR Department
Ron Chandler, LAUSD’s CIO, has resigned. Chandler was the “public face” of the iPad rollout and student information system upgrade. So yeah.
A teacher at a Catholic school in Kentucky has resigned after parents were concerned about Ebola following her trip to Kenya– where there is no Ebola.
Keith Miller, the president of Virginia State University, has resigned.
The ex-boyfriend of an LA high school teacher Richard Rosa emailednude photos of Rosa to over 250 students and school staff. Some day. Some day, we’ll have a discussion about info security and edu. Some day.
Upgrades and Downgrades
Blackboard and Chegg are teaming up, and the latter’s tutoring services will be available via the LMS. Why, it’s almost as though the whole walled garden, Internet portal thing is still going strong in ed-tech.
Pearson has been granted a patent on adaptive learning, specifically “entropy-based sequences of educational modules.” (It’s worth noting that there are lots of patents for adaptive technologies, including those held by ACT and Apollo, parent company to the University of Phoenix.)
Sounds like Farmville, but its name is Jobville, and The Chronicle of Higher Education saysthe app “makes career counseling more like a video game.”
ReskillUSA is a new workforce development program, whose partners include Codecademy, Flatiron School, DevBootcamp, Sabio.la, Grand Circus, Wyncode, and Thinkful. People will be able to take programming classes online and then be connected to jobs. According to Wired, “As part of the new initiative, Codecademy, which has traditionally offered online coding education only, is launching its own offline classes called Codecademy Labs. These courses, which [founder Zach] Sims says will cost $150-$200 — far less than the traditional bootcamp — will be hosted by other ReskillUSA partners across the country, but will be taught by former Codecademy students.”
Learn-to-code startup GoCodeclaims it’s the first “first travel-focused coding bootcamp” and is offering a 8 week class at “an ‘all-inclusive beach paradise’ in Costa Rica.” Which I think means we really have reached peak exploitative bullshit with this trend, no?
From GoldieBlox, an action figure that aims to subvert the fashion doll industry.
A bit of ed-tech history about Apple in honor of Tim Cook’s coming out.
Skype will soon offer a real-time translation feature, and Edukwest’s Kirsten Winkler says it will “revolutionize language teaching.”
Skype is also partnering with Code.org to bring tech speakers into classrooms. Well, to Skype them into classrooms.
Funding and Acquisitions
West Corporation has acquired its second school messaging tool this year. This time, the company bought School Reach. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Chinese testing company ATA has made a $5 million strategic investment in Master Mind, a K–12 tutoring company.
Berkery Noyes has released its latest report on education industry mergers and acquisitions.
Edsurge profiles education investor Rethink Education.
The Wall Street Journal reports that “AI software scored higher on the English section of Japan’s standardized college entrance test than the average Japanese high school senior.” I look forward to the future where we replace both teachers and students with robots.
David Wiley responds to the recent Babson survey about OER.
“Academic Science Isn’t Sexist.” Oh. Okay then.
According to a study conducted in Washington state, “Short-term community-college certificates, which have been growing rapidly in popularity as a way to get students quickly and cheaply into jobs, do not, in fact, help most recipients land employment or earn more money.”
The ultimate #Slatepitch?: “The Downside of School Police Using Pepper Spray on Kids”
Image credits: Nathan Rupert
Here is the transcript from my talk today at NYU, as part of the ECT Colloqium Series. No slides. Because, ugh, slides. Many thanks for the invitation, as coordinated by Sava Saheli Singh.
I’m very excited and honored to be here to talk to you today, in part because, obviously, that’s how you’re supposed to feel when you’re invited to speak at a university. And in part, honestly, I’m stoked because I’m reaching the end of what has been a very long year of speaking engagements.
Initially, I’d planned to spend 2014 working on a book called Teaching Machines. I’m absolutely fascinated by the history of education technology — its development as an industry and a field of study, its connection to scientific management and educational psychology and Americans’ ongoing fears and fascinations with automation.
I call myself a freelance education writer. But I’ve spent the year traveling around the world acting more like an education speaker.
I don’t really fit in in the education technology speaking circuit. I mean, first off, I’m a woman. Second off, I don’t tend to talk about ed-tech revolution and disruptive innovation unless it’s to critique and challenge those phrases. I don’t give ed-tech pep talks, where you leave the room with a list of 300 new apps you can use in your classroom. Third, I’m not selling a product, not selling consulting services, and because I’ve spent so much time this year traveling and speaking, I’m still not selling a book. And I don’t have a schtick. I don’t have a script. There isn’t actually a TED Talk that you can watch and see almost 100% word-for-word what I’m going to say over the course of a keynote.
That’s what you do, I’m told. You write a talk. You give that talk again and again and again and again. You hone your delivery. You hone your jokes; perhaps you localize them.
I do it wrong. I try to write something new each time I talk. I use the opportunity of a public speaking engagement to spend some time crafting an argument, which I do write out in advance — as you can see now, to deliver to each audience.
Somewhere along the way — mid-September, I guess — I realized that, while I did not finish writing Teaching Machines this year, I did actually write tens of thousands of words on ed-tech. I’ve got a couple more talks scheduled, but by the end of 2014, I’ll have delivered over 14 unique presentations. That’s 14 chapters. Why, that’s a book! So I’ve decided that I’m going to collect all the talks I’ve written and self-publish them. It’s like I did everything backwards: I did the book tour, and then I published the book.
Of course, once I decided to publish my talks as a book, I had to spend some time thinking about how they’d be ordered and grouped. I didn’t want to simply present them in chronological order, that is. What I said in January. Then what I said in February. Then what I said in March. So I needed to group my talks into sections, by theme.
And then I realized too that, if I was going to publish my talks as a book, I need to think a bit more strategically about what I wanted to say in my final few presentations.
See, I wanted to the book to have an arc. You have to have an arc.
If you’re familiar with my work, you know that I’m pretty critical of the shape that education technology takes, has taken, is taking. Perhaps it’s because I describe myself as a “recovering academic,” I get a lot of snarls in response to my criticism, that all I know how to do is “what grad students do” and that’s “criticize.” I hear this a lot, particularly from entrepreneurs who proudly proclaim that they “build" while I "tear things down."
I think that’s bullshit, frankly — often a cheap anti-intellectualism that posits markets as making and scholars as destructive.
Nevertheless as I’ve weighed how I’d pull together my 2014 “book tour” into a book, I figured, heck, I should probably not send my readers into this downward spiral of education technology despair. I live there, people, and it's gloomy. So I figured I should find something, some way to wrap things up — not necessarily on an “up” note, but on an activist note, on a note that says that we can, at the very least, resist some of the dominant narratives about what education technology can or should do.
“Say something positive about ed-tech, Audrey.” Easier said than done.
But when Sava asked me to give a title and an abstract for this talk today, I decided to try.
Or at least, what I want to talk about today is how we can push back on the hype surrounding ed-tech disruption and revolution, how we can ask questions about whose revolution this might be — to what end, for whose benefit — and how we can, should, must begin to talk more seriously about education technologies that are not build upon control and surveillance. We must think about education technologies in informal learning settings, and not simply in institutional ones, We need to talk about ed-tech and social justice, and not kid ourselves for a minute that Silicon Valley is going to get us there.
So in doing so, I decided to invoke in the title of this talk Ivan Illich’s notion of “convivial tools.”
The phrase comes from his 1973 book Tools for Conviviality, published just 2 years after the book he’s probably best known for, Deschooling Society.
These are just two of a number of very interesting, progressive if not radical texts about education from roughly the same period: Paul Goodman’s Compulsory Mis-education (1964). Jonathan Kozol’s Death at an Early Age (1967). Neil Postman’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1969). Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (first published in Portuguese in 1968 and in English in 1970). Everett Reimer’s School is Dead (1971).
These books — loosely — share a diagnosis: that our education system is controlling, exploitative, imperialist; that despite all our talk about democratization and opportunity, school often neatly reinforces the hierarchies of our socio-economic world — categorizations based on race and class and gender and nationality.
(Let me stress “gender” there. I can’t but notice that this list, much like the list of those on the education speaking circuit today, is full of men.)
During roughly the same period as the publication of these books challenging traditional education, traditional schooling, there was a growing interest in the potential for what the still fairly nascent field of computing could do to hasten some of this change — progressive change, I should be clear. Education technology, as I hope my book Teaching Machines will eventually make clear, has a history that stretches back into the early twentieth century and has much more in common with Edward Thorndike than it does John Dewey, more in common with multiple choice than with student choice and agency. But in the Sixties and Seventies, we saw progressive education and ed-tech start to coincide. For example, drawing on Seymour Papert’s constructionist theories of learning, Daniel Bobrow, Wally Feurzeig, Cynthia Solomon — aha! a woman! — and Papert developed the programming language Logo in 1967, a way for children could to learn computer programming but more importantly even, a way of giving them a powerful object, a powerful tool to think with. And in 1972, along a similar line of thinking, Alan Kay published his manifesto “A Personal Computer for Children of All Ages."
It’s perhaps worth reminding you that in the late Sixties and early Seventies, computers were still mostly giant mainframes, and although there was the growing market for microcomputers, these were largely restricted to scientists and the military. Alan Kay was among those instrumental in pushing forward a vision of what we now call "personal computing.” Not business computing. Not cryptography. Personal computing.
Kay argued that computers should become commonplace, and should be in the hands by non-professional users. He believed this would foster a new literacy, a literacy that would bring about a revolution akin to the changes brought about by the printing press in the 16th and 17th centuries. And key: children would be the primary actors in this transformation.
In “A Personal Computer for Children of All Ages,” Kay describes his idea for a device called the Dynabook — he describes his underlying vision for this piece of technology as well as its technical specifications: no larger than a notebook, weighing less than 4 pounds, connected to a network, and all for a price tag of $500, which Kay explains at length is “not totally outrageous.” ($500 was roughly the cost at the time of a color TV, Kay points out.)
“What then is a personal computer?” Kay writes. "One would hope that it would be both a medium for containing and expressing arbitrary symbolic notations, and also a collection of useful tools for manipulating these structures, with ways to add new tools to the repertoire.” That is, it would be a computer program but one that is completely programmable by the user — by “children of all ages."
“It is now within the reach of current technology to give all the Beths and their dads a ‘Dynabook’ to use anytime, anywhere as they may wish,” Kay continues. Again, this is 1972 - 40 years before the iPad. "Although it can be used to communicate with others through the 'knowledge utilities' of the future such as a school ‘library’ (or business information system), we think that a large fraction of its use will involve reflexive communication of the owner with himself through this personal medium, much as paper and notebooks are currently used.“
The personal computer isn’t “personal” because it’s small and portable and sits on your desk at home (not just at work or at school). It’s “personal” because you pour yourself into it — your thoughts, your programming. And as a constructionist framework would tell us, a device like the Dynabook wouldn’t be so much about transmitting knowledge to a child but rather it would be about that child building and constructing her own knowledge on her own machine.
Despite looking a lot like today's tablet computer — like an iPad even, Kay insists that his idea for the Dynabook was something very very different. He told Time Magazine last year that the primary purpose of the Dynabook was "to simulate all existing media in an editable/authorable form in a highly portable networked (including wireless) form. The main point was for it to be able to qualitatively extend the notions of 'reading, writing, sharing, publishing, etc. of ideas' literacy to include the 'computer reading, writing, sharing, publishing of ideas’ that is the computer’s special province. For all media, the original intent was 'symmetric authoring and consuming’.”
Consumption and creation — a tension that's plagued the iPad since it was unveiled, but that the Dynabook was designed to handle at all levels. The hardware, the software, all editable, authorable, tinkerable, hackable, remixable, sharable.
"Isn’t it crystal clear,” Kay continued, "that this last and most important service [authoring and consuming] is quite lacking in today’s computing for the general public? Apple with the iPad and iPhone goes even further and does not allow children to download an Etoy made by another child somewhere in the world. This could not be farther from the original intentions of the entire ARPA-IPTO/PARC community in the ’60s and ’70s."
For Kay, the Dynabook was meant to help build capacity so that children (so that adults too) would create their own interactive learning tools. The Dynabook was not simply about a new piece of hardware or new software — but, again, about a new literacy.
A similar analysis to all this could be made about the programming language Logo. The ed-tech market is now flooded with applications and organizations that promise to teach kids programming. But they aren’t Logo, despite some of them utilizing very cute Turtle graphics. Much of these new “learn to code” efforts are about inserting computer science into the pre-existing school curriculum. Computers become yet another subject to study, another skill to be assessed.
In Papert’s vision, and in Kay’s as well, "the child programs the computer, and in doing so, both acquires a sense of mastery over a piece of the most modern and powerful technology and establishes an intense contact with some of the deepest ideas from science, from mathematics, and from the art of intellectual model building.” But as Papert wrote in his 1980 book Mindstorms, "In most contemporary educational situations where children come into contact with computers the computer is used to put children through their paces, to provide exercises of an appropriate level of difficulty, to provide feedback, and to dispense information. The computer programming the child.”
The computer programming the child.
The computer isn’t some self-aware agent here, of course. This is the textbook industry programming the child. This is the testing industry programming the child. This is the technology industry, the education technology industry programming the child.
Despite Kay and Papert’s visions for self-directed exploration — powerful ideas and powerful machines and powerful networks — ed-tech hasn’t really changed much in schools. Instead, you might argue, it’s reinforcing more traditional powerful forces, powerful markets, powerful ideologies. Education technology is used to prop up traditional school practices, ostensibly to make them more efficient (whatever that means). Drill and kill. Flash cards. Just with push notifications and better graphics. Now in your pocket and not just on your desk.
Increasing, education technology works in concert with efforts — in part, demanded by education policies — for more data. We hear these assertions that more data, more analytics will crack open the "black box" of learning. Among those making these claims most loudly — and wildly — is the CEO of Knewton, a company that works with textbook publishers to make content delivery “adaptive.” Knewton says that it gathers millions of data points on millions of students each day. CEO Jose Ferreira calls education “the world’s most data-mineable industry by far.”
“We have five orders of magnitude more data about you than Google has,” Ferreira said at a Department of Education “Datapalooza." “We literally have more data about our students than any company has about anybody else about anything, and it’s not even close.” He adds, “We literally know everything about what you know and how you learn best, everything.”
(Knewton knows everything except apparently the meaning of the word “literally.”)
Education technology has become about control, surveillance, and data extraction. Ivan Illich, Neil Postman, Paulo Freire, Paul Goodman — none of them would be surprised to hear that, having already identified these tendencies in the institutions and practices of school.
But to say this — education technology has become about control, surveillance, and data extraction — runs counter to the narrative that computer technologies are liberatory. That they will open access to information. That they will simplify sharing. That they will flatten hierarchies, flatten the world.
I’ve heard it suggested often that the World Wide Web is an example of what Ivan Illich called “convivial tools” — although his book predates the Web by 15+ years, Illich speaks of “learning webs” in Deschooling Society. I grow less and less certain that the Web is quite “it." But of this, I am:
Education technology is not convivial.
Some explanation of what Illich meant by this term, recognizing of course that it’s part of his larger critique of modern institutions:
He argued that, "As the power of machines increases, the role of persons more and more decreases to that of mere consumers.” In order to build a future society that is not dominated by machines or by industry then, we need to "learn to invert the present deep structure of tools; if we give people tools that guarantee their right to work with high, independent efficiency, thus simultaneously eliminating the need for either slaves or masters and enhancing each person’s range of freedom. People need new tools to work with rather than tools that ‘work' for them. They need technology to make the most of the energy and imagination each has, rather than more well-programmed energy slaves."
What are convivial tools? They are those that are easy to use. They should be reliable. They should be repairable and durable — and already we can see here how the “planned obsolescence” of so much of technology veers away from conviviality. Convivial tools should be accessible — free, even. They are non-coercive. They should, according to Illich, support autonomy and agency and enhance the “graceful playfulness” in our social relationships.
"Oh, that sounds like user-centered design!” you might say. Or “the free software movement does this.” And again, I have to say: not quite.
Again, the title I gave this talk was “Convivial Tools in an Age of Surveillance.” And perhaps that makes it easier to see the challenges in reconciling the conviviality of user-centered design or free software with the power of the state and of industry.
I could have easily chosen a different prepositional phrase. "Convivial Tools in an Age of Big Data.” Or “Convivial Tools in an Age of DRM.” Or “Convivial Tools in an Age of Venture-Funded Education Technology Startups.” Or “Convivial Tools in an Age of Doxxing and Trolls."
It’s that last one that’s been in my mind a lot lately, particularly in the wake of GamerGate, the ongoing harassment and threats against women in gaming, and more broadly the culture of the tech sector that claims to be meritocratic but is assuredly not.
What would convivial ed-tech look like?
The answer can’t simply be “like the Web” as the Web is not some sort of safe and open and reliable and accessible and durable place. The answer can’t simply be “like the Web” as though the move from institutions to networks magically scrubs away the accumulation of history and power. The answer can’t simply be “like the Web” as though posting resources, reference services, peer-matching, and skill exchanges — what Illich identified as the core of his “learning webs” — are sufficient tools in the service of equity, freedom, justice, or hell, learning.
“Like the Web” is perhaps a good place to start, don’t get me wrong, particularly if this means students are in control of their own online spaces — its content, its data, its availability, its publicness. “Like the Web” is convivial, or close to it, if students are in control of their privacy, their agency, their networks, their learning. We all need to own our learning — and the analog and the digital representations or exhaust from that. Convivial tools do not reduce that to a transaction — reduce our learning to a transaction, reduce our social interactions to a transaction.
I'm not sure the phrase "safe space" is quite the right one to build alternate, progressive education technologies around, although I do think convivial tools do have to be “safe” insofar as we recognize the importance of each other’s health and well-being. Safe spaces where vulnerability isn’t a weakness for others to exploit. Safe spaces where we are free to explore, but not to the detriment of those around us. As Illich writes, "A convivial society would be the result of social arrangements that guarantee for each member the most ample and free access to the tools of the community and limit this freedom only in favor of another member’s equal freedom.”
