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- 02/10/15--00:35: _Education Technolog...
- 02/12/15--00:35: _(25 Years Ago) The ...
- 02/13/15--15:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 02/14/15--15:35: _It's Gonna Take Mor...
- 02/17/15--15:35: _The Horizon Report:...
- 02/19/15--15:35: _The History of the ...
- 02/21/15--15:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 02/25/15--15:35: _How Steve Jobs Brou...
- 02/27/15--12:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 03/01/15--12:35: _Moving Beyond Perso...
- 03/02/15--12:35: _From Lunchboxes to ...
- 03/06/15--12:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 03/09/15--13:35: _Will an 'Hour of Co...
- 03/11/15--13:35: _Men (Still) Explain...
- 03/12/15--13:35: _A Brief History of ...
- 03/13/15--13:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 03/17/15--13:35: _Pearson, PARCC, Pri...
- 03/19/15--13:35: _SRA Cards: A Histor...
- 03/20/15--13:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 03/21/15--13:35: _Doxxing to Defend S...
- 02/10/15--00:35: Education Technology and Skinner's Box
- 02/12/15--00:35: (25 Years Ago) The First School One-to-One Laptop Program
- 02/13/15--15:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 02/14/15--15:35: It's Gonna Take More Than a 'Genius Hour'
- 02/17/15--15:35: The Horizon Report: A History of Ed-Tech Predictions
- One Year or Less: Learning Objects and Scalable Vector Graphics
- Two to Three Years: Rapid Prototyping and Multimodal Interfaces
- Four to Five Years: Knowledge Webs and Context-Aware Computing
- One Year or Less: Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and Flipped Classroom
- Two to Three Years: Makerspaces and Wearable Technology
- Four to Five Years: Adaptive Learning Technologies and The Internet of Things
- 02/19/15--15:35: The History of the Future of Education
- 02/21/15--15:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 02/25/15--15:35: How Steve Jobs Brought the Apple II to the Classroom
- 02/27/15--12:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 03/01/15--12:35: Moving Beyond Personalized Instruction
- 03/02/15--12:35: From Lunchboxes to Laptops: How Maine Went One-to-One
- 03/06/15--12:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 03/09/15--13:35: Will an 'Hour of Code' Change Schools?
- 03/12/15--13:35: A Brief History of Calculators in the Classroom
- 03/13/15--13:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 03/17/15--13:35: Pearson, PARCC, Privacy, Surveillance, & Trust
- 03/19/15--13:35: SRA Cards: A History of Programmed Instruction and Personalization
- 03/20/15--13:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 03/21/15--13:35: Doxxing to Defend Student Privacy
The Rise of Programmed Instruction
In the 1948 utopian novel Walden Two, a small group - a couple of academics, two of their former students and their girlfriends - visit an intentional community established by a former colleague, T. E. Frazier. The novel’s narrator, Professor Burris, a university psychology professor, relates the details of their tour, given by the enthusiastic Frazier.
Frazier explains to the group the workings of the community, called Walden Two as a nod to the self-sufficiency and simplicity promoted by Henry David Thoreau. But while Thoreau lived alone at Walden Pond, Walden Two boasts almost a thousand residents. The novel itself is a lengthy explanation of the ideas and practices that drive the community: how its economy, governance, food production, housing, and education function.
Walden Two is an experiment, a community-wide experiment in “behavioral engineering.” Frazier notes the number of benefits that come from this - that the members only work four hours a day, for example; and he reiterates how happy everyone is - in part, no doubt, because this engineering begins at birth and the reinforcement occurs in every activity.
One of the visitors, Professor Castle, a professor of ethics and philosophy, remains incredibly skeptical, grilling Frazier throughout the tour. Castle is particularly concerned that the community at Walden Two is profoundly anti-democratic. “The people have no voice,” Professor Castle observes. “The people have all the voice they have any need for,” Frazier responds, later arguing that “Democracy is the spawn of despotism.”
“Now that we know how positive reinforcement works and why negative doesn’t,” [Frazier] said at last, "we can be more deliberate, and hence more successful, in our cultural design. We can achieve a sort of control under which the controlled, though they are following a code much more scrupulously than was ever the case under the old system, nevertheless feel free. They are doing what they want to do, not what they are forced to do. That's the source of the tremendous power of positive reinforcement - there's no restraint and no revolt. By a careful cultural design, we control not the final behavior, but the inclination to behave - the motives, the desires, the wishes.
The curious thing is that in that case the question of freedom never arises."
Walden Two is by no means a great novel. It's not even a good novel. In fact it would hardly be remarkable or memorable at all - except that its author was Harvard psychology professor B. F. Skinner, and the novel is his fictionalized exploration of some of his theories.
Skinner had developed what he called a theory of “radical behavioralism,” that all human activity can be seen as a behavior and that all behaviors can be modified through reinforcement techniques.
B. F. Skinner is also often credited as the inventor of the teaching machine.
In the preface to an updated version (1976) of Walden Two, Skinner writes,
We know how to solve many educational problems with programmed instruction and good contingency management, saving resources and the time and effort of teachers and students. Small communities are ideal settings for new kinds of instruction, free from interference by administrators, politicians, and organizations of teachers. In spite of our lip service to freedom, we do very little to further the development of the individual.
According to Skinner, teaching machines and behavioral engineering are how the individual should be developed.
Skinner’s Teaching Machines
In his autobiography, B. F. Skinner describes how he came upon the idea of a teaching machine in 1953: Visiting his daughter’s fourth grade classroom, he was struck by the inefficiencies. Not only were all the students expected to move through their lessons at the same pace, but when it came to assignments and quizzes, they did not receive feedback until the teacher had graded the materials - sometimes a delay of days. Skinner believed that both of these flaws in school could be addressed by a machine, so he built a prototype that he demonstrated at a conference the following year, resulting in a brief write-up in the Science News Letter.
Ohio State University psychology professor Sidney Pressey, who’d patented his design for a teaching machine almost 30 years earlier, read that article and wrote to Skinner; according to Skinner the two had an “exciting discussion” about teaching machines. Although the popular press lauded Skinner as the inventor of the teaching machine, he did give a nod to Pressey for his contributions.
But Skinner made it clear that he had several disagreements with Pressey on his machine’s design. Skinner argued that Pressey had developed a machine for testing, rather than teaching, in part because they were not specifically designed to present students with new material. In order to use Pressey's machines, Skinner argued, students had to already have external exposure to the information. Skinner believed that his machines, by introducing new concepts in incremental steps, actually "taught."
This incrementalism was important for Skinner because he believed that the machines could be used to minimize the number of errors that students made along the way, maximizing the positive reinforcement that students received. Materials needed to be broken down into small chunks and organized in a logical fashion for students to move through. Skinner called this process “programmed instruction.”
In acquiring complex behavior the student must pass through a carefully designed sequence of steps, often of considerable length. Each step must be so small that it can always be taken, yet in taking it the student moves somewhat closer to fully competent behavior. The machine must make sure that these steps are taken in a carefully prescribed order.
Skinner’s machines also differed from Pressey's because while the latter relied on multiple choice options, Skinner’s machine had students compose the response:
Sets of separate presentations or ‘frames’ of visual material are stored on disks, cards, or tapes. One frame is presented at a time, adjacent frames, being out of sight. In one type of machine the student composes a response by moving printed figures or letters. His setting is compared by the machine with a coded response. If the two correspond, the machine automatically presents the next frame. If they do not, the response is cleared, and another must be composed. The student cannot proceed to a second step until the first has been taken.
In more advanced versions of the machine (designed for older students), students write their answers by hand and then pull a level to expose the correct answer:
If the two responses correspond, he moves the lever horizontally. This movement punches a hole in the paper opposite his response, recording the fact that he called it correct, and alters the machine so that the frame will not appear again when the student works around the disk a second time.
Whether the response was correct or not, a second frame appears when the lever is returned to its starting position. The student proceeds in this way until he has responded to all frames. He then works around the disk a second time, but only those frames appear to which he has not correctly responded. When the disk revolves without stopping, the assignment is finished. (The student is asked to repeat each frame until a correct response is made to allow for the fact that, in telling him that a response is wrong, such a machine tells him what is right.)
Again, wanting to minimize students getting answers wrong, Skinner frowned upon multiple choice. He also wanted the student to be able to construct the response, not simply choose a response from a pre-set list.
Skinner had a dozen of the machines installed in the self-study room at Harvard in 1958 used to teach the undergraduate course Natural Sciences 114. “Most students feel that machine study has compensating advantages. They work for an hour with little effort, and they report that they learn more in less time and with less effort than in conventional ways.” And if it’s good enough for Harvard students…
“Machines such as those we use at Harvard,” Skinner boasted, “could be programmed to teach, in whole and in part, all the subjects taught in elementary and high school and many taught in college.”
Education Technology as Operant Conditioning
“Behaviorism,” Skinner wrote, “is not the science of human behavior; it is the philosophy of that science.” Behaviorism offered a challenge to the (fairly new at the time) field of psychology that was focused primarily on the “inner workings” of the human mind - feelings, the subconscious, cognition. As a result some other behaviorists had focused instead on public displays of activity, arguing that “mental life” could not be really examined.
Addressing any sort of social problem, for Skinner, meant addressing behaviors. As he wrote in Beyond Freedom and Dignity, “We need to make vast changes in human behavior.... What we need is a technology of behavior.” Teaching machines are one such technology.
By arranging appropriate “contingencies of reinforcement,” specific forms of behavior can be set up and brought under the control of specific classes of stimuli. The resulting behavior can be maintained in strength for long periods of time. A technology based on this work has already been put to use in neurology, pharmacology, nutrition, psychophysics, psychiatry, and elsewhere.
The analysis is also relevant to education. A student is “taught” in the sense that he is induced to engage in new forms of behavior and in specific form upon specific occasions. It is not merely a matter of teaching him what to do; we are as much concerned with the probability that appropriate behavior will, indeed, appear at the proper time - an issue which would be classed traditionally under motivation.
Teaching - with or without machines - was viewed by Skinner as reliant on a “contingency of reinforcement.” The problems with human teachers’ reinforcement were severalfold. First, the reinforcement did not occur immediately; that is, as Skinner 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 at least) in the classroom involves 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.
But with the application of behaviorism and the development of teaching machines, “There is no reason,” insisted Skinner, “why the schoolroom should be any less mechanized than, for example, the kitchen.”
The Sputnik Moment and the Skinner’s Box
Skinner’s insistence on a classroom as mechanized as a kitchen fit perfectly with the post-war obsession in America for home appliances, gadgets, and automation.
Sidney Pressey had struggled to find a manufacturer or a market for his “Automatic Teacher” in the 1920s. But now America was facing a “Sputnik” moment; more science and technology were necessary to address the apparent failures of the US education system. In September 1958, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act, that in part provided funding to improve the teaching of science and mathematics. Money was available – from Washington and from philanthropic organizations like the Ford Foundation – for experiments in education. Among these: programmed instruction and teaching machines.
As Ludy Benjamin notes in his “History of Teaching Machines,”
The boom in teaching machines was underway in the early 1960s, and most of the devices were based on Skinner’s theory of learning. One of the most popular machines was the Min-Max, marketed by Grolier, Inc. The company initially sold the Min-Max door to door, using its force of 5,000 encyclopedia salespeople. The machine, which was designed by Teaching Machines, Inc., a company headed by psychologist Lloyd Homme, was one of the cheapest on the market at $20, and within two years Grolier had sold 100,000 of them. The company sales representatives used Skinner’s and Harvard University’s name in its marketing despite requests from Skinner that they stop.
For his part, Skinner worked with IBM to develop (and patent) a teaching machine.
From Popular Science in 1962: Norman “Crowder estimates that by 1965, half of all students will be using teaching machines, at least for a course or two.”
These sorts of predictions echo those we continue to see in the media about the promises of an “ed-tech revolution.” Indeed that’s where the story of teaching machines really took off: in the popular press.
The problem that teaching machines quickly ran into – in addition to the problem that Pressey had faced, of course: schools’ inability to actually afford the devices – was that these headlines often tied the teaching machine to some of Skinner’s other work, particularly with animal experiments. Skinner himself had argued that his theories and methodologies offered the same insight into animal behavior as they did student behavior:
Comparable results have been obtained with pigeons, rats, dogs, monkeys, human children, and psychotic subjects. In spite of great phylogenic differences, all these organisms show amazingly similar properties of the learning process. It should be emphasized that this has been achieved by analyzing the effects of reinforcement and by designing techniques which manipulate reinforcement with considerable precision. Only in this way can the behavior of the individual organism be brought under such precise control.
And so the headlines echoed this: “Can People Be Taught Like Pigeons?”
Some articles linked the teaching machines to another invention that Skinner had made for his daughter: “the Air Crib,” a climate controlled environment for a baby. The Ladies Home Journal ran a story on the crib in 1945 titled “Baby in a Box,” again a reference to the “Skinner Box,” the operant conditioning chamber that Skinner had designed for his experiments on rats and pigeons. The image that accompanied the article furthered the connection: Skinner’s daughter in the crib with her face and hands pressed against the glass. There were a number of rumors about her, as Deborah Skinner Buzan herself wrote about in an op-ed “I Was Not a Lab Rat” in The Guardian:
I had gone crazy, sued my father, committed suicide. My father would come home from lecture tours to report that three people had asked him how his poor daughter was getting on. I remember family friends returning from Europe to relate that somebody they had met there had told them I had died the year before. The tale, I later learned, did the rounds of psychology classes across America. One shy schoolmate told me years later that she had shocked her college psychology professor, who was retelling the rumour about me, by banging her fist on her desk, standing up and shouting, “She’s not crazy!”
But the negative associations with this sort of controlled conditioning of children persisted.
Headlines also tapped into fears about the sorts of "cultural engineering" - a phrase that Skinner uses in Walden Two - that these devices might enable: “Will Robots Teach Your Children?”; “Which Is It? New World of Teaching Machines or Brave New Teaching Machines?” One magazine warned of the totalitarian implications of the devices — what would happen if Hitler or Stalin had teaching machines?
With teaching machines, what happens to intellectual freedom? What happens to student's agency?
Beyond Freedom and Dignity and Back Again
In 1971, Skinner published his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity, a book that argues in effect, that concerns about – even desires for – “free will” are entirely misplaced.
What we may call the “literature of freedom” has been designed to induce people to escape from or attack those who act to control them aversively. The content of the literature is the philosophy of freedom, but philosophies are among those inner causes which need to be scrutinized… . The literature of freedom, on the other hand, has a simple objective status. It consists of books, pamphlets, manifestoes, speeches, and other verbal products, designed to induce people to act to free themselves from various kinds of intentional control. It does not impart a philosophy of freedom; it induces people to act.
Skinner’s book received a devastating review by MIT professor Noam Chomsky in The New York Review of Books. As a “defender of freedom” as well as a linguist who believed that language was biologically determined, rather than, as Skinner contended, behavioral, Chomsky argued that Skinner’s assertions about behaviorism and the development of technologies of control were backed by no evidence. Indeed his claims “dissolve into triviality or incoherence under analysis.” But this isn’t simply a critique of behaviorism by Chomsky. As the title of his review makes clear, this is “The Case Against B. F. Skinner.”
…There is nothing in Skinner’s approach that is incompatible with a police state in which rigid laws are enforced by people who are themselves subject to them and the threat of dire punishment hangs over all. Skinner argues that the goal of a behavioral technology is to “design a world in which behavior likely to be punished seldom or never occurs” – a world of “automatic goodness” (p. 66). The “real issue,” he explains, “is the effectiveness of techniques of control” which will “make the world safer.” (pp. 66 and 74).
Although Chomsky condemns Skinner’s work as a failure of scientific theory (“Skinner confuses ‘science’ with terminology”), he is also concerned here with the larger implications politically and socially. What happens to the public when presented with this disdain for freedom and dignity? What happens to the public when presented with technologies that promise a cultural engineering that would remove all manners of strife?
The public, writes Chomsky, “may even choose to be misled into agreeing that concern for freedom and dignity must be abandoned, perhaps out of fear and a sense of insecurity about the consequences of a serious concern for freedom and dignity. The tendencies in our society that lead toward submission to authoritarian rule may prepare individuals for a doctrine that can be interpreted as justifying it.”
With this book review, Chomsky is often credited for helping to discredit Skinner and behaviorism. (Skinner did continue writing, of course, including his three-part autobiography.) Much like the teaching machines themselves, Skinner and his theories fell out of favor.
But that’s not to say that the influence of Skinner and behaviorism are gone. Far from it. Behaviorism has persisted - although often unnamed and un-theorized - in much of the technology industry, as well as in education technology – in Turing machines not simply in teaching machines.
February 12 marks the 25th anniversary of the first school one-to-one laptop program. That is, one computing device for each student.
Contrary to a narrative that posits education technology is new and all education technology innovation originates in Cupertino, California (that is, Apple’s headquarters) or Redmond, Washington (Microsoft’s) or even Cambridge, Massachusetts (MIT and Harvard), this “first” occurred at the Methodist Ladies’ College, an independent girls’ school in Melbourne, Australia.
Under the leadership of principal David Loader, the school initiated a policy – starting in 1990 with the 10-year-old girls in the Fifth Year – of compulsory laptop ownership. (The laptops were paid for by parents.)
From Bob Johnstone’s book Never Mind the Laptops: Kids, Computers, and the Transformation of Learning:
And so it began, in the fifth grade of the junior school at MLC, with three teachers, 82 students, and MS-DOS-based, no-hard-drive, no-mouse, monochrome laptops. The teachers, Steve Costa, Jenny Cash, and Andrew Strooper were all talented, enthusiastic, and had above average computer skills (in Costa’s case, well above). But in those days, the average was not terribly high.
Before classes started, the teachers unboxed the computers, labelled them with the girls’ names, and placed them in special lockers in each classroom. “We made sure every computer worked and had the right software,” Costa said. “It was a big task, but we left nothing to chance.”
Then, on the first morning of school, they presented the computers to the students. The girls were thrilled of course, but their excitement was tempered by a sense of the importance of the occasion and the gravity of the responsibility being placed upon them. The teachers began by introducing the computers. They explained proper handling and maintenance, taking the time to make sure that the girls felt confident about using their machines.
“We did not allow the computers to go home for the first two weeks,” Costa said. “We wanted to be certain the girls knew how to use their laptops, so that they could take them home and have things work, and not look confused in front of parents who were concerned about their kids using high-tech stuff.” A good impression was vital. The delay meant that, in addition to developing basic skills, the girls were also able to show off to their parents some of their first efforts on the computer.
The students began with the basics. An initial task was learning how to input the time and date on their laptops. Pretty trivial stuff you might think, but it had an important outcome. One girl discovered that she could trick the computer: she put in the wrong date…and the machine accepted it! At that time kids (and probably most adults) believed that computers were infallible, too smart to be fooled. Now it turned out – much to the girls’ amusement – that the computer wasn’t the know-all they had thought it was. The kids started to understand that they could have control over their machines. And, perhaps, over their learning as well.
The teachers were proud of how well the girls cared for their machines. But they were taken aback when, a few weeks later, stickers of ponies and butterflies and fairies started to appear on the cases. They needn’t have worried: the stickers (and, sometimes, the pet names the girls gave their machines) simply meant that the students were comfortable with their computers. They had accepted them as part of their world.
The laptop model the MLC students received was Toshiba T1000SE. (12.2" x 11.0" x 2.05", 6.4 pounds, with a 4.77 MHz 80C88 processor, and 512 KB of RAM.) The core software used on the devices was LogoWriter, which had been introduced by Logo Computer Systems, Inc in 1985 and added word-processing functionality to Logo.
The use of Logo and LogoWriter underscores that the approach to one-to-one computing at the Methodist Ladies’ College was constructionist, relying heavily on the work of Seymour Papert. That is, the laptops were not introduced so as to boost the girls’ skills at utilizing business applications; they were not introduced so as to run the students through their paces via computer-assisted instruction; they were not introduced to make traditional education more efficient. The laptops were about supporting the girls’ construction of knowledge by placing in their hands these new, powerful, programmable computing machines. And in the words of MLC principal David Loader, “From the introduction of laptops, monumental consequences flowed. A school, its culture, curriculum, and teaching-learning paradigm began to be transformed.”
