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Articles on this Page
- 05/02/15--18:35: _Anonymous Messaging...
- 05/08/15--11:35: _The Golden Lasso of...
- 05/09/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 05/14/15--11:35: _The Flying Classroo...
- 05/15/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 05/17/15--11:35: _Ed-Tech and the Cal...
- 05/18/15--11:35: _What Are Games and ...
- 05/20/15--11:35: _Webcasting Open Cou...
- 05/22/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 05/28/15--11:35: _Virtual Field Trips...
- 05/29/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 05/30/15--11:35: _What Happened to Ed...
- 06/02/15--11:35: _Schooling and Snow ...
- 06/05/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 06/05/15--13:35: _Hack Education Turns 5
- 06/06/15--11:35: _Teaching by Televis...
- 06/10/15--11:35: _Learning Networks, ...
- 06/12/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 06/13/15--11:35: _'Ed-Tech': Not an E...
- 06/16/15--11:35: _Parents as Modern L...
- 05/02/15--18:35: Anonymous Messaging Apps on Campus
- 05/08/15--11:35: The Golden Lasso of Education Technology
- the average mental age of the white American male was “just above the edge of moronity at a shocking and meager thirteen.” Lewis Terman had previous found that the average age was 16, so “clearly” America was in decline. (Unlike today’s narratives, this was not so much the fault of a “broken education system” as it was the result of immigration and miscegenation.)
- Many European immigrants were found to be morons. “The darker peoples of southern Europe and the Slavs of eastern Europe are less intelligent than the fair peoples of western and northern Europe,” Yerkes found.
- Ranked at the bottom for intelligence were Blacks, actually divided into three groups by the psychologists based on how dark their skin was. Lighter skinned Blacks were found to be more intelligent.
- 05/09/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 05/15/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 05/17/15--11:35: Ed-Tech and the Californian Ideology
- 05/18/15--11:35: What Are Games and Simulations Good For?
- 05/20/15--11:35: Webcasting Open Courses: A Brief (Berkeley) History
- 05/22/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 05/28/15--11:35: Virtual Field Trips and Education (Technology) Inequalities
- 05/29/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- Who owns the “pipes”? Who owns the means by which content is transmitted? Who owns the satellites? Who owns the spectrum? Who owns the cables? Who owns the network?
- What do we mean by “educational content”? In particular, how has our definition of “documentary” changed over the last few decades? How does this shape what media – in form and in content – enters the classroom?
- How have regional educational agencies and distance education providers – particularly those offering for-credit classes – been affected by the commercialization of content and delivery?
- How has education become increasingly commercialized? How might education on the Internet and via various computer technologies be following down that very path taken by education on cable TV?
- 06/02/15--11:35: Schooling and Snow Days
- 06/05/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 06/05/15--13:35: Hack Education Turns 5
- 06/06/15--11:35: Teaching by Television in American Samoa: A History
- 7:30–7:40 Opening exercises
- 7:40–7:50 Study period
- 7:50–8:00 Preparing for mathematics
- 8:00–8:20 Mathematics telecast
- 8:20–8:45 Follow-up mathematics
- 8:45–8:50 Preparing for sound drill and oral English
- 8:50–9:10 Sound drill and oral English telecast
- 9:10–9:15 Preparing for language arts
- 9:15–9:35 Language arts telecast
- 9:35–10:15 Preparing for science (MWF) / Preparing for hygiene and sanitation (TTh)
- 10:15–10:35 Science or hygiene and sanitation telecast
- 10:35–11:00 Follow-up for science or hygiene and sanitation
- 11:00–11:05 Preparing for physical education
- 11:05–11:30 Physical education activities (telecast 11:05–11:20 M)
- 11:30–11:40 Wash hands
- 11:40–11:45 Preparing for oral English
- 11:45–12:00 Oral English telecast
- 12:00–12:30 Lunch
- 12:30–12:40 Preparing for social studies
- 12:40–1:00 Social studies telecast (MWF) / Fa’alogo Ma Aoa, a show-and-tell program (TTh)
- 1:00–1:30 Follow-up for social studies; evaluation and dismissal
- 1:45–3:00 In-service for teachers, telecast 2:00
- 06/10/15--11:35: Learning Networks, Not Teaching Machines
- 06/12/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 06/13/15--11:35: 'Ed-Tech': Not an Etymology
- 06/16/15--11:35: Parents as Modern Learners
This article first appeared on Educating Modern Learners in February 2015
Once again, students' technology usage is prompting panic. This time, the scare involves anonymous messaging apps.