We can’t really privilege “safe” as the crux of “convivial” if we want to push our own boundaries when it comes to curiosity, exploration, and learning. There is risk associated with learning. There’s fear and failure (although I do hate how those are being fetishized in a lot of education discussions these days, I should note.)
Perhaps what we need to build are more compassionate spaces, so that education technology isn’t in the service of surveillance, standardization, assessment, control.
Perhaps we need more brave spaces. Or at least many educators need to be braver in open, public spaces -- not brave to promote their own "brands" but brave in standing with their students. Not "protecting them” from education technology or from the open Web but not leaving them alone, and not opening them to exploitation.
Perhaps what we need to build are more consensus-building not consensus-demanding tools. Mike Caulfield gets at this in a recent keynote about “federated education.” He argues that "Wiki, as it currently stands, is a consensus *engine*. And while that’s great in the later stages of an idea, it can be deadly in those first stages.” Caulfield relates the story of the Wikipedia entry on Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, which, 16 minutes after it was created, "someone – and in this case it probably matters that is was a dude – came and marked the page for deletion as trivial, or as they put it 'A non-notable article incapable of being expanded beyond a stub.’” Debate ensues on the entry’s “talk” page, until finally Jimmy Wales steps in with his vote: a “strong keep,” adding "I hope someone will create lots of articles about lots of famous dresses. I believe that our systemic bias caused by being a predominantly male geek community is worth some reflection in this context.”
Mike Caulfield has recently been exploring a different sort of wiki, also by Ward Cunningham. This one — called the Smallest Federated Wiki — doesn’t demand consensus like Wikipedia does. Not off the bat. Instead, entries — and this can be any sort of text or image or video, it doesn’t have to “look like” an encyclopedia — live on federated servers. Instead of everyone collaborating in one space on one server like a “traditional” wiki, the work is distributed. It can be copied and forked. Ideas can be shared and linked; it can be co-developed and co-edited. But there isn’t one “vote” or one official entry that is necessarily canonical.
Rather than centralized control, conviviality. This distinction between Wikipedia and Smallest Federated Wiki echoes too what Illich argued: that we need to be able to identify when our technologies become manipulative. We need "to provide guidelines for detecting the incipient stages of murderous logic in a tool; and to devise tools and tool systems that optimize the balance of life, thereby maximizing liberty for all."
Of course, we need to recognize, those of us that work in ed-tech and adopt ed-tech and talk about ed-tech and tech writ large, that convivial tools and a convivial society must go hand-in-hand. There isn’t any sort of technological fix to make education better. It’s a political problem, that is, not a technological one. We cannot come up with technologies that address systematic inequalities — those created by and reinscribed by education— unless we are willing to confront those inequalities head on. Those radical education writers of the Sixties and Seventies offered powerful diagnoses about what was wrong with schooling. The progressive education technologists of the Sixties and Seventies imagined ways in which ed-tech could work in the service of dismantling some of the drudgery and exploitation.
But where are we now? Instead we find ourselves with technologies working to make that exploitation and centralization of power even more entrenched. There must be alternatives — both within and without technology, both within and without institutions. Those of us who talk and write and teach ed-tech need to be pursuing those things, and not promoting consumption and furthering institutional and industrial control. In Illich’s words: "The crisis I have described confronts people with a choice between convivial tools and being crushed by machines."
Sorry. That's the best I can do for a happy ending: remind us that we have to make a choice.
Image credits: Evan Leeson
Congratulations to the European Science Agency, which this week landed the Philae spacecraft on a comet – the first such landing in history. Amazing. But a big thumbs-down to the agency and particularly to Rosetta Project scientist Matt Taylor for the sexist shirt he wore for the occasion. And gee, we wonder why women and girls feel unwelcome in science and technology. These sorts of microaggressions are pervasive – in the clothing and in comments like this from from Taylor, describing the landing: "the sexiest mission there’s ever been. She’s sexy, but I never said she was easy.’
Happy 45th birthday to Sesame Street. Thank you for everything.
Education Law and Politics
President Obama has asked the FCC to adopt the “strictest rules possible” regarding Net Neutrality.
Via The New York Times: “Members of a drug gang arrested in the investigation into the disappearance of 43 college students in [Mexico in] September told investigators that they had killed the students and burned their bodies in a pyre of tires and branches, the attorney general announced Friday.”
Also via The New York Times: “The All Pakistan Private Schools Federation, which claims to represent 150,000 schools across Pakistan, declared that Monday would be ‘I am not Malala’ day and urged the government to ban [Malala Yousafzai’s] memoir, ‘I Am Malala,’ because it offended Islam and the ‘ideology of Pakistan.’”
Via the Missoula Independent: “University of Montana law student Daniel Knudsen filed suit against UM this week over alleged violations of privacy rights. Knudsen’s complaint, filed on behalf of all students enrolled at UM from spring 2010 to the present, claims the university illegally released his and others’ personally identifiable information to Connecticut-based Higher One Holdings, a vendor that handles UM’s electronic refunds.”
At a hearing in Philadelphia over whether to revoke the charter for the Walter Palmer charter school, officials invoked the Fifth Amendment 77 times.
A suicide bomber in Nigeria detonated a bomb in front of a boarding school, killing 50 students.
Finland’s minister of education has proposed the country introduce tuition fees for non-European students, beginning in 2016.
Students Loans and Student Debt
Student debt is up 2% from last year, according to a report from the Institute for College Access and Success. Approximately 70% of students graduate with loan debt, and of those, the average debt was $28,400.
Graduate students’ debt makes up 40% of all student loan debt.
“Is this the end of the line for the Perkins Loan Program?” asks The Chronicle of Higher Education. [Cue ominous music.] There’s talk the new Republican-led Congress wants to simply the federal loan program, down from six to three programs – one for undergrads, one for graduate students, and one for parents.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Coursera announced that it has struck a deal with the Department of Veterans Affairs, making one free verified certificate available to each US veteran. According to Coursera, “this effort will expose Veteran learners to industry relevant education and help them master new skills to succeed in today’s workforce.” It’s fascinating how the Obama Administration says it wants to crack down on for-profit universities, and then happily funnels money to another for-profit higher ed company. Tressie McMillan Cottom responds.
“Move over MOOCs – Collaborative MOOC 2.0 is coming” – LOL, you mean like connectivist MOOCs? Oh, I see.
“Will MOOCs Be Flukes?” asks this New Yorker article. Shrug.
From Udacity: “Announcing the Platypus… Data Analyst Nanodegree.” That’s data scientist humor there. I guess.
Via Campus Technology: “Columbia University has launched an initiative to turn more of its traditional lecture courses into hybrid learning experiences that would incorporate the use of audiovisual materials, social media, flipped classrooms and real-time feedback from students.” My guess, the project will not be called Fathom. Might I suggest “Blended Fathom”?
The University of Florida’s new online university, UF Online, will not offer a political science degree after the department voted against it. More details on their rationale in Inside Higher Ed.
Meanwhile on Campus
“Why Does a Campus Police Department Have Jurisdiction Over 65,000 Chicago Residents?” asks Vice. In part, because of the Private College Campus Police Act in 1992, which gives the University of Chicago PD (un-FOIA-able) powers.
Robert Jennings, the president of Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, has publicly questioned whether female students who report rape have actually been raped. Uh.
“One of two Brown University students who drank an alcoholic punch at a fraternity party at Sears House on Oct. 17 has tested positive for a common date-rape drug, the university announced in a campus-wide email late Saturday,” reports the Providence Journal.
Bryan Alexander has been tracking what he calls “the queen sacrifice” on college campuses, noting that two more have opted to do so – that is, firing faculty and closing academic programs. In this case, it’s Pennsylvania universities East Stroudsburg and Cheyney.
Muslims in Montgomery County, Maryland asked the district to close schools on their two most important religious holidays – ya know, like schools do for Christian and Jewish holy days. “Instead, the school board voted 7–1 on Tuesday to strip all mention of religious holidays from the calendar, even though Christian and Jewish holidays remain official days off,” reports Libby Nelson for Vox.
A Huntsville, Alabama school district “expelled 14 students last year based on the findings of a private contractor who monitored students’ social-media activity as part of greater school security efforts, according to a review by The Huntsville Times. Twelve of them were black, drawing concerns that the program unfairly targeted African-American students.”
“Webster University is set to close three of its U.S. campuses in the coming year as a way to balance its budget,” reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Microsoft is sending more help to LAUSD to deal with its disastrous student information system rollout.
Harvard’s most popular undergraduate class, Introduction to Computer Science, will now be offered at Yale.
Harvard plans to expand its faculty by 50% over the next decade, thanks in part to a donation from former Microsoft CEO and Harvard alum Steve Ballmer.
The amount of money donated to Harvard wasn’t specified, but Ballmer also gave $50 million to the University of Oregon, the second largest gift the university has ever received. The money will pay for researchers, a program for low-income students, and better marketing for “Brand O.” Oh.
Syracuse Universityerected a wall blocking the public’s view from the sit-in being staged on campus.
The Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the University of Phoenix announced a partnership that will enable students at HBCUs to take online courses from the for-profit university to supplement their on-campus work.
A fifth teen has died from injuries sustained in an October school shooting in Washington state.
Go, School Sports Team!
The University of Michigan’s new president, Mark Schlissel, angered the athletic department by saying “he was concerned that the university was accepting athletes who couldn’t succeed at a college as rigorous as Michigan.”
“The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has now won as many football games in the last 70 years as it has Nobel Prizes, thanks to an undefeated 8–0 season.” Um, congrats?
Michael McAdoo, a former football player at UNC, is suing the university claiming that its fake classes deprived him of an education.
Four University of Alaska Fairbanks teams – men’s and women’s basketball, men’s ice hockey, and women’s swimming – will be barred from playing in the postseason this academic year due to violations of NCAA rules regarding student eligibility.
Oh look who’s stepping up to defend the NCAA: Kenneth Starr.
From the HR Department
Stacey Childress, the CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, and Michael Horn, co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute, are joining the Board of Directors of the elite-university-wannabe Minerva Project’s non-profit wing, the Minerva Institute for Research and Scholarship
News Corp-owned Dow Jones is hiring a student loans reporter.
John Pistole, who’s been the head of the TSA, will now become the president of Anderson University, a Christian college in Central Indiana.
“Administrative positions are being eliminated and 32 adjunct positions have been eliminated until full-time faculty members all have full course loads” at Kentucky State University.
John Ayers, executive director of the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives, a research group at Tulane University, has resigned following the institute’s retraction of a study on the success of New Orleans students under the city’s new charter school management. Although the group isn’t saying exactly why it retracted the study – it said the methodology was flawed – the study did use VAM, value-added modeling, a model for assessing teacher performance based on students’ test scores.
Upgrades and Downgrades
Pepsi is testing a Dorito-flavored Mountain Dew on college students.
Via GeekDad: “Raspberry Pi Gets Smaller, Better, Cheaper”
Googleboasted on its blog this week that the Chromebook was the bestselling K–12 device in the third quarter of 2014.
ISTE is launching a new “social learning community.” No comment.
In a partnership with Nature Education and Roche, UNESCO has launched a free science education resource, World Library of Science.
Inside Higher Ed reports that “ProQuest will no longer sell the dissertations in its database through third-party retailers such as Amazon, the company announced on Monday, responding to confused scholars who found their research for sale online.”
“AdmitHub Launches AboutAdmissions To Make College Counseling Available To All” (all who pay the $50-$399 fee, that is).
Amazon acquired the math education startup TenMarks late last year, and now we see some of what will come of it: “TenMarks Math Teach, a professional development, preparatory, and in-class resource for teachers.”
Funding and Acquisitions
Blackboard has acquiredParentLink, “founded in 1989, offers a suite of tools that lets schools and districts communicate with parents via phone calls, text messages, emails, and old-fashioned faxes and printed letters.”
Course Hero, a site where students can buy and sell class notes and study guides, has raised $15 million in funding GSV Capital, IDG Ventures, SV Angel, and Maveron. This brings to $17.4 million total raised by the startup.
Junyo has acquired360Ed. Details of the deal were not disclosed.
Curiosity.com is being spun out of Discovery Communications, backed by $6 million in funding from Discovery, Pritzker Group Venture Capital, Origin Ventures, Chicago Ventures, and Corazon Capital.
Echo360 has raised $18 million in a Series C round of funding for its lecture capture technology. According to the press release, the investment comes from “Duchossois Capital Management and a private family office.” All told, the company has raised $76.6 million in investment.
Edsurge and The Chronicle of Higher Education have pulled together “A Look at Ed Tech’s Biggest Money Magnets” – a list that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me as it doesn’t mention that Chegg has IPO’d, but does talk about 2U’s IPO. I mean, if we’re counting IPOs (or not), what about Blackboard or Rosetta Stone? And what about Laureate Education? Does it not count as “ed-tech” enough? What about Lynda.com? Is it not “higher ed” enough? Maybe this should be filed under “Research.”
Clayton Christensendoubles down on his prediction that half of all universities will be bankrupt in the next 15 years.
“Fostering Market Efficiency in K–12 Ed-tech Procurement: A Report from Johns Hopkins University to Digital Promise in partnership with the Education Industry Association.” And really, that title speaks volumes. Markets. Efficiency. Procurement. Industry Association. The report finds that ed-tech vendors are not happy with the procurement process. School officials say they’re mostly satisfied. The Edsurge headline: “Bringing Order and Transparency to a Dysfunctional K–12 Marketplace.”
A report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, a think-tank spun out of the conservative Thomas Fordham Institute, has released a report questioning how “rigorous” teacher education programs are. A good write-up from Inside Higher Ed, which asks questions about the research.
Goobergate goes after video games researchers because there are feminists involved.
The OECD surveyed children about their satisfaction with their lives. And apparently South Korean children are the least happy. But hey, their PISA scores are great. So there’s that.
The Pew Research Internet Project’s latest report is on people’s perceptions and concerns about privacy. Among the findings, “91% of adults in the survey ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies.”
“Sixty-six percent of schools nationwide offer ebooks, up from 54 percent in 2013.” More from the School Library Journal’s annual “Ebook Usage in U.S. School (K–12) Libraries” report.
Could the Black Arrow really kill a dragon? A physics lesson from Rhett Allain.
Image credits: See-Ming Lee
I participated on a panel this morning at the Digital Labor conference. The panel title: Digital Labor & Geographies of Crisis. On the panel: Karen Gregory, Daniel Joseph, Matthew Tiessen, Austin Walker, Dan Greene, and myself. I've included my notes, along with the image that I used to frame my presentation and to provoke a discussion about what digital labor looks like in the classroom. After all, we aren't simply talking about teachers' labor; we need to talk about students' work too. The panel was really interesting as the participants all talked about crisis and labor in very different ways: work in video games, in high frequency trading, among psychics.
Marx famously remarked that “the history of all previous societies has been the history of class struggles” — an irksome assertion for many reasons, so bear with me for invoking it. I do so only to suggest what seems to be the inverse maxim offered by the technology sector today: “there is no history; there is only planned obsolescence. There is only meritocracy, entrepreneurship, and the sharing economy.”
I write about education technology — a lot about the history of education technology — and so I’m always clenching my teeth when I hear someone suggest that Sebastian Thrun created the first MOOC or that MIT created online education, or that whatever app just raised a million or so dollars will “revolutionize education.”
I’m currently working on a book called Teaching Machines that examines the history of automation in education This drive is not simply a technological or scientific; it’s cultural, political, socio-economic. And it’s the story of education in the 20th century. The development of schooling practices as we know them today — curriculum, assessment — dovetail so nicely with the quest for teaching machines. My book explores the ways in which we have conceptualized the mechanics of human intelligence, and how has that shaped in turn the way in which we imagine and build so-called intelligent machines.
How do teaching machines work -- do teaching machines work? And whose work, whose labor, might they replace or enhance? Those are some of the questions that I think we’re set to address today.
A quotation from Sidney Pressey, who patented (arguably at least) the first teaching machine in the 1920s:
There must be an "industrial revolution" in education, in which educational science and the ingenuity of educational technology combine to modernize the grossly inefficient and clumsy procedures of conventional education. Work in the schools of the future will be marvelously though simply organized, so as to adjust almost automatically to individual differences and the characteristics of the learning process.There will be many labor- saving schemes and devices,and even machines--not at all for the mechanizing of education,but for the freeing of teacher and pupil from educational drudgery and incompetence.
Fast forward almost one hundred years, we see any number of technologies that echo what Pressey envisioned. Automated assessments, robe-essay graders, adaptive textbooks, algorithmic course recommendations. And I think much of the time when we talk about digital labor and education, we are focused on what that means for teachers — particularly in a world of increasing adjunctification. What technologies do we build and adopt that save teachers from "the drudgery" of school?
I am very interested in what digital labor now looks like for educators. But I also want us to talk about what it looks like for students. I see little that wants to help students escape that drudgery. Sure, you have robots grade your essays or your multiple choice questions. But you still expect students to do that work.
What happens now, thanks to digital technologies, to student data and student content? What happens to "student work"? We’ve used “work” to describe what students do for a long time — “school work” and “homework.” But now those are efforts that don't simply serve to fill the teacher's gradebook. They feed the software algorithm. Student "work" is a new and growing part of unpaid digital labor.
I hear so much talk about “24-7 learning,” and the affordances of new technologies for students, for learners. But again, does that mean that students’ free time is subsumed under institutional goals? Even if much of this "24-7 learning" currently is “informal learning,” again, what labor are students performing? For whom?
And in and out of the classroom: which students? Which students are pegged as "the product"? Which students are pegged as workers? Which are pegged as creators?