In the years that followed that first one-to-one laptop deployment, MLC expanded its program, introducing them to the Seventh Year girls, which meant that soon the Fifth Years, Sixth Years, Seventh Years and up all had laptops. And other schools in the Melbourne area also opted to pilot similar one-to-one initiatives. As Johnstone chronicles in Never Mind the Laptops, some of those had very different pedagogical and technical flavor. Trinity Grammar School, for example, “became the first school to adopt Microsoft Office as its core software.”
A key figure in supporting the spread of one-to-one laptop programs in Australia, former educator Bruce Dixon, whose company Computelec was the Australian distributor of the LogoWriter software and a computer hardware reseller (eventually handling MLC’s laptop procurement needs, as well as helping schools address the knotty problems of laptop insurance), was also a reseller of Microsoft products.
That latter connection had significant consequences when teachers and administrators from the US visited Australia, which they did in droves in the early 1990s, as they sought learn from the Australian ed-tech programs and figure out how to bring these sorts of laptop programs stateside. Behind some of these early initiatives – not just the operating system and the software but a lot of the political and business weight: Microsoft and the Gates Foundation. But to see the early one-to-one laptop initiatives as a corporate-led marketing campaign erases the intentions of the Australian educators and it certainly erases the serious intellectual pursuits undertaken by the students who first used laptops for learning.
Monday February 12, 1990: the first one-to-one laptop program launches. So, how are schools doing with computing (and constructionism) 25 years later?
RIP Deah Barakat (age 23). Yusor Mohammad (age 21). Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. (age 19).
Deah Barakat was a dental student at UNC. Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha had started her architecture degree at North Carolina State University. They were murdered this week by a neighbor. They were full of hope and promise and commitment to a better world. “The Killing of Three Young Muslims in Chapel Hill.”
Following investigative reports from the Chicago Sun-Times about profits to her ed-tech portfolio after she joined the Chicago school board, GSV co-founder Deborah Quazzo sent an angry mass email this week saying “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!” No more hard questions from the public or the Fifth Estate! Time to invest in moar ed-tech publications or something.
Great reporting from Politico’s Stephanie Simon on the politics of Pearson.
No Child Left Behind – the reauthorization of the law, that is – is still being debated. While Congress is at it, perhaps FERPA – which is almost as old as me – will be updated as DC looks to revamp student privacy measures. Perhaps.
ProPublica reports that “Virginia lawmakers have passed a bill requiring state leaders to set limits on how public schools can restrain or isolate students.” (ProPublica has been working on stories about these practices in schools.)
The South Carolina legislature has passed a budget plan that would prevent SC State University (a HBCU) from holding classes or athletic events for the next two years. “The school would reopen under new leadership in the fall of 2017. The 3,000 students at the state's only historically black public college could get state scholarships to attend other S.C. public colleges or any historically black university.”
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has moved to end protections for state employees on the basis of sexual orientation. But Kansas’ public universities say that they will keep policies in place that prevent discrimination.
“Broad Foundation suspends $1-million prize for urban school districts.” Just not enough innovation these days, I guess.
Education in the Courts
In news that should surprise no one, for-profit education providers have filed a motion relating to the latest Department of Education rules about “gainful employment.”
Via AL.com: “A former University of Alabama contract instructor faces a felony ethics charge after he allegedly made more than $375,000 by encouraging students to buy textbooks from a company he owned.”
According to The News-Gazette, a judge has rejected the University of Illinois’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit by Steven Salaita, a professor whose tenured job offer was rescinded following social media updates he made supporting Palestinians. Salaita’s lawsuit involves a FOIA suit to obtain documents relating to his employment.
A district judge in Idaho has voided the state’s broadband contract (which supports its school broadband program), arguing that the state violated procurement laws when it gave CenturyLink (formerly Qwest) the deal to provide schools broadband.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Bill Gates is guest-editing the tech blog The Verge. So we get this: “Can online classrooms help the developing world catch up?” Edsurge rewrites the story with this headline: “Can MOOCs Better Help Women in Developing Countries?” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Meanwhile, Harvard and MIT are being sued under the Americans With Disabilities Act. The complaint contends that the universities violated that act by failing to (among other things) close caption MOOCs.
So yeah. Who are MOOCs helping again? Oh right. Corporations.
Via the Coursera blog: “Top Companies Work with University Partners to Help Create Capstone Projects with Real World Applications” and “The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania introduces the Business Foundations Specialization, with Capstone Projects from Snapdeal and Shazam.” From The Chronicle of Higher Education: “ Meet the New, Self-Appointed MOOC Accreditors: Google and Instagram .” From WIRED: “How Coursera Is Connecting Its Students to Tech Employers Like Google.” Coursera says it now thinks it’s found a viable business model - that is, selling pseudo-certificates to students who hope to work in the tech sector. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Meanwhile on Campus
The New York Times reports that “A ‘select handful’ of University of Texas applicants are approved each year at the direction of the school president over the objections of the admissions office, a longtime practice that has grown in recent years, according to an investigation commissioned by the university’s Board of Regents and released Thursday.” Paging Abigail Fisher?
Via Corey Robin: “U. Mass. Will Not Admit Iranian Students to Schools of Engineering and Natural Sciences.” (And it looks like the for-profit Kaplan is doing something similar.) So when you hear the tech sector and the for-profit ed sector and the publications that promote their story say “everyone should learn to code,” you know there’s an asterisk there. * Not everyone.
In the light of the recent measles outbreak, “UC will require measles vaccination for incoming students,” says The LA Times.
“Are iPads the Solution to Snow Days?” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
“The Sickeningly Low Vaccination Rates at Silicon Valley Day Cares.” (Are iPads the Solution to Parents Who Fail to Immunize?)
Via Techdirt: A middle school principal in New Mexico is threatening to call the FBI on a student who threw an American flag out a classroom window.
According to a report from the University of Chicago, “Study Claims Oil Divestiture May Hurt College Endowments.” Because University of Chicago.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The University of Tulsa has suspended a student over offensive Facebook posts that were written by his husband.” (The story is a lot more complicated than that lede, for what it’s worth.)
“The Stanford Undergraduate and the Mentor.” (About sexual harassment and predation and Silicon Valley.)
The University of Warwick is expanding to Sacramento, California, where I do wish them luck in finding faculty who do not speak ironically and do not eye-roll at meetings.
Bryan Alexander chronicles“A wave of state-mandated queen sacrifices for American public universities.”
Indiana is looking to shorten its standardized testing, says Politico, “after learning it could take students up to 12 hours to complete the exams.”
Via Marketplace: “With Common Core Testing, You Get What You Pay For.” (Really?! Is this part of the Gates Foundation-funded series!?)
Go, School Sports Team!
Congrats Auburn. Your university is paying $13.9 million in order to have the largest college scoreboard.
Remember how last year the University of Alabama Birmingham said it was going to cancel its football program in order to save money? Yeah. I guess people have complained. Protested even. And now…
Four members of the University of Iowa women’s field hockey team are suing the university over Title IX violations related to the firing last year of their coach. More via Inside Higher Ed.
From the HR Department
Inside Higher Ed reports that Scott Steffey, the CEO of the for-profit Career Education Corporation, is stepping down.
Upgrades and Downgrades
According to The Wall Street Journal, “Strayer University Taps Daily Mail For Elaborate Year-long Branded Content Deal.” LOL.
According to Edsurge, “Blackboard Flirts with Buying Pearson’s PowerSchool.”
Lots of folks were disgusted by the sexism on display at Silicon Valley’s annual award show, the “Crunchies.” But hey. Posted without commentary on Edsurge: a congrats to Yik Yak and Class Dojo who were lauded by their Silicon Valley peers for their exciting work in education technology startup-ness.
Edsurge asks, “How K–12 Can Improve Personalized Learning With a Corporate Tool?” (For what it’s worth, the topic of the story, the Tin Can API has its roots as a military tool not really a corporate tool. But hey, what’s a little ed-tech history among friends.)
From Fast Company: “The World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies of 2015 in Education.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
“Passwords Stored in Plain Text” and other horrors from library information security.
The New York Times’ Natasha Singer has written a couple of posts recently about ed-tech info-sec: “Uncovering Security Flaws in Digital Education Products for Schoolchildren.”
“Google Partners With Mattel to Bring VR to the Iconic View-Master.” (I smell a post in my “The History of the Future of Education” series.)
Via Andy Baio by way of Jason Scott: the “Internet Archive now supports embedding playable games and other software from their collections in web pages.”
Via E-Literate, “Instructure Releases 4th Security Audit, With a Crowd-sourcing Twist.”
Funding and Acquisitions
For-profit edu provider Education Corporation of America has bought 38 (for-profit edu provider) Kaplan campuses.
Listen Current has raised $950,000 from Launchpad Venture Group LLC and others. The startup “curates public radio and organizes snippets into social studies, science, and English language arts-themed lesson plans.”
Team(You) has raised $500,000 for a “student behavior incentive system.” Skinner would be proud. The money came from investors including Frank Byrne of Fifth Light Capital.
Glints has raised $475,000 from East Ventures, 500 Startups, SPH Media Fund, Infocomm Investments, 8 Capital, and Pix Vine Capital, John Tan, and Darius Cheung. “Their age,” Techinasia squees, “makes the trio possibly the youngest tech entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia to get venture capital money.” The company“builds career readiness.”
Alma has acquired Always Prepped. Terms were not disclosed.
Education publisher Elsevier has acquired Newsflo. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Via Edsurge: “The Advisory Board Company Acquires GradesFirst for Engaging At-Risk Students.”
MyOnlineSchool has raised£450,000 in funding from “Leaf Investments; Howzat Partners (Allstar Investor Winners and Trivago investors) and a group of angel investors with backgrounds ranging from eBay, Gumtree, Zoopla, Skype and more.” MyOnlineSchool offers online “vocational and hobbyist” courses.
US high school graduate rates: getting better.
Digital Promise released a report: “Developing a System of Micro-credentials: Supporting Deeper Learning in the Classroom.”
“Elite University Degrees Do Not Protect Black People From Racism.” In other breaking news: “Academia is not a meritocracy.”
Via the NYT’s Claire Cain Miller: “How Elementary School Teachers' Biases Can Discourage Girls From Math and Science.”
Via HCM Strategists (funded by the Gates Foundation): “Who’s Tying Money to College Performance, and How?”
Also funded by the Gates Foundation, a survey on “faculty attitudes.” (I hope some survey asks if they’re sick of being surveyed by the Gates Foundation.)
“For the 35th year in a row, Johns Hopkins University spent more on research than any American university, according to the National Science Foundation.” Elsewhere, university spending on research was also up slightly in 2013.
According to the Advocates for Children, “Most of New York City's charter schools have disciplinary codes that do not meet either state or federal requirements.”
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Overall enrollment in foreign language courses is down for the first time since about 1995, and enrollments in major European languages – including Spanish – are way down, according to a new report from the Modern Language Association.”
Via Vox: “Why Teach for America isn’t as popular as it used to be.”
According to the Education Intelligence Agency, non-union teachers are not the majority of public school teachers in the US.
“Attacks against girls attending school or seeking access to education appear to be increasing around the world despite legal protections of gender equality, the United Nations said….” The report chronicles over attacks in over 70 countries from 2009 to 2014.
The latest Horizon Report for Higher Education. On the horizon: BYOD, maker spaces, the flipped classroom, wearable technologies, adaptive learning, and the Internet of Things. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Remember how last fall people were upset that Harvard researchers had surreptitiously recorded classrooms to gauge student attendance? Anyway… the research is now available. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
From Edsurge: "How Being a CEO and Teaching Aren't So Different." Maximum Kaomoji usage in one post reached. No longer able to shrug at the ed-tech bullshit.
This post first appeared on Educating Modern Learners
A “Genius Hour.” “20% Time.” “An Hour of Code.” These ideas suggest that students should be allotted time during the school week to follow their own interests. But it this really a substantive or sustainable change?
Google’s “20% time” — officially known as “Innovation Time Off” — has become an important part of the company’s mythology. The policy, as described by a Googler in 2006, was about “enabling engineers to spend one day a week working on projects that aren’t necessarily in our job descriptions. You can use the time to develop something new, or if you see something that’s broken, you can use the time to fix it.”
Indeed, when Google went public in 2004, co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin argued in their “Founders’ IPO Letter” that 20% time was key to the company’s employees being “more creative and innovative.” Many of Google’s "significant advances,” including AdSense, Google News, Gmail, Google Talk, and Google Reader, were developed in this way.
Recently, this notion of “20% time” has become a popular policy in schools as well. The idea appeals, in part no doubt, because of the hope of spurring that very Google-y sort of creativity and innovation in schools. It’s also an attempt to recognize and make time for student-centered learning. Interestingly, many of the top search engine results for the phrase ”20% time" return examples from schools, rather than from Google itself.
It’s possible, of course, that the search engine results are a reflection of Google ending the policy last year. As the technology site Quartz explains the change,
Here’s how Google has effectively shut down 20% time without actually ending the program, says our source: First, as has been reported previously, Google began to require that engineers get approval from management to take 20% time in order to work on independent projects, a marked departure from the company’s previous policy of making 20% time a right of all Googlers.
Recently, however, Google’s upper management has clamped down even further, by strongly discouraging managers from approving any 20% projects at all. Managers are judged on the productivity of their teams—Google has a highly developed internal analytics team that constantly measures all employees’ productivity—and the level of productivity that teams are expected to deliver assumes that employees are working on their primary responsibilities 100% of the time. (emphasis mine)
This decision speaks volumes: bureaucracy — yes, even at a company like Google that many tend to think as decidedly un-bureaucratic — trumped employee freedom and agency. The possible benefits gained from “20% time” were secondary to demands for productivity and efficiency. Being “on task” was deemed to be more important than being “innovative.”
Even before Google’s decision to scrap the policy, you could hear some of the frustrations from employees that the idea wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. As one former employee noted, "It doesn’t get recognized well for performance reviews. Technically, if you’re doing 20% time, when peer reviews come around, people are supposed to take this into account. In practice, a co-worker who spends 100% of their time cranking away on their main project will look like they’re doing better, get promotions faster, etc.”
There are many lessons to be learned from Google here for schools. Most obviously: if the metrics that matter to those in charge don’t “count” what happens during “20% time,” then “20% time” is easy to scrap. It’s easy to skip. It’s easy to dismiss.
It is, after all, only one-fifth of the week.
But many schools have really seized upon the idea that one-fifth of the week dedicated to student projects makes a difference. Or even less than one day, we’re seeing calls for an hour: “A Genius Hour.” “An Hour of Code.” An hour.
Is that hour really that subversive? What does it mean that schools are applauded when students are sanctioned — for one hour — to follow their passions? What message does that send them about the rest of their day and week at school? Does an hour even count as incremental change?
Are these efforts transformative? And are they sustainable? Will these hours or days remain in place? Or will they face the same fate of Google’s policy, and be quickly set aside when schools’ goals trump students’ interests?
Don’t we need to think about how to re-evaluate 100% of time in order to make school more student-centered, not simply fiddle with a fraction of it?
For over a decade now, the New Media Consortium has issued an annual Horizon Report, detailing the six technologies that it predicts will soon impact colleges and universities. These predictions identify emerging technologies on three “horizons”: four to five years, two to three years, and one year or less.
The first report, released in 2004, was funded by a grant from the Corel Corporation. The second year’s report was funded by a grant from McGraw-Hill. Since 2006, NMC had partnered with Educause to work on the report. The Horizon Report has rolled out additional versions – starting to cover K–12 trends in 2009, and later expanding to tech trends in museums and libraries as well.
Here’s how the process of creating the report is described in this year’s edition:
Every report draws on the considerable expertise of an international expert panel that first considers a broad set of important trends, challenges, and emerging technologies, and then examines each of them in progressively more detail, reducing the set until the final listing of trends, challenges, and technologies is selected. This process takes place online, where it is captured in the NMC Horizon Project wiki. The wiki is intended to be a completely transparent window into the work of the project, one that not only provides a real-time view of the work as it happens, but also contains the entire record of the process for each of the various editions published since 2006. The wiki used for the NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition can be found at horizon.wiki.nmc.org.
Stephen Downes covered the release of this year’s report in the OL Daily, and his commentary echoes what has long been one of my frustrations with the project: that it does not revisit previous year’s predictions, and as such does not really explain how or why the trends suddenly appear and disappear and reappear. Every report release always has me going back to previous years’ editions to see for myself what’s changed.
And that means wading through PDFs, which are of course “where data goes to die.” To that end, I started a Horizon Report Data Liberation Project earlier this year so that it would be easier to pull out information from these old reports and make comparisons. (So far, I only have the major trends available in JSON format. Ideally, the full text could be available too, so that you could make other queries than just “what was on the horizon back in 2004?”)
From the first Horizon Report, back in 2004:
From this year’s:
I’m less interested in the accuracy of the predictions about the future of education technology that the Horizon Report has made over the last decade than I am in what those predictions now might tell us about the history of ed-tech. I'm interested in the history of our imagination about education's future and the role technology - and influential ed-tech storytelling - is assigned in shaping that.
(This was delivered at Ryerson University's ChangSchoolTalks.)
It's a refrain throughout my work: we are suffering from an amnesia of sorts, whereby we seem to have forgotten much of the history of technology. As such, we now tell these stories about the past, present, and future whereby all innovations emerge from Silicon Valley, all innovations are recent innovations, and there is no force for change other than entrepreneurial genius and/or the inevitability of "disruptive innovation."
This amnesia seeps from technology into education and education technology. The rich and fascinating past of education is forgotten and erased in an attempt to tell a story about the future of education that emphasizes products not processes, the private not the public, "skills" not inquiry. The future of education technology therefore is the story of Silicon Valley and a handful of elite private universities because the history of education technology has always been the story of Silicon Valley and a handful of elite private universities. Or so the story goes.
I've been working on a book for a while now called Teaching Machines that explores the history of education technology in the twentieth century. And this year I've started a series on my blog, Hack Education, that also documents some of this lost or forgotten history. (I've looked at the origins of multiple choice tests and multiple choice testing machines, the parallels between the "Draw Me" ads and for-profit correspondence schools of the 1920s and today's MOOCs, and the development of one of my personal favorite pieces of ed-tech, the Speak & Spell.) See, I'm exhausted by the claims by the latest batch of Silicon Valley ed-tech entrepreneurs and their investors that ed-tech is "new" and that education -- I'm quoting from the New York Times here -- "is one of the last industries to be touched by Internet technology." Again, this is a powerful and purposeful re-telling and revising of history designed to shape the direction of the future.
Of course, these revisionist narratives shouldn't really surprise us. We always tell stories of our past in order to situate ourselves in the present and guide ourselves into the future. But that means these stories about education and education technology -- past, present, future -- really matter.
I'm particularly interested in "the history of the future of education," or as what Matt Novak calls his blog, the "paleofuture." How have we imagined the future of teaching and learning in the past? What can we learn by looking at the history of predictions about the future, in our case about the future of education? Whose imagination, what ideologies do these futures reflect? How do these fantasies shape the facts, the future?
This is perhaps one of the most cited examples of the "paleofuture" of education technology.
This 1910 print is by the French artist Villemard and was part of a series "En l'an 2000" ("In the Year 2000") from around the World's Fair and the new century that was packaged in cigar and cigarette boxes. Here we see the teacher stuffing textbooks -- L'Histoire de France -- into a machine, where the knowledge is ostensibly ground up and delivered electronically into the heads of students. Arguably this image is so frequently cited because it confirms some of our beliefs and suspicions (our worst suspicions) about the future of education: that it's destined to become mechanized, automated and that it's designed based on a belief that knowledge -- educational content -- is something to be delivered. Students' heads are something to be filled.
The other prints in this series are pretty revealing as well.
I’m fond of the flying firefighters.
In these images, we see the future imagined as humans conquering the sky and the sea, as more and more labor is done by machine.
It's worth noting that quite often (but not always) the labor we imagine being replaced by machine is the labor that society does not value highly. It's menial labor. It's emotional labor. The barber. The housekeeper. The farm girl. So it's interesting, don't you think, when we see these pictures and predictions that suggest that more and more teaching will be done by machine. Do we value the labor of teaching? And also: do we value the labor of learning?