This past week alone, the following headlines crossed my desk: "Do your kids Yik Yak? Time for a chat.""The Folly of Banning Yik Yak on School Campuses.""A New Faculty Challenge: Fending Off Abuse on Yik Yak.""Investigating the Yik Yak Attack.""If Yik Yak is the problem, education is the answer, say local school boards.""Student Government Poses Yik Yak Resolution."
A Yik Yak Attack
Yik Yak is just one of several anonymous messaging apps (available for free on iOS and Android). Founded in 2013 by two college students (Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington. Seriously), Yik Yak is made for and marketed specifically to university students. Yik Yak allows users to anonymously read and write "Yaks" within a ten mile radius. Because of that geographical limitation, Yik Yak purports to be more a more local and "intimate" messaging board.
Much of the concern about Yik Yak involves the ongoing fears of technology as a vehicle for cyberbullying, along with assumptions that anonymity serves to encourage this sort of abusive behavior. Yik Yak has also been used to make bomb threats and shooting threats.
Despite aiming for the 18-and-over crowd, Yik Yak has been quickly adopted by students at middle and high schools, prompting the startup to block access to the app when in the vicinity of a school. As Techcrunch's Sarah Perez reported,
Yik Yak applied geo-fences around middle schools and high schools using their GPS coordinates, which would actually prevent the app from working while students were on school grounds. Of course, students could still use the app at home and elsewhere outside of school, but it puts an immediate damper on all the so-called "fun."
To implement these same sorts of bans nationwide, the team approached third-party data provider Maponics in order to license GPS data for a total of 100,599 public schools across the U.S. as well as 28,111 private schools.
"They have 85 percent of the GPS coordinates for American high schools and middle schools," says Buffington. "The message [to students where the app is blocked] is something along the lines of, 'it looks like you're trying to use Yik Yak on a middle school or high school grounds. Yik Yak is intended for people college-aged and above. The app is disabled in this area.'"
But as Perez notes, students can still use the app when off campus. And they do. Will Haskell penned a story in The New York Magazine last year highlighting some of the consequences: "A Gossip App Brought My High School to a Halt." And even if students can't use Yik Yak, the startup has a number of competitors that do precisely the same thing. One app, After School, was yanked from the Apple App Store a couple of times last year. All these apps do insist that they have anti-bullying procedures in place, but these measures don't really seem to work.
The potential for these apps to be detrimental to a campus community or to an individual student hasn't stopped Silicon Valley investors and entrepreneurs. Last year Yik Yak raised $73.5 million in venture capital funding. One competitor, Secret, raised $35 million; another competitor, Whisper, raised $60 million.
How Should Schools Respond?
Quite arguably, most of the messages posted to Yik Yak and similar anonymous messaging apps are pretty banal: mild complaints about homework or the cafeteria selection or other apps or the weather, vague compliments and observations, emoticons. It's the "other stuff" that makes headlines and that makes some people feel like we have to "do something."
In response to some of the ugliness posted to the app, for example, professors at Colgate University staged an intervention of sorts last year, where they flooded the app with positive messages. And following a recent episode at Eastern Michigan University, where a number of students in a large lecture class posted derogatory remarks about the professor during class, the school's student council passed a resolution calling for the discontinuation of the app on campus.
University of Buffalo professor Alex Reid asks,
Let's say the same group of students met after the class and made the same comments to one another verbally in private. Or that they used SMS to text one another the same messages, but not in a public forum. Or that they wrote them all out on a piece of paper. These are all very hypothetical situations as part of my contention is that they did what they did precisely because of the environment in which they were operating. Compare those examples with them taking that piece of paper with their comments, making a bunch of photo copies and handing them to their classmates as they left the classroom. Or shouting their comments during the class itself.
Where does this Yik Yak activity fall among these more familiar, mostly "pre-digital," forms of communication? We can say that it is wrong to say hurtful, sexist things in private, but saying them in public is a different offense, and directing them toward a specific person who is in the audience is yet another. It is likely that the students failed to imagine that their professor would be in their audience. If they had, we could guess they would have behaved differently, even if they still felt protected by anonymity. Of course that's only speculation.