When I hear the rhetoric today about personalization, I do hear the echoes of a hundred years of education technology that has fantasized about students moving through "the curriculum" at their own pace. But phrases like "personalization" and "student centered" and "student control" don't really get to the heart of student agency. They still demand that students be consumers of "content." But now -- and this is what I think we need to consider more -- they demand too students are producers -- of data and content and "feedback loops.” Students have very little control over this "work," and this work is (and perhaps will increasingly be?) stratified along socio-economic and racial lines.
(The image above is of a computer lab at a Rocketship school. Rocketship Education is a chain of charter schools, where students -- mostly low-income students of color -- spend a great deal of the school day working on software that purports to be "personalized." I was told this was the most depressing image at the conference. Nice work, ed-tech.)
Here are the transcript and slides from the talk I gave this morning at OpenCon 2014. I was a little nervous as to how well this would be received -- nothing like challenging the meaning of a word that makes up the title of the conference.
This is one of my most popular tweets:
Openwashing: n., having an appearance of open-source and open-licensing for marketing purposes, while continuing proprietary practices.
It hasn’t gone viral by any means. But the two-and-a-half-year-old observation is resurfaced and retweeted pretty regularly.
I think the tweet resonated in part because we readily understand what “open washing” means through what we know about the word’s antecedents: “greenwashing,” “pinkwashing," “whitewashing." We recognize with these terms that industry forces are quick to wrap themselves in language and imagery in the hopes it makes them appear more palatable, more friendly, more progressive. More “green,” for example, more “open.”
My tweet also gets at some of the frustrations that many of us experience when we see the word “open” used to describe things we feel are not “open” at all. It’s a reflection of the ongoing challenges — conflicts even — that any “open” movement faces both internally and externally, as to what exactly is meant when that word is used.
And that’s the thing. The definition and designation of “open” is fraught. Incredibly so. Even among those of us who consider ourselves advocates for openness in some form or another, we still scrap over which what counts as really truly “open.”
In fairness, my tweet about “openwashing” wasn’t aimed at the debates about AGPL3 or Attribution-Non Commercial. It was a subtweet, if you will, a reference to the learning management system Blackboard’s acquisition of Moodlerooms and Netspot, two companies that help provide support and deployment services for schools that use the open-source LMS Moodle. "Ours is no mere dalliance with open source,” the company said. “Openwashing,” I muttered under my breath.
Blackboard is hardly alone here. In education technology — my field, that is — I can list for you any number of examples of companies and organizations that have attached that word “open” to their products and services: OpenClass, an learning management system built by Pearson, the largest education company in the world and one of the largest publishers of proprietary textbooks. I don’t know what “open” refers to there in OpenClass. The Open Education Alliance — an industry group founded by the online education startup Udacity. I don’t know what “open” refers to there in the Open Education Alliance. The startup Open English, an online English-language learning site and one of the most highly funded startups in the last few years. I don’t know what “open” refers to there in Open English.
All these append “open” to a name without really even trying to append “openness,” let alone embrace “openness," to their practices or mission. Whatever “openness” means.
Let me repeat that, because it’s important: whatever “openness” means.
Does “open” mean openly licensed content or code? And, again, which license is really “open”? Does “open” mean "made public"? Does “open” mean shared? Does “open” mean “accessible”? Accessible how? To whom? Does “open” mean editable? Negotiable? Does “open” mean “free”? Does “open” mean “open-ended”? Does “open” mean transparent? Does “open” mean “open-minded”? “Open” to new ideas and to intellectual exchange? Open to interpretation? Does “open” mean open to participation — by everyone equally? Open doors? Open opportunity? Open to suggestion? Or does it mean “open for business”?
That’s the problem. “Open” means all those things. And on one hand, multivalence is good. Having many meanings, many interpretations can be a strength. On the other hand, it’s a weakness when the term becomes so widely applied that it is rendered meaningless. I worry often that that’s what we’re faced with. “Open” has ended up being a bit like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous assertion that “I know [obscenity] when I see it.” That is, we hear a lot of “I know ‘open' when I see it” sorts of claims. If those of us who work within “open” efforts cannot always agree on what that adjective means, how do we expect others to? Should we expect others to?
I’ve actually come to believe, in the two plus years since I tweeted my critique of “openwashing,” that the answer here isn’t actually a clearer definition of “open”; the answer isn't more fights for a more rigid adherence to a particular license, good grief no.
I think the answer is more transparency about our politics. I think, in fact, the answer is politics.
We act — at our peril — as if “open” is politically neutral, let alone politically good or progressive. Indeed, we sometimes use the word to stand in place of a politics of participatory democracy. We presume that, because something is “open” that it necessarily contains all the conditions for equality or freedom or justice. We use “open” as though it is free of ideology, ignoring how much “openness,” particularly as it’s used by technologists, is closely intertwined with “meritocracy” — this notion, a false one, that “open” wipes away inequalities, institutions, biases, history, that “open” “levels the playing field.”
If we believe in equality, if we believe in participatory democracy and participatory culture, if we believe in people and progressive social change, if we believe in sustainability in all its environmental and economic and psychological manifestations, then we need to do better than slap that adjective “open” onto our projects and act as though that’s sufficient or — and this is hard, I know — even sound.
I want to make an argument here today that we need to be more explicit about these politics. We can’t pretend like “open” is going to do that work for us. In fact, we need to recognize: it might not be doing that work at all.
In particular, I want to examine at how “open” is invoked around education data, and I want to suggest that instead of a push for more “open data” in education, we need to instead — this is a phrase I am borrowing from Utah Valley University researcher Jeffrey Alan Johnson — to push for “information justice.”
When we talk about "opening" education data, I'd argue that we always have to tread very carefully. Education data lives in this tricky and powerful in-between space; as it is both-and. That is, it is often data generated at and collected by publicly-funded institutions. It is also deeply personal data, if not legally protected private data. Furthermore, the data that is collected often fulfills institutional needs, rather than learners'. That collection is often compelled, for reasons that might be progressive, and for politics that might not be.
And now, thanks to the proliferation of educational technologies, the sorts of data and the compulsions to collect it are increasing.
The push for more education data collection is not new. Not remotely. The National Center for Education Statistics has existed since 1867, when Congress passed legislation providing ‘‘That there shall be established at the City of Washington, a department of education, for the purpose of collecting such statistics and facts as shall show the condition and progress of education in the several States and Territories, and of diffusing such information respecting the organization and management of schools and school systems, and methods of teaching, as shall aid the people of the United States in the establishment and maintenance of efficient school systems, and otherwise promote the cause of education throughout the country.” Over a hundred years before there was a Department of Education, that is, the federal government was collecting education data.
As such local, state, and federal governments, along with educational institutions themselves have long tracked “data” about students. Since the advent of No Child Left Behind under George W. Bush, data collection has become part of a larger disciplinary effort, to identify and punish “failing schools.” And under Barack Obama’s No Child Left Behind policy, the data collection has only continued, an effort that dovetails quite nicely with schools’ increasing adoption of computer technologies and, as such, students’ increasing generation of “data exhaust."
The current administration is interested in more than just data at the school, district, and state level. It’s actively promoting the collection and analysis of student at the individual level, arguing that if we just have more data — if we “open up” the classroom, the software, the databases, the educational practices — that we will unlock the secrets of how every student learns. We can then builds software that caters to that, something that will make learning more efficient and more personalized — or that’s the argument at least. We should remember that this is mostly speculative. And we should recognize here that words like “personalization” function much like “open.” That is, they sound great in press releases, but they should prompt us to ask more questions rather than assume that they’re necessarily good.
In 2012, the Department of Education announced the Education Data Initiative, part of the larger Open Data Initiative that in its words will “'liberate' government data and voluntarily-contributed non-government data as fuel to spur entrepreneurship, create value, and create jobs while improving educational outcomes for students." That is, "open education data" isn't simply about citizens reviewing the success or failure or funding or outcomes of schools. It's not about shifting power, thanks to "openness," from the federal government -- those data hoarders -- to the people, to communities. To teachers, parents, students.
It is, however, a shift in power.
The push to “open” more education data has happened at the state level too. With a nod from the Council of Chief State School Officers (that is, an organization of state superintendents of education which has also been a major strategic proponent of the recent Common Core State Standards), and funded with $100 million from the Carnegie Corporation and Gates Foundation, the Shared Learning Collaborative — later rebranded to inBloom — launched in 2011, promising to create a massive warehouse of student data that would be “open” to third-party developers.
The infrastructure would be open-source, replacing what is, in so many cases, an ailing infrastructure of often proprietary databases, applications, and systems that many school school districts work with to manage students’ records.
And here, immediately, we can see the some of the problems with “open.” Because the code for InBloom was meant to be open source, it does offer some leverage against the proprietary infrastructure that most schools are saddled with: Pearson PowerSchool or eScholar for starters. Ideally, thanks open source, any school could install the inBloom codebase and be free of the inBloom organization and all its attachments to News Corp (that's who wrote a great deal of the code), to the Gates Foundation (that's who funded the project), and so on.
But then what? Open source doesn’t actually get us out of the conundrum that is education data collection. Open source doesn't opt you out of reporting mandates, for example. Indeed, “open” might put us farther into the weeds.
InBloom’s data specification included hundreds of data points about students — enough to make parents and privacy groups balk about what exactly what being collected and shared and why. It probably didn’t help that some of the development work was done by Wireless Generation, a company that had been acquired by News Corporation — right in the middle of that company’s phone hacking scandal. And it probably didn’t help when those in education technology make ridiculously triumphant claims about all the data-mining they plan to do.
Take, for example, the CEO of Knewton, which is a company that promises to take student data and provide “adaptive” pathways through textbook lessons, pronouncing that “We literally know everything about what you know and how you learn best, everything.” Knewton boasts that it gathers millions of data points on millions of children each day. He calls education “the world’s most data-mineable industry by far.” “We have five orders of magnitude more data about you than Google has,” the Knewton CEO said at a Department of Education “Datapalooza” event. “We literally have more data about our students than any company has about anybody else about anything, and it’s not even close.”
The argument — espoused by the Department of Education, handily doing the bidding of administration and administrative fetishes for data as well as the bidding of education technology companies like Knewton and inBloom and others — the argument is that more data works in the service of “better education,” that the problem that schools have long faced stem, in part, from a failure to collect and make use of data.
Data is kept in silos — in spreadsheets, in student information systems, in handwritten grade books — so the story goes (I believe that story), and therefore there hasn’t been a way to understand each child (that's bullshit), to see a full data profile of a particular student, let alone create algorithms and software best suited to move that student through school.
Again, the collection of education data isn’t new. Indeed, inBloom used a data model that was based in part upon SIF — the schools interoperability framework — a specification that is over a decade old. What was new here was the push to have this data be “open” more easily to third party developers and not simply the one company that won the contract for the student information system and the government.
But to challenge inBloom and others in education technology who are interested in educational data collection and data-mining, we need to do more than raise red flags about privacy. That's been the loudest complaint. A parent-led effort did just that, successfully organizing protests in the states and districts that were piloting the inBloom technology. One by one, these customers backed out. Louisiana. Colorado. New York. Illinois. By April of this year, inBloom had no customers left, and it announced that it was closing its doors. $100 million. For what it’s worth, some of the code is available on Github.
But I want to raise more questions about the data itself. Data is not neutral. Data — its collection, storage, retrieval, usage — is not neutral. There can be, as Jeffrey Alan Johnson argues, “injustices embedded in the data itself,” and when we "open data," it does not necessarily ameliorate these. In fact, open data might serve to reinscribe these, to reinforce privilege in no small part because data, open or not, is often designed around meeting the needs around businesses and institutions and not around citizens, or in this case students.
What “counts” as education data? Let’s start there. What do schools collect?
As I said earlier, the inBloom data spec included hundreds of data points. A small sampling: Academic Honors, Attendance Type, Behavior Incident Type, Career Pathway, Disability Type, Disciplinary Action, Grade Point Average, Incident Location, Personal Information Verification Type, Reason for Restraint, Eligibility for Free or Reduced School Lunch, Special Accommodation, Student Characteristic, Weapon Type.
I think it’s clear, as I list these, that the moments when students generate “education data” is, historically, moments when they come into contact with the school and more broadly the school and the state as a disciplinary system. We need to think more critically, more carefully about what it means to open up this data — data that is often mandated by the state to be collected — to others, to businesses. Again, is “open data” about liberating data, as the Department of Education suggests, "to spur entrepreneurship, create value, and create jobs while improving educational outcomes for students”
As Johnson argues, “the opening of data can function as a tool of disciplinary power. Open data enhances the capacity of disciplinary systems” — and school certainly functions as one of those — “to observe and evaluate institutions’ and individuals’ conformity to norms that become the core values and assumptions of the institutional system whether or not they reflect the circumstances of those institutions and individuals."
Did you speak out of turn in class? Are you a child of an illegal immigrant? Did you get written up for wearing a halter top? Are you pregnant? Did you miss school? Why? Why? Why?
What classes did you take? What grades did you make? Why? Why? Why?
(Is the answer to "why" a data point? And — here’s the rub — is that “data point” ever connected to an ethics of care or a sense of social justice?)
Education data often highlights the ways in which we view students as objects not as subjects of their own learning. I’ll repeat my refrain: education data is not neutral. Opening education data does not necessarily benefit students or schools Or communities; it does not benefit all students, all schools, all communities equally. Open source education data warehouses are not neutral. And similarly, the source code does not benefit students equally.
If we are to move, as Johnson suggests we do, from “open data” to “information justice,” we cannot depend on technology alone. Nor can we rely on that word “open” to serve as the metric by which we evaluate our practices and policies. This isn’t an argument for “closed” or “proprietary” systems. Not by any stretch. It’s an argument for building capacity and agency. We need to consider, for example, what data looks like in communities' hands, in students’ hands, what information students would want to collect on themselves, for themselves, who they would want to share it with and why. And in doing so, we need to recognize the messiness of our learning — of our data — and not normalize that for the sake of analysis, not open it -- counterintuitively I recognize — for the sake of control.
Read this way, "openwashing” signals something else. Something I find just as frightening as a corporation’s innovation of “open” as an adjective to describe their latest, clearly “not open” project.
What happens when something is “open" in all the ways that open education and open source and open data advocates would approve. All the right open licenses. All the right levels of accessibility. All the right nods from all the right powerful players within “open.”
And yet, the project is still not equitable. What if, in fact, it’s making it worse.
What are we going to do when we recognize that “open" is not enough. I hope, that we recognize that what we need is social justice. We need politics, not simply a license. We need politics, not simply technology solutions. We need an ethics of care, of justice, not simply assume that “open” does the work of those for us.
Here are the notes and the slides from what is (I hope) my last talk of 2014. I gave this this evening to University of Mary Washington, and then turned around and presented it again (online) to Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt's class EC&I 831.
This is (I think) the last public talk I will give this year. It has been the most difficult one to prepare.
I put a lot of myself — my ideas (obviously) and anecdotes from my life — into my talks. But when asked to speak to you today about gender and educational technology, I have found myself at a bit of a loss as to how much of “me" I wanted to include here, and how much of others’ experiences I felt comfortable invoking as well.
I have lots to say, don’t get me wrong. I have personal experiences. And I have a Women’s Studies degree, dammit! But to say something publicly — out loud, in person or online, to commit these thoughts to writing, any of it — is a little intimidating at this very moment, particularly as I can still see the fallout from Gamergate and Shirtgate wreak havoc on people’s lives. I consider myself pretty damn fierce and fearless. But I’ve sat staring at a blinking cursor trying to figure out what to say and, I admit, a little apprehensive about potential reactions, particularly if I call out -isms and/or name names.
But I know I have to come right out and say it, because very few people in education technology will: there’s a problem with computer technology. Culturally. Ideologically. There’s a problem with the Internet. Largely designed by men from the developed world, it is built for men of the developed world. Men of science. Men of industry. Military men. Venture capitalists. Despite all the hype and hope about revolution and access and opportunity that these new technologies will provide us, they do not negate hierarchy, history, privilege, power. They reflect those. They channel it. They concentrate it, in new ways and in old.
Harassment — of women, people of color, and other marginalized groups — is pervasive online. It’s a reflection of offline harassment, to be sure. But there are mechanics of the Internet — its architecture, affordances, infrastructure, its culture — that can alter, even exacerbate what that harassment looks like and how it is experienced.
For advocates of education technology, this is a bitter pill to swallow: Internet technologies are not simply generative or supportive; they can be destructive. But this, all of this is an ed-tech issue. It is a technology issue. It is an education issue. It a societal issue. It is a political issue. We cannot ignore it. But that’s precisely what most people in ed-tech seem to do.
In my head, I hear that voice, that response from certain corners of the Internet: “Well, that’s just your opinion, lady."
OK. Sure. Indeed, all my work conceivably falls under the heading “opinion.” My analysis (that’s the term I prefer) is grounded in research, in observation, and in experience. Often I include personal experience narratives too — perhaps as a way to ground my authority in a field in which I am neither formally degreed nor formally employed.
In planning my talk today — specifically when thinking about what I have to say about gender and ed-tech — that opinion feels pretty vulnerable. Or rather, I feel pretty vulnerable. It’s not an intellectual vulnerability. Frankly, I feel some of that all the time. Like: what if this essay is dumb or wrong. What if the thing I think is a brilliant observation is just a mediocre version of what some smarter person wrote last week, last year, a decade ago, and so on. “Imposter syndrome,” I suppose.
I’m talking here about a different some of vulnerability — not intellectual but psychological and physical. That is, my work comes from a body — my body, a marked body. Gendered and therefore not objective. Always subjective. Always opinion.
Gendered. This is the lens through which I write. It is how I experience the world. White cis heterosexual American female.
It is how I experience the Internet.