Thomas Edison famously predicted in 1913 that "Books will soon be obsolete in schools" - but not because books were to be ground up by a knowledge mill. Rather, Edison believed that one of the technological inventions he was involved with and invested in - the motion picture - would displace both textbooks and teachers alike.
"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," Edison asserted in 1922. "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."
100% efficiency. Efficiency. What does that even mean? Because unexamined, this prediction, this goal for education has become an undercurrent of so many predictions about the future of teaching and learning as enhanced by technology. Efficiency.
It gets to the heart of that Villemard print too: this question of how we get the knowledge of the book or the instructor into all students' brains as quickly and cheaply as possible.
The future: cheaper and faster. More mechanized. More technological.
This is the history of education technology throughout the twentieth century. It is the history of the future of education.
Radio. Radio Books. Lectures via television (This image is from 1935). Professor as transmitter. Students as receivers.
"The Push-Button School of Tomorrow"(from 1958):
From Popular Science in 1961, a prediction that by 1965, half of all students will use teaching machines.
The Autotutor or “Automated Schoolmarm” (from the 1964 World’s Fair):
Also from 1964, the Answer Machine:
From a 1981 book School, Work and Play (World of Tomorrow):
“If we look further into the future, there could be no schools and no teachers. Schoolwork may not exist. Instead you will have to do homework, for you will learn everything at home using your home video computer. You’ll learn a wide range of subjects quickly and at a time of day to suit you. … The computer won’t seem like a machine. It will talk to you just like a human teacher, and also show you pictures to help you learn. You’ll talk back, and you’ll be able to draw your own pictures on the computer screen with a light pen. This kind of homework of the future will be more like playing an electronic game than studying with books. …Eventually, studying a particular subject will be like having the finest experts in the world teaching you. Far in the future, if computers develop beyond humans in intelligence, then the experts could in fact be computers, and not human beings at all!”
1981. 2015. A very similar fantasy of the future.
I didn’t have this book growing up, but my brother had something similar: The Kids’ Whole Future Catalog, published in 1982. We spent hours pouring over its pages, imagining what our “whole future” would entail. Flying cars and moon colonies.
Education is, quite arguably, caught in a difficult position when it comes to these sorts of predictions about the future – and it’s a position that makes education seem intransigent. See, education is – almost necessarily as we have the system constructed today – trapped by being both backwards-facing and forwards-facing. That is, education institutions are tasks with introducing students to domains of knowledge – all of which have history, a past – all the while are tasked too with preparing students for the future – a future in which, according to some stories at least, knowledge is still unknown and undiscovered. As such, there is this inevitable panic and an inevitable tension about education, knowledge, conservation, and innovation.
This image from 1982 was part of a series about the future of computers commissioned by Alan Kay when he went to work for Atari. Here we see some of the earliest visions from Silicon Valley of the personal computer in the classroom. The future of education here is technological. It is branded. It is game-based. There are still desks in rows and clusters. And students still rebel.
When we look back at all these predictions from the past about the future of education – the history of the future of ed-tech– the point (my point) isn’t that our education systems are reluctant to change. My point is not that schools have failed to fulfill the sci fi imagination. Indeed, I’d argue that schools have changed a lot over the last hundred years thanks to the law, not to technology: mandates for desegregation for example that would not have come from “code.” My point is that the imagination about the future is so very intertwined in our notions of the past and the present. And if we let Silicon Valley, for example, erase the history of education technology, if we allow Silicon Valley to dictate the present terms for education technology, then we are stuck with its future, its corporate, libertarian vision. The same could be said, of course, of the imaginations of other powerful institutions: Hollywood’s vision of the future, Hanna Barbera’s, Harvard's.
All the visions of the future of education, the future of teaching, the future of work, the future of learning are ideological. They are also political. As we hear the visions of politicians and entrepreneurs, as we listen to the visions of the rest of today’s speakers, we need to remember that. Predictions about the future are not neutral. They are not objective. They are invested. Invested in a past and a present and a future. Invested in a certain view of what learning looks like now, what it has looked like before and what – thanks to whatever happens in the future – what it might look like going forward.
Expanding on President Obama’s plan for two years of free community college education, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is proposing“the federal government … give $18 billion a year in dollar-for-dollar matching grants to states, which he says would allow them to slash public college tuition by 55 percent. He said this would apply to students at all public universities and colleges.”
Wisconsin governor (and likely presidential candidate) Scott Walker does not have a college degree. Cue the think-pieces: "Why Scott Walker's lack of a college diploma doesn't matter." And “Graduating university isn’t evidence of leadership. Neither is not graduating.”
If the governor signs the bill, Arkansas will soon require students in public schools in the state be taught cursive.
From Inside Higher Ed: “Illinois’s new governor, Bruce Rauner, this week proposed a $387 million cut to the state’s higher education budget. About $209 million of that will come from the University of Illinois – that’s nearly one-third of the system’s state subsidy.”
A handful of student activists occupied the headquarters of Newark Public Schools, protesting the leadership of superintendent Cami Anderson and demanding her resignation.
The Jefferson County School Board, where students protested last year after it said it was going to review the AP US History curriculum to make sure it sufficiently promoted patriotism, now says it that plans no such review.
A legislative committee in Arizona is moving forward with an effort to dump the Common Core (and its associated tests) in that state.
From In These Times: “How Mexican Teachers Are Fighting Standardized Tests and Corporate Education Reform.”
Looks like LAUSD cannot afford one iPad (or computer) for every student and staff after all. Instead, the Superintendent Ramon Cortines said“the L.A. Unified School District will try to provide computers to students when needed for instruction and testing.”
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
“The New York Times and CIG Education Group have come together to launch NYT EDUcation, a new education initiative,” says the press release. “NYT EDUcation will provide innovative courses and programs covering a wide array of subjects, including communications and media, which reflect the authoritative content and intellectual breadth of The New York Times.” Oh I sure hope David Brooks or Thomas Friedman offer a class on NYT coverage of MOOCs.
Meanwhile on Campus
The University of Illinois Urbana Champaign issued DMCA takedowns over students’ computer science homework that had been posted to GitHub. The university later backed down, apparently recognizing the importance of open source and open collaboration. More on the story in Inside Higher Ed.
William Scheide has bequeathed his rare books collection to Princeton University. Appraised at $300 million, it’s the largest gift in the university’s history.
Oops. Carnegie Mellon sent 800 students letters telling them they’d been admitted to its prestigious CS program – in error.
Via The New York Times: “A Yale fraternity has been banned from conducting on-campus activities until August 2016 as punishment for violating the university’s sexual misconduct policy at an initiation ceremony last year and then trying to impede the resulting investigation.”
“As gun rights advocates push to legalize firearms on college campuses, an argument is taking shape: Arming female students will help reduce sexual assaults,” says The New York Times.
“Can Dartmouth Rehabilitate Itself?” asks The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Delta Kappa Epsilon is suing Wesleyan University over its order to admit women to the fraternity.
According to the Sacramento Bee, “The California Student Aid Commission has halted funding for Heald College after the for-profit chain failed to provide required documents demonstrating that it is financially stable.”
“The financial aid director at North Idaho College was arrested this month and fired for offering to trade scholarships for sex with a student,” reports Inside Higher Ed.
Go, School Sports Team!
Via CBS Sports: “Several conference commissioners say it’s time to consider making freshmen – or at least some of them – ineligible, again, for the first time since the NCAA rule changed in 1972.”
From the HR Department
Faculty at the University of Illinois Springfield have voted to unionize.
Upgrades and Downgrades
From Bruce Schneier: “For the past few months, Lenovo PCs have shipped with an adware app called Superfish that man-in-the-middlesTLS connections. Here’s how it works, and here’s how to get rid of it. And you should get rid of it, not merely because it’s nasty adware. It’s a security risk. Someone with the password – here it is, cracked– can perform a man-in-the-middle attack on your security as well.”
And speaking of surveillance: “It’ll Be A Lot Harder To Cut Class With This Classroom Facial-Recognition App” says Fast Company in an article that raises zero questions about privacy or ethics but notes the app is “unobtrusive.”
It’s time once again for the annual Google Science Fair.
Google is closing its Helpouts platform (where “experts” could offer advice via Hangouts).
Wired profiles Stop!t, an app that lets students report bullying anonymously.
The Pope is also getting into the education accelerator business with a program called Scholas Labs.
“Codecademy CEO Zach Sims Wants To Fix The Broken Education System,” according to an interview in Benzinga. Apparently the startup is still not looking to make money. (The learn-to-code company last raised funding in 2013, so yeah. I don’t buy it that money isn’t an issue.)
Rafranz Davis writes, “shocked,” about Mission US: Flight to Freedom, a slavery simulation promoted in Common Sense Media’s Black History month email. In an op-ed in Edsurge, the producer of the slavery simulation says “we regret to hear that some people have found the game to be problematic, we stand by it.”
Submit a math activity to the Museum of Math that’ll appear on its jumbotron floor display.
Funding and Acquisitions
Instructure has raised $40 million and says it’s on course for an IPO. The funding came from Insight Venture Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, and EPIC Ventures. The LMS startup has now raised over $79 million. According to the press release, this latest round of funding will help Instructure move into corporate training. Phil Hill writes“What TechCrunch Got Wrong (and Right) About Instructure Entering Corporate Learning Market.”
Because the arc of Ed-tech history is long and bends towards corporate elearning— Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) February 18, 2015
NoRedInk has raised $6 million from True Ventures, the Social+Capital Partnership, Kapor Capital, and Rethink Education. The startup, which offers online grammar exercises, has raised $8 million total.
NVBots has raised $2 million in seed funding. The startup offers wireless 3D printing to schools.
Fedora, a site that according to Techcrunch“hopes to completely change the way that teachers think about their profession by offering them a platform to create online ‘schools.’” has raised $2 million from Atlas Ventures and other angel investors.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has made a $2 million gift to Rocketship Schools.
What are the ethical implications of researchers and scholars using services like Mechanical Turk, asks Nathan Schneider in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
A report finds that“about 80 percent of Michigan charter schools perform below the state average in reading and 84 percent below average in math.”
Less than half of English and modern languages PhDs are on the tenure track.
Reported by the BBC: “scientists have identified the part of the brain that teachers use to detect when their pupils do not understand what they are being taught. Researchers found that a brain region called the anterior cingulate cortex picks up how mistaken students are.”
Student loan delinquencies are on the rise. 11.3% of student loans were delinquent in the last quarter of 2014, reports Bloomberg.
“Education is deep in Apple’s DNA,” the company’s senior vice president of marketing Phil Schiller said on stage at a press event in 2012 as Apple unveiled a number of new education-oriented features for the iPad. It was the first such event following the death of Steve Jobs, and the Walter Isaacson biography of Jobs had hinted that textbooks were “the next business he wanted to transform.” The iPad had already been eagerly adopted by many schools and was being hailed by some as a transformative educational device.
Of course, to invoke “DNA” implies a much older and fundamental relationship to education than the iTextbooks or the iPad, which at the time was only a few years old. Arguably you can trace the connection between Apple and schools back to the company’s earliest days. Doing so reveals much about that DNA...
In 1978, just two years after it was founded, Apple won a contract with the Minnesota Education Computing Consortium to supply 500 computers for schools in the state. MECC had developed a sizable catalog of educational software (including the iconic Oregon Trail) which it made freely available to Minnesota schools. Soon the MECC floppy disks and Apple II’s became popular elsewhere across the country. As Steve Jobs said in a 1995 oral history interview with The Computerworld Smithsonian Awards Program, “One of the things that built Apple II’s was schools buying Apple II’s.”
But the sales weren’t happening fast enough – the spread of personal computing wasn’t happening fast enough.
Legislating Computers into the Classroom
“When I grew up I was lucky because I was in Silicon Valley,” Jobs told the Smithsonian.
When I was ten or eleven I saw my first computer. It was down at NASA Ames (Research Center). I didn’t see the computer, I saw a terminal and it was theoretically a computer on the other end of the wire. I fell in love with it. I saw my first desktop computer at Hewlett-Packard which was called the 9100A. It was the first desktop in the world. It ran BASIC and APL I think. I fell in love with it. And I thought, looking at these statistics in 1979, I thought if there was just one computer in every school, some of the kids would find it. It will change their life.
We saw the rate at which this was happening and the rate at which the school bureaucracies were deciding to buy a computer for the school and it was real slow. We realized that a whole generation of kids was going to go through the school before they even got their first computer so we thought the kids can’t wait. We wanted to donate a computer to every school in America. It turns out that there are about a hundred thousand schools in America, about ten thousand high schools, about ninety thousand K through 8.
We couldn’t afford that as a company. But we studied the law and it turned out that there was a law already on the books, a national law that said that if you donated a piece of scientific instrumentation or computer to a university for educational and research purposes you can take an extra tax deduction. That basically means you don’t make any money, you lose some but you don’t lose too much. You lose about ten percent. We thought that if we could apply that law, enhance it a little bit to extend it down to K through 8 and remove the research requirements so it was just educational, then we could give a hundred thousand computers away, one to each school in America and it would cost our company ten million dollars which was a lot of money to us at that time but it was less than a hundred million dollars if we didn’t have that. We decided that we were willing to do that.
The name of Apple's initiative to get a computer in every school: Kids Can’t Wait.
In 1982, Jobs approached his Representative, Pete Stark, who drafted a bill was drafted to introduce to Congress. HR 5573, the Computer Equipment Contribution Act, would amend “the Internal Revenue Code to allow charitable contribution income tax deduction for corporations which donate computers to qualified educational organizations (including museums and libraries). Requires that such contributions be made through the governing body of the organization and that the equipment be used directly by the students. Requires that contributions be nondiscriminatory as to geographic areas or economic status of the donees.”
Jobs personally lobbied Congress – “I actually walked the halls of Congress for about two weeks,” he said in his oral history interview. The bill passed the House 323 - 62 – “the largest favorable majority of any tax bill in the history of this country,” Jobs boasted. But it was a lame duck session of Congress, and the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Bob Dole, did not move fast enough to push the legislation through the Senate.
The bill was introduced again by Representative Stark the following year, but it didn’t make it out of subcommittee. A competing bill, introduced by Representative Jim Wright from Texas, had the backing of Apple’s major competitor at the time, the Tandy Corporation. That bill would have required dealers give 8 hours of training to teachers at the participating schools. It also would have required the computers’ dual disk drives hold 184 kB each. (At the time the Apple Disk II only stored 140 kB.) Wright’s bill also failed to make it out of committee.
(California) Kids Can’t Wait
Apple had more luck back in its home state.
In September 1982, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a similar version of the Computer Equipment Contribution Act, AB 3194, which allowed a 25% tax credit against the state corporate income tax for computer equipment donated to schools. According to the California State Assembly Office of Research, “proponents of this bill feel that computer literacy for children is becoming a necessity in today’s world. They state that this bill will aid placing needed ‘hardware’ in schools unable to afford computers in any other way.”
So in turn, under its Kids Can’t Wait program, Apple donated a computer to each of the roughly 9000 eligible elementary and secondary schools in California. (Schools with fewer than 100 students did not qualify.)
Apple is offering a free Apple IIe system to every eligible elementary and secondary school in California. The package includes a 64K Apple IIe computer, a display monitor, one floppy disk drive, and a copy of Apple Logo, a computer language designed for students. The current suggested retail value of the package is $2364. The KCW package also contains coupons for free and discounted educational software from more than 25 educational software publishers, including The Learning Company, Hayden Electronic Publishing, and Sterling Swift.
If all 9250 eligible California schools accept Apple’s offer, the total retail value of the donated products will exceed $21 million. Apple projects that the gross cost of the program will be over $5.2 million. But here is where the tax credits make a significant difference.
It is estimated that the California tax credit will be $4 million. (This is less than 25% of $21 million because the net retail price is lower due to dealer discounts.) Thus the net cost of donating $21 million in product is about $1 million, a 95% reduction factor!
That is, for about $1 million, Apple put an apple in every elementary, middle, and high school in California.
Apple also incentivized its dealers in the state to provide an orientation for school personnel. As part of the California legislation, someone from each school had to complete some sort of training before the school could receive its free computer.
A September 1983 issue of InfoWorld detailed some of the training:
Hands-on teacher training for that prized certificate varied from dealer to dealer within California. Teachers received anything from an hour’s orientation talk to a whole day looking at different application software.
Take A Byte, an Apple dealer located near UCLA in Los Angeles, California, gave one hour and 20 minutes of training to approximately 35 teachers. Owner Alan Weisberg says the teachers learned how to use Apple Logo (supplied with each system) and were told about the uses of world-processing and file-management programs.
…The concern over training teachers to use these Apples is scaring some administrators. An administrator in the San Juan Unified School District near Sacramento, the state capital, is “frightened” of what the giveaway program could do to educational computing.
Tom Lester, who is in charge of K–12 math- and computer-teacher training in for San Juan Unified, fears that teachers who have inadequate computer training will just “give out so many recipes” on how to use Logo to students.
Lester says the lack of trained teachers is so acute that “some know one day’s knowledge more than the people who are taking the training. He says the Logo instruction at many ill-prepared schools will be ”superficial."
After this push into California schools and particularly after the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, Apple soon came to dominate the education PC market (for a while at least), helped no doubt by other marketing initiatives like the Apple Distinguished Educator program and research projects like Apple Classroom of Tomorrow.
The full story of Logo will have to wait for another day and another article in this series. But the issue that was alluded to in the 1983 InfoWorld article about educators’ struggles with computers and concerns over the direction of educational computing – particularly with regards to programs like Logo – may be key to understanding the course of ed-tech in the following decades. Steve Jobs’ chasing of the tax breaks for Apple were hardly altruistic, sure. (An Inc. Magazine article at the time described his lobbying for federal legislation a blend of “prophet and profit.”) But many of the early efforts to put computers into the classroom did revolve around progressive pedagogy and the potential to do something “different” thanks to computer technology. (Logo is, of course, the perfect example of that.) That is, these endeavors were led by educators – often an individual teacher at a school or district.
Once computers in the classroom became more common however, and particularly once they also required networking, the responsibility for computers at school shifted from individual teachers, excited to do innovative things with computers, to IT, to "the central office" if you will. The purpose often shifted as well – from creative computing to “productivity” and keyboarding. Cheaper computers, those associated with office (versus educational) software, were the domain of a different group of hardware and software companies – companies, of course, like Microsoft.
Education Law and Politics
The FCC voted 3–2 that broadband Internet will be regulated as a public utility. A win for Net Neutrality and the open Internet (but let's remember, none of this is really "neutral").
The US House of Representatives is working its way through the 40-some-odd amendments tacked on to the No Child Left Behind re-write. (It was initially scheduled to vote on the bill today. The White House has threatened a veto.) The House also voted to expand the college savings plan that President Obama had (at least in his State of the Union address) indicated he wanted to scrap.
From The Onion, “Arne Duncan Spends Visit To Local Elementary School Looking At UFO Books In Library.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not win enough votes to secure a second term in office. He’ll face Jesus “Chuy” Garcia– a candidate backed by the teachers’ union – in a run-off.
The US Department of Education released model Terms of Service guidance “aimed at helping schools and districts protect student privacy while using online educational services and applications.” (It’s, um, interesting that the “best practice” guidelines suggest that TOS should say schools – not students – own the data, including all IP.)
Much like its neighbor state Wyoming, Colorado is now looking at allowing concealed weapons at K–12 schools, repealing a law that makes schools “gun-free zones”.
A lawsuit was filed this week charging LAUSD superintendent Ramon Cortines of sexual harassment.
ISIS has burned the Mosul Library, which housed over 8000 rare ancient books and manuscripts. ISIS also released video footage of them destroying Assyrian and Akkadian artifacts in Mosul, some that date back to the 7th century BC.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
From The Chronicle of Higher Education, “How [Jerry Falwell’s] Liberty Ubecame an unexpected model for the future of higher education.” Um. “A standard syllabus, even in a course with no obvious religious connection, encourages students to pray in online forums.” Prayer and grit. That’s all you need, kids.