So should schools monitor what's posted to apps like Yik Yak? Should teachers and administrators post updates there? Should they let students know that they're reading? Should they respond to the posts they find?
The lessons here do involve "digital citizenship" - do we help students understand how to negotiate and navigate these new communications technologies? Moreover, do students understand that anonymous apps aren't anonymous at all? (A security flaw last year allowed hackers to take over others' Yik Yak accounts, see their messages, and post new ones.)
And by focusing on technology and anonymity as the problems here, are we overlooking behaviors and practices that, as Reid highlights, also existed "pre-digital"? How much of what we see on apps like Yik Yak is a reflection of students' lack of voice, lack of power in traditional school settings?
This talk was delivered today at Davidson College at its Annual Teaching Showcase
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. I’m particularly pleased to be at a Center for Teaching and Learning, since I spend a lot of time muttering angrily about the powerful narratives I notice in circulation these days, narratives readily promoted by politicians and business people, by education reformers and education entrepreneurs, that teaching and learning somehow aren’t actually of interest to educators (professors care only about their personal research, so the story goes) and that learning does not really happen in formal educational institutions these days – neither sufficiently nor efficiently.
I’m fascinated and frustrated by these narratives as by and large they tend to utterly ignore the present and the past. In particular there’s an outright erasure if not retelling of the history of education and the history of education technology.
It’s hardly a surprise, I suppose. Ideologically if not geographically centered in California – the land of gold and opportunity, and of course, Hollywood – Silicon Valley, one of the major forces behind these narratives, likes to carefully craft, re-invent, and mythologize its past. I’ve heard education technology entrepreneurs claim, for example, that education has not changed in hundreds of years; that before MOOCs, the last piece of technology introduced into the classroom was the blackboard; that education has been utterly “untouched” by computers; that the first time someone in education used the Internet for teaching was 2001.
I want to talk to you today about the history of education technology, not just to point out that “OMG! He got the date totally wrong!” (2001 is totally wrong. Totally.)
I think that this purposeful mis-remembering and mis-telling of the history of education technology reveal great flaws in the project of ed-tech writ large, not to mention flaws in the stories we tell about the supposed future of teaching and learning.
Education technology promises access and efficiency. It promises mobility and engagement. It promises freedom and agency. It promises a lot of things – good marketing campaigns always do. But in practice, education technology has never been able to live up to all the hype. And that isn’t simply because the promises were too grandiose; it is also because the history of education technology is systematically being forgotten, if not re-written.
Just this week, I saw a story that pointed to Stanford professor Patrick Suppes as the “intellectual father of personalized education.” Suppes began work in the 1960s on computer-assisted instruction – early “drill-and-kill” programs. To call him the father or the first, is to ignore decades of work that came before – that, one might note, did not emerge from Silicon Valley. It certainly overlooks the claims that Rousseau made in Emile in 1762. But Silicon Valley insists upon the “new,” the innovative. It’s convinced, in this example as with MOOCs, that it’s somehow "the first.
I’m working on a book called Teaching Machines, which looks at the history of education technology beginning in the early twentieth history and specifically at what I call “the history of the future of education” – the stories we have told and still tell about what we imagine technology will do for teaching and learning.
My academic background is in the study of literature and folklore, not in the study of engineering or education. As such, I am interested in cultural imagination and in stories. I’m interested in how some stories become so powerful, even when upon closer inspection, they seem completely fanciful if not utterly frightening.
Of late, I’ve been especially interested in the connection between the rise of the field of educational psychology at the turn of the twentieth century and the rise of intelligence testing and teaching machines and now, of course, so-called intelligent machines, AI, that will teach and test. The behaviorist B. F. Skinner – the person perhaps most commonly associated with the phrase “teaching machines.” He is, I would argue, one of the most influential figures on education technology, taking the insights he’d gleaned from working with animals to devise a theory – and machines – to shape and reward student behavior. Other, earlier contributors to the field – Edward Thorndike, Lewis Terman, Robert Yerkes, Sidney Pressey. The former three gave us experimental educational psychology, the multiple choice test, intelligence testing. The latter designed what’s often recognized as the first teaching machine.