There’s that very famous New Yorker cartoon: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” The cartoon was first published in 1993 — fairly interesting, I think, because it shows that by the early 1990s, the Internet had achieved if not a popular appeal, then enough of one that those who read the New Yorker could chuckle about the reference. The cartoon demonstrates too this sense that we have long had that the Internet offers privacy and anonymity, that we can experiment with identities online in ways that are severed from our bodies, from our material selves and that, potentially at least, the Internet can allow online participation for those denied it offline.
But sometimes when folks on the Internet discover “you’re a dog,” they do everything in their power to put you back in your place, to remind you of your body. To punish you for being there. To hurt you. To destroy you. Online and offline.
The following sentence sounds so weird, I realize, when I say it out loud: I have received death threats. I write about education technology; I write online for a living. And I’ve had people respond to my work by saying they wanted to kill me, they wanted to see me die. I’ve had death threats, rape threats — subtle and overt. Most often what I get are the sorts of comments of the type my friend Tressie McMillan Cottom describes as “Who the fuck do you think you are?” comments. I’ve been harassed. I’ve been told to shut up. I’ve been threatened. Some is sporadic; some serial. In response, I’ve taken the comments off my blog. The harassment continues via email. It happens on platforms like Twitter and Facebook and Google+. I block, I delete, I flag at spam. It’s up to me to monitor and respond to this. It becomes part of the “work” I have to do to do my “work” online. I have filed complaints and reports on these social media platforms, but rarely is anything done.
When I tell people that these are my experiences, they often respond, “Are the threats real?” That’s a question that is hard to answer. No, nobody has come to my door. But yes, they are real. I experience them as real. Even if nobody physically hurts me, these threats take a very material toll on me. They affect my work, my mental health, my physical health, my relationship with my partner, my life.
For a long time, I wondered what it was about my work, about me that was really so controversial. I hear that too. If I could just “soften it up.” “Say nice things every once in a while.” “Smile.” And true, my work is critical, sometimes bitingly, angrily so.
But I know that the threats and the harassment are not, at their core, about the content of my blog posts or the substance of my arguments. They’re not about tech or ed-tech or “ethics in video game journalism.” They are because I am, quite simply, a woman who expresses an opinion on the Internet.
Because I am a woman.
One of my favorite essays is by the writer Rebecca Solnit: “Men Explain Things to Me.” She first wrote the essay in 2008 and since then the term “mansplaining” has become so popular — we use it often to describe the Internet version of men explaining things to women — that she published a whole book on the topic earlier this year.
“Mansplaining” is a microaggression, a practice of undermining women’s intelligence, their contributions, their voice, their experiences, their knowledge, their expertise; and frankly once these pile up, these mansplaining microaggressions, they undermine women’s feelings of self-worth. Women then decide not to speak.
Let me quote Solnit (my apologies, at length):
“...I was in Berlin giving a talk when the Marxist writer Tariq Ali invited me out to a dinner that included a male writer and translator and three women a little younger than me who would remain deferential and mostly silent throughout the dinner. Tariq was great. Perhaps the translator was peeved that I insisted on playing a modest role in the conversation, but when I said something about how Women Strike for Peace, the extraordinary, little-known antinuclear and antiwar group founded in 1961, helped bring down the communist-hunting House Committee on Un-American Activities, HUAC, Mr. Very Important II sneered at me. HUAC, he insisted, didn’t exist by the early 1960s and, anyway, no women’s group played such a role in HUAC’s downfall. His scorn was so withering, his confidence so aggressive, that arguing with him seemed a scary exercise in futility and an invitation to more insult.
I think I was at nine books at that point, including one that drew from primary documents and interviews about Women Strike for Peace. But explaining men still assume I am, in some sort of obscene impregnation metaphor, an empty vessel to be filled with their wisdom and knowledge. A Freudian would claim to know what they have and I lack, but intelligence is not situated in the crotch–even if you can write one of Virginia Woolf’s long mellifluous musical sentences about the subtle subjugation of women in the snow with your willie. Back in my hotel room, I Googled a bit and found that Eric Bentley in his definitive history of the House Committee on Un-American Activities credits Women Strike for Peace with “striking the crucial blow in the fall of HUAC’s Bastille.” In the early 1960s.
So I opened an essay for the Nation with this interchange, in part as a shout-out to one of the more unpleasant men who have explained things to me: Dude, if you’re reading this, you’re a carbuncle on the face of humanity and an obstacle to civilization. Feel the shame.
The battle with Men Who Explain Things has trampled down many women–of my generation, of the up-and-coming generation we need so badly, here and in Pakistan and Bolivia and Java, not to speak of the countless women who came before me and were not allowed into the laboratory, or the library, or the conversation, or the revolution, or even the category called human.
After all, Women Strike for Peace was founded by women who were tired of making the coffee and doing the typing and not having any voice or decision-making role in the antinuclear movement of the 1950s. Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being. Things have certainly gotten better, but this war won’t end in my lifetime. I’m still fighting it, for myself certainly, but also for all those younger women who have something to say, in the hope that they will get to say it.”
Thanks to feminism, to feminist pedagogy, we can recognize when incidents of mansplaining occurs in academia or in the classroom, right? We can see when a young woman or a person of color perhaps has something terrifically smart to say — perhaps based on their research, their analysis, their personal experience — and a man will interrupt and interject and explain whatever the topic is more loudly, more forcefully, with all the assuredness and the “well, actually” that comes with male privilege.
I think — I hope — that as educators we try to elevate the marginalized voices in our classrooms. Online, we don’t do that so well. The mansplaining can be overpowering.
I speak from experience. On Twitter, I have over 26,000 followers, most of whom follow me, I’d wager, because from time to time I say smart things about education technology. Yet regularly, men — strangers, typically, but not always — jump into my “@-mentions” to explain education technology to me. To explain open source licenses or open data or open education or MOOCs to me. Men explain learning management systems to me. Men explain the history of education technology to me. Men explain privacy and education data to me. Men explain venture capital funding of education startups to me. Men explain online harassment to me. Men explain blogging to me. Men explain, they explain, they explain.
It’s exhausting. It’s insidious. It doesn’t quite elevate to the level of harassment, to be sure; but these microaggressions often mean that when harassment or threats do occur, we’re already worn down. Yet this is all part of my experiences online. My experiences. Women’s experiences. My friends’ experiences.
I started to make a list of all the women I know who’ve experienced online harassment in the last year or so. Adria. Sarah. Another Sarah. A different Sarah. Sabrina. Brianna. Shanley. Suey. Tressie. Julie. Another Julie. Rose. Ariel. Anita. Kathy. Zoe. Amanda. Ashe. Catherine. Felicia. Mikki. Mia. Melinda. Molly. Lauren. Jenn. A different Jen. Jessica. Jessie. Jess. Caroline. Katie. Sadie. Bridget. Alyssa. Lyndy. Rebecca. Roxane. I could go on, but I have to stop. I should be clear: for many of these women, this harassment has moved offline as well. They’ve been doxxed, for example — that is where your address and phone number and other identifiable information are posted online in forums like 4chan for the specific purpose to offline harassment.
Take the actress Felicia Day, who recently posted her thoughts about Gamergate — what’s become an ongoing campaign of harassment against women in gaming. "I have tried to retweet a few of the articles I’ve seen dissecting the issue in support, but personally I am terrified to be doxxed for even typing the words 'Gamer Gate'," she wrote.
I have had stalkers and restraining orders issued in the past, I have had people show up on my doorstep when my personal information was HARD to get. To have my location revealed to the world would give a entry point for a few mentally ill people who have fixated on me, and allow them to show up and make good on the kind of threats I’ve received that make me paranoid to walk around a convention alone. I haven’t been able to stomach the risk of being afraid to get out of my car in my own driveway because I’ve expressed an opinion that someone on the internet didn’t agree with.
HOW SICK IS THAT?
Almost instantly after she posted this to her Tumblr, she was doxxed. Almost instantly. That’s how it increasingly works.
For many of these women, myself included, our profession, our work demands we be online. We are writers and artists and journalists and actors and speakers and educators and students. We cannot not be online.
It’s easy for some people to suggest, I think, that some of us are targeted because of our high(er) profile. And we are, I suppose, easier — or more recognizable at least — targets. Perhaps. But that’s also beside the point. Because here’s the thing that comes with being “Internet famous": as high(er)-profile Internet users, some of also have powerful connections to, say, staff at Twitter or Tumblr that elevate and prioritize our complaints, that shut down the accounts of our harassers more rapidly than “regular” users will ever experience.
And “regular users” do indeed experience online harassment.
The Pew Research Internet Project recently published the results from a survey on online harassment. Among the findings:
"60% of Internet users said they had witnessed someone being called offensive names. 53% had seen efforts to purposefully embarrass someone. 25% had seen someone being physically threatened. 24% witnessed someone being harassed for a sustained period of time. 19% said they witnessed someone being sexually harassed. 18% said they had seen someone be stalked.”
According to the Pew survey, 22% of all Internet users reported being harassed online. One in 5. About 55% of those said they’d experienced the “less severe” forms; that means 45% said they’d experienced the “more severe” forms, including serial harassment, sexual harassment, and stalking. Young women — those age 18 to 24, those we still label as “college age" — experience the most severe harassment online. "26% of these young women have been stalked online, and 25% were the target of online sexual harassment.”
All this in the Pew survey is self-reported, I should note. So when Pew says something like, "Overall, men are somewhat more likely than women to experience at least one of the elements of online harassment, 44% vs. 37%,” we should probably make it very clear, again, that the harassment that men and women receive online is different — in degree, in purpose, in intended results. A different organization. W.H.O.A. (“Working to Halt Online Abuse”) has found that 73% of cyberstalking victims are women, for example. A University of Maryland research project created fake online accounts and set them into Internet chat rooms. "Accounts with feminine usernames incurred an average of 100 sexually explicit or threatening messages a day. Masculine names received 3.7."
But again, I want to make the link to our offline bodies. An earlier Pew study found that "five percent of women who used the Internet said 'something happened online' that led them into 'physical danger.’" From the World Health Organization:
"Violence against women is widespread around the world. Recent figures indicate that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. ...Women who have been physically or sexually abused have higher rates of mental ill-health, unintended pregnancies, abortions and miscarriages than non-abused women. ... Increasingly in many conflicts, sexual violence is also used as a tactic of war.”
We do not escape our material bodies online, as much as that New Yorker cartoon suggests we might.
In fact, I want to argue that online — computer technologies, Internet technologies — actually re-inscribe our material bodies, the power and the ideology of gender and race and sexual identity and national identity. Why? Because of who is making these tools.
News organizations have been pushing for several years for the major technology companies to release their diversity numbers — that is, the make-up of their workforce. In fact, many of these companies have fought attempts to publish their EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) data. But this year, perhaps recognizing that they must at some point address the “pipeline issue” — how to get more women and people of color into STEM-related fields — some tech companies have released this data. And it’s not pretty.
70% of Google’s employees are male. 61% are white and 30% Asian. Of Google’s “technical” employees. 83% are male. 60% of those are white and 34% are Asian.
70% of Apple’s employees are male. 55% are white and 15% are Asian. 80% of Apple’s “technical” employees are male.
69% of Facebook employees are male. 57% are white and 34% are Asian. 85% of Facebook’s “technical” employees are male.
70% of Twitter employees are male. 59% are white and 29% are Asian. 90% of Twitter’s “technical” employees are male.
So gee, I wonder why blocking violent harassers, reporting rape threats, banning sock-puppet accounts, and so on hasn’t been a priority for Twitter. I wonder.
And I wonder too: what do these demographics look like for education technology companies? What percentage of those building ed-tech software are men? What percentage are white? What percentage of their engineers are men? How do these bodies shape what gets built? How do privileges, ideologies, expectations, values get hard-coded into ed-tech?
We tend to view the education profession as a female one. At the K-12 level, three-quarters of teachers are women, and over 80% are white. (It’s worth noting that, this school year, for the first time, minority students outnumber white students in public schools.) At the higher education level, 48% of college instructors are women; again, almost 80% are white. But it’s a mistake to think that education is somehow “female-dominated,” that women are well-represented in leadership or decision-making roles, or that women in education do not experience work-related harassment or discriminatory treatment. And once we add technology to the picture, I daresay it gets worse.
What percentage of education technologists are men? What percentage of “education technology leaders” are men? What percentage of education technology consultants? What percentage of those on the education technology speaking circuit? What percentage of education CIOs and CTOs; what percentage of ed-tech CEOs?
Again: How do these bodies — in turn, their privileges, ideologies, expectations, values — influence our education technologies?
So I’m speaking to a group of educators and students here. I’m probably supposed to say something about what we can do, right? What we can do to resist that hard-coding. What we can do to subvert that hard-coding. What we can do to make technologies that our students — all our students, all of us — can wield. What we can do to make sure that when we say “your assignment involves the Internet” that we haven’t triggered half the class with fears of abuse, harassment, exposure, rape, death.
The answer can’t simply be to tell women to not use their real name online. If part of the argument for participating in the open Web is that students and educators are building a digital portfolio, are building a professional network, are contributing to scholarship, then we have to really think about whether or not promoting pseudonyms is a sufficient or an equitable solution.
The answer can’t be simply be “don’t blog on the open Web." Or “keep everything inside the ‘safety’ of the walled garden, the learning management system.” If nothing else, this presumes that what happens inside siloed, online spaces is necessarily “safe.” I know I’ve seen plenty of horrible behavior on closed forums, for example, from professors and students alike. I’ve seen heavy-handed moderation, where marginalized voices find their input are deleted. I’ve seen zero-moderation, where marginalized voices are mobbed.
The answer can’t simply be “just don’t read the comments.” I would say that it might be worth rethinking “comments” on student blogs altogether — or rather the expectation that they host them, moderate them, respond to them. See, if we give students the opportunity to “own their own domain,” to have their own websites, their own space on the Web, we really shouldn’t require them to let anyone that can create a user account into that space. It’s perfectly acceptable to say to someone who wants to comment on a blog post, “Respond on your own site. Link to me. But I am under no obligation to host your thoughts in my domain."
And see, that starts to hint at what I think the answer here to this question about the unpleasantness — by design — of technology. It starts to get at what any sort of “solution” or “alternative" has to look like: it has to be both social and technical. If, as I’ve argued, the current shape of education technologies has been shaped by certain ideologies and certain bodies, we should recognize that we aren’t stuck with those. We don’t have to “do” tech as it’s been done. We can design differently. We can design around. We can use differently. We can use around.
One interesting example of this dual approach that combines both social and technical — outside the realm of ed-tech, I recognize — is the BlockBot. Having grown weary of Twitter’s refusal to address the ways in which its platform is utilized to harass people, a group of feminist developers wrote the BlockBot, an application that when you install it, lets you block, en masse, a large list of Twitter accounts that are known for being serial harassers. That list of blocked accounts is updated and maintained collaboratively.
That gets, just a bit, at what I think we can do in order to make education technology habitable, sustainable, and healthy. We have to rethink the technology. And not simply as some nostalgia for a “Web we lost,” for example, but as a move forward to a Web we’ve yet to ever see. One that is inclusive and equitable. Perhaps education needs reminding of this: we don’t have to adopt tools that serve business goals or administrative purposes, particularly when they are to the detriment of scholarship and/or student agency — technologies that surveil and control and restrict, for example, under the guise of “safety” — that gets trotted out from time to time — but that have never ever been about students’ needs at all. We don’t have to accept that technology needs to extract value from us. We don’t have to accept that technology puts us at risk. We don’t have to accept that the architecture, the infrastructure of these tools make it easy for harassment to occur without any consequences. We can build different and better technologies. And we can build them with and for communities, communities of scholars and communities of learners. We don’t have to be paternalistic as we do so. We don’t have to “protect students from the Internet,” and rehash all the arguments about stranger danger and predators and pedophiles. But we should recognize that if we want education to be online, if we want education to be immersed in technologies, information, and networks, that we can’t really throw students out there alone. We need to be braver and more compassionate and we need to build that into ed-tech. Like Blockbot, this should be a collaborative effort, one that blends our cultural values with technology we build.
Because here’s the thing. The answer to all of this — to harassment online, to the male domination of the technology industry — is not silence. That is after all, as Rebecca Solnit reminds us, one of the goals of mansplaining: to get us to cower, to hesitate, to doubt ourselves and our stories and our needs, to step back, to shut up.
I’ll repeat: the answer is not silence.
I think the most important cautionary tale, if you will, about gender and equity and silence comes not from Gamergate or from Shirtgate but from the revelations last month about Canadian radio celebrity Jian Ghomeshi. Ghomeshi, the host of a popular radio program, was suddenly fired by the CBC, and allegations quickly emerged of violent sexual assault. Ghomeshi, for his part, said this involved spurned ex-lovers and he was being punished for what was, in his words, consensual BDSM. The women — and there are over 8 accusers now — say otherwise. It was not consensual. It was assault.
But it isn’t just these women who’ve come forward. A large number of members of the Canadian media, of the Vancouver music scene, and so on have spoken out too, confessing that “they knew about Jian.” There was talk. Chatter. Warnings. One woman wrote a piece explaining carefully that when people asked “do you know about Jian,” the question didn’t imply “do you know Jian Ghomeshi, popular radio host?” It meant “do you know.” “Just be careful. He’s weird with woman,” a male friend had warned her when she first joined “the scene.”
And she writes,
"Warned by this, I kept my distance and just watched. I saw the way he moved towards women, introduced himself, and pushed his way into their space. … Nothing you’d call a crime, not quite. Nothing you could name. Just a sense, all the little things that added up to say — this isn’t safe. This person is not safe.
Boundary issues, call ‘em, and they were persistent. I saw it on other occasions after that, though only a few — other parties, where I’d lean my head against another woman’s so that we could exchange our warnings in the night. Through these other women I started to hear stories, filtering through in little bites: it felt like everyone had a friend with a story. A friend who was was hurt or leered at. A friend who had been uncomfortable, cornered or afraid.
But how could you say that, in a way that would ever be believed? How would you describe that for the world, in a way that the world would ever believe?