Well here’s another business opportunity for MOOC providers: the Corrective Education Company offers online courses for those busted for shoplifting. Via Slate:
Imagine you're browsing at Bloomingdale's when a security guard taps you on the shoulder and accuses you of shoplifting. He takes you to a private room, sits you down, and runs your name through a database to see if you have any outstanding warrants. Then he tells you that you have two options. The first involves him calling the police, who might arrest you and take you to jail. The second allows you to walk out of the store immediately, no questions asked - right after you sign an admission of guilt and agree to pay $320 to take an online course designed to make you never want to steal again.
If learning how to not shoplift isn’t your thing, perhaps this: “Want to hone your school reformer skills? Jeb Bush’s foundation has a MOOC for you.”
Michigan State University is experimenting with using telepresence robots for distance ed students so that they can participate in face-to-face classes.
“A global network of fraudulent online universities is using high-pressure sales tactics and phony scholarships to extract money from students who end up with worthless degrees,” reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. MUST University, which boasts that it’s the “world’s largest university,” lists its address in San Francisco. Because of course, where else would you run a scam like that, eh.
Meanwhile on Campus
Sam Chaltain writes about a new program in Hartsville, South Carolina “where a school bus is more than a bus.”
For the “technology will never replace teachers” set: “Quebec school has no French teacher, using Rosetta Stone instead.”
Erskine College has banned gay sexuality at its school.
Bloomberg reports that the Canadian government has shut down for-profit Corinthian's 14 schools in the country. (Meanwhile, Rolling Jubilee’s Debt Collective is helping students with their loans – and with elimination of and reprieve against repayment.)
Alliant International University, a non-profit institution in California, has changed its tax status to become for-profit benefit corpotation.
Kean University is the latest to send admissions letters in error. 3000 people were mistakenly notified that they’d been accepted to the school.
Colorado schools “face a dilemma,” says NPR, now that pot is legal in the state.
Inside Higher Ed reports that “Eleven Wesleyan University students were hospitalized this weekend with symptoms consistent with use of the club drug known as Molly,” that is a form of Ecstasy.
A student named Dean ordered some fake IDs from China. They were supposed to be delivered to him on campus. Instead they went to the dean at his school, who shares his last name. LOL.
“Ivy League Grads Are Turning Their Backs On The Peace Corps.” (The number of Ivy grad volunteers has fallen by 63% in the last decade, reports Vocativ. This story is sorta odd as the number of volunteers from other schools has stayed about the same and far surpasses those from Ivy League schools. But ya know, the arc of education reporting is long and it bends towards the Ivies.)
Inside Higher Ed’s Ry Rivard examines the promises and side deals that colleges, struggling with debt, are making to their investors.
Go, School Sports Team!
The University of Oregon filed a counter-suit against “Jane Doe,” the woman who was allegedly raped by three of its basketball players last year. She’s filed a lawsuit charging the university of violating Title IX, in part by not investigating the rape charges. WTF, Ducks. Thankfully, by the end of the week, the university had backed away from the countersuit.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “NCAA Blamed for Baylor’s Dismissal of Once-Homeless Athlete”
Western Nevada College is scrapping its athletics program.
From the HR Department
Valerie Dean has been named the next president of Swarthmore.
Upgrades and Downgrades
Snapchat has launched a “Safety Center” which, among other things, reminds teens not to use the app to send nude photos. CYA.
Anonymous messaging app Yik Yak says it’s improved its reporting process for abusive posts.
Barnes & Noble announced that it was splitting off its ~700 college bookstores into a separate but wholly owned company, B&N Education.
Chegg is expanding its partnership with Ingram announced last year. The textbook distributor will no longer distribute textbooks – Ingram will handle that. Chegg will instead focus on digital services. Its stock price is up with this news, trading currently at $8.14 a share.
Google updated Classroom with some new features, including – revolutionary – the capability to add images to teacher pages. Edsurge reports that emoji are also available on the Classroom Android app (Psst. Edsurge: (^‿^) is not an emoji.)
Via The New York Times: “A team of Google researchers has created a machine that can figure out how to play and win video games.”
One Education, an Australia-based spinoff of One Laptop Per Child, has released details about its XO-Infinity laptop project. It says it’s “delivered 50,000 XO computers to disadvantaged children around Australia and in the process became a leading provider of technology for primary school aged children.”
IBM is working with Elemental Path to build toys that use its Watson AI technology. The toys “will be capable of engaging in age-appropriate conversations with children.” What could possibly go wrong.
The Crow Machine: automating Skinner’s work, with crows instead of pigeons. Think of the ed-tech possibilities.
From Phil Hill: “LoudCloud Systems and FASTRAK: A non walled-garden approach to CBE.” (That is, competency-based education – what will be the over-hyped acronym of 2015, I betcha.)
Also from Phil Hill: a first look at Instructure’s new corporate learning management system, Bridge.
From The Chronicle of Higher Education: “As High-Tech Teaching Catches On, Students With Disabilities Can Be Left Behind.”
Funding and Acquisitions
GuideSpark has raised $22.2 million from Meritech Capital Partners, New Enterprise Associates, Storm Ventures, and IDG Ventures. The company, which turns paper-based HR training materials into digital training materials, has raised $42.2 million total.
WriteReader has raised $800,000 in seed funding from Egmont. The company makes literacy apps.
Locomotive Labs has raised $4 million from Softbank Ventures Korea, TAL Education Group. K9 Ventures, Kapor Capital, NewSchools Venture Fund, Joe Gleberman, D3Jubilee, and Jerry Colonna. The company, which makes apps for children with special needs, has raised $4.6 million total.
Ardusat has raised $1 million in seed funding from Space Florida, Fresco Capital, Spire, and other undisclosed investors. The startup makes satellites that students can send into space to conduct experiments.
An online booking service for field trips, edtrips has raised $1.9 million in funding. Investors were not disclosed.
Hobsons has acquired Starfish Retention Solutions. More via Inside Higher Ed.
“Research” and Data
A study by Jonathan Supovitz, Alan Daly and Miguel del Fresno looks at how Twitter has shaped debates about the Common Core. #thankstwitter
Yup, college students still prefer reading print over digital textbooks.
A study by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA looks at out-of-school suspension rates across the US. Among the findings: “Missouri elementary schools have highest rate of suspending black children.”
From the National Student Clearinghouse, data on college graduation, broken down state-by-state.
Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy looks at a report from In the Public Interest on the (low low low) graduation grades of the online K–12 provider California Virtual Academies. (That is, just 36%.)
Learning styles don’t exist, teachers still believe in ’em, and The New York Times is on it.
According to a report by FutureSource Consulting, Chromebooks took took 39% of the K–12 market share in the US.
Via Vox: “American millennials are literally the worst (at math).”
Also via Vox: “The more people say they know about the Common Core, the less they actually do.”
This article first appeared on Educating Modern Learners
"Personalization" is certainly one of the most popular and powerful buzzwords in education technology. A lot of hope and hype has been pinned on it. But it took a bit of a hit when the National Education Policy Center released a report on "personalized instruction." Written by UCLA professor Noel Enyedy, the full title gives you a pretty good sense of what the report argues: "New Interest, Old Rhetoric, Limited Results and the Need for a New Direction for Computer-Mediated Learning."
Enyedy writes that,
despite the advances in both hardware and software, recent studies show little evidence for the effectiveness of this form of Personalized Instruction. This is due in large part to the incredible diversity of systems that are lumped together under the label of Personalized Instruction. Combining such disparate systems into one group has made it nearly impossible to make reasonable claims one way or the other. To further cloud the issue, there are several ways that these systems can be implemented in the classroom. We are just beginning to experiment with and evaluate different implementation models—and the data show that implementation models matter. How a system is integrated into classroom routines and structures strongly mediates the outcomes for students.
The report examines some of the recent research on instructional efficacy and on cost-savings, noting that the muddied definition of "personalized instruction" makes it difficult to really perform a solid meta-analysis. (This is a problem with "personalization" that we've examined here on EML before.) But looking across the research and at individual studies, there seems to be little evidence that "personalized instruction""works" and when it does, writes Enyedy, "it is important to note as well that outcomes primarily reflected procedural (or how to) knowledge, not increased efficacy for declarative (informational) knowledge or strategic thinking. That is, improvements do not effectively yield the type of conceptual understanding, problem solving and complex thinking that the current economy requires."
So if education technology - or at least "personalized instruction" - doesn't really have much of an impact on education outcomes and if it doesn't really save schools money, what are we doing? Why are we spending so much money on it? Why are we, after decades of computers in the classroom, still struggling to see how technology can really transform schools?
Enyedy suggests that we need to "turn to new ways of conceptualizing the role of technology in the classroom—conceptualizations that do not assume the computer will provide direct instruction to students, but instead will serve to create new opportunities for both learning and teaching." That is, we need to move beyond "personalized instruction" and towards a focus on learning. (Learning is always "personalized," because it's always personal of course.)
Enyedy contends that we're stuck, in part, because the model of "personalized instruction" is built upon old metaphors of the personal computer from the 1980s. That is, we’re still tinkering with "adaptive learning systems" and "intelligent tutoring systems" that are decades old and designed around individualized "content delivery." That's what we're still building and still implementing: "computer-assisted instruction."
But technology today is mobile, and it is social, and it is networked. We need to rethink, reimagine how technology can enhance learning - through collaboration and connectedness, for example. We cannot simply use newer technologies to make old practices of lectures and worksheets digital. That's not enough to transform school. And as the NEPC report highlights, that doesn't work. And it doesn’t work, in part, because we know that those practices aren't the best analog pedagogy either.
Enyedy suggests that "All stakeholders should refrain from assuming that Personalized Instruction is the only model for computers in the classroom and be open to investigating new models integrating technology into the learning process."" That seems like a great place to start. But from there, I think that those who work in education technology need to be much louder and much clearer about what moving beyond personalized instruction can and should look like. What are our alternate visions for education technology?
There seems to be such a failure of imagination around ed-tech, and that's a shame - and not simply because schools are spending millions of dollars on devices and infrastructure. EML co-founder Bruce Dixon recently argued that education is caught up in a sort of "truthiness," believing that things work because they just sound like they should. That education technology can offer some sort of "personalized instruction" and that that's going to address problems of efficiency and efficacy - that's "truthiness" for sure. The challenge isn't simply to point out the flaws in the logic (the NEPC report does that well); the challenge is to provide the vision and the leadership to show how education technology can be transformational.
But that involves rethinking much of "school," not just rethinking how computers are used there.
On March 2, 2000, Maine Governor Angus King unveiled a new program “From Lunchboxes to Laptops,” officially known as the Maine Learning Technology Initiative.
As the Bangor Daily Newsreported the following day,
Starting in 2002 and then every year into the indefinite future, the state would provide each of Maine’s 16,000 seventh-graders with a portable computer, plus free Internet access, that the student would keep and use through high school graduation.
Although the proposal would eventually make Maine the first state in the US to provide laptops to all middle schoolers (and their teachers), many – including lawmakers – responded with skepticism, if not outright derision. From the same Bangor Daily News article:
The state needs to repair its school buildings first, according to Rep. Shirley Richard, D-Madison, another former teacher. “It’s a wonderful idea but it would not be my first priority.”
The governor was prepared for such criticism.
King pointed to the fact that over the past two years the Legislature has put $43 million into a fund to pay for school-building renovations and repairs. Lawmakers have proposed adding $20 million or more this year.
“If we had not made such a solid beginning [this] announcement would be premature,” King said. “But if we wait until the last leaky gutter is fixed, the train will have left the station.”
It was important for King to leave a legacy, but he was particularly interested in that legacy being forward-facing – crucial for a state whose economy is seasonal and that has seen some of its traditional, resource-based industries (timber, commercial fishing) falter. "I want Maine to have the most digitally literate society on earth,"said King.
To pay for the project, King initially proposed taking $50 million of state funds and raising another $15 million from private and federal sources in order to create a $65 million “permanent endowment fund.” That initial $50 million would come from a state budget surplus for the 1999 fiscal year projected to be around $100 million. As Bob Johnstone writes in Never Mind the Laptops, King wanted to do something “big” with that money.
"I found it frustrating that most of what we do around here is incremental, at-the-margins stuff," [King] explained. "You get a little more money, you put a little more money into fixing roofs; you fix a few more roads, you do a hundred miles of roads instead of 88 miles. We decided that this was a kind of once-in-a-lifetime chance to do something transformational instead of incremental."
But the state’s projected economic windfall was short-lived, and while the legislature did eventually back King’s idea, the program was trimmed back rather severely from $65 to $15 million. Rather than a permanent fund, the laptop initiative would be dependent on annual re-appropriation.
Apple won the initial RFP to provide the state’s laptops, because as commissioner of education Susan Gendron told T.H.E. Journal in 2005, Apple could provide a “personal learning device” that would give teachers and students “the necessary tools for innovation and creativity.”
(In 2013, Maine Governor Paul LePage – who had previously threatened to shut the whole laptop program down as he didn’t see its value –announced that the new preferred provider for laptops would be Hewlett Packard, the first time Apple had lost its exclusive contract with the state since the program started. LePage argued that schools needed to switch to Windows PCs was because “it is important that our students are using technology that they will see and use in the workplace.” 90% of schools in the state opted to continue to procure Apple devices – both MacBooks and iPads.)
A Learning Technology Plan
In 2000, when it was still unclear if the Maine legislature would accept King’s proposal, a 17-person task force was commissioned to explore its viability. King nominated half the members; the legislature, the other half. From its final report (PDF), which in the end recommended that the state proceed with giving each seventh-grader a laptop:
We know that computer technology in schools – learning technology– done the right way can provide these tremendous boosts to teaching and learning. Hundreds of individual schools nationally and internationally have piloted “anytime, anywhere” learning technology, putting portable computers in the hands of students. Results are universally positive. Mistakes have been made, and those we can learn from. Others have tinkered, but Maine can be first: first to recognize, as a State, the enormous potential of learning technology; and first to act boldly to prepare our schools and students to meet this challenging change.
There are a couple of phrases there – “anytime, anywhere” “learning technology,” – that suggest that one of the key members of that task force, Blue Hill, Maine resident (and former MIT professor) Seymour Papert, had helped to shape the report. It’s hard to imagine that, with Papert on the task force, the recommendation could have been anything but to go ahead with the program. Papert was by many accounts responsible for giving King the idea for a one-to-one laptop program in the first place.
Unlike Governor LePage’s notion that students should use Windows computers because workers use Windows computers, Papert has always seen the computer as “the intellectual tool of our time” – a machine that prompts learners to think about thinking. “It’s unconscionable if we don’t give this to teachers and students,” Papert told The Ellsworth American in 2000.
In 2002, the program had its official rollout, and some 17,000 iBooks were distributed to seventh-graders and their teachers across Maine’s 239 middle schools. The following year, another 17,000 laptops went to the new cohort of seventh-graders. At each school, a teacher lead and a tech lead were identified to help support the devices’ integration. (Many point to the professional development component to Maine’s program ia one of the main reasons for its success.) In 2009, the program was expanded so that students, once reaching high school, received new devices.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Maine Governor Angus King during a visit to Portland High School in 2002. Image via Bangor Daily News
In 2012, on the tenth anniversary of the program’s implementation, the Hechinger Report noted that “statewide evidence of how laptops affect achievement is scarce.” But test scores are just one way to look at the impact that Governor King’s proposal has had on the state. One of the key goals of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative has always been equity, and providing each public school student from grade 7 onward a laptop (and for a time, free Internet access at home) was certainly a massive step in that direction.
The US House of Representatives was supposed to vote last week on ESEA reauthorization, but the vote collapsed because of conservative opposition to the proposed bill. (“How a Conservative Blogger Helped Derail the House NCLB Rewrite.”)
The Department of Education severed ties with five companies it had contracted to collect student loans after finding they made “materially inaccurate representation” to borrowers. Meanwhile an employee of the department has committed identity theft using students’ loan applications.
A bill in New Hampshire will require students to learn cursive and their multiplication tables. It’s part of the pushback against the Common Core, which omits learning cursive as part of the curriculum.
Legislators in Arizona have decided to completely eliminate state support for its three largest community college districts, including Maricopa and Pima. More details via Inside Higher Ed.
Wyoming governor Matt Mead has signed a bill that will allow the topic of climate change to be taught in the state.
Last month, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker insisted that it was a “drafting error” when his proposal to axe higher education funding also rewrote the University of Wisconsin’s mission statement. This time, it’s Tennessee’s turn to plead “typo,” saying it didn’t mean to use the phrase “de-tenure” to describe its new cost-saving plans.
Kansas Senate Bill 56 would allow teachers who distribute “harmful material” to students be criminally prosecuted.
Some 9000 students from NYC’s charter school chain Success Academies were bussed to Albany to participate in a pro-charter school rally.
A new US government initiative, Let Girls Learn, will work with the Peace Corps to support girls’ education globally.
CUNY adjunct professor (and former CIA director) David Petraeus reached a plea deal for leaking classified information to his mistress/biographer. Unlike other leaders, he won’t serve jail time. He’ll pay a $40,000 file and get 2 years of probation.
Former Atlanta public schools superintendent Beverly Hall passed away this week. Hall was awaiting trial for her role in the district’s cheating scandal.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Stan Lee is teaching a MOOC via edX. “When you complete a verified certificate in this course it will feature original artwork with both Stan Lee's and Michael Uslan's signature.” – so that’ll help the edX bottom line, amirite. I mean, they got my $50.
Alibaba and Peking University are launching a MOOC platform.
Udemy boasts that its top 10 instructors have earned more than $17 million on the “MOOC” platform.
Meanwhile on Campus
Sweet Briar College announced this week that it plans to close its doors at the end of the academic year. The all-women’s private liberal arts college in Virginia has a sizable endowment (~$80 million), but its board voted to close nonetheless, citing declining interest in the school. “Shock” seemed to be the common response to the news – other than “Sweet Briar College? Never heard of it” of course. That hasn’t stopped the “what other colleges can learn”-type stories.
Officials at the University of Oregon“accessed the rape survivor's therapy records from its counseling center and handed them over to its general counsel’s office to help them defend against her lawsuit.” The university claimed FERPA gave them the right to do so.
The University of North Carolina Board of Governors has voted to close research centers: “a poverty center at the Chapel Hill campus, a biodiversity center at East Carolina University and a civic engagement and social change center at North Carolina Central University.” Notice a theme? The board’s chair insists the decision isn’t political. Mmmhmmm.
Lynn University gives free iPads to its students. “Now,” reports The Chronicle of Higher Education, “If those students cut class, their iPads might tattle on them.” An app called Class120 keeps an eye on students’ locations, using GPS.
Students at University of California Santa Cruz blocked campus entrances this week, protesting UC tuition hikes.
You remember that story about the photos of the school lunches from around the world? Corporate photo shoot, not actual school lunches.
University of Wisconsin Madison is under investigation for possible Title IX violations, stemming from a sexual assault on campus in May 2014.
Via The Hechinger Report: “How an oversupply of PhDs could threaten American science.”
NYC Department of Education Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced that the district’s schools would close for two Muslim holidays, Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr.
It’s the start of standardized testing season across the US, and there were a number of problems and breakdowns and delays with online assessments this week across countiesin Florida. Meanwhile, some students in New Mexico walked out in protest of the new Common Core exams.
Go, School Sports Team!
“A Former College Lineman Now on the Streets, Looking for Answers, and Help” – this New York Times profile of UNC’s Ryan Hoffman raises so many questions about football, head inquiries, mental health, precarity, and why we love athletes so much until we don’t.
“Medical professionals in many big-time college football programs are using deliberately vague language about head injuries or avoiding mention of concussions on injury reports as public scrutiny of the problem has increased,” reports The Chronicle of Higher Education.
“Cheerleaders from Albany State and Tuskegee Universities were sent home after they got into a fight at a basketball tournament.” Viral video from HBCU Sports.
From the HR Department
The Department of Education has hired Southern New Hampshire University president Paul LeBlanc for a short-term appointment where he will focus on competency-based education and “developing new accreditation pathways for innovative programs in higher education.”
Also joining the Department of Education: Katrina Stevens.