So instead, you start to turn to the women around you, and you say: 'do you know about Jian?'
And you watch them nod, and pass it on.”
That’s how networks work, isn’t it. You exchange important information. You try to build community and keep that community safe. But we can see in this anecdote how much access to that network matters. Networks offer protection. If you weren’t part of the right network, perhaps you didn’t hear the whispered warnings. Or perhaps you were part of an adjacent network, a network of powerful media people that “knew about Jian” but chose not to say anything or do anything publicly.
It’s not a perfect analogy to ed-tech, by any means. But I want to draw the comparison because I feel like the stakes are very high. We have to think about the networks we are building and we are using. How do they reflection information and power. Who do they protect? Who do they put at risk?
We can’t sit back and let harassment and abuse go on. We can’t ignore it, or pretend that it doesn’t exist or that, because it’s online it isn’t real.
We can’t retreat behind walls. Women know that violence happens there too, of course. Being out in the public space — and these days, that means being on the Internet — is how we fully participate in civic life.
Yes, we can whisper tips to our friends, our colleagues, our students. We can work quietly or loudly to resist. We can build alternative networks and alternative education technologies. But we cannot be silent.
Education Law and Politics
President Obama took executive action on immigration reform this week, offering limited legal status (a temporary reprieve from deportation, that is) to up to five million of the country’s 11.4 million undocumented immigrants. The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed examine the potential impact on higher ed; The Huffington Post has a look at the impact at the K–12 level.
The White House also hosted superintendents this week to sign a “Future Ready” pledge, promising to buy more digital stuff from textbook publishers and tech companies and telecoms. Because future.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed a major financial boost to the E-rate program, increasing its cap by $1.5 billion. That’ll bring the total earmarked for the fund, which helps support and subsidize public schools’ and libraries’ network and telecom costs, to $3.9 million.
The FTC has reached a $200,000 settlement with TRUSTe over deceptive labels and promises. The company purports to certify that companies handle data safely. But nope. So yeah. Just because that ed-tech company proudly displays a TRUSTe seal doesn’t mean your data is safe; it means that they paid for the seal.
Senator Tom Harkin is set to retire in a few weeks. But he’s just released his proposal to revise the Higher Education Act. Inside Higher Ed has more on the legislation, which will likely go nowhere. Because Congress.
Certain-to-be-a-Republican-Presidential-candidate Jeb Bush made comments about education this week as he delivered the keynote at his education group’s 2014 National Summit on Education Reform.
The Department of Education and the Minneapolis Public School District have reached an agreement after an investigation which “revealed that black students in grades K–12 were significantly overrepresented in the district’s disciplinary actions.”
“Worried about facing national ridicule if a Satanic group is allowed to give out coloring books to children, the Orange County School Board moved Thursday toward preventing any outside group from distributing religious materials on campus.” Ha. Since when is Florida concerned about facing national ridicule?!
LAUSD’s board has voted to add ethnic studies to the district curriculum. It’s part of a larger effort to make ethnic studies a required class for graduation.
LAUSD has argued that a middle schooler can consent to sex with a teacher. The case involves a 14 year old student and her 28 year old student. The district, which is being sued by the girl’s family for negligence, says that the girl bears some responsibility. Wow. Fuck you, LAUSD.
Colleges and universities have received most of the scrutiny about how they’ve mishandled sexual assault cases. But the Department of Education is also investigating 24 elementary and secondary schools of violating Title IX by mishandling these sorts of incidents.
LAUSD and the Zombie iPad Contract
Back from the dead! LAUSD has not canceled all its contract with Apple and Pearson apparently, and the district will spend $22 million to buy 20,000 iPads just in time for spring standardized testing season. But this time around, instead of spending $504 per device, the district will pay $552 per iPad. Niiiiiiiiiiice.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Last weekCoursera announced free verified certificates for veterans; this week, it’s free verified certificates for teachers. Thanks Obama, for taking such a strong stance against for-profit higher ed.
Not to miss out on the PR opportunity, edX is also offering free certificates for teacher training.
Coursera is bringing data to teaching. Because data dashboards“help instructors understand their learners and make informed decisions.” Education has, up until now, never had a way for instructors to understand learners, I guess.
“How Online Education Can Save Conservatism.” Shudder.
Elsewhere in “Openness”
Creative Commons has released its State of the Commons report. “Sharing is winning. In 2015, we’ll pass one billion Creative Commons–licensed works.”
The K–12 OER Collaborative, supported by 11 states, has released an RFP seeking OER materials to cover math and language arts at the K–12 level. As districts are poised to spend some $8 billion to buy new CCSS-aligned textbooks, the hope is to offer an alternative that not just saves money but that can be localized, shared, and remixed.
The Gates Foundation has adopted an open access policy “that enables the unrestricted access and reuse of all peer-reviewed published research funded, in whole or in part, by the foundation, including any underlying data sets.”
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, open education has a publicity problem.
Meanwhile on Campus
Parents have been sent home “what to do in case of an emergency” notes. But in the St. Louis area, the fear-mongering isn’t about bad weather. It’s about the results of the grand jury investigation of Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed the teenaged Michael Brown this summer. St. Louis schools will apparently get a 3 hour advanced notice of the decision.
Three people were shot at the Florida State University Library.
Meanwhile, an assistant principal in Polk County, Floridastaged a live shooter drill in which police went classroom to classroom with their guns drawn. “…The school resource officer involved in the drill was carrying a loaded Glock .45-caliber pistol, while a patrol officer was holding an AR–15 rifle, though it was not loaded. Some students became terrified and ducked for cover.” Terrified?! Are you serious?!
An elementary school in Los Alamitos will let parents pay $100 to buy their kids a week free of homework. Because the public school system in America is sooooo damn equitable.
University of Maryland University College will stay a public university, says its president.
Some 43 students in a “Sports, Ethics, and Religion” class at Yale have been accused of academic dishonesty. Apparently, they cheated with clickers. In an ethics class.
The University of California Board of Regents has voted to raise tuition by up to 27% by 2020. Governor Jerry Brown and pretty much every public school student (and their parents?) oppose the hike.
Students have ended their sit-in at Syracuse University. More details on their demands via Inside Higher Ed.
Looks like some 5000 students have been affected by the disaster that is LAUSD’s multimillion dollar new student information system.
Not to let LAUSD’s student information system get all the laughs, New York City says it’s dumping the system it spent $95 million on. Joel Klein, now touting how great his ed reform efforts were in his new book, oversaw the development of the ARIS system. The company he now works for, News Corp’s Amplify, has been overseeing the program since. Heckuva job.
Incidentally, NYC schools aren’t buying Amplify tablets either. They’re going with Google Chromebooks.
Via The Atlantic: “The backlash against no-excuses discipline in high school.”
Go, School Sports Team!
A Florida State University football player, P. J. Williams, was in an accident, driving his car into the path of an oncoming vehicle. He fled the scene. “Mr. Williams, driving with a suspended license, had been given a break by the Tallahassee police, who initially labeled the accident a hit and run, a criminal act, but later decided to issue Mr. Williams only two traffic tickets. Afterward, the case did not show up in the city’s public online database of police calls — a technical error, the police said.”
The NCAA has released documents relating to its sanctions of the Penn State and the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. More via Inside Higher Ed.
Oregon State University will review its response to a 1998 report that football players gang raped a woman. No charges were ever filed.
“A math instructor at Weber State University completed coursework for five football players, including a final exam,” reports Inside Higher Ed.
From the HR Department
“Did the California Institute of Technology ignore faculty reports that an Israeli spy might be working at a campus-controlled research facility so as not to jeopardize an $8 billion National Aeronautics and Space Administration contract?” A whistleblower lawsuit says yes.
Steven Salaita is suing the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for violating open records laws. The lawsuit is related to the university’s decision to withdraw its job offer to Salaita, following pro-Palestinian comments he made on social media.
Upgrades and Downgrades
Some folks were excited when Mattel said it was going to make a computer engineer Barbie. And why wouldn’t they be. The doll has such a great track record of strong messages for smart girls. Messages like “Math is hard. Let’;s go shopping.” This week, Barbie came out with a new book, I Can Be A Computer Engineer, published by Random House (owned by Pearson). I’d say OMG DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK, but apparently Mattel has already pulled it from store shelves. See, Barbie has a pink computer. She can’t program. She breaks things. She recruits two guys to help her write the code because she only good at “creating design ideas.” She infects Skipper’s computer with a virus, who then gets so mad – I mean, she’s lost her homework because she didn’t create a backup! – that she gets into a pillow fight with Barbie.
Thankfully, the Internet has given us Feminist Hacker Barbie.
…Sitting behind her, Computer Engineer Brianna looked sad. "I should have donated more money to App Camp for Girls." pic.twitter.com/dOgCCBw0uE— Brianna Wu aka LW3 (@Spacekatgal) November 18, 2014
Disney plus Hour of Code. Because we’re supposed to believe that Disney's Frozen princesses offer a better role model for girls to learn computer science than Mattel, I guess.
From the BBC: “Ayan Qureshi is now a Microsoft Certified Professional after passing the tech giant’s exam when he was just five years old.”
Pearson’s “charitable wing,” the Pearson Foundation, will be closing its doors at the end of the year. The organization has come under intense scrutiny for how much of a division really exists between it and its parent company. Last year, the organization paid an almost $8 million settlement to the state of New York over accusations that its actions were really funneling money to the for-profit Pearson. Shocking, I know. The Gates Foundation recently gave the foundation $3 million to develop curricula for the Common Core. I’m curious what’ll happen to the projects that the foundation supported. And, of course, the content and the student data.
Politico says that“The PARCC consortium was supposed to have decided by now whether to approve Pearson’s plan to use computer algorithms, rather than human beings, to grade student essays on Common Core exams in the coming years. But that deadline appears to have been postponed — and both PARCC and Pearson are tight-lipped about why.”
Oh noes! Early adopters of Google Glass are “losing faith,” says Reuters! Never fear. I bet there will be dozens of sessions at ISTE about how to integrate these silly, spendy surveillance devices into your instructional practices.
The New York Times investigates the behaviorist behavior tracking app Class Dojo for privacy concerns. In response to the NYT story, Class Dojo says it has now adopted a data deletion policy and will only keep students’ behavioral records for one year. But it’s keeping the Skinnerism, I reckon.
Facebook is apparently testing a “business product” – collaboration tools for work something something data-mining all aspects of your life professional and personal something something. Really looking forward to the Facebook for education version too.
Oh. LOL. Look at that. Summit Public Schools, a Silicon Valley charter school chain, is working with Facebook on just that. More details on what Edsurge calls a “personalized learning platform.”
Also via Edsurge: San Quentin inmates learn to code.
Smart Technologies has a new interactive whiteboard that you can write on with dry erase markers. Holy shit, slow down with the innovation, guys. You’re making the rest of the industry look bad.
Ernst & Young has named Josh Coates, CEO of Instructure, the “EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ 2014 National Technology Award winner.”
More standardized testing! [Inside Higher Ed looks](Aspiring Minds) at the Indian skills-testing company Aspiring Minds and its attempts to break into the US market. (It’s partnered with edX.)
From Inside Higher Ed: “Rafter, the course content provider that spawned from the textbook rental company BookRenter, on Wednesday announced a new service that ties textbook costs to tuition and automatically delivers course materials upon registration. The service, known as Rafter360, enables faculty members to select the course materials they intend to use in their courses, which are then delivered to students either digitally or shipped to homes or campus bookstores for pickup and returned at the end of the course.” So I guess there’s no looking for used copies or cheaper copies, no sharing copies, just forcing students to buy textbooks. Sounds great. For Rafter.
The Hamilton Project’s newly-released student debt calculator includes information about college majors and projected earnings.
Twitter says it now indexes every public tweet since 2006. The blog post announcing the news, which makes no mention of the company’s original plans to outsource this work to the Library of Congress, has lots of technical details about the tech under the hood.
From Techcrunch: “LinkedIn Sharpens Education Focus: Self-Serve Widget Lets Users Add Certifications While On Other Sites.” Nothing says “disruptive innovation” in education like “self-service certification widgets,” man.
Funding and Acquisitions
The non-profit ECMC Group is buying 56 Corinthian College campuses and will reportedly keep the WyoTech and Everest campuses (and brands) intact. The organization, which services student loans – do not let that “non-profit” label fool you that its some sort of noble organization here – will pay $24 million for the campuses. Great insight and great questions from “Dean Dad.”
Pluralsight has paid $75 million for Smarterer, a company that offers multiple choice quizzes to assess employees’ skills. But there is no ed-tech bubble.
Craftsy, which The New York Times describes as a blend of YouTube and Etsy and “a platform for people who want to dive deeper into the world of arts and crafts mastery via online video courses,” has raised $50 million. The company has raised $106 million total, totally highlighting what a grassroots movement this whole “maker” thing is.
Uversity (formerly known as Inigral) has raised $660,000 in funding. This brings to $11.4 million the total raised for the “student engagement platform” (formerly Facebook app). New investors this time around include Learn Capital, where Uversity founder Michael Staton is now a partner.
Galvanize Inc, a company that runs various software development training programs, has acquiredZipfian Academy, a “data science boot camp.” Zipfian’s 12-week long bootcamp costs $16,000 – ya know, because college is too damn expensive.
The Wall Street Journal headline: “Kik Raises $38 Million to Battle Snapchat for Teens.” The messaging platform has now raised $65.8 million total.
According to a study by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, a Denver education research firm, “Colorado state government and school districts spend up to $78 million a year on testing, and some kind of standardized testing takes place during every week of the school year.”
According to a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 26% of college students are raising children. Single mothers make up 43% of these student parents.
According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, “preschoolers whose parents received text messages with brief tips on reading to their children or helping them sound out letters and words performed better on literacy tests than children whose parents did not receive such messages.” Sounds legit.
According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, college enrollment has gone up since 2008, but the percentage of students who’ve graduated has gone down.
According to a report by Express Scripts, “in 2012 about one in 54 youngsters ages 6 through 17 covered by private insurance was taking at least two psychotropic medications— a rise of 44 percent in four years.”
Apple has released a report on “iPad in Education Results.”
Renaissance Learning, maker of the Accelerated Reading program, has released a report on “What Kids Are Reading: And Why It Matters.” Remember kids, it matters that you ask good, critical questions when you read corporate PR disguised as research.
RIP Leslie Feinberg. Stone Butch Blues was one of the most powerful and, for me personally, politically transformative books I’ve ever read.
Image credits: Feminist Hacker Barbie
In previous years, the week of Thanksgiving often means that I write something like “not a lot of news out of the US” as folks focus on turkey, football, and shopping. Not this year. Not this week.
It’s been just over 100 days since police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. Brown was walking to his grandmother’s house in Ferguson, Missouri. He was unarmed.
It’s been just over 100 days since protests erupted in Ferguson in response. It’s been just over 100 days since the story was featured in an earlier Hack Education Weekly News or EML “What You Should Know This Week.”
What you should know this week is something that probably most people expected: that a grand jury has declined to indict Wilson for Brown’s death. Prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced the decision at 9pm Eastern on Monday night. Interesting timing.
In his statement, McCulloch spent a good deal of time condemning social media for spreading questionable and inaccurate information about the shooting. He read the state’s timeline of events, and then pronounced that Wilson would not face criminal charges. In an unusual move (grand juries are usually short and usually secret), he then released much of the testimony and evidence to the public.
Ferguson had been bracing for this (and frankly, probably expecting that this would be the outcome of the grand jury). Stores had boarded up their windows; schools were closed. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon had already declared a state of emergency, and there were National Guard along with police officers patrolling the streets.
Yet once again, as in August, Ferguson found itself in flames. Buildings burned. Arrests were made. There have been protests all over the United States (and elsewhere too) about the decision.
Some schools in the St. Louis area remain closed (it is the Thanksgiving holiday after all). The Ferguson Public Library has remained open.
This affects all schools – whether they handle this well or not. And as students and teachers walk back into classrooms everywhere — on the heels of McCulloch’s announcement, President Obama’s call for “calm,” fiery protests in Ferguson, and news of yet another young black boy killed by police (Tamir Rice age 12) — it is clear that we have to make a space at school where we can listen and learn and grieve in a safe and supportive learning environment. And it’s clear too, oh my god it’s clear, schools need to do a lot better there.
Back in August, Science Leadership Academy principal Chris Lehmann asked “What Do We Teach When Kids Are Dying?” I think I quoted him then; and I’ll quote him again:
“So what do we do as educators? What is our role? For to pretend that this does not enter our classrooms, our schools, is to run the risk of allowing ourselves to be complicit in the system that left Mike Brown’s body in the street for hours. How we teach, how we frame this issue with students is incredibly difficult and complex, and so many of the resources, ideas and suggestions created after Jordan Davis’ killer was not convicted of murder are appropriate again. It is incredibly daunting to think about how we frame this issue in our classrooms, but that cannot be the reason for educators to shy away from it. And, if nothing else, now is a moment where educators need to listen deeply to students who need to express what they are feeling.”
Education Law and Politics
The US Department of Education announced a plan to “strengthen teacher preparation.” The new guidelines, writes The Chronicle of Higher Education, “would require states to evaluate teacher-training programs based, in part, on how many of their graduates get and keep jobs and how much their graduates’ future students learn. Only programs deemed effective by their states would be eligible to award Teach Grants, which provide students with up to $4,000 a year.”
LAUSD has reached a settlement worth almost $140 million with the 81 victims in the the sex abuse scandal involving former teacher Mark Berndt at Miramonte Elementary School.
Texas has approved new social studies curriculum. Among its glorious contributions to the intellectual development of young people, it lists the four people who influenced the Founding Fathers as William Blackstone, John Locke, and Charles de Montesquieu, and Moses. Better add a new face to Mount Rushmore for that last one, man.
Students in Finland will no longer learn handwriting, but will learn typing skills instead. I look forward to the responses from those who hail Finland as the model for all education reforms .
Via Politico: “The blockbuster contract Pearson signed earlier this year to deliver the new PARCC Common Core exams based its pricing on a minimum of 5.5 million students nationwide taking the tests next spring. But several states dropped out, leaving just under 5 million students to take the exams. (Another 325,000 children in Louisiana will take a modified test that uses PARCC questions but is delivered by another vendor.) At that volume, Pearson will earn a minimum of $138 million in the first year of the contract. But because the contract was crafted in anticipation of a higher revenue flow to Pearson, PARCC member states have agreed to scale back the amount of work the company must do on the exams.”
Norway has decided not to charge non-EU residents college tuition.
Judge Denise Cote has approved a settlement in which Apple will pay some $400 million to some 23 million consumers over charges that it violated antitrust law by conspiring with publishers to raise e-book prices.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
JetBlueannounced a number of measures to improve its profitability this week: charging for checked bags, for example. But hey! Look! It’s partnered with Coursera to offer MOOCs as part of the “in-flight entertainment” system. Sounds like the future of ed-tech to me!
Meanwhile on Campus
A bit of a kerfuffle this week involving 22-year-old Ted Morris who was granted a charter to open a school in Rochester, New York. After mediascrutiny that revealed Morris exaggerated his credentials, he resigned.
I’m confused. I thought that the LAUSD contract with Apple had been cancelled. Apparently not? “We just made the determination not to place an order against that contract,” says facilities director Mark Hovatter. Oh. Um. Okay. Onward.
Congratulations to Kean University for its recent purchase of a $219,000 conference table.
Georgetown University has joined the HathiTrust.
AltSchool, a chain of private schools founded by former Google exec Max Ventilla, is expanding to Brooklyn.
A school in Los Alamitos, California will no longer run a fundraiser in which parents could pay $100 to opt their children out of homework. Nice work, Internet. You helped dismantle this unequitable crap.
Congratulations Penn State for being named EFF’s “Stupid Patent of the Month” for your patent on an improved collaborative “decision-making process.”
Via The LA Times: “Rather than increasing tuition, Cal State has reduced enrollment targets for this fall. And trustees recently discussed the dark scenario of having to stop accepting freshmen.” Meanwhile, students are protesting proposed tuition hikes for public universities in the state.
“Students in University of California at Berkeley’s Graduate Journalism Program will pay an additional $7,500 in tuition per year, after the Board of Regent’s approved a supplemental fee this week,” reports Inside Higher Ed.
Students at Emory University are in violation of the honor code for selling seats in popular courses.
Good thing we’re really cracking down on this whole “honor code” thing, right? Right? No really. Guys. Do not make me create a “Rape” section for the weekly education news, okay?
Responding to the recent Rolling Stone article on a brutal rape at a UVA fraternity, the school has banned all school fraternities until January 9. (Is school even in session now?! It's the holidays.) The university has expelled 183 for honor code violations in the last decade, but has expelled no one over sexual assault, even though the perpetrators in the Rolling Stone story are known. More from the op-ed section of the university student newspaper.
San Diego State University has suspended all fraternity activities after members “pelted participants in Friday’s Take Back the Night protest against sexual assault with eggs and waved dildos at them.”
Fuck you, LAUSD: “Los Angeles school district therapist: Low-IQ girls ’suffer less’ trauma from sex assault.”
Three girls at Norman High School in Norman, Oklahomasay they were raped by the same male student. Students have been protesting how the school responded to the incidents, particularly as the victims have been the targets of bullying by the assailant’s friends.
“The University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where Bill Cosby was awarded a doctorate more than 35 years ago, has asked him to resign as an honorary co-chair of the school’s capital campaign,” reports The Washington Post.
Spelman College also issued a statement about its ties to Cosby, insisting that its connections are to the whole family not just the accused rapist.
Go, School Sports Team!
MIT’s football team is 10–0 and The New York Times is on it.
From the HR Department
Chris Bourg has been named the director of MIT Libraries. (There's so much shitty stuff in this weekly roundup, so let's just pause for a moment and note that this hire is a great thing. Congrats, Chris.)
US Department of Education deputy assistant secretary for external affairs and outreach Massie Ristch will joinTFA as executive VP.
Upgrades and Downgrades
Betteridge’s Law tells us that the answer to this Chronicle headline – “Can Digital ‘Badges’ and ‘Nanodegrees’ Protect Job Seekers From a First-Round Knockout?” – is “no.” Frankly, logic tells us the same.
Khan Academy has partnered with the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Via Edsurge: “‘Hot or Not’ Founder Launches YouTube Safety App for Kids.” Because ed-tech.
Funding and Acquisitions
Monday Envelope, which helps PTAs manage fundraising, has raised $350,000 in seed funding from undisclosed investors.
Yik Yak has raised $62 million in funding from Sequoia Capital, reports The New York Times. The startup, which targets mostly universities with its anonymous, geofenced social network, has raised $73.5 million total.
I am shocked SHOCKED to learn that “personalized instruction” is overhyped. A study released this week by Noel Enyedy, an associate professor of education and information studies at UCLA, says that computer-mediated learning produces uneven results (or, ya know, zero results), often at great expense to school districts. Oh well! Carry on, ed-tech!
Via The New York Times: “Even Among Harvard Graduates, Women Fall Short of Their Work Expectations.” Even among Harvard graduates.
Via Vox: “The students who get the most out of college wake up and go to class.” ORLY.
Via the Pacific Standard: “Rich Kids Are More Likely to Be Working for Dad.”
According to the Software & Information Industry Association, “the market for pre-kindergarten through grade 12 testing has grown by about 57 percent over two years ago, and now stands at an estimated $2.5 billion.” More via Education Week.
Worldreader, an organization that distributes pre-loaded Kindles in the developing world, has released a study of its effectiveness in Ghana.
“Levels of education and income in U.S. households carve a digital divide of up to 47 percentage points separating those who own computers and have connectivity, and those who don’t, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report.” More via Education Week.
In the last example of the bullshit you can make up based on brain scans, “The Teen Brain ‘Shuts Down’ When It Hears Mom’s Criticism.”
Image credits: Lucas Cobb
I was supposed to spend 2014 finishing my first book Teaching Machines. But that didn’t happen. It didn’t happen for a lot of reasons, many of which have to do with the economic realities of being a woman outside of academia, outside of mainstream journalism writing about ed-tech. Strangely, I don’t get offered big book deals.
Instead I spent much of 2014 on the road, traveling and speaking extensively about ed-tech’s histories, ideologies, and mythologies. People will pay you to keynote, I’ve learned, (or at least, they'll pay your travel expenses) even if you insist that you're a writer, not a speaker.
So I wrote, and then I read aloud.
And somewhere along the way I realized that, while I hadn’t finished Teaching Machines, I’d actually written something else. A different book. I’d written it piece by piece, keynote by keynote, lecture by lecture, chapter by chapter. And so I’ve pulled it all together in a self-published book.
The Monsters of Education Technology is a collection of fourteen of my talks on topics ranging from teaching machines to convivial tools, from ed-tech mansplaining to information justice.
Print and e-book versions are available for purchase via Amazon. You can also purchase e-book versions via Smashwords. Or you can buy from me directly via the "buy" link below. (You just have to decide who you want to get the largest cut from your purchase.) I’ve also made the files freely available to download here (right click to save the file). It's all CC-BY-SA licensed so hava at it:
Thank you, as always, for supporting my work.
Part 1 of my Top 10 Ed-Tech Trends of 2014 series
It’s time once again for my annual review of the dominant trends in education technology. This is the fifth year that I’ve done this. It’s a massive undertaking, aided in part by the weekly roundups of all the education-related news that I write every week. It’s a project that I both dread – I mean, this is how I will spend December – and adore. I learn so much about the politics, industry, implementation, ideology, business, and bullshit by scrutinizing the year's occurences so closely. As someone who is fascinated by the cultural history of ed-tech, it’s always useful for me to see what stories are told most frequently and most passionately, what stories resonate and why.
A quick look back at previous year’s trends:
Social Media – Adoption and Crackdown
Data (Which Still Means Mostly “Standardized Testing”)
The Digital Library
STEM Education’s Sputnik Moment
The Higher Education Bubble
The Business of Ed-Tech
The Business of Ed-Tech
The Maker Movement
Learning to Code
The Flipped Classroom
The Battle to Open Textbooks
Education Data and Learning Analytics
The Platforming of Education
Automation and Artificial Intelligence
The Politics of Ed-Tech
As you can see by this list, some things change; some things don’t. Indeed, last year I kicked off the series by arguing that what we often see in education technology are “zombie ideas,” monstrosities that just don’t seem to die.
Almost all of the trends I’ve identified in previous years continue to play some sort of role in the education landscape today. We haven’t resolved issues around data and privacy or around the high cost of higher education, for example. We’re still seeing schools struggle with social media and with 1:1 computing initiatives.
One programming note: Because the posts in this series tend to be so long, they actually break the technology of “the blog.” That is, I run up against the word count limit in my CMS. And I run up against the file size limit of feeds in Feedburner. For that reason, I’m going to post these stories into a GitHub repository and you'll be able to access them via GitHub pages at 2014trends.hackeducation.com. Feel free to leave comments there about typos. Or ya know, do a pull request. I’ll post a portion of each post here still – the old truncated blog post thing – and you’ll have to click over to read the rest of the story over there. Sorry. That sucks, I know. Let it be a nice little reminder about how much technology sucks, and how we still can’t get the simplest things right.
All the Buzz about Digital Disruption
Education technology has become a bit of a buzzword in its own right. Or at least, if you put the adjective “digital” in front of an educational practice or a piece of educational content, then you can act as though you’re tapping into something profoundly new and transformative and, as the Obama Administration now calls it, “future ready.” That’s a boon for the education industry, no doubt, which has seen record levels investment into ed-tech startups this year (more on that in the next post in this series), despite reports of slower sales of digital (and print) materials. So much for predictions that ed-tech would handily “disrupt” the textbook publishers or other existing education companies. (Take the Trapper Keeper, for example. It now holds a tablet instead of spiral notebooks. And it costs a lot more too.)
Ah, “disruption.” It remains one of the buzziest buzzwords in education technology, alongside its partner word “innovation.” Silicon Valley likes to think of itself as having cornered the market (get it?) on innovation. That’s a core part of its ideology: innovation happens with tech and by tech and thanks to the technology industry – not thanks to the public sector. (My keynote this spring at the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education addressed this.) In February, for example, the Silicon Valley Education Foundation and NewSchools Venture Fund unveiled a Learning Innovation Hub to bring about innovation – or at least to help train educators on using ed-tech products. In April, the International Finance Corporation, the investment wing of the World Bank, set aside $20 million for investment in “innovation” through ed-tech VC firm Learn Capital.
In July, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), known best in some education circles perhaps for its PISA tests, issued a report on “Measuring Innovation in Education.” In it, the OECD asks:
Do teachers innovate? Do they try different pedagogical approaches? Are practices within classrooms and educational organisations changing? And to what extent can change be linked to improvements? A measurement agenda is essential to an innovation and improvement strategy in education. Measuring Innovation in Education offers new perspectives on addressing the need for such measurement. [emphasis mine]
And here’s how countries rank — ah, the element of international competition — in terms of “innovation”:
The US’s ranking prompted hand-wringing headlines like “Report Finds U.S. Schools Rank Below Average in Innovation” and “Not Just the PISA: OECD Says U.S. Schools Also Behind on ‘Innovation’” — neatly confirming an education reform narrative that schools simply aren't “good enough,” and in this case, aren’t as “innovative” as the business sector. Moreover, schools need to become more like businesses in order to be more "innovative."
It’s worth asking how the heck you measure “innovation,” of course. Not surprisingly, the OECD measures it by looking at educational practices and policies that boost test scores.
Oh. Well then.
Without a doubt, Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen remains the biggest evangelist for “innovation,” or at least for his particular brand of innovation, “disruptive innovation.” He was a keynote this year at EDUCAUSE, higher education’s major ed-tech industry gala. While many other pundits have softened their predictions about the revolutionary potential for MOOCs, Christensen insists that “MOOCs’ disruption is only beginning.” And he’s doubled-down on his prophecy that, thanks to disruptive innovation, “half of universities will go bankrupt in the next 15 years.” (Mike Caulfield has graciously made us a countdown clock so we can keep track of the impending higher ed apocalypse.)
There’s been some pushback– and not just from me – on Christensen's whole “disruption machine.” That’s the headline from The New Yorker article published in June in which NYU professor Jill Lepore absolutely excoriates the concept and the whole narrative that’s been built up around it:
Most big ideas have loud critics. Not disruption. Disruptive innovation as the explanation for how change happens has been subject to little serious criticism, partly because it’s headlong, while critical inquiry is unhurried; partly because disrupters ridicule doubters by charging them with fogyism, as if to criticize a theory of change were identical to decrying change; and partly because, in its modern usage, innovation is the idea of progress jammed into a criticism-proof jack-in-the-box.
Christensen responded to Lepore’s article angrily, and in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, repeatedly called her “Jill” (not, say, "Dr. Lepore") even though he admitted they’d never met. There were similarly sexist responses from other powerful tech-bros. Tech bros – oh boy, was that ever a big trend this year. That's gonna be a great post in this series, just you wait.
Blended and Personalized: Words Drained of Meaning
As the frequent invocation of “innovation” and “disruption” highlights, there comes a point when words that might have had a specific meaning – “disruptive innovation” for example – get drained of all of that. Applied to every new product, every new policy, every new investment, the words lose their substance but, ironically perhaps, gain in significance. That’s how buzzwords work. They’re used to sound new and edgy and fashionable and perhaps fancy and jargonistic, but they lack a certain depth, I think, and a certain specificity. I read these words in press releases and in headlines and wonder, “What the hell are you even talking about?”
Two of the best examples of this: “Blended Learning” and “Personalized Learning.”
Sometimes blended learning means a mixture of human- and computer-based instruction. Sometimes it means that computer-based instruction is online. Sometimes the emphasis is on the different education technologies themselves – audio, video, adaptive quizzes, and the like. Sometimes blended learning is called hybrid learning. Sometimes it’s positioned as being a lynchpin to liberate the school system from “seat time.” Sometimes it’s positioned as something that gives the student more control. Or at least they can "move at their own pace." (And here, I mutter something about Papert and his reminder that we need to distinguish between the child programming the computer and the computer programming the child. Read Mindstorms, dammit.) Often blended learning is wrapped up with other rhetoric about technology’s connection to education reform. Sometimes blended learning is labeled as “disruptive.” That’s the argument that Michael Horn of the Clayton Christensen Institute makes in his 2014 book Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. (Horn was co-author with Christensen on Disrupting Class.)
The Christensen Institute has partnered with Silicon Schools Fund and with Khan Academy“to provide insight and guidance on delivering high-quality blended learning.” I still don’t quite know what “blended learning” means (or why it’s a good idea), but hey, they insist it’ll “personalize learning.”
Personalized learning. I always want to respond to this in my best Inigo Montoya voice, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
On one hand, “personalized learning” sounds pretty good: a nod towards more student-centered learning perhaps, a move that honors the person learning not just the learning institution. But on the other hand, I do not think it means what you think it means. Often, what I see the term applied to gives me pause – “personalized learning” appears to be more focused on the scripting than on the student. Personalized learning isn’t personal learning. And often, it’s really “personalized instruction” – not focused on the person or the learning but on individualized delivery of standardized content and assessment. For some ed-tech industry folks, it's indistinguishable from “targeted advertising” even. So that's something to look forward to.
UCLA professor Noel Enyedy recently released a report on “personalized instruction” and the subtitle speaks volumes here: “New Interest, Old Rhetoric, Limited Results, and the Need for a New Direction for Computer-Mediated Learning.” What we’ve done is repackage an old model of what computers could do in education – again as Papert would put it, “ to program the child” – and simply label it something buzzy. There isn’t really research to show “personalization” will transform education. There isn’t really much proof it’s going to save school districts money (to the contrary). But it’s one helluva powerful buzzword.
Other notable education and ed-tech buzzwords: Efficiency. Efficacy. School choice. “Bite-sized lessons.” Adaptivity. “Everyone should learn to code.” Mastery-based learning (which is different from competency-based learning, a trend that I’ll explore in an upcoming post). Learning outcomes– in which you really really want to demonstrate “deeper learning.” Duh. Learning object repositories (one of last year’s “zombie ideas,” kept alive thanks in part by a renewed interest in them by LMSes. Thanks, team) which may or may not be related to “knowledge clouds.” “Interactive educational gadgets” – heck, anything “interactive.” That’ll probably boost “engagement,” whatever that means. “Open” (which I’ll explore in conjunction with MOOCs – stili a buzzword – and unMOOCs in an upcoming post). The “sharing economy” (which let’s go ahead and make very, very clear is utterly awful and exploitative and has little if anything to do with sharing). But hey, innovation! “Social learning” (which seems to often be code for “homework help” and “note-sharing” for students or “PD” for teachers). Digital natives (yes, people still use this phrase.) Behaviorism (okay, probably very few people call it “behaviorism.” They use some other coded language to describe it. "Classroom management" or something. Except this guy who boldly argued that B. F. Skinner will save us all.) Related, of course, to behaviorism is gamification– not to be confused with game-based learning or Gamergate or game-changers. Then there's grit. “Growth mindset.” Learning styles. Yes. Learning styles. Still.
Buzzwords and Believability
In a blog post this year, Knewton CEO Jose Ferreira insisted that learning styles exist because “to me, it’s pretty obvious.” This is a perfect example of how buzzwords dovetail so neatly with believability. Even though there is no evidence that learning styles are real, the phrase is repeated so often, some people are certain that they must.
So much of education technology works this way. Blended learning, personalized learning, learning styles – they must be good because, after all, “to me, it’s pretty obvious.” A company releases a number, wraps it in a PR message, and as long as it fits the story we want to tell, it becomes the truth, widely repeated but never widely challenged.