Edukwest reports that Silicon Valley private school AltSchool – founded by Xoogler Max Ventilla – has hired more Silicon Valley tech types: “Joining the AltSchool team are Bharat Mediratta from Google, who has been appointed CTO. Uber’s former head of global security Michael Ginty has been appointed to head of safety at AltSchool. Former Rocket Fuel VP Sue Yoon and former Zynga Director of Product Rajiv Bhatia are also joining.” Because education is an engineering problem, clearly.
Betteridge’s Law of Headlines headline of the week: “If B.A.'s Can't Lead Graduates to Jobs, Can Badges Do the Trick?”
Upgrades and Downgrades
Oh look. Another new college-based social network: Friendsy. It’s like Tinder plus Facebook, or something.
Once boasting that its main future was that it safely allowed one-way communication from teachers to students, Remind will soon allow two-way conversations via its app.
A new Consumer Reports-like site, Edreports.org, had its official launch this week. The site reviews textbooks and educational materials to see how well they’re aligned to the Common Core. (Spoiler alert: they’re not.)
NYT’s Natasha Singer reports that “Digital Learning Companies Falling Short of Student Privacy Pledge.”
“A Smartwatch App That Lets Your Boss Track You Constantly” – predictions on this coming to a school near you?
The Wired headline reads “An Online Game That'll Help Pay Off Your Student Debt.” Actually you get $.50 if you win a round on the app’s trivia game. $.30 of that goes to pay a service fee. So at that rate, I’d need to play about 100,000 rounds before I had my debt paid off. That does nothing to address larger structural questions about student loan debt, but hey, this is clearly technosolutionism at its best/worst.
Versal, a startup that allows anyone to make online lessons, has left beta and partnered with Wolfram Research. (Wolfram gadgets will be available to Versal users.)
Wikispaces, now owned by TES Global, is getting into the “teachers selling lesson plans” business.
Wired covers a Kickstarter campaign, raising funds so that kids in Rio de Janeiro’s City of God neighborhood can control one of NASA’s Mars Mission.
The conservative ed-reform publication Education Next is celebrating (yes, celebrating) the 50 year anniversary of the Moynihan Report, which helped pathologize Black women as “welfare queens” and Black men as “deadbeat dads.” Michael Petrelli gleefully trolled Black Twitter with the cover of its latest magazine.
Now Petrelli says he’s sorry for sending the tweets. (No apology for the cover itself.) Here’s a sample story from the issue: “Racial Controversies Are As Misleading Today As They Were When The Moynihan Report Was Written.”
Funding and Acquisitions
Happly has raised $1.45 million from unnamed investors, reports GeekWire. The startup offers a “family friendly media and technology” platform.
Harris School Solutions has acquired ClassMate for an undisclosed sum.
“Research” and Data
A new report from the OECD looks at the global gender gap in education. Using PISA data, the report finds differences between girls and boys in reading and math and performance as well as in their sense of whether it’s something they’re good at.
According to market research firm Futuresource Consulting, schools will be buying more interactive flat panel displays in the coming years. Because interactive whiteboards weren’t enough of a waste of money…
“Computational Competence Doesn’t Guarantee Conceptual Understanding in Math,” says Daniel Willingham.
Instructors with Asian-sounding surnames receive lower ratings on RateMyProfessors.com.
“Nationally, 37,327 students took the AP CS A exam in 2014,” reports Mark Guzdial. “This was a big increase (26.29%) from the 29,555 students who took it in 2013.” More details based on the research of Barbara Ericson on Guzdial’s blog.
“A damning report on how the University of Minnesota (UM) protects volunteers in its clinical trials concludes that researchers inadequately reviewed research studies across the university and need more training to better protect the most vulnerable subjects,” reports Science.
From Politico: “A new study from Mathematica Policy Research covering the first two years of implementation finds that corps members hired to teach elementary school were just as effective at boosting student achievement in high-poverty schools as more experienced teachers who didn’t participate in the program. While TFA members teaching pre-K through second grade were more effective at raising student achievement in reading, the study didn’t find any statistical difference between corps members and their peers in upper grades in either math or reading.”
This article first appeared last year – during Computer Science Education Week – on Educating Modern Learners.
It's Computer Science Education Week, and thanks to a major industry-funded initiative, many schools will be participating in an "Hour of Code."
It's nice to see a growing interest in computer science, of course, as many K–12 schools have been resistant to view computers as more than word-processing or test-taking devices. But I want to offer a few challenges to the "Hour of Code" as it is currently formulated, not to dampen an enthusiasm for programming but rather to spark a larger discussion and to push our thinking about whose interests the current "Hour of Code" initiative serves.
The "Hour of Code" is run by Code.org, a non-profit organization founded by two Silicon Valley investors/entrepreneurs. Launched in 2013, the organization is backed by over $10 million in investment from major technology companies and their founders, including Bill Gates and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. That investment, along with a viral video featuring celebrities from the tech, music, and sports worlds, has certainly giving computer science education (or at least “coding” education) a much higher profile.
And that's probably the response you'll hear to any criticisms about the effort: "if it weren't for Code.org, we wouldn't be talking about programming."" Saying that, of course, ignores all those who have been talking about programming, who have been working with their students to gain new understandings through what Seymour Papert called in 1980 "the Proteus of machines." It erases the history of those who've long worked to introduce children to computers, again not as devices for testing or instruction or productivity, but as powerful devices for learning.
(It's worth pointing out perhaps that the Computer Science Education Week website, now run by Code.org has written the origins of Computer Science Education Week and presents all this now as its own invention. For what it's worth, Congress declared first this week as Computer Science Education Week in 2009 (PDF) in order to honor the birthday of Grace Murray Hopper, a pioneer in computer science and, among other things, the inventor of the programming language COBOL.)
So to say "if it weren't for Code.org, we wouldn't be talking about programming" is a bit insulting those who have been talking (and doing). But it's also really troubling because of what it reveals about where we locate power and agency and voice in terms of the future of teaching and learning through technology.
What does it say that we would believe it takes industry funding and industry attention and - this is so important - an industry-crafted narrative to make people pay attention to computer science in schools? What does we say that we label a multimillion-dollar industry funded initiative a "grassroots campaign"? What does it mean that we find the narratives that the technology industry and its wealthy CEOs offer about the future of education to be so compelling? In other words, what does it say about the narratives - and the vision - that schools and school leaders are offering? Are these narratives aligned? What does it say about schools' control over the narratives that might govern their future? Who decides what students should learn - and how?
In addition to its "Hour of Code" event, Code.org has been pushing its own computer science curriculum into districts and schools in an attempt to counter the dearth of computer science classes offered at the K–12 level. And that Code.org curriculum isn't terrible per se. It's certainly infused with the branding of the organization's corporate sponsors. ("Thanks to Disney Interactive, Code.org's signature tutorial for the 2014 Hour of Code features Disney Infinity versions of Disney's "Frozen" heroines Anna and Elsa!"" the organization announced last month. Color me skeptical that the missing piece of getting more women into computer science has been that the Disney princesses weren't involved until now.)
The problem with this approach, I'd argue, is connected to the larger issue of focusing on reforming school via changing "the curriculum." That is, the problem is with this notion that if we can just force more new stuff into the school day and into kids' schedules, particularly via scripted lesson plans, that we're modernizing school. (A Gary Stager classic: "Education's Most Dangerous Idea: Curriculum.")
I've written previously about how efforts like "Hour of Code" and "20% time" are hardly designed to be transformative, despite all the hype about the innovation they purport to unleash. If it's just an hour or just a day, it's not central and it's not valued. You can tick off participation in an "Hour of Code" as though you've done your part to be "future ready"; there's no compulsion for more time or for a bigger change. (And again, let's think beyond "more computer science curriculum" as what that change should necessarily be.)
It's easy to shrug, I suppose, and say that an hour is better than nothing. But an hour is both not enough time and, when framed as a new set of expectations for teachers and for students, an hour is too much. By that, I mean it's overwhelming and confusing and when it's offered in terms of a scripted lesson and not a meaningful project, it reduces computer science to just another subject to study, rather than being a key to understand logic, math, language, and indeed, the whole world around us.
If the latter is what we think computers can do, then understanding computer science and understanding programming is something we should think about in all we do, in all our teaching and in learning. It isn't an extra; it isn't an elective. It is now integral.
I'll invoke Papert again, this time from his 1993 book The Children's Machine reflecting on the failures for computers to transform school:
Little by little the subversive features of the computer were eroded away: Instead of cutting across and so challenging the very idea of subject boundaries, the computer now defined a new subject; instead of changing the emphasis from impersonal curriculum to excited live exploration by students, the computer was now used to reinforce School's ways. What had started as a subversive instrument of change was neutralized by the system and converted into an instrument of consolidation.
And I'd add to that observation about the conservative culture of School a new force that we need to be mindful of: the powerful influence of the technology industry. If computers have long served to reinforce traditional practices of schools, why do technology companies want more of them now? Is it to challenge those traditional practices? Or, might we be seeing now, rather than computers unlocking more agency for students, an effort to make them reinforce the values and practices and culture of industry?
Will an "Hour of Code" change schools, I ask in the title of this post. The simple answer is "no." An hour is not enough to do much of anything. But will an industry-funded narrative about computers and education change schools? I think the answer could be "yes." So use your hour wisely.
This is the transcript of my talk, delivered virtually to Leeds Beckett University today. It is based on a talk I gave last year, “Men Explain Technology to Me: On Gender, Ed-Tech, and the Refusal to Be Silent.”
Late last year, I gave a similarly titled talk – “Men Explain Technology to Me” – at the University of Mary Washington. (I should note here that the slides for that talk were based on a couple of blog posts that I found particularly funny, “Women Listening to Men in Art” and “Art History: Women Ignoring Men.” I wanted to do something similar with my slides today: find historical photos of men explaining computers to women. Mostly I found pictures of men or women working separately, working in isolation. Mostly pictures of men and computers.)
So that University of Mary Washington talk: It was the last talk I delivered in 2014, and I did so with a sigh of relief, but also more than a twinge of frightened nausea – nausea that wasn’t nerves from speaking in public. I’d had more than a year full of public speaking under my belt – exhausting enough as I always try to write new talks for each event, but a year that had become complicated quite frighteningly in part by an ongoing campaign of harassment against women on the Internet, particularly those who worked in video game development.
Known as “Gamergate,” this campaign had reached a crescendo of sorts in the lead-up to my talk at UMW, some of its hate aimed at me because I’d written about the subject, demanding that those in ed-tech pay attention and speak out. So no surprise, all this colored how I shaped that talk about gender and education technology, because, of course, my gender shapes how I experience working in and working with education technology. As I discussed then at the University of Mary Washington, I have been on the receiving end of threats and harassment for stories I’ve written about ed-tech – almost all the women I know who have a significant online profile have in some form or another experienced something similar. According to a Pew Research survey last year, one in 5 Internet users reports being harassed online. But Gamergate felt – feels – particularly unhinged. The death threats to Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, and others were – are – particularly real.
I don’t really want to rehash all of that here today, particularly my experiences being on the receiving end of the harassment; I really don’t. You can read a copy of that talk from last November on my website. I will say this: Gamergate supporters continue to argue that their efforts are really about “ethics in journalism” not about misogyny, but it’s quite apparent that they have sought to terrorize feminists and chase women game developers out of the industry. Insisting that video games and video game culture retain a certain puerile machismo, Gamergate supporters often chastise those who seek to change the content of videos games, change the culture to reflect the actual demographics of video game players. After all, a recent industry survey found women 18 and older represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (36%) than boys age 18 or younger (17%). Just over half of all games are men (52%); that means just under half are women. Yet those who want video games to reflect these demographics are dismissed by Gamergate as “social justice warriors.” Dismissed. Harassed. Shouted down. Chased out.
And yes, more mildly perhaps, the verb that grew out of Rebecca Solnit’s wonderful essay “Men Explain Things to Me” and the inspiration for the title to this talk, mansplained.
Solnit first wrote that essay back in 2008 to describe her experiences as an author – and as such, an expert on certain subjects – whereby men would presume she was in need of their enlightenment and information – in her words “in some sort of obscene impregnation metaphor, an empty vessel to be filled with their wisdom and knowledge.” She related several incidents in which men explained to her topics on which she’d published books. She knew things, but the presumption was that she was uninformed. Since her essay was first published the term "mansplaining" has become quite ubiquitous, used to describe the particular online version of this – of men explaining things to women.
I experience this a lot. And while the threats and harassment in my case are rare but debilitating, the mansplaining is more insidious. It is overpowering in a different way. "Mansplaining" is a micro-aggression, 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 micro-aggressions, they undermine women's feelings of self-worth. Women begin to doubt what they know, doubt what they've experienced. And then, in turn, women decide not to say anything, not to speak.
I speak from experience. On Twitter, I have almost 28,000 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 the business of education technology to me. Men explain blogging and journalism and writing to me. Men explain online harassment to me.
The problem isn’t just that men explain technology to me. It isn’t just that a handful of men explain technology to the rest of us. It’s that this explanation tends to foreclose questions we might have about the shape of things. We can’t ask because if we show the slightest intellectual vulnerability, our questions – we ourselves – lose a sort of validity.
Yet we are living in a moment, I would contend, when we must ask better questions of technology. We neglect to do so at our own peril.
Last year when I gave my talk on gender and education technology, I was particularly frustrated by the mansplaining to be sure, but I was also frustrated that those of us who work in the field had remained silent about Gamergate, and more broadly about all sorts of issues relating to equity and social justice. Of course, I do know firsthand that it can difficult if not dangerous to speak out, to talk critically and write critically about Gamergate, for example. But refusing to look at some of the most egregious acts easily means often ignoring some of the more subtle ways in which marginalized voices are made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome online. Because Gamergate is really just one manifestation of deeper issues – structural issues – with society, culture, technology. It’s wrong to focus on just a few individual bad actors or on a terrible Twitter hashtag and ignore the systemic problems. We must consider who else is being chased out and silenced, not simply from the video game industry but from the technology industry and a technological world writ large.
I know I have to come right out and say it, because very few people in education technology will: there is a problem with computers. 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.
I want us to consider these bodies, their ideologies and how all of this shapes not only how we experience technology but how it gets designed and developed as well.
There's that very famous New Yorker cartoon: "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." The cartoon was first published in 1993, and it demonstrates 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 threaten you. To destroy you. Online and offline.
Neither the Internet nor computer technology writ large are places where we can escape the materiality of our physical worlds – bodies, institutions, systems – as much as that New Yorker cartoon joked that we might. In fact, I want to argue quite the opposite: that computer and Internet technologies actually re-inscribe our material bodies, the power and the ideology of gender and race and sexual identity and national identity. They purport to be ideology-free and identity-less, but they are not. If identity is unmarked it’s because there’s a presumption of maleness, whiteness, and perhaps even a certain California-ness. As my friend Tressie McMillan Cottom calls this in ed-tech, we’re all supposed to be “roaming autodidacts” – happy with school, happy with learning, happy and capable and motivated and well-networked, with functioning computers and WiFi that works.
By and large, all of this reflects who is driving the conversation about, if not the development of these technology. Who is seen as building technologies. Who some think should build them; who some think have always built them.
And that right there is already a process of erasure, a different sort of mansplaining one might say.
Last year, when Walter Isaacson was doing the publicity circuit for his latest book, The Innovators, he’d often relate of how his teenage daughter had written an essay about Ada Lovelace, a figure that Isaacson admitted that he’d never heard of before. Sure, he’d written biographies of Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin and other important male figures in science and technology, but the name and the contributions of this woman were entirely unknown to him. Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron and the woman whose notes on Charles Babbage’s proto-computer the Analytical Engine are now recognized as making her the world’s first computer programmer. Ada Lovelace, the author of the world’s first computer algorithm. Ada Lovelace, the person at the very beginning of the field of computer science.
"Ada Lovelace defined the digital age," Isaacson said in an interview with The New York Times. "Yet she, along with all these other women, was ignored or forgotten." (Actually, women have been celebrating Ada Lovelace Day since 2009.)
Isaacson’s book describes Lovelace like this: “Ada was never the great mathematician that her canonizers claim…” and “Ada believed she possessed special, even supernatural abilities, what she called ‘an intuitive perception of hidden things.’ Her exalted view of her talents led her to pursue aspirations that were unusual for an aristocratic woman and mother in the early Victorian age.” The implication: she was a bit of an interloper.
A few other women populate Isaacson’s The Innovators– Grace Hopper, who invented the first computer compiler and who developed the programming language COBOL. Isaacson describes her as “spunky,” not an adjective that I imagine would be applied to a male engineer. He also talks about the six women who helped program the ENIAC computer, the first electronic general-purpose computer. Their names, because we need to say these things out loud more often: Jean Jennings, Marilyn Wescoff, Ruth Lichterman, Betty Snyder, Frances Bilas, Kay McNulty. (I say that having visited Bletchley Park where civilian women’s involvement has been erased, as they were forbidden, thanks to classified government secrets, from talking about their involvement in the cryptography and computing efforts there).
In the end, it’s hard not to read Isaacson’s book without coming away thinking that, other than a few notable exceptions, the history of computing is the history of men, white men. The book mentions education Seymour Papert in passing, for example, but assigns the development of Logo, a programming language for children, to him alone. No mention of the others involved: Daniel Bobrow, Wally Feurzeig, and Cynthia Solomon.
Even a book that purports to reintroduce the contributions of those forgotten “innovators,” that says it wants to complicate the story of a few male inventors of technology by looking at collaborators and groups, still in the end tells a story that ignores if not undermines women. Men explain the history of computing, if you will. As such it tells a story too that depicts and reflects a culture that doesn’t simply forget but systematically alienates women. Women are a rediscovery project, always having to be reintroduced, found, rescued. There’s been very little reflection upon that fact – in Isaacson’s book or in the tech industry writ large.
This matters not just for the history of technology but for technology today. And it matters for ed-tech as well.
Currently, fewer than 20% of computer science degrees in the US are awarded to women. (I don’t know if it’s different in the UK.) It’s a number that’s actually fallen over the past few decades from a high in 1983 of 37%. Computer science is the only field in science, engineering, and mathematics in which the number of women receiving bachelor’s degrees has fallen in recent years. And when it comes to the employment not just the education of women in the tech sector, the statistics are not much better.
70% of Google 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 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.
Only 2.7% of startups that received venture capital funding between 2011 and 2013 had women CEOs, according to one survey. And of course, Silicon Valley is currently in the middle of a sexual discrimination trial involving the storied VC firm Kleiner, Smith, Perkins, and Caulfield filed by investor Ellen Pao who claimed that men at the firm were paid more and promoted more easily than women. Welcome neither as investors nor entrepreneurs nor engineers, it’s hardly a surprise that, as The Los Angeles Times recently reported, women are leaving the tech industry “in droves.”
This doesn’t just matter because computer science leads to “good jobs” or that tech startups lead to “good money.” It matters because the tech sector has an increasingly powerful reach in how we live and work and communicate and learn. It matters ideologically. If the tech sector drives out women, if it excludes people of color, that matters for jobs, sure. But it matters in terms of the projects undertaken, the problems tackled, the “solutions” designed and developed.
So it’s probably worth asking what the demographics look like for education technology companies. What percentage of those building ed-tech software are men, for example? What percentage are white? What percentage of ed-tech startup engineers are men? Across the field, what percentage of education technologists – instructional designers, campus IT, sysadmins, CTOs, CIOs – 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 those developing not just implementing these tools?
And how do these bodies shape what gets built? How do they shape how the “problem” of education gets “fixed”? How do privileges, ideologies, expectations, values get hard-coded into ed-tech? I’d argue that they do in ways that are both subtle and overt.
That word “privilege,” for example, has an interesting dual meaning. We use it to refer to the advantages that are are afforded to some people and not to others: male privilege, white privilege. But when it comes to tech, we make that advantage explicit. We actually embed that status into the software’s processes. “Privileges” in tech refer to who has the ability to use or control certain features of a piece of software. Administrator privileges. Teacher privileges. (Students rarely have privileges in ed-tech. Food for thought.)
Or take how discussion forums operate. Discussion forums, now quite common in ed-tech tools – in learning management systems (VLEs as you call them), in MOOCs, for example – often trace their history back to the earliest Internet bulletin boards. But even before then, education technologies like PLATO, a programmed instruction system built by the University of Illinois in the 1970s, offered chat and messaging functionality. (How education technology’s contributions to tech are erased from tech history is, alas, a different talk.)