One final ed-tech buzzword to demonstrate this: “brain training.” Plenty of startups raised venture capital this year promising to do just that, even though the scientific community– perhaps most loudly, the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Berlin Max Planck Institute for Human Development – have repeated that there’s very little supporting evidence that playing brain games and the like improves one’s cognitive abilities.
But we like the buzzwordiness of “brain training,” I guess. We find comfort in stories that our brains are fixable and flexible and that with the right technology we fill them more rapidly with words and concepts and learning and stuff. We find comfort in these stories even if they aren’t true. They feel good. They feel right. "To me, it's pretty obvious."
I mean, why stop and consider the science of learning or the history of ed-tech or its ideologies or its mythologies when we can rely on buzzwords instead? After all, buzzwords make the business of ed-tech so much better.
Image credits: Danny Perez Photography
Part 2 of my Top 10 Trends of 2014 series
I usually end my analysis of all the trends in ed-tech on the topic of “the business of ed-tech.” (See: 2013, 2012, 2011.) Because “the business of ed-tech” really (sadly) sums up so handily most of what has happened in education technology over the course of the past few years.
“The business of ed-tech” is also the “politics of ed-tech.” The business and the politics of ed-tech together dictate almost all the other trends that I’ll cover in this year-end series. MOOCs. Big data. Learning analytics. Privacy. Competency-based education. Buzzwords.
One way to identify the dominant ed-tech trends is to look at what venture capitalists are funding. Another is to look at what government policies are demanding. The state of Maryland, for example, said this year that it would need to invest $100 million in technology upgrades in order to be ready for the new online testing mandated by the Common Core State Standards.
So… who benefits?
The LAUSD iPad Saga Continues: A Federal Grand Jury Investigation
FBI agents took some 20 boxes of documents from LAUSD offices in what looks to be a federal grand jury investigation into the deal with Pearson, Apple, and the district. It's unclear if LAUSD or one of the companies is the target of the criminal investigation.
Education Law and Politics
Lest you think LAUSD is the only one with ed-tech shadiness: “An audit by the New York City comptroller’s office found what it called “grossly inaccurate” record keeping at the Education Department, where more than 2,000 computers and tablets at a sample of department locations were either unused — still swaddled in their original wrapping — or could not be located at all,” reports The New York Times.
“A months-long investigation into former Indiana schools Superintendent Tony Bennett’s use of state staff and resources during his 2012 re-election campaign found ample evidence to support federal wire fraud charges, according to a copy of the 95-page report viewed by the Associated Press. Despite a recommendation that charges be pursued, Bennett has never faced prosecution,” reports the AP.
The White House hosted a “star-studded” College Opportunity Summit this week. “Star-studded” in this case includes the President, the VP, the First Lady, college presidents and executives from tech and ed-tech companies. They event was a follow-up to last year’s summit where pledges were made. Via The Hechinger Report: “Colleges that pledged to help poor families have been doing the opposite, new figures show.”
Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell says that the DoE is looking at revamping how it services student loans.
The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week in Elonis v the United States, a case about threats on the Internet and one that could have major implications for free speech online. More on the case by Sarah Jeong.
Also in court this week, the Google Books case. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the Authors Guild’s appeal of an early judgment in favor of Google, that the company could digitize out-of-print library books.
A court in Maine has awarded the family of a transgender girl $75,000 to settle a discrimination lawsuit following her school’s requirement that she use the staff bathroom, not the student one.
A lawsuit filed against the defunct for-profit FastTrain College accuses it of defrauding the government with false financial aid claims. Apparently it also used strippers as a recruitment tool too.
PARCC, one of the assessment consortia handling the new Common Core tests, has started testing.
The CEO of ExxonMobil supports the Common Core. So there’s that.
The Obama Administration is pledging more support for Native American youth and tribal education. It issued a report that “labels Native American youth the nation’s most vulnerable population, and places part of the blame on what it says are federal education policies that have a ‘devastating and continuing effect on Native peoples.’” How timely, from The Pacific Standard: “U.S. Schools Are Teaching Our Children That Native Americans Are History.”
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Britain’s Coalition government is rushing through an anti-terrorism bill that would require universities to take action to stop students and staff from being drawn into terrorist activity. According to Home Secretary Theresa May, this would require higher education institutions to ban extremists from speaking on campus.”
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Are MOOC-Takers ‘Students’? Not When It Comes to the Feds Protecting Their Data”
Via Politico: “Massive open online courses, first envisioned as a way to democratize higher education, have made their way into high schools, but Washington is powerless to stop the flood of personal data about teenage students from flowing to private companies, thanks to loopholes in federal privacy laws.”
MITx’s first high school course will launch in January: 8.MechCx: Advanced Introductory Classical Mechanics.
UC Berkeley is partnering with the company Databricks to offer a big data MOOC.
The UN is offering a “skill building” MOOC on climate change.
I’m not sure if this means we’ve reached “peak MOOC PR” but when the fact that you release an app in conjunction with your MOOC is worthy of a story… well… maybe."
“Frustrated Father Creates Instructional Video to Teach His Teenage Children How to Turn Off the Lights” - someone get him some venture funding!
Via the AP: “Public school students in 13 districts across Kentucky will be home schooled - mainly via the Internet - during some snow days this year as part of an experiment aimed at keeping students learning amid the growing number of weather-related closings. The state’s solution has caused a new set of challenges for some districts in one of the country’s most impoverished areas. Some students don’t have computers or home Internet access. And the school district might lose some state and federal aid.”
Meanwhile on Campus
There have been a lot of questions about the reporting in the Rolling Stone’s story on a rape at the University of Virginia. In what feels like a huge setback to those working to end rape culture on college campuses and a huge slap-in-the-face to victims of sexual violence, the magazine now says it apologizes and “we have come to the conclusion that our trust in [the victim] was misplaced.”
Prior to these revelations, UVA President Teresa Sullivan announced changes to address the accusations that rape is widespread on the campus. These include a new trauma counselor at the UVA women’s center.
“Wesleyan University President Michael S. Roth has banned social events at Psi Upsilon for 2015 and placed it on probation after a student’s recent report of a 2011 sexual assault at the fraternity house,” reports the Hartford Courant.
Racism at Vassar: “My Vassar College Faculty ID Makes Everything OK” by Kiese Laymon
Bill Cosby has resigned from Temple University’s Board of Trustees.
College students get drunk, and The Chronicle of Higher Education is on it: “If Students Have Time to Get Drunk, Colleges Aren’t Doing Their Job.” “6 Campuses and the Liquor Surrounding Them.” “A River of Booze” which I thought was a pretty great headline until I saw this one: “Riots, Keggers and the Clap.” Slate’s Rebecca Schuman responds to The Chronicle series by looking at faculty drinking.
Vermont Technical College is making what Bryan Alexander calls“the queen sacrifice,” cutting faculty jobs and academic programs.
The Orinda Union School District hired a private investigator to determine whether a 7-year-old Latina – whose single mother works as a live-in nanny for a family in the wealthy town – actually “resides” in the district. They decided she did not and kicked her out. They also twice denied the girl access to its free lunch program. Thanks to publicity about this, the district has reversed its decision. “The district now says the youngster can stay in school as long as the employer of Vivian’s mother becomes her caregiver.”
In case you were concerned, the mystery of the missing brains at UT Austin has been solved.
A great visualization from historian Angus Johnston: “American Student Protest Timeline, 2014–15”
50 years ago this week:
Police are investigating claims that their officers used excessive force during a student protest at the University of Warwick in Coventry, UK. The students were protesting the rising tuition fees. Three were arrested. Video showed the police using pepper spray on them and threatening to stun them with a Taser.
At least two Bay Area universities are claiming exemptions so that they do not have to pay student workers the new, higher minimum wage.
On the criminalization of students: “Research indicates that zero-tolerance policies do little to reduce inter-student violence. Instead, [Marsha] Weissman finds, the policies work mostly as a way to set black students and students of color up for failure, and ultimately for prison.”
The Greater Works Charter School will not open in Rochester, New York in 2015 after investigations uncovered that the 22-year-old founder had lied about his resume.
Kean University is defending its decision to spend $219,000 on a conference table.
“Princeton Eating Club Ousts 2 Officers Over Emails Ridiculing Women” – thank you, New York Times, for continuing to cover the important issues in higher education.
Go, School Sports Team!
Two teammates of Florida State University star quarterback Jameis Winston apparently refused to testify in his code of conduct hearing. Winston is being accused of sexual assault. FSU is expected to be chosen to play in the new college football playoffs.
The University of Alabama-Birminghamannounced this week that it was scrapping its football program, “becoming the first university in college sports’ top tier to do so in nearly 20 years and providing the most visible sign yet that athletic officials throughout the country are considering radical options in the face of mounting financial burdens.” When the austerity hits the football team, you know higher ed is in trouble.
The University of Florida will pay $7 million to Colorado State University for its football coach, the “largest such buyout in college football history.”
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Knox College has lifted a one-game suspension it had imposed on a women’s basketball player who staged a protest before a game of the recent decision by a Missouri grand jury not to make any indictments in the shooting death of Michael Brown.”
Ohio State football player Kosta Karageorge was found dead this weekend of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot would. Karageorge had texted his mother last week that “I am sorry if I am an embarrassment but these concussions have my head all [messed] up.” It was the last anyone heard from him.
A former high school star quarterback has filed a lawsuit against the Illinois High School Association, claiming that organization“ didn’t do enough to protect him from concussions when he played and still doesn’t do enough to protect current players.”
From the HR Department
The graduate students at the University of Oregonwent on strike this week. (#Solidarity with my former union.) The university had refused to give in to the union’s demand for two weeks of medical and parental leave. Graduate Teaching Fellows at the UO teach about one-third of undergraduate classes.
Investor and entrepreneur David Tisch is joiningCornell University as the Head of the Startup Studio at Cornell Tech.
UNLV has fired professor Mustapha Marrouchi over charges of repeated plagiarism.
More than 4000 teachers achieved National Board Certification this year.
Upgrades and Downgrades
Start the surveillance at birth with the “smart nursery.”
Googleplans to create specific versions of its products targeting those under age 13.
“After School Is The Latest Anonymous App Resulting In Student Cyberbullying And School Threats,” Techcrunch wrote yesterday. The app is now gone from the app store, but it’s not clear if Apple or the publisher pulled it.
Disney has launched a “technology-driven learning initiative called Disney Imagicademy” and plans to make ed-tech apps for kids age 3 to 8. Hmm. “Imagicademy” might just replace “teacherpreneur” as the worst word in ed-tech.
There’s a new episode of the interactive story Inanimate Alice out, the first in six years.
The New York Public Library is expanding its WiFi hotspot loan program.
Girl Scout cookies can now be sold online.
Some Flickr users were upset this week when a story broke that Yahoo would be taking CC-BY photos and selling printed copies of them. Yes, the CC license allows them to do that, and some have suggested that if they didn’t want their stuff to be used for commercial purposes, they should have chosen a different license. I don’t disagree, but it does feel like most who chose that license probably weren’t considering that the platform they were using would be the ones who’d sell their content.
All research papers published in Nature will be freely to view. It’s not open access. You can’t save or print or copy or cut (and there’s no accessibility for the visually impaired), and you have to use the publication’s proprietary tool to read the articles which do not work on a mobile device. “Fauxpen access.”
“Is Kuali Guilty of ‘Open Washing’?” asks Michael Feldstein, who concludes it’s complicated and that he doesn’t like the term.
Oh hey, I published a book: The Monsters of Education Technology!
Edublogs now offers a WordPress plugin called CoursePress “that adds course and student management tools to any WordPress site.”
News about Ebola has died down in the US as there are no longer any active cases here. That’s not to say that the epidemic is over. It’s still raging in West Africa. And I received twopitches in my inbox this week for Ebola-related projects. Sigh.
Funding and Acquisitions
Ace Learning has raised an undisclosed amount of Series A investment “to link learning content to outcomes,” reports Edsurge.
Test prep startup Higher Learning Technologies has raised $5.5 million in Series A funding from “led by a group of New York Super Angel investors,” reports Silicon Prairie News.
Language-learning app maker QLL has raised $450,000 from B Dash Ventures, Incubate Fund, Pinehurst Advisors, Viling, and Coent Venture Partners.
Microsoft is selling its stake in the Nook e-reader business back to Barnes & Noble for roughly $115 million – at a $185 million loss on Microsoft’s original investment.
Apollo Education, parent company of the University of Phoenix, has launched a venture fund.
“The Brazilian investment firm Bozano Investimentos has raised a new 800 million reais (about $309 million) private equity fund focused on the education sector,” reports The New York Times.
Imperial College London says it will “review procedures” following the death of Professor Stefan Grimm, “who was 51, said that he had complained of being placed under undue pressure by the university in the months leading up to his death, and that he had been placed on performance review.” Publish and perish.
The New York Times obituary for Stanford professor Patrick Suppes, an early pioneer in computer-based learning and the founder of the Computer Curriculum Corporation, “the first company to pursue interactive computer-assisted learning in the classroom.”
Ada Meloy, the general counsel of the American Council on Education, was killed in a car accident last week.
“Germans are mourning the death of young student Tugce Albayrak, who died after confronting a group of men harassing two teenage girls in the city of Offenbach,” reports Buzzfeed.
Dan Meyer on “What Students Do (And Don’t Do) In Khan Academy”: “If one of Khan Academy’s goals is to prepare students for success in Common Core mathematics, they’re emphasizing the wrong set of skills.”
A study by the Columbia University Teachers College has found some increased gains for students who use Teach to One, math software based on New York City’s School to One. Not surprisingly, proponents of “personalized instruction” hailed the study, although one of its authors cautioned that “the data in the study did not allow him to conclude definitively that Teach to One: Math caused the skills improvements.”
From Jisc: “Code of practice for learning analytics: A literature review of the ethical and legal issues” (PDF)
The National Council on Teacher Quality has a new report out on teacher pay.
“Poor Kids in Baltimore Have It Worse Than Those in Nigeria” isn’t really the headline I would have gone with.
Via Education Week: “Census researchers found Americans ages 18 to 34 earn $2,000 less per year than earlier generations, after correcting for inflation, though the percentage graduating college has risen from a little more than 15 percent to more than 22 percent since 1980.”
Cengagesurveyed students and professors about cellphones in the classroom. Some day edu will move beyond discussions of “is tech a distraction?” Some day.
The number of doctorates awarded by US universities was up in 2013, but graduates’ job prospects are “bleak” – particularly if they’re looking for faculty positions in English and foreign language departments.
According to this headline, “Learner Revolution in, Ed Tech Revolution out,” so rethink your allegiances and weapons accordingly, I guess.
“Sam Walton’s Granddaughter Has Plans To Fix Public Education In America” – phew. I guess we can all go home now.
Part 3 in my Top 10 Trends of 2014 series
One of the challenges of pulling together this year end series is that education technology doesn’t break down neatly into ten separate trends. “The Business of Ed-Tech” bleeds into the politics of ed-tech, for example.
The next few posts in this series really underscore this, as I discuss – broadly – the state of higher education with regards to education technology. It’s hard to extract what happened this year into distinct trends. And it’s hard to only talk about ed-tech. To do so, I fear, would lose much of the context of why education technology has such a powerful influence on the stories we told ourselves about colleges and universities in 2014. (The same applies for K–12, no doubt.)
It would be easy, I suppose, to invoke the decades old “Baumol’s cost disease” – plenty of folks do – to explain the problems that education faces in terms of costs and labor productivity. To frame things this way does make an emphasis on technology somewhat understandable – technology is meant to make things more efficient and less expensive. (Of course, we can debate whether or not it actually accomplishes this and why efficiency would be a goal in learning.)
The rising cost of higher education has been something I’ve been tracking in my year-end posts since 2011 when Peter Thiel famously described all this as a “higher education bubble.” That is, the cost of higher education is overly inflated, and as such college isn’t “worth it.” This is a narrative Silicon Valley likes to tell, and it’s one we continue to see see parroted in a number of high profile venues, including this year’s documentary Ivory Tower.
It’s a story that is experienced by so many people – those of us burdened by student loans, those of us who are un- and underemployed, those of us who thought that if we went to college and got a degree that we’d have access to a better life. It’s a story we were told and we believed. And it’s a story that, in today’s economy, just doesn’t hold true. Some 40 million Americans now have some student loan debt, and the amount of that debt debt continues to climb (and we’re starting to recognize the ripple effect that that has on the economy).
College tuition continues to increase. The pressure to go to college grows as well.
But what does it mean to call higher education “a bubble”? How do we respond – culturally, politically?
You could respond by reading all of Tressie McMillan Cottom’s work. No really, you should do that.
Instead, it seems as though one of the dominant responses involves a change in our expectations about what education is and what education does and what higher education – a credential – means.
Increasingly, education is reframed to be all about “jobs.” Education is about “skills” (particularly “job skills”).
If you listen to the stories that industry tells about education – particularly the tales out of Silicon Valley – we’re in the middle of a major “skills shortage.” Schools aren’t training (the use of that word “training” is key) students correctly or adequately. And so, as the story goes, school must change. They must change to meet the needs of industry.
That’s meant to be the theme of this post: “skills.”
But before I turn to it, I’m going to provide a little more context for the state of higher education today. (Okay, a lot of context.) Much of this doesn’t have to do directly with ed-tech. But it’s context. And it matters.
Part 4 in my Top 10 Trends of 2014 series
First there were MOOCs. Then there were MOOCs!!!111 Then we witnessed the MOOC backlash. Then the MOOC backlash backlash. And maybe even the MOOC backlash backlash backlash. At this point, it’s hard to keep track.