One of the new features that many discussion forums boast: the ability to vote up or vote down certain topics. Ostensibly this means that “the best” ideas surface to the top – the best ideas, the best questions, the best answers. What it means in practice often is something else entirely. In part this is because the voting power on these sites is concentrated in the hands of the few, the most active, the most engaged. And no surprise, “the few” here is overwhelmingly male. Reddit, which calls itself “the front page of the Internet” and is the model for this sort of voting process, is roughly 84% male. I’m not sure that MOOCs, who’ve adopted Reddit’s model of voting on comments, can boast a much better ratio of male to female participation.
What happens when the most important topics – based on up-voting – are decided by a small group? As D. A. Banks has written about this issue,
Sites like Reddit will remain structurally incapable of producing non-hegemonic content because the "crowd" is still subject to structural oppression. You might choose to stay within the safe confines of your familiar subreddit, but the site as a whole will never feel like yours. The site promotes mundanity and repetition over experimentation and diversity by presenting the user with a too-accurate picture of what appeals to the entrenched user base. As long as the "wisdom of the crowds" is treated as colorblind and gender neutral, the white guy is always going to be the loudest.
How much does education technology treat its users similarly? Whose questions surface to the top of discussion forums in the LMS (the VLE), in the MOOC? Who is the loudest? Who is explaining things in MOOC forums?
Ironically – bitterly ironically, I’d say, many pieces of software today increasingly promise "personalization," but in reality, they present us with a very restricted, restrictive set of choices of who we "can be" and how we can interact, both with our own data and content and with other people. Gender, for example, is often a drop down menu where one can choose either "male" or "female." Software might ask for a first and last name, something that is complicated if you have multiple family names (as some Spanish-speaking people do) or your family name is your first name (as names in China are ordered). Your name is presented how the software engineers and designers deemed fit: sometimes first name, sometimes title and last name, typically with a profile picture. Changing your username - after marriage or divorce, for example - is often incredibly challenging, if not impossible.
You get to interact with others, similarly, based on the processes that the engineers have determined and designed. On Twitter, you cannot direct message people, for example, that do not follow you. All interactions must be 140 characters or less.
This restriction of the presentation and performance of one's identity online is what "cyborg anthropologist" 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.
As we – all of us, but particularly teachers and students – move to spend more and more time and effort performing our identities online, being forced to use pre-ordained templates constrains us, rather than - as we have often been told about the Internet - lets us be anyone or say anything online. On the Internet no one knows you’re a dog unless the signup process demanded you give proof of your breed. This seems particularly important to keep in mind when we think about students’ identity development. How are their identities being templated?
While Case's examples point to mostly "social" technologies, education technologies are also "participation architectures." Similarly they produce and restrict a digital representation of the learner's self.
Who is building the template? Who is engineering the template? Who is there to demand the template be cracked open? What will the template look like if we’ve chased women and people of color out of programming?
It’s far too simplistic to say “everyone learn to code” is the best response to the questions I’ve raised here. “Change the ratio.” “Fix the leaky pipeline.” Nonetheless, I'm speaking to a group of educators here. I'm probably supposed to say something about what we can do, right, to make ed-tech more just not just condemn the narratives that lead us down a path that makes ed-tech less son. What we can do to resist all this 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? What can we do to make sure that when we ask our students to discuss things online, that the very infrastructure of the technology that we use privileges certain voices in certain ways?
The answer can't simply be to tell women to not use their real name online, although as someone who started her career blogging under a pseudonym, I do sometimes miss those days. But 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. We recently learned, for example, that Walter Lewin, emeritus professor at MIT, one of the original rockstar professors of YouTube – millions have watched the demonstrations from his physics lectures, has been accused of sexually harassing women in his edX MOOC.
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. It also needs to recognize there’s a history that might help us understand what’s done now and why. 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 in the last few years or decades. 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 - are the tools that Twitter users have built in order to address harassment on the platform. Having grown weary of Twitter's refusal to address the ways in which it is utilized to harass people (remember, it's engineering team is 90% male), 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. Similarly, Block Together lets users subscribe to others’ block lists. GG Autoblocker, a tool that blocks the “ringleaders” of Gamergate.
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. It isn’t simply, as Isaacson would posit it, rediscovering innovators that have been erased, it’s about rethinking how these erasures happen all throughout technology’s history and continue today – not just in storytelling, but in code.
Educators should want ed-tech 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 or Block Together, 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, the Silicon Valley domination of ed-tech - is not silence. And the answer is not to let our concerns be explained away. 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. Now more than ever, I think we need to be louder and clearer about what we want education technology to do – for us and with us, not simply to us.
Arguably one of the most controversial pieces of education technology to enter the classroom has been the calculator.
Certainly some classrooms long ago sanctioned the use of a different sort of calculating instrument, the slide rule. But the calculator seems to evoke all sorts of fears that students’ computational abilities would be ruined, that students would become too reliant upon machines, that they wouldn’t learn how to estimate, that they wouldn’t learn from their errors.
Some of the arguments from proponents of calculators sound much like the arguments for ed-tech today: students must learn how to use these modern devices in order to find their way (a job) in the Information Age.
Calculators, particularly once sanctioned usage for use in standardized testing, also raised questions about ed-tech and equity: does an expensive scientific or graphing calculator – one that offers more than the four basic arithmetic functions – give affluent students a bigger advantage in these exams? (The cost of a graphing calculator today: anywhere from $50 to $175.)
Building Calculating Machines
Calculating machines such as the abacus have existed for thousands of years, largely unimproved upon until the 17th century when mechanical devices were built that could add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Although several people offered different designs, Blaise Pascal is the one often credited as inventing the calculating machine. (He was, at least, the first to receive a patent – the Royal Privilege – in 1649, which granted him exclusive rights to make and sell calculating machines in France.)
Almost two hundred years later, the Arithmometer became one of the first commercially successful calculating machines. Patented in 1820 by Thomas de Colmar, industrial production of the machine began in 1851. The machine was not only reliable but durable and was adopted for use in banks and offices.
Early electronic calculators were, like their computer cousins, rather large – desk-size not even desktop, built with vacuum tubes and later transistors. The Casio Computer Company’s Model 14-A, released in 1957:
In 1958, Texas Instruments engineer Jack Kilby demonstrated the first working integrated circuit, which has since enabled cheaper, smaller, and better performing computing devises. Almost a decade later, in 1967, TI engineers developed the first handheld electronic calculator.
Thanks to a number of technical developments (the integrated circuit, for starters, along with LED and LCD), these portable computing devices quickly got better and cheaper. In the early 1970s, calculators could cost several hundred dollars, but by the end of the decade, the price had come down to make them much more affordable and much more commonplace.
Calculators (Not) Allowed
Calculators had already become important business tools, well before the handheld calculator. And in the 1970s, with a fair amount of debate about their effect on learning, calculators slowly began to enter the classroom.
Indeed, once students had access to calculators at home, it was pretty clear that they would be used for homework no matter what policies schools had in place for classroom usage. (A 1975 Science News article, “Calculators in the Classroom,” claimed that there was already one calculator for every 9 Americans.) While the general public debated whether or not calculators should be allowed at school, educators were forced to grapple with how the devises would change math instruction.
In 1975, the National Advisory Committee on Mathematical Education (NACOME) issued a report on calculators, suggesting that those in eighth grade and above should have access to them for all class work and exams. Five years later, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) recommended that “mathematics programs [should] take full advantage of calculators … at all grade levels.”
In 1986, Connecticut became the first state to require the calculator on a state-mandated test, as the Connecticut School Board argued that calculators would allow students to solve more complex problems. Other states followed, some ponying up to pay for students’ calculators. New York, for example, allowed calculators in its Regents exam in 1991, mandating their use a year later. In California, however, the Board of Education prohibited calculators on its statewide assessments in 1997.
The College Board allowed students to use calculators on the Advanced Placement Calculus Exam beginning in 1983, but a year later reversed its policy, banning the devices claiming that it wasn’t fair for students who didn’t have a calculator. A decade later, the College Board mandated calculators’ use on the test.
In 1994, as part of larger revisions to the exam, the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) also allowed calculators. This is often positioned as the tipping point for calculators being “okay.” That year, 87% of students brought a calculator to the test; by 1997, 95% of students did so.
Which Calculators for Which Students?
According to research published in 2002 by Janice Scheuneman and Wayne Camara (PDF), girls used calculators on the SAT exam much more often than boys. White students used them more often than other racial/ethnic groups. Those who used calculators performed better on the SAT than those who didn’t – but the type of calculator mattered significantly: students who used graphing calculators outperformed those with scientific calculators, and those who had only a four-function calculator performed only slightly better (~20 points) than those who didn’t use a calculator at all.
“Every question in the mathematics portion of the SAT can be solved without a calculator,” the College Board insists. Today it allows battery-operated, handheld calculators – all scientific calculators and all four-function ones (although it doesn’t recommend the latter). It also allows the following graphing calculators:
Cell phones, smartphones, laptops, and tablets are not allowed, despite calculator functionality. Graphing calculator apps like Desmos, despite in Desmos' case being free and awesome, are also not allowed.
Various other standardized tests and professional exams allow different models of calculators. Almost always on the list of approved devices: Texas Instruments calculators. (TI’s lobbying expenses haven’t changed much in the last decade; its name and brand, perhaps already synonymous with school-approved calculators.)
What Do Calculators Do (To Math Class)?
In some ways, it’s difficult to separate debates about the usage of calculators in the classroom from debates about math education writ large. Much of the “Math Wars” of the late 1980s (and onward… still) involved how much technology was appropriate, what technology would mean for the acquisition of basic math skills, and what - thanks to new technologies - math education should or could look like (what math curriculum should or could like at the K-12 level, as well as what it should or could like in college.)
As Sarah Banks notes in her study of the changing attitudes towards calculators,
The NCTM likened new mathematics classrooms with calculators and computer software to science classrooms or laboratories. Students should discover, make conjectures, and determine their correctness in mathematics curriculum as well. The organization also cites another advantage of increased calculator use will be improved student interest, stimulating classroom environments, and higher student self-concept.
Some forty years after the calculator first entered the classroom, these questions still have not been resolved. (See: Education Week‘s look at calculators and the Common Core assessments.) Some of the hope and some of the panic have shifted to other computing devices – cellphones for example; some of the panic has spread to these machines’ facilitation of cheating.
You can read the comments on almost any story today about math education and see these same, long-running debates: fears that students’ computational abilities will be ruined by calculators/computers/cellphones, that students will become too reliant upon machines, that they won’t be able to learn from their errors and teachers won’t be able to help them, that they won’t learn basic skills.
Ed-tech: plus ça change…
The FCC released details this week on its plans for “Net Neutrality” – that is, how it will regulate broadband.
President Obama announced a $100 million TechHire initiative that “aims to convince local governments, businesses, and individuals that a four-year degree is no longer the only way to gain valuable tech skills,” says Wired.
Also from the White House: [The Student Aid Bill of Rights](The Student Aid Bill of Rights: Enhancing Protections for Student Loan Borrowers). More via The Chronicle of Higher Education and The New York Times on changes to student loans.
“Optimism Returns to Student Data Privacy Debate” (probably because I wasn’t there, yo.)
“Zaption Wins 2015 LaunchEDU” (See also: Aron Solomon’s “The Four Biggest Problems I Have with This Kind of Startup Pitch Competition”)
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
“Cut Through the Hype, and MOOCs Still Have Had a Lasting Impact,” insists The Chronicle of Higher Education, which is loathe to find something else to write about, I reckon, as long as we can squeeze out a few more stories on the topic.
Inside Higher Ed on MIT physics professor Walter Lewin’s legacy, following the accusations of him engaging in sexual harassment of women in his MOOCs.
Yale is partnering with 2U to offer a blended Master’s Degree for physician’s assistants.
Chalkbeat Indiana reports that Indiana has switched its testing vendor, dumping CTB-McGraw Hill for Pearson.
California schools will have an extra year to prepare for the new Common Core tests before accountability measures set in, the Board of Education has decreed.
Florida’s problems with its online testing last week were partly caused by “cyber attacks,” which is definitely the new “dog ate my homework” excuse.
Colorado also faced technical problems administering its PARCC assessments.
Meanwhile on Campus
Video of University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members singing a racist chant has prompted the school to sever ties with the organization and expel two of students. That expulsion in turn has some debating whether or not the move was unconstitutional. Related: Bloomberg News founds that “5 [SAE] chapters were closed or suspended over the past three years. Their investigation turned up 10 deaths tied to SAE events since 2006 - more than any other fraternity.” Racism at college is widespread, researcher says. Ya think?
Via The Atlantic: “The Unfortunate Fate of Sweet Briar’s Professors.” “Nearly a third of the college’s hourly workers are descendants of the Fletcher plantation’s original slave community,” so we should probably talk about them too, not just the profs, eh?
AIB College of Business is shutting down and donating its campus to the University of Iowa.
This whole American flag thing at UC Irvine is bizarre.
According to LA School Report, LAUSD’s new student information system is finally operational.
Data breach at the University of Chicago– is there a place that keeps track of all of these?
Community colleges offer welding classes, and The New York Times is on it.
Go, School Sports Team!
“NCAA nearly topped $1 billion in revenue in 2014,” reports USA Today. Because, you know, “amateur status.”
The Syracuse basketball team and its coach Jim Boeheim have been penalized by the NCAA for a variety of infractions. The New York Times reports that “Members of the athletic staff forged classwork. Players were handed cash for appearances as volunteers. Others were allowed to skirt the university’s drug policy without consequence.”
A school district in New York recently canceled a lacrosse game versus a team whose mascot is the Redskins. The superintendent said that the decision was “made in support of Native Americans who view the rival team’s nickname as offensive.”
From the HR Department
“Brian Whitmer No Longer in Operational Role at Instructure,” reports Mindwire Consulting’s Phil Hill. +1 to this line: “I wish Brian the best with his new venture – he is one of the truly good guys in ed tech.”
Upgrades and Downgrades
Apple had a press thingy, announced new shiny, spendy gadgets and personal data collection– excuse me, medical “research,” – software. (The best coverage comes via Anil Dash and Paul Ford.) In other Apple news, the company is rumored to be revamping its iPad in Education program to make the administration of the devices easier for schools.
Instructure announced this week that it’s partnered with Pearson to integrate its SIS PowerSchool into the Canvas LMS. News has EduKwest’s Kirsten Winkler speculating if Instructure aims to acquire PowerSchool, which Pearson has put up for sale. Blackboard was rumored to be interested in the SIS.
Via The Register: “Toymaker Mattel has unveiled a high-tech Barbie that will listen to your child, record its words, send them over the internet for processing, and talk back to your kid. It will email you, as a parent, highlights of your youngster’s conversations with the toy.” What could go wrong?
“Once Unique, LeapFrog Has Rivals in the Educational Toy Market.” Like Mattel’s Surveillance Barbie, I guess, right?
Rutgers University is one of the customers of ProctorTrack, a tool that many schools use for online classes. “ProctorTrack records face, knuckle and personal identification details during online courses. …[T]he system ‘keeps track of all activity in the monitor, browser, webcam and microphone’ throughout each session.”
Literacy app Curriculet has partnered with USA Today to offer students readings based on the latter’s news stories. More details via Edsurge.
The Gates Foundation has a new higher ed agenda, according to Inside Higher Ed, including to “create a national data infrastructure that enables consistent collection and reporting of key performance metrics for all students in all institutions that are essential for promoting the change needed to reform the higher education system to produce more career-relevant credential” – which hopefully isn’t too inBloom-y, eh?
“Privacy Pitfalls as Education Apps Spread Haphazardly,” says NYT’s Natasha Singer, in a story that examines the move to B2C (or at least, B2Teacher) in ed-tech.
Funding and Acquisitions
“Classkick Raises $1.7 Million To Tackle The Student Achievement Gap,” reports Techcrunch. With Classkick’s iPad app, “students can get at home more of the individual attention they’re lacking from their teachers during the school day.” Um. Investment comes from Kapor Capital, Lightbank, Adam Pisoni, and Great Oaks Venture Capital.
Barnes & Noble has made an investment in Flashnotes, reports Geekwire, a startup that lets students sell their classnotes.
ThinkCERCA has raised $3.2 million from Follett Knowledge Fund, Math Venture Partners, Amicus Capital, Great Oaks Venture Capital, and Chuck Templeton. The startup, which offers “critical thinking tools,” has now raised $4.7 million.
Test-prep company Embibe has acquired test-prep company 100Marks. Terms were not disclosed.
“Research” and Data
Congratulations, Blackboard, for coming in at number 281 out of 293 companies ranked based on customer experiences. More unpleasant than Blackboard: Spirit Airlines, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable.
“No significance difference” between the learning outcomes in face-to-face and hybrid courses, according to research by Ithaka S+R.
“Computer programs may help predict students’ grades in school as well as determine successful pathways for completing assignments,” says Education Week, covering a new study out of Stanford.
From George Kroner: “LMS Data – Spring 2015 Updates”
Former University of Oregon president Dave Frohnmayer passed away this week. I can think of no one – well, except Phil Knight – that did more to reshape the UO into the beast it is now.
Last Friday, former Star-Ledger education reporter Bob Braun posted a screenshot on his blog of an email by a New Jersey superintendent detailing a “Priority 1 Alert” issued by Pearson and the state department of education, alleging that a student had tweeted about a test question on the PARCC, causing a security breach. The email expressed several concerns: the potential for more parental outcry about student data and testing, particularly as the DOE had requested the student be disciplined. Also, through the incident, the superintendent had learned that “Pearson is monitoring all social media during PARCC testing.”
And with that sentence, Braun’s story went viral, temporary knocking his website offline (prompting, in certain circles, conspiracy theories that it had been DDOSed by a foreign corporation).
There’s already been a lot of ink spilled about this, with criticisms and justifications coming from a number of different angles. (See: Bill Fitzgerald, Alice Mercer, Cynthia Liu, for example). The AFT has since weighed in, demanding an end to the monitoring; and New Jersey Department of Education responded today, justifying its “vigilance” in “safeguarding test questions.”
But all of this strikes me as much more complicated than simply an act to protect the security of Common Core assessments. There are a number of important and interconnected questions raised by this story:
What Do We Mean By “Spying” on Students?
Bob Braun’s initial post used the word “spying” in its headline. No doubt, that’s a pretty loaded word that some, like Cynthia Liu, have objected to. Alternatives, the thesaurus tells me: “surveilling” or “monitoring.” All these words carry slightly different weights, slightly different meanings. “To spy” means “to watch.” But it also means “to watch secretly” – and that’s where a lot of the concern comes from, I think.
Do students know they’re being watched? Yes, I think they (mostly) do when it comes to their interactions (offline) at school. They know they’re being watched in class, in the halls, in the cafeteria, on the playground. We've socialized them to conform, to "behave" there. But no, I don’t think students (necessarily) do know they're being watched when it comes to their after-school updates on social media. And it’s worth asking as such: what expectation of privacy from school surveillance should students expect while at home? What behaviors are we going to compel from students in their personal lives? Who gets to decide what that looks like?
I have heard a lot of adults sneer that “if you post it on Twitter, you should realize it’s public,” but I’m not sure all of us who use social media – and it’s not simply teens who get the societal finger-wag here – think about our social media updates that way. Nor should we, I’d argue.
“Public” and “private” are not simple binaries. As danah boyd has argued, “there’s a big difference between something being publicly available and being publicized. I worry about how others are going to publicize this publicly available [social media] data and, more importantly, who will get hurt in the cross-fire.” (Her original quote said “Facebook,” but I think the same holds across a number of platforms: Twitter, Facebook, and so on.)
What Do We Mean By “Privacy”?
As boyd and others contend, “private” is not the opposite of “public.” There are things that we do out in public – conversations that we have in the coffee shop or bar or park, for example – that, we still expect to be private. We don’t anticipate that our conversations in these settings are recorded or broadcast or data-mined.
You can argue that that’s changing, that that’s naive for us to think that when those conversations in a “public space” are in an online public space, that we’d expect them not to be tracked or monitored. Perhaps that’s true. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight corporations' compulsion to track us. And that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t move to defend the least powerful among us from having their lives monitored – and yes, that includes our students. (And a side note: I really do hate the whole “I can’t believe you didn’t know this was already happening” line that accompanies a lot of tech surveillance revelations. This sort of dismissive attitude offers nothing but smugness.)