As I look back on 2014 (and on 2013 and 2012 as well), I’m not sure that MOOCs are really the trend we should be paying attention to here. MOOCs are a symptom, but not the disease. A better focus is probably, more broadly, on online education – on what the Internet affords teaching and learning or on the outsourcing of education technology services to third party providers. And as I noted in the previous post in this series, the trend to watch may really be a re-definition of education as skills training – MOOCs have been a major part of that.
But “MOOCs ain’t over” various investors and analysts and pundits insisted this year. (I mean, no shit that’s what they’d say. Investors have pumped around $140 million into Coursera and Udacity alone.) “MOOCs’ disruption is only beginning,” prophesied Clayton Christensen.
Certainly complicit in not letting MOOCs disappear: the media, framing and reframing MOOCs as the battleground for the future of higher education. “Will MOOCs Be Flukes?” asked The New Yorker. “Can Libraries Save the MOOC?” Will MOOCs disrupt business school? Or won’t they? “Can MOOCs and Universities Co-Exist?” The Wall Street Journal asked in May. “Are Online Courses Democratizing Education or Killing Colleges?” The Wall Street Journal asked in October. “Will Free Online Courses Ever Replace a College Education?” Will conventional online higher ed absorb MOOCs? Are MOOCs really revolutionary? Nope, said the Harvard Business Review, the most trusted publication on issues of “real revolution.” Are MOOCs the future of education?
“Reports of MOOCs’ demise have been greatly exaggerated,” wrote Craig Weidemann, vice provost for online education at Penn State.
Something’s been exaggerated, for sure. Gee, I wonder how or why?
Not Open, Not Massive: Just Online Courses
The earliest massive open online courses were “open” in a couple of ways. They offered open enrollment. They relied on open access and openly licensed materials and the open Web. And they were often open-ended – or at least, the learner had a great deal of agency in the connections and the knowledge they built. As such, it’s not surprising that some of the criticisms of MOOCs that cropped up circa 2011–2012 were that these new, VC-backed versions were far from “open.”
These xMOOCs’ already nominal “openness” became more and more closed this year. HarvardX MOOCs for Harvard alumni only, for example. And despite all the glee about big numbers, there were even questions about whether “massive” was such a good thing.
"Two words are wrong in ‘MOOC’: Massive and open,” said Stanford President John Hennessy in June, to which George Siemens had the perfect response. Selectively open online classes, argued Pearson SVP Amar Kumar, might be preferable as they would address the question of “unwanted diversity.”
“Unwanted diversity.” That sorta runs counter to all the promises about MOOCs “democratizing education,” no? But at least it confirms Tressie McMillan Cottom’s contention that the ideal student, as envisioned by these and other education technology efforts, is some sort of “roaming autodidact”: white, middle-class, self-motivated, male. Indeed, as Sebastian Thrun told the tech blog Pando in May, “If you’re affluent, we can do a much better job with you, we can make magic happen.”
Who Wants MOOCs?
So who’s interested in MOOCs? Who’s signing up? Who’s completing them?
Read the rest of my 7700 word post on online education in 2014 here. Image credits: andresmbernal
Part 5 in my Top 10 Trends of 2014 series
I’m not a big fan of using the Hype Cycle to explain the adoption of technologies. The Hype Cycle is a great piece of marketing for the research firm Gartner, but I’m not sure of its utility beyond that. Yes, sometimes it does seem like certain trends reach a “Peak of Inflated Expectations” then sink into the “Trough of Disillusionment.” But not all trends work that way, and the Hype Cycle does nothing to explain why or why not technologies become interesting or important or mainstream. There’s not a clear timeline for adoption or rejection or “best practices” to emerge. As the annual Horizon Report illustrates, for example, some technologies – hyped or not – stay on the cusp of adoption for years. Predicted to become “a thing,” some instead simply fade away.
Neither competency-based education nor alternative certification efforts have reached the frenzied hype of MOOCs. (Not much in education technology has, with the possible exception of Khan Academy.) After writing tens of thousands of words on the lasttwo) posts in this series, these trends – competency and certification – feel much smaller. Or at least this post is shorter. There is talk that competency-based education and certification are poised to become “a thing,” to "disrupt education," but again, I just don’t think that change happens in ways that neatly fits into a research firm’s or a business school professor’s model.
Growing interest this year in competency-based education and alternative certifications is certainly tied to the labor market and to the high cost of college tuition. It’s also a reflection of the changing demographics of post-secondary students. The average age of those enrolled in the Flexible Option, the University of Wisconsin’s competency-based degree program, for example: 37. And finally, competency-based initiatives are related to a very, very old push to free students from “seat-time” and “the credit hour” and to allow them to move through course materials “at their own pace.” Thanks to technology, some argue, this is increasingly possible.
But competency-based education is hardly new. The General Educational Development test (the GED) is over 70 years old. Initially designed to help soldiers who’d joined the military without finishing high school demonstrate that they had academic skills equivalent to those with a HS diploma, the GED has been an important, albeit highly flawed, competency-based assessment.
A newly revised GED went into effect at the beginning of the year. The test is now a for-profit effort run jointly by Pearson and the non-profit American Council on Education (ACE). The new exam is aligned with the Common Core (the next trend in this series!), and it’s proven to be more difficult to pass (just 53% of test-takers now pass, as opposed to 72% under the older version). The new exam is more expensive as well. The price has gone up to $120, and you’re now charged $30 each time you retake it. As a result, the number of those taking the test has plunged. During the first half of the year, only 105,000 had taken the test; in the past, about 750,000 typically take the test each year.
As this change highlights, it's worth asking who benefits from, who profits from competency-based programs, and how?
I’m halfway through my year-end review of (what I think are) the important trends in education technology in 2014.
The word count for the series so far hovers around 25,000, and I have a lot more to say. (I’m sorry. You’re welcome.)
This project is a substantial undertaking, but I think it’s important to spend the time compiling an overview and analysis of “what happened,” particularly as the education technology industry seems prone to forget the past so quickly.
I learn an incredible amount in the process of writing this series, and I see things that I might not otherwise. I hope that, in turn, the series offers the same to my readers.
So with that in mind, I’d like to remind folks about the “donate” button on this site.
I purposefully keep Hack Education advertising-free. Unlike many other technology blogs, Hack Education isn’t owned by a major technology or media company. I don’t take sponsorship dollars to promote certain posts or products. I have not taken investment money from the same venture capitalists who fund education/technology companies. I am an independent voice.
This fall I was awarded a Shuttleworth Foundation Flash Grant, which provided me with $5000 in support of the “open thinking” I do here on Hack Education. To receive the grant was a huge honor – and a big surprise. See, while I’m hammering out all these words and crafting all these sentences and making all these arguments and picking all these fights on the Internet, I tend to forget that I have to remind people that they can support my work.
Thank you to all those who’ve donated throughout the year and to those who’ve purchased The Monsters of Education Technology. Your generosity helps make my work possible.
And thanks, of course, to everyone for reading.
Image credits: Alan Levine
Education Law and Politics
The US House of Representatives (barely) passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill this week. While education spending will remain mostly flat, there are a number of cuts to education programs, including $303 million to the Pell Grant program. (However, Pell Grants will now be available to those incarcerated in juvenile detention centers.)
The Obama Administration announced $1 billion in “public-private spending” for early childhood education, in an attempt to boost the number of children with access to high quality preschool. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan held a Twitter chat with singer Shakira to mark the occasion.
New York State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr is stepping down from that job to join the US Department of Education.
The FCCapproved an overhaul to the E-rate program (which subsidizes high-speed Internet for public schools and libraries). This includes a $1.5 billion boost in funding to the program.
LAUSD is lawyering up in response to the federal grand jury investigation into the procurement process for all those iPads. Meanwhile, the district might not be ready for assessments due to a “lag” in distributing new devices. And the district says it needs $11 million more to fix its broken student information system.
“Education companies that sell more than $150,000 in goods or services to a school district will be required to negotiate the profit on any contracts using federal funds, under new rules that become effective Dec. 26,” reports Education Week.
Via ProPublica: “When Charter Schools Are Nonprofit in Name Only”
The Texas Education Agency will close 14 charter school operators for failing to meet academic and financial performance standards.
The Wake County (North Carolina) school district could ban selfies– that’s the headline. The proposed policy would require teacher permission before students take photos at school.
The New York Times reports that, “10 advocacy groups have asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the Topps Company, the maker of Ring Pops, accusing the company of violating a federal children’s privacy protection law.”
Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy on “Why The Government Supports Everest University’s Controversial Sale.”
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
MITannounced this week that it was removing the online courses of Walter Lewin, an emeritus professor of physics, after discovering that he had engaged in the online sexual harassment of a female student. Lewin has been an incredibly popular professor, and the YouTube videos of demonstrations from his physics courses at MIT have had millions of views. Prior to the rise of Salman Khan and Khan Academy, Lewin was the YouTube education star. All those videos are now gone as MIT has tried to scrub Lewin’s presence from the Web. According to the university, “MIT’s action comes in response to a complaint it received in October from a woman, who is an online MITx learner, claiming online sexual harassment by Lewin. She provided information about Lewin’s interactions with her, which began when she was a learner in one of his MITx courses, as well as information about interactions between Lewin and other women online learners.” More via Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education.
I’d definitely read the fine print on this one if I were you: Coursera has revamped its Specialization on entrepreneurship, with a chance for students to pitch their final project to investors.
Courserahas two new partners: ESSEC Business School and Sciences Po. (I’m curious about the language here. Is “partnered” different than “joined”?)
Meanwhile on Campus
Student protests over police violence continue – in Brooklyn, in Denver, at several medical schools, at the University of Iowa, at UC Berkeley. A UC Berkeley lecturer tweeted she would give her students extra time on their final assignments due to injuries received at the hands of police. She’s received threats and has closed her Twitter account. Protestors chased investor Peter Thiel off the stage at a Berkeley event on Wednesday.
“France plans elite top–10 mega-university,” reports the BBC. (Nice photo to illustrate the story, BBC.)
The fallout from the Rolling Stone’s story on an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia frat party continues. From Hanna Rosin in Slate, “The Washington Post Inches Closer to Calling the UVA Gang Rape Story a Fabrication.” The university defends its decision to suspend fraternity events until the new year.
The Justice Department released statistics this week on rape and sexual assault on campus. Among the findings, “women ages 18 to 24 who are in college or trade school are less likely to report such incidents than those who aren’t in school.”
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The Clemson University chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon has suspended all fraternity activity and several of its officers have resigned following a ”Cripmas“ party where students dressed up as gang members.”
Go, School Sports Team!
NBA stars have been sporting “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts to show their solidarity with anti-police violence protestors and their sympathy in the death of Eric Garner. Members of the Georgetown basketball team became the first college athletes to also wear the shirts.
Football playoff teams announced: Oregon, Florida State, Alabama, Ohio State.
From the HR Department
The University of Oregon has reached a deal with its striking graduate students. (The union won its demands for a hardship fund to pay for paid family and medical leave.) Other news, from prior to the settlement of the strike: An open letter from a UO professor to his students. Removal of instructors of record who supported the strike. Threats of deportation of international grad students who supported the strike. And of course, fears about UO’s eligibility in the coming football playoffs.)
“The Graduate Workers of Columbia on Friday told Columbia University that a majority of teaching assistants and research assistants have signed cards asking that the United Auto Workers local be recognized as a union,” reports Inside Higher Ed.
The University of Illinois Urbana Champaign continues to deal with the fallout from its firing of Professor Steven Salaita. Corey Robin has updates on the case.
UIUC has rehired adjunct instructor James Kilgore, whose “teaching was blocked after word spread about his past (including jail time) for his role in the radical ’70s group the Symbionese Liberation Army.”
Yuko Tanaka has become the first female president of Japan’s Hosei University.
The University of Missouri-St. Louis has announced a hiring freeze due to an unexpected drop in enrollment, that“campus officials are linking to the fatal police shooting in nearby Ferguson.”
Upgrades and Downgrades
It’s Computer Science Education Week. More districts are making the move to teach computer science. Politico’s Stephanie Simon examines the PR blitz and political connections behind the Hour of Code initiative. Gary Stager also responds to the Hour of Code. And Vogue Magazine weighs in too.
Pearsonannounced that it’s won the bid to develop the 2018 PISA test. (It has the contract for the 2015 test.) Pearson says that, among other things it plans to “redefine reading literacy.”
Google News is closing in Spain, in response to a new Spanish law that would require news aggregators pay a fee for using snippets that link back to news articles.
News Corp’s education wing Amplify will now sell “personalized professional development” to school districts.
From Techcrunch: “The anonymous posting app After School has once again been removed from the App Store. The app was pulled sometime late yesterday as threats of school violence continue to pop up even after the creators took steps to better filter the content.”
In related “anonymous posting apps marketed to schools” news: a security vulnerability in Yik Yak.
The speed-reading app Spritzdamages reading comprehension. That hasn’t stopped it from teaming up with study guide Spark Notes, which doesn’t really care much about reading comprehension either if you stop and think about it. Perfect.
“D2L has updated its Brightspace learning management platform with improved support for end users and game-based learning,” says Campus Technology.
Edsurge profilesGlassLabs, “a nonprofit located on the Electronic Arts campus in Redwood City, Calif., … building games that serve as formative assessments for critical thinking skills.”
Congratulations Maggie Simpson and Edna Krabappel for having your research papers accepted into two scientific journals.
Funding and Acquisitions
From the press release: “The Advisory Board Company (”the Advisory Board“) (ABCO), a global, insight-driven technology, research, and services provider, today announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Royall & Company (”Royall“), the higher education industry leader in strategic, data-driven student engagement and enrollment management solutions.” The business of buzzwords is good.
“Data from the Office for Civil Rights at the United States Department of Education show that from 2011 to 2012, black girls in public elementary and secondary schools nationwide were suspended at a rate of 12 percent, compared with a rate of just 2 percent for white girls, and more than girls of any other race or ethnicity.” More in The New York Times.
According to a survey by the Software & Information Industry Association, the ed-tech market grew by 5% in 2012–2013, with some $8.4 billion in digital stuff sold.
Investment research firm CB Insights offers its “2014 Ed Tech Review– The Largest Financings and Most Active VCs in Ed Tech.”
“In fall 2014, overall postsecondary enrollments decreased 1.3 percent from the previous fall.” More from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center here.
HarvardX researcher Justin Reich helps unpack the results of a study on the effectiveness of the Teach to One math program.
A study by Lillian MacNell, a PhD student in sociology at North Carolina State University suggests that “college students in online courses give better evaluations to instructors they think are men– even when the instructor is actually a woman.”
According to a new study out by the Pew Research Center, “the vast majority of Americans believe their use of the web helps them learn new things, stay better informed on topics that matter to them, and increases their capacity to share ideas and creations with others.”
Via Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog: “Should States Spend Billions To Reduce Class Sizes?”
“When the Media Get Science Research Wrong, University PR May Be the Culprit.” Or at least that’s what the media told me about a study on science and journalism.
“A new study in the journal Health Affairs finds that nearly half of all children in the U.S. have experienced one such social or family-related trauma.” More via The Atlantic.
Chicago poet, activist, and educator Mike Hawkins – better known as Brother Mike– has died. Brother Mike was one of the mentors at YouMedia, which has created learning spaces within the city’s libraries. From the MacArthur Foundation’s Connie Yowell, “Revolution: Thank you, Brother Mike.”
Ralph Baer, inventor of the first home video game system, passed away at age 92.
Image credits: Rose Colored Photo
Part 6 in my Top 10 Trends of 2014 series
Last year, I opened my look at the trend I then called “standards” by looking at the number of edits to the Wikipedia entry for the Common Core State Standards. This is what I wrote:
The “edit history” and “talk” pages of Wikipedia entries can be pretty interesting, particularly when it comes to controversial topics. The entry for the “Common Core State Standards Initiative” is a great example of this. The Common Core isn’t new (the standards were released in 2010); nor is the entry (it was created in 2010 as well). But this year, there’s been a vast uptick in the number of changes to that entry, and discussion about its content and tone. 26 edits in 2010. 65 in 2011. 40 in 2012. 127 up through November of this year.
So far in 2014, there have been 382 edits.
In other words, attention to the Common Core continues to grow, as does the controversy surrounding it. That the Wikipedia “talk” page includes debate about whether or not the Common Core’s symbol is the hammer and sickle gives you some idea of the level of discourse we saw this year on this topic. And that’s not even the best example of how zany things got…
Arizona State Senator Al Melvin on the Common Core: “Some of the reading material is borderline pornographic,” he said during an education committee meeting. Even worse? The math portion substitutes letters for numbers." (Sorta like, um, algebra?)
CCSS in Popular Discourse
As the Common Core State Standards began to be rolled out last year, the process quickly became politicized. This year, the standards were featured not only in ongoing political fights but in pop culture as well.
In April, comedian Louis C.K. took to Twitter to complain about his daughters’ struggles with math homework: “My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and common core!” He then tweeted a series of photos from their homework asking, “Who is writing these? And why?” (Thankfully I storified these tweets as Louis C.K. has since deleted his Twitter account.) The tweets hit a nerve and were retweeted and favorited tens of thousands of times.
Newsweek’s Alexander Nazaryan was one of many who responded, “Sorry, Louis C.K., But You’re Wrong About Common Core”“: …”What’s dismaying about Louis C.K.’s anti-Common Core rant is that he is neither a shill for the unions nor a far-left conspiracy theorist who thinks that Education Secretary Arne Duncan (and perhaps the president himself!) is in the pocket of Pearson and the Princeton Review. He is, instead, a New York City public school parent who has the ears and eyeballs of millions across the nation, not to mention his 3 million Twitter followers."
Whether you agree with Nazaryan or not that Louis C.K. was “wrong” about the Common Core, he does get at precisely what made this criticism so powerful, I think. Louis C.K.’s comedic persona is that of a “regular guy.” As such, his observations were as a “regular parent” and they resonated with a lot of people. And his comments were, arguably, one of the most damaging blows that the Common Core received this year.