I do think there are differing levels of “publicness” online – differing based on a number of factors: the popularity of the site, the user, the topic, for starters. As someone who has 28K followers on Twitter, I experience this often: a casual comment or RT echoes in ways that I hadn’t really expected. And even more importantly, it’s wrong to assume that we all get to move about – in either physical or virtual spaces – with the same assurances about our personal privacy, integrity, and safety. For a woman to lose elements of personal privacy has different ramifications than it does for a man; for an African American woman to lose personal privacy, moreso. For a teen... etc. "Public" and "private" are descriptions of power and privilege. They are not social absolutes. They are not "given."
Surveillance does not affect all students equally. Privacy is increasingly a premium feature; which students can afford such?
What is privacy? As Helen Nissenbaum has argued,
Attempts to define [privacy] have been notoriously controversial and have been accused of vagueness and internal inconsistency — of being overly inclusive, excessively narrow, or insufficiently distinct from other value concepts. Believing conceptual murkiness to be a key obstacle to resolving problems, many have embarked on the treacherous path of defining privacy. As a prelude to addressing crucial substantive questions, they have sought to establish whether privacy is a whether privacy is a claim, a right, an interest, a value, a preference, or merely a state of existence. They have defended accounts of privacy as a descriptive concept, a normative concept, a legal concept, or all three. They have taken positions on whether privacy applies only to information, to actions and decisions (the so-called constitutional rights to privacy), to special seclusion, or to all three. They have declared privacy relevant to all information, or only to a rarefied subset of personal, sensitive, or intimate information, and they have disagreed over whether it is a right to control and limit access or merely a measure of the degree of access others have to us and to information about us. They have posited links between privacy and anonymity, privacy and secrecy, privacy and confidentiality, and privacy and solitude.
We fail to have much nuance when we talk about student data and privacy, and here Nissenbaum’s work is particularly helpful: context matters. Privacy shouldn’t mean “never share.” Or “never share student data without parent’s consent.” These sorts of assertions are particularly irksome to me because they highlight the ways in which so many of our privacy conversations fail to recognize student agency at all. Students and their data are objects in many of these formulations. Too often conversations about privacy fail to give students a voice, for starters, in what pieces of their personal data are shared (or why they're not). Indeed, students are compelled -- by the syllabus and the TOS -- to share. They have little choice - in opting in or opting out. Policies and parents often fail to recognize that students might have – should have – a voice in determining what’s worth opening up to aggregation and analysis and what’s something not really meant for that. (Many so-called privacy advocates in education reinforce this, asssuming they always speak for students, assuming that they know better than students. Again, students just end up as objects of a different sort of paternalism.)
Discussions of privacy are rarely framed about personal integrity – about how identity is performed in certain venues and how surveillance and punishment in those venues might be detrimental to experimentation, exploration. or personal growth. Yet these factors - these vulnerabilities even - seem to be particularly important to consider in education technology circles. What happens to students’ personal growth if we’re going to watch them and collect all their clicks and updates and images and videos during and after school? Who do you get to be, what identities do you get to try out and peform, if you know you're always watched -- by your teachers, by brands? That is, what do intellectual freedom and personal identity development look like under total data surveillance? How much do we want to monitor students as they figure out how to express themselves, as they figure out who they are – again, on and offline?
How much of students' behavior do we want to give a side-eye, how much do we want to squint at, how much do we wnat to scrutinize algorithmically?
These are such important questions when we’re dealing with K–12 students and college students alike. But mostly, instead talking about identify formation and social media monitoring, it seems we want to wring our hands about “cheating.” We let that drive the conversation...
Why Monitor Social Media?
There’s a longstanding debate over whether or not teachers should “friend” their students on social media. My 2 cents: it depends. It depends what educators’ relationship with students looks like. It depends on what students want out of that relationship. It depends what educators want. I know teachers who have been able to provide counseling and support in teens’ most dire moments, thanks to their being attuned to social media. (This is complicated by the tools we use too: take Twitter: I'd argue its infrastructure is built on “watching” not “friending.” It's different than Facebook's mechanisms - not that those folks are really your "friends.")
The whole "it depends" thing governs a lot of what "monitoring" looks like, doesn't it. If it's done out of caring or done out of concern.
So what is Pearson doing in this particular case? Pearson doesn’t care about individual students’ struggles with queer identity, homework, cyberbullying, college applications and college affordability, homework, after-school jobs, homecoming king drama, the basketball team’s season, band tryouts, drama tryouts, drama, a parent’s death, parents’ divorce, or standardized testing. Wait. No. Pearson “cares” about that last one.
Pearson is involved in social media monitoring, as is almost every major corporation, not because they care about students. It’s because they care about their brand. They care about their intellectual property. Corporations like Pearson monitor social media, in part, so they can provide customer service. Pearson monitors social media so it can glean insights based on social media sentiment about its brand. (You suck, Pearson!) And when it comes to assessment, Pearson monitors social media so it can identity – and based on its interaction with the NJDOE, punish – those who post status updates about its tests.
In this case, so we’re told, the social media monitoring falls under the umbrella of "test security," which isn’t a new concern by any means. Students have long been told to not bring anything into standardized tests but a number 2 pencil and the pre-approved calculator. Eyes on the exam. No talking. Etc. The same test that's given in New Jersey this week is going to be given in Iowa (or somewhere) next week; so no one can talk about it. Like, ever.
For what it's worth, the technology tools used to monitor testing are only increasing. Rutgers, for example, uses a tool called ProctorTrack to verify student identity (i.e. to prevent cheating) that demands they hand over biometric data including facial recognition and knuckle monitoring.
As Jessy Irwin has argued, we are grooming students for a lifetime of surveillance.
Social media monitoring, so we’re told, provides a new and powerful way to monitor and punish those students who talk about the test after the test. (That’s different than punishing those who talk during the test.) Students have always done so, let’s be honest. Some of this talk, schools long have decreed, counted as cheating – particularly if there were cheat-sheets that others could work from. But some of the talk about tests, we shrugged off merely as banter.
“That one reading comprehension passage about electricity was so easy, ya know, because we just talked about that on Thursday.” – if that’s the content of a tweet, is that cheating? What if it’s a conversation in the cafeteria? What if it’s the topic of a student’s phone call? Which do we monitor? Why?
What Does Social Media Monitoring Track?
Again, a common response to the Pearson social media tracking here is that students’ tweets are public, so they’re fair game. But it’s not actually clear what Pearson is tracking. The social media firm Tracx had posted a case study about its work with Pearson, but immediately following Braun’s revelations, that link went dead. (Pearson is still listed as a client.) Tracx boasts, among other things, a “capability which automatically stitches together a user’s social profiles.” Many services (such as Full Contact) let you look up an email address and identify all the social media profiles associated with that. So even if a student’s Twitter account doesn’t have his or her name attached, it’s still discoverable with these monitoring tools as long as it was created with a known address.
Tracx also says it can “visualize social posts at the street level.” Again, if students haven’t turned off geolocation on Google Maps, Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp or the like, they’re pretty easy to find. And these are just a few public clues that a social media monitoring company can use to identify and monitor the Twitter accounts of students who’re currently sitting PARCC exams. That is, it’s not just that there was a tweet about the test; it’s that, thanks to data analytics, Pearson can immediately know who tweeted it.
Social media monitoring is an incredibly sophisticated and incredibly lucrative business. Social media monitoring is not, as I’ve seen some suggest, simply a matter of looking at all the #PARCC hashtags. Social media monitoring involves data collection and data analysis at such a level that schools are told they cannot do this in-house.
This whole process is based on algorithms that surface certain “insights” that the algorithm designers deem important. What metrics does Pearson care about? Even if it’s sucking in all sorts of data about teenagers – across platforms, across locations – what signals matter? What signals does it ignore? (We do not know because Pearson has not shared details of its monitoring algorithms.)
Is This a Free Speech Issue?
Cynthia Liu has argued that “this is not a student data privacy issue, but a student free speech issue.” I disagree. It’s both. These issues are not either/or. Indeed, surveillance chills free speech.
In the light of this week’s revelations, students - particularly savvy ones in New Jersey - will move their conversations elsewhere. They will not stop talking about testing. They will just do so in venues in which they do not think adults are listening. They will whisper rather than tweet. They will Yik Yak or SnapChat; they will text. (Will Pearson try to monitor those too?)
Liu argues that that the crackdown on students' social media updates about the Common Core tests is a violation of the First Amendement. It's worth noting that, according to the initial report out of New Jersey, the student’s tweet that prompted this whole brouhaha was made at 3:18 – that is, after school. Do schools have a right to monitor and discipline students’ behavior and speech in school? – yup. Do schools have a right to monitor and discipline students’ online behavior and speech after school? – not so clear.
And again: what happens when, thanks to Internet technologies, schools and their corporate ed-tech providers, opt to surveil students 24–7?
Who Benefits? Who Loses?
The response to the news from New Jersey – in certain circles at least – was shock. The blame for all this, placed on Pearson. But let’s be honest: many schools already engage in social media monitoring. Schools, not just ed-tech providers, hire social media monitoring companies. And many standardized tests – Smarter Balanced, the SAT, AP exams – have similar procedures and policies in place that also involve paying attention to what’s said about the assessments on social media. As such, focusing on Pearson or PARCC misses the point.
Late last year, news broke that the Huntsville, Alabama school district had paid over $150,000 to a security firm to investigate students’ online activity. As a result of his activity, 14 students were expelled. 12 of those were African American. And while the data involves more than this particular sting, it’s worth noting that in a school district where only 40% of students were Black, almost 80% of expulsions in that year involved African American students.
What does the school-to-prison pipeline look like when we bring it online?
What does the school-to-prison pipeline look like if we base it on Twitter updates? 24% of teens, according to Pew, use Twitter. But not equally: teen girls use Twitter more than teen boys. And 39% of Black teens do versus 23% of white teens.
As such, who’s going to be caught up in the Pearson dragnet? If schools and ed-tech companies are going to use social media to track behavior, whose behavior exactly will they track? Who's most likely to get caught up in these social media monitoring dragnets for "inappropriateness"? Who's too loud in class? Who's too loud online? Who's talking out of line? Social media monitoring algorithms are written by people. (Who writes them? Can we see them? Can we review the data these algorithms gather?) Crucially: none of this is neutral.
"This will go down on your permanent record"... Except none of this is protected by FERPA.
"It's covered by an NDA"... Except I'm not sure students ever signed a non-disclosure agreement, agreeing they'd never speak of the test.
Students should just know to never talk about the test... And the lesson here, for students: you have no rights to speak publicly about your education. It's all covered by some bullshit policy decree - most of it made-up once something goes awry, once someone dares complain. You're just a cog, an object. Fill in the blanks. You don't matter. And we're watching to make sure you know that.
How Should We Rethink Assessment?
In an age of ubiquitous technology and social media, shouldn't we rethink assessment instead of opting to surveil students more severely?
Perhaps if a single tweet – 140 characters – can so easily destroy a test’s security and validity, the whole science of testing thing needs to be reconsidered? Because that’s pretty fragile.
Vulnerability and Trust
Here’s an excerpt from Part 1 of my contribution to the Speaking Openly conversation about education, privacy, and risk (the other videos – from Cory Doctorow, Dan Gillmor, and others – are well worth watching):
Learning requires a certain vulnerability. We have to recognize we don’t know things; we have to be open to not knowing things; we have to listen and experiment and sometimes stumble and fail. We have to be open to learning.
But that vulnerability can play out in lots of different ways, depending on the setting for our learning, for example, and on the role we get to play in deciding what that learning looks like, the way we are treated as learners. Whether we like it or not, we are vulnerable when we’re enrolled in formal educational institutions, for example. That vulnerability is different for a five year old than a fifteen year old than a fifty year old returning to college.
In some ways, school is designed to do something to you– it tells you what you should know, it tells you how you should behave. So we are vulnerable not just intellectually and not just in ways that might open us up to new ideas – a good thing, generally, right? – but in ways that might open us up to less pleasant experiences as well.
Do you trust school? Do you trust your instructors? Your peers? Do you have a choice?
How we answers those questions will vary greatly based on any number of factors.
Trust, vulnerability, choice, control, power – these are all interconnected when it comes to learning. And they’re all connected to issues of privacy as well. What’s key to remember: privacy isn’t really the opposite of publicness. To have privacy isn’t the same as to be hidden – and by extension, privacy is not the opposite of “openness.” We have to recognize that privacy isn’t this universal “thing” society has always respected – or that all members of society have benefited from equally – that is now suddenly under attack by virtue of new technologies. Context matters. Again, power matters. But we do also have to recognize how much new technologies reshape these issues – they reshape practices, contexts, and power – in ways that are both obvious and subtle.
How much privacy do you have to hand over in school? How much have you had to do so historically? It’s one thing for a teacher to recognize that you’re still struggling with your 8 times table, for example. It’s another thing entirely for a piece of software, that the school mandates you use, to track massive quantities of other data about your “progress” – not just how well you score on various math exercises or math quizzes, but all the mouse clicks, all the videos you watch, all the times you rewound a video or fast-forwarded. All this data and metadata represents an unprecedented opportunity to learn more about how students learn, we’re often told. But what does this data collection and data-mining mean in terms of power and privacy and vulnerability? What does it mean in terms of how students have already been surveilled and shaped by school? Do students know this data is being collected? What sort of trust relationship is expected between a student, a school (or an informal learning environment too, I should add), and technology when it comes to learning data?
My report card, even when I was learning my math facts 35 years ago, might have said “she’s getting better at the 8 times table, but she tends to talk a lot in art class.” Or “she can do all the math times tables in some arbitrary time we’ve decided you need to know your math facts – good for her, bravo, but she tends to push to the front of the line in library.” To some extent, students have always been watched and observed as they learn. And we have to think about what that looks like in terms of their autonomy and their agency – are they objects or subjects?
We have to recognize too that this surveillance has never been applied equally – some bodies – “marked bodies,” if you will – have been seen as more “undisciplined.” They’ve always been watched more closely.
Will technology change this? Will technology put even more scrutiny on students? On which students? Which students are in a position to resist that scrutiny? Which students will be granted privacy?
These are questions of power, not simply questions of policy or of technology.
Ideally, of course, open education breaks open some of the control and power, because it recognizes that the learner is the driver here, not the instructor, not the institution. I think we need to do more, however, to make sure that open education when paired with various Internet technologies, isn’t re-inscribing new forms of control and power – it is not just a matter of the control of education institutions, but it’s surveillance and control by the technology sector. Do learners trust technology? Why? Why not? Has that trust been earned? What sorts of privacy should learners demand? How do we reconcile that need for a certain amount of vulnerability in order to learn, with the vulnerability of having so much more of ourselves – our data – exposed as we turn to technologies to do that very learning?
Who Tracks Learners Online? Why?
It's not just Pearson. Pearson is a red herring here...
I still shudder at the thought of having to choose a reading assignment from among the multi-colored tabs in the big box of reading assignments at the back of my elementary school classroom.
Don Parker described his development in 1950 of what became the ubiquitous SRA cards like this (PDF):
Here I was facing thirty-two rural seventh graders, not knowing what to do. It was necessity that started to hatch a plan in the back in my head. The school didn’t have the money to buy new workbooks for every student, but I knew a series of ten workbooks that cost only a dollar each. Each book contained forth lessons. The plan and work method of the lessons were pretty much alike across all levels.
By cutting these books up into separate lessons and putting each lesson in a folder, I could let each student complete a folder and pass it on to the next student at that level. Next day, another student could use the same folder. And if the written work were done on a separate piece of paper, the folders would always be reusable.
Being ignorant of what a teacher should do (after all, I was a psychologist), I didn’t correct the students’ work. Instead, I made keys so that they could correct their own work each day.
And of course, I had to put all that stuff in something, so I found an old tomato box. To avoid embarrassing anyone, I didn’t designate the levels by grade numbers, but instead colored a band around the edge of each folder. The students would say “I’m working in green” (or orange, or purple, or whatever). There were ten color-coded levels.
To give students still more responsibility for their learning, I had each one keep a chart of his or her daily progress. When the chart showed that the student was maintaining high comprehension, vocabulary, and word-analysis scores, it was time to move up to a higher color-level.
In 1955, Parker pitched the “multilevel reading” product to Science Research Associates, a small Chicago-based publishing company (founded by Lyle Spencer in 1938) that produced primarily aptitude and vocational tests. The company, looking to expand into the growing educational materials market, struck a deal with Parker, who helped develop the commercial product and eventually became the company’s “scientist in residence.”
The SRA Reading Laboratory Kit was first published in 1957, with a suggested sale price of $39.95 per box.
IBM acquired SRA in 1964. It sold SRA to Maxwell Communications Company in 1988, and when the latter tried to stage a hostile takeover of CTB/McGraw-Hill the following year, the SRA assets became part of a new company, Macmillan/McGraw-Hill.
McGraw-Hill continues to publish the SRA Reading Laboratory– in print and as software – to this day. Over 127 million children have used the product.
“SRA Reading Laboratory 2.0 is an interactive, personalized reading practice program based on the classic SRA Reading Laboratory print program created by Don H. Parker, PhD. now featuring innovative 21st century digital and social skills.” -- so say the marketing materials for the current version of the SRA software, invoking many of today's most frequently used buzzwords: "21st century,""interactive,""personalized."
Those "classic" SRA cards, so popular in classrooms in the 1960s and 1970s, were clearly not “ed-tech.” Yet we can see in the product some of the motivations behind many teaching machines, both new and old.
The cards were purposefully designed as an alternative to whole class instruction, so that students could focus on activities aimed at their particular (reading) level and move forward at their own pace. “I wanted, somehow, to individualize instruction,” Parker says in his story. Individualized instruction is often branded as “personalization.”
Like many education technology advocates today, Parker’s own history of the SRA cards – at least as packaged by McGraw-Hill (circa 2002?) - rails against traditional classroom practices as “educating for the Industrial Age” and “a world that no longer exists.” Parker connects the “basic human needs that were met by that old tomato box” to the hope and potential for a future of electronic reading cards and even - someday - “teledemocracy.” (Thankfully, that hasn’t become a buzzword.)
While the old SRA cards were not programmed instruction via machine, they were still programmed instruction in terms of process if not philosophy: a fixed set curriculum – fiction and non-fiction reading passages (and later math and science content) for every grade level – designed for students to move through systematically and have their progress and their good behavior rewarded along the way. The product is called "laboratory," but the experiments with reading, quite limited, quite scripted.
I mention behavior here because, of course, “programmed instruction is a phrase” coined by B. F. Skinner, and the SRA cards are in many ways a behaviorist educational tool, relying heavily on positive reinforcement (and with just a few exceptions, fulfilling educational psychology's definition of "teaching machine.") The development and commercialization of Parker’s “multilevel reading” cards occurred just as Skinner’s ideas were becoming popularized and commercialized – just as Skinner himself was also trying to convince publishers and IBM to develop programmed materials and teaching machines. IBM's acquisition of SRA in 1964 fits in quite neatly with these efforts. (IBM had already developed test scoring machines in the 1930s and was an assignee for the patent of one of Skinner's devices in the late 1950s.)
A Fondness for Behaviorism
Much of the nostalgia I’ve found online for the SRA cards notes, quite fondly and probably quite unintentionally, that behaviorism. Folks talk about being sent to “the box” as a reward for completing other class assignments. They speak of the pleasure of moving on and up to the next color. (There are few stories from struggling readers, those stuck reading from the colors that everyone knew were on the bottom of the rainbow scale.)
Me, I don’t share that fondness. I remember thinking mostly that the reading passages were incredibly dull. The behavior I learned: burn through the cards as quickly as possible and once you finish the last color – was it purple? – the teacher shrugs and lets you choose your own reading.
Schools and Surveillance
Former Newark Star-Ledger reporter Bob Braun posted a photo of an email sent by a school superintendent this week, revealing that Pearson was actively monitoring students’ social media during PARCC exams. Cue: panic and mayhem. I wrote about this at length here. In his original story, Braun revealed the full details of this (female) superintendent’s name and contact information (phone number and email address). Later this week, in making very spurious connections between a different NJDOE official, Pearson, and the open source database company MongoDB, Braun doxxed that (female) NJDOE official. I called out via Twitter those who decided to spread this information, but according to some [not going to link because I’m working on my response], doxxing (women?) you disagree with in education politics is totally a-okay. Good work. education sector. Way to raise the bar in your efforts to protect student privacy.
But anyways, perhaps not the best timing for a Pearson blog post titled “Getting Inside Students’ Heads.” Or this industry-backed op-ed in Edsurge: “Why Opting Out of Student Data Collection Isn’t the Solution.”
St. Mary’s High School, a Catholic school in St. Louis, is “upping the game when it comes to school security, becoming one of the first in the nation to install facial recognition cameras.”
Phil Hill offers a round-up of news and analysis about Rutgers University and ProctorTrack, “which costs students $32 in additional fees, accessing their personal webcams, automatically tracks face and knuckle video as well as watching browser activity.” He adds, “Student privacy is a big issue, and students should have some input into the policies shaped by institutions.” (emphasis mine)
Via Go To Hellman: “16 of the top 20 Research Journals Let Ad Networks Spy on Their Readers.”
The University of Rochester is demanding that Yik Yak turn over “the names, email addresses and other information that would help the college identify UR students who might have posted racially offensive and threatening language.”
“Data tactics used by NYPD to weed out crime will be used to fix NYC’s worst performing schools,” says the NY Daily news. What could go wrong.
The latest Pew Research survey looks at Americans’ concerns about government surveillance.
Education and the Law
Jury deliberations have started in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial.
A bill allowing K–12 school employees to carry guns is making its way through the Florida legislature.
A bill lifting the restrictions on carrying guns on university campuses is moving through the Texas legislature.
Elsewhere in Education (Technology) Politics
Fourth graders from Lincoln Akerman School in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire traveled to Concord to watch a bill they’d written be debated. They wanted to see the red-tail hawk be made the state’s raptor. Instead, they were witness to adults being awful, with Rep. Warren Groen comparing the bird to Planned Parenthood and its support for abortion. Good work, democracy.
“Education Dept. Considers Creating Not 1 but 2 College-Ratings Systems,” reports The Chronicle of Higher Education, one to lure prospective students and one to punish schools. Or something like that.
Wired Magazine claims that Arkansas is “leading the learn to code movement” as it recently passed a law requiring high schools to offer computer science courses.
Rwanda plans to revamp its One Laptop Per Child program as the country’s Attorney-General’s office says it has “long been stained by issues of poor management.” More details in The New Times.
Alabama does not currently have charter schools, but pending legislation could change that.
“How compatible are Common Core and technology?” asks The Hechinger Report.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
This press release boasts that “MOOCs revenue to reach $1.5 billion in 2015.” cough bullshit cough.
Interesting research by Justin Reich and John Hansen on socioeconomic status and MOOC enrollees. tl;dr: “Overall, HarvardX registrants tend to reside in more affluent neighborhoods.” I’m kidding:Read the whole thing.
“Yale’s First Online Degree Gets Complaints From Alumni, Cheers From Investors,” reports Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy.
Meanwhile on Campus
Tuesday night, University of Virginia student Martese Johnson was injured as he was arrested by the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control outside an Irish Pub. Law enforcement later claimed Johnson had a fake ID – whether or not that’s true, being arrested shouldn’t mean you’re bloodied. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has demanded an investigation.
Via the AP: “A Penn State University fraternity was suspended for a year Tuesday after police began investigating allegations that members used a private, invitation-only Facebook page to post photos of nude and partly nude women, some apparently asleep or passed out.”
The University of Missouri chapter of Sigma Alpha Mu has been permanently disbanded after the fraternity destroyed 40+ rooms at a ski resort.
At the University of Oklahoma, “Barred Fraternity’s Lawyer Seeks to Alter Punishment.” (That is, the banishment of the SAE fraternity from campus after its members were videotaped singing a racist chant.)
NYU professor Andrew Ross, who has written critically about migrant labor issues in the UAE, was barred from traveling to Abu Dhabi, where the university has a branch. More details in Inside Higher Ed.
The Boston Globe examines the suicide rate at MIT, which continues to be “notably higher” than the national average for college campuses.
The University of New Haven is partnering with the coding school Galvanize to launch a master’s degree program in data science.
UC System president Janet Napolitano was caught on tape saying to student protestors, “We don’t have to listen to this crap.”
Via The Atlantic: a look at high speed Internet access (or not) in US schools.
Go, School Sports Team!
March Madness blah blah blah.
From the HR Department
Oxford University’s Andrew Hamilton will be the next president of NYU.
Phil Hill looks at the “brain drain” at Blackboard, noting that one third of its executive team has left in the last 3 months.
Upgrades and Downgrades
Maine English teacher Nancie Atwell has won the million dollar Global Teacher Prize. She says she’ll donate the money to the school that she founded.
Beauty tips for girls, from Lego. WTF, Lego.
Learnteria – “Yelp for Educators” – claims it’s a “true world’s first” because there are simply no other places on the Internet where teachers can find reviews for K–12 products and services.
Looks like Lightspeed Systems is ending support for its LMS My Big Campus, which was used widely in Indiana. Schools have 2 months (!!!!!!) to migrate off the platform.
More from Clever on its efforts to “open source” its privacy policies. As the startup is using GitHub, it’s easy for others to fork the repo. And via Kickboard’s Jennifer Medbery, a good guide on what startups should consider as they think through their privacy policies and security practices.
According to Quantcast, Edsurge reports, the only education company in the “Internet’s Top 50” is Quizlet.
It took The Chronicle of Higher Education almost 600 words to describe this precious update: LinkedIn has created a button that colleges and universities can add to their websites or email so that alumni can easily add the affiliation to their LinkedIn profile. Some weeks, the innovation coming out of ed-tech just boggles my mind.
Funding and Acquisitions
FiftyThree has raised $30 million from New Enterprise Associates, Andreessen Horowitz, Highligh Ventures, and Thrive Capital and says it’ll use the funding to push into the education market with its Paper app and tablet stylus. The company has raised $45.1 million total.
Rakuten has acquired OverDrive, a platform used by many libraries to facilitate e-book checkouts, for $410 million. (The Japanese company also bought the e-reader Kobo back in 2011 for $315 million.)
Tutoring company Upswing has raised $500,000 from Charlotte Angel Fund, NC IDEA Fund, Tech Wildcatters, and the United Way of Dallas.
The language learning site GoWell has raised $1 million from Fresco Capital and Nest Investments.
Video training company Popexpert has acquired video training company Online Marketing Institute for an undisclosed sum.
Data and “Research”
According to the US Department of Education, the high school graduation rate has hit an all time high, noting too that “the gap between minority and white students is closing.”
(Mostly this is the sort of thing I put on my personal blog and not Hack Education, but this is too important to let slide…)
News broke late last week, thanks to Bob Braun’s Ledger, that Pearson is engaged in social media monitoring of those involved in the PARCC exams. (News flash: lots of schools, lots of corporations, lots of testing orgs are.) I’ve written at length already about the implications of surveillance of students online – for free speech, privacy, identity formation, equity, justice.
So I want to turn here to some of the suppositions and strategies that have spawned this week based on Braun’s work, particularly those purporting to defend students and schools from corporate influence.
In his initial story, Braun included a photo of an email from NJ superintendent Elizabeth Jewett. In the email, she explained her concern about Pearson’s monitoring and about the potential for parental outcry in response. It was an important revelation, I don’t mean to challenge that; but no information was redacted in the image Braun posted, so Jewett’s email, phone number (with direct extension), and office address were included – all her work details. It’s all public information, one could easily argue. I mean, it’s in her email footer!
If you were a journalist, would you redact that part of the story – the email footer? That’s a good question for the editorial desk of a newspaper. But bloggers don’t have to run through that process. No legal. No questions.
Also worth noting (and debating): for no apparent reason, Braun also included a photo of Jewett. Her name, email, phone, address, and her photo.
In a follow-up story, Braun tried to posit a connection between NJDOE commissioner Bari Anhalt-Erlichson (she penned the department’s justification of Pearson’s social media monitoring), Pearson, and MongoDB. The argument Braun makes: there’s an inherent conflict of interest as Anhalt-Erlichson’s husband works for a company whose open source database MongoDB was used by Pearson in two products (OpenClass and the National Transcript Center).
As part of his “gotcha,” Braun posted the home address of Anhalt-Erlichson, noting its property value and implying that the wealth was due to Pearson-profiteering.
When education historian Diane Ravitch picked up this story, I was mortified, in no small part because I found Braun’s story to contain many, many inaccuracies, and his arguments about the connections between officials and corporations were tenuous at best. MongoDB is an open source database, for starters, freely available for companies and developers to use. There is no proof, in Braun’s story, that Pearson had paid for support services or that there’s a financial connection between MongoDB and Pearson. None. Zero. Zippo. Nein. Nul.
Warning bells for me: this was the second story in a row in which Braun had disclosed the personal information of a female edu employee of the state of New Jersey. And in this second story, it wasn’t just work info; it was a home address. Her deets. Her documents. Her dox.
Ravitch has 108,000+ followers on Twitter. She boasts 18 million pageviews on her blog. (Incidentally, I also wrote this week about the sorts of tracking mechanisms that allow her to boast about these metrics without any disclosure about what happens to visitors’ information. But that’s a different story…) Needless to say, when Ravitch reposts and retweets a story, it matters. It resonates. It’s picked up. Rabble rabble rabble. As such, I think she needs to be accountable for – or jeez, at least think through, the implications of the stories she reposts.
After all, doxxing relies on these sorts of large networks. Doxxing relies on amplification. So I called Ravitch out for releasing this NJDOE official’s info. Here are some of my tweets:
.@DianeRavitch your latest blog post involves doxxing a NJDOE employee. (links to her home address.) How do you reconcile doxxing + privacy?— Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) March 18, 2015
.@dianeravitch what do you think the repercussions look like for women when they're doxxed?— Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) March 18, 2015
Here is her response:
@audreywatters I did not "dox" anyone. Contact Bob Braun's Ledger and take it up with him.— Diane Ravitch (@DianeRavitch) March 19, 2015
Not her problem. Shrug.
A different response came from Mercedes Schneider, with a chillingly titled post “Doxxing: A Primer.”
I say “chillingly” here for a number of reasons, least of which being my experiences, as a woman in ed-tech, having had the ire of “the Internet” turned against me. I experienced it when I wrote critically about Codecademy. I experienced it when I wrote critically about Khan Academy. I experienced it when I wrote about harassment at ISTE. I experienced it when I wrote about Gamergate and ed-tech. Etc. Death threats. Rape threats. Harassment. Mansplaining (just a micro-aggression, sure, but my god, it wears on me and as such, undermines my work), that always tries to explain to me how I know nothing about education, technology, or any combination of the two. I’ve written about my experiences here and here. Bonus: men explained doxxing to me this week.
Schneider does not name me in her post that purports to explain doxxing – there’s a lot of passive voice in describing what happened when Ravitch and Braun, to quote Schneider “were accused on Twitter of doxxing.” She does link to my twitter account – but not my individual tweets on this topic. As such I am apparently this nameless (worthless?) entity that’s challenging Ravitch, not someone with a name or a large body of work articulating the importance of privacy. Interestingly, at the very same time, Anhalt-Erlichson, by virtue of a marriage certificate and some really shoddy connections made by Braun, is worthy of being named and called out and of having her home address shared. Me, I am dismissed and erased; another woman, on the other hand, pointed to explicitly. With a call to action: she is a target; she should be punished. Me, ignored.
Since this story by Schneider was published, I have just been waiting for her mob to turn and decide to punish me. I’ve been waiting for others who loathe my work to seize this opportunity. I woke up yesterday to a bunch of Gamergate-related emails from a talk I gave last week, incidentally. I cannot even begin to describe how frightening this is. I say “I am not afraid,” and I will fight for education technology and social justice, but this ongoing bullshit makes it pretty hard. I have no institution to defend me. I have no title. I have no steady paycheck. I have no think tank, even, like Ravitch, one that I spurred. I rely on the work I do as a freelance writer, but mostly on the work I do as a public speaker. But now, increasingly, I turn down public speaking events, because I see strangers in the front row, and I fear they’re going to kill me. Today, I received a package in the mail from an address I didn’t recognize, and I cried as I opened it, wondering if it would explode.
This is what doxxing does to you.
This is what ongoing threats do to you.
This is the world in which I now operate.
I cry every day, if not because of the threats I get, because of the threats every single female friend of mind receives.
This is what you’re tapping into when you suggest that it’s really no big deal to doxx people, folks. So I have to say, Schneider’s description about doxxing is incredibly shallow, flawed, uninformed, callous.
I hate Pearson. If you know me, you know that. But I would never wish this ongoing harassment on any woman connected to Pearson. I wouldn't.
It’s publicly available information already, Schneider suggests, when she shrugs about posting Anhalt-Erlichson’s home address online. And as such, she suggests, it’s not a problem when others are pointed to that very information. That’s the argument that’s often used to sustain harassment campaigns against women: “we found it on the Internet” so it must be okay.
Schneider quotes an On the Media article from March 2014 as both her definition and her justification for doxxing’s appropriateness. It's a story in which the harassment of women is notably absent. (Only men are the targets in that story.) March 2014, for what it’s worth also pre-dates Gamergate, the ongoing campaign of harassment against women in video game development. For what it’s worth, my harassment predates Gamergate too. As does Kathy Sierra’s. As does Adria Richard’s. As does many many folks who have angered the white, male-centered Internet communities of 4chan and Reddit and the like. We live an adjusted life. Not all of us do so with the privilege of institutional protection – in name, in status, in community, like someone like, say, Diane Ravitch.
My god, education people. Are these your allies? 4chan and Reddit? Is this the path education and ed-tech wants to take?
Schneider contends that, as long as dropping the home address of someone “serves the public good,” it is acceptable, if not warranted. Commenters seem to agree. Schneider points to the recent doxxing by baseball star Curt Schilling of those who made sexist comments about his daughter and says that she would be “hard pressed to think of anyone who would reprimand Schilling for doing so.”
But see, I would. I don’t support vigilante justice, particularly without a framework that prompts us to recognize how power and privilege extends into these extra-judicial situations. Schilling isn’t just any dad defending his daughter; he’s a famous dad. Schilling isn’t just any dad; he’s a sports hero. Schilling isn’t just any dad; he’s a millionaire. Schilling isn’t just a dad; he’s a white dad – what would have happened if Trevon Martin or Michael Brown’s dads had fought back? Schilling isn’t just any dad, he’s a gamer dad – a long time video game player and the owner of a failed video game development company, Schilling is embedded in a culture that has, as of late, been involved a deeply and violently misogynist campaign against women, a campaign that has used doxxing as one of its tools in the toolbox. I’m referring here to Gamergate, which one of the commenters on Schneider’s site suggests might be my motivation for speaking out about this.
Schneider’s post makes no mention of Gamergate. Doxxing, as she frames it, is how the powerless fights against the powerful. Indeed, doxxing is, as she puts it, “a teaching tool.”
By “teaching tool” here, I think Schneider means both a way to illustrate a particular political position and a way to “teach someone a lesson.”
In this particular case, it’s “justice” aimed against a NJDOE employee that Bob Braun has identified as an enemy. No need for more or better substantiation; no need for more information; no need for a larger community to weigh in. No jury; and no editor. Braun has alone deemed Anhalt-Erlichson corrupt through the connections he’s made on his blog. So she must be punished. Her personal data released. And we know what happens to women when we release their details this way, particularly if they’re deemed “the enemy.” Particularly if they’re deemed “the enemy” of Internet freedom.
Yet Braun’s connections, tying Anhalt-Erlichson to Pearson, are chock full of holes. He suggests that because Pearson used MongoDB, an open source database, for at least two of its projects – OpenClass and the National Transcript Center – that Anhalt-Erlichson, by virtue of her marriage to a MongoDB exec, is corrupt and that her statement in defense of the social media monitoring of the PARCC exam, is all caught up in love and corruption and database technology. There are so many flaws that argument, least of which being much of it relies on a product that was sold to Hobsons in 2013. OpenClass, the other Pearson product that uses MongoDB, is aimed at higher education, and according to the latest assessment of the LMS market, absolutely nobody is using it. But most importantly, MongoDB is an open source database. It is available for anyone to use for free. Pearson might pay for premium support; that is how companies like MongoDB make money off of their open source software, for sure. But there’s no record of that, particularly for contracts related to Pearson K–12. Morevoer, Pearson has ~40,000 employees, and it has significant technical expertise in-house. (I’m happy to make jokes about what that expertise looks like. Particularly if they choose MongoDB. Zing. Insider lulz.) But really, doxxing someone based on technical reporting from a reporter who doesn’t know the difference between being DDOS’ed and getting a lot of traffic on his shared server? Color me skeptical…
So what if Braun got it wrong? What if Anhalt-Erlichson has no direct financial connection to Pearson? I mean, what if she’s simply an official who has questionable politics with which we disagree? Are we still going to doxx her because of that? Is that now the new politics?
For some, no doubt, it seems to be absolutely how politics and journalism will work in the future. I’ll point here – but I won’t link – to the work of Charles C. Johnson, a conservative journalist who doxxed the woman he claimed was at the center of the terribly flawed Rolling Stone article on an alleged UVA gang rape. Johnson doxxed the wrong woman.
It’s simply public record, Schneider argues. Johnson did too. The information is already available. But so are the tweets of students that Pearson is now monitoring – something that started this whole kerfuffle.
For Schneider, doxxing is not that serious. That is, it’s much like having one’s name and address and phone number in the phone book or, as Braun’s “reporting” uncovered, the property tax details of Anhalt-Erlichson. But what Braun, Schneider, and others fail to understand is how the Internet actually multiplies and concentrates access to that information. There is a big difference in having that information publicly accessible – and interesting to local real estate agents, for example – and having it broadcast across the Internet with the express purpose of having that data be used for punishment.
Because that’s what happens when you’re doxxed. Ask the young woman incorrectly identified by Charles C. Johnson. Or ask me. You get hundreds of dollars worth of pizzas delivered to your house. Oh. Ha ha ha ha. Your identity is traced to your parents, and they get hundreds of dollars of pizzas delivered to their house. Oh. Ha… Your email – you know, like the one Braun casually exposed in his original post – is subscribed to every possible newsletter, including the most horrifying pornography. Your inbox – and this is particularly the case if you’re a woman – is filled with emails that include graphic images of you raped, dismembered, dead. Your phone is bombarded with calls. Callers threaten you with rape, dismemberment, death. Your Social Security Number is compromised. Your credit is affected, and at this point, because you’re so afraid of being raped or killed, you laugh at the thought of a ding on your credit score.
When you’re doxxed, there’s a whistle: you’re now the target. Everything you do; everything you did. It’s fair game now.
Braun and Ravitch and Schneider whistled. They called out a woman for the masses on the Internet to target, to have all the data of her life pulled out, examined aggressively and maliciously. All in the service of protecting students from Pearson. Charles C. Johnson’s whistles call a different crowd, sure, but it’s still a whistle.
Now, thanks to Schneider’ justification that “doxxing is okay,” I wonder if we’ll see a new sort of crowdsourced harassment from these quarters. We’ve already seen folks from that circle go after women of color who worked for the teachers’ unions but who were, because of their demands for racial justice, deemed unruly.
If doxxing is the tactic – and “a primer” sure might indicate that it’s a-okay – then we have much more to do than prepare students how to think through the implications of portfolios or surveillance and discipline. It’s not just “don’t tweet about PARCC,” it’s – gah! – “don’t tweet.”
Seriously, we have to think about what it means when political groups decide to use those social media mechanisms not just to observe and monitor but to destroy their opposition and to stifle dissent. When I wrote my most recent story about privacy and identity development, I admit, I thought I was trying to carve out a space in which I hoped that students were free to be themselves without government or corporate influence. Now, I get to add to that list of organizations students need to protect themselves: the surveillance of well meaning education bloggers, who are willing to shame and doxx in order to sway systems to meet their own personal political machinations.
Congrats. You’re why education can’t have nice things.