These three areas – educational psychology, intelligence testing, and teaching machines – work together in ways that I don’t think we often acknowledge, particularly when we argue ed-tech is an agent of liberation and not an agent of surveillance, a tool that supports curiosity and not one whose earliest designs involved standardization and control.
The title of this talk is “The Golden Lasso of Education Technology,” and I mean this as a nod to the ways in which education technology has bound us – our stories, our budgets, our practices, our imaginations – in the shiniest of restraints.
It is, of course, also a nod to Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman first appeared in All Star Comics #8 in December 1941 and was featured on her first cover in Sensation Comics #1 in January 1942.
She’s been in print now for over 70 years and is considered the third of DC Comics’ “big three,” along with Superman and Batman. That being said, she’s never been one of the bestsellers, ranking according to some recent reports sixth in sales at DC – after Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, the Flash, and Aquaman. (Ouch.)
Wonder Woman has always been synonymous with women’s liberation, well before she was featured on the cover of the first issue of Ms. magazine in 1972. The Amazonian princess Diana came to the United States, like so many superheroes, to save the country during World War II (and she’s been here fighting ever since for truth and justice – which include, no doubt, women’s rights).
The persona Diana adopted when she left her home island, Wonder Woman, has superhuman strength and magico-technological devices, although these are both categorically different than her peers Batman and Superman.
She has her roots in Greek mythology, as her debut declared: “As lovely as Aphrodite – as wise as Athena – with the speed of Mercury and the strength of Hercules – she is known only as Wonder Woman, but who she is, or whence she came, nobody knows!”
Wonder Woman has magical bracelets that can deflect weapon fire – they also rein in her strength interestingly, and they underscore a weakness that runs through the comic’s earliest issues. Stripped of the bracelets in Sensation Comics #19, Wonder Woman becomes wild, violent. “The bracelets bound my strength to good purposes – now I’m completely uncontrolled!” she says. “I’m free to destroy like a man!”
Wonder Woman also carries her golden lasso. Whoever is caught in the rope – and Wonder Woman wields it with great accuracy – is compelled to speak the truth.
This is often the point where, in Wonder Woman lore, people gesture to her creator William Moulton Marston (working under the pen-name Charles Marston), who also invented an early lie detector machine.
The lasso of truth is Wonder Woman’s lie detector machine, some argue – one undeterred by legalities like the so-called “Frye standard” from 1923 that decreed what might count as admissible “scientific evidence.” This standard was based on a court case in which Marston’s testimony as an “expert witness” was called into question.According to the Supreme Court at the time, lie detector tests were inadmissible.
This tension between “what counts” as science is something that underscores education and education technology as well. Is teaching an art? Or is it a science? Is psychology, education psychology a science? Or is it simply philosophy with more experiments and a dash of statistics? Machines – teaching machines, lie detector machines – signify science. But really, what do we know for sure about knowing, about learning as scientific processes? And how, of course, is that, along with the demands on teaching, increasingly shaped by what machines can measure?
Wonder Woman’s creator William Moulton Marston was a fascinating character in his own right – he lived under one roof with two women, including the niece of birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, and he had children by both of them, as Jill Lepore has methodically chronicled in her recent book The Secret History of Wonder Woman. His wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston boasted as many academic credentials as her husband, and she supported the family throughout his experiments with academia, Hollywood, and publishing. Olive Byrne also supported the family, taking care of the children and writing articles in Family Circle (also under a pen-name), some of which involved interviews with Marston and arguments as to why mothers should let their children read comics (the equivalent perhaps of today’s arguments as to why mothers should let their children play video games). Both Holloway Marston and Byrne contributed to Wonder Woman’s stories and her iconography and clearly to Marston’s philosophy about love and power.
Wonder Woman is sometimes read as an utopian tale, where women are not just sexually liberated, but morally superior.
Wonder Woman comes from the island of the Amazons in order to save man (lower-case and capital-M man). But her form of female domination, as envisioned by Marston at least, is intertwined with submission. And in the earliest comics, it’s hard to find an issue – hell, a page – without bondage.
As Lepore writes,
In episode after episode, Wonder Woman is chained, bound, gagged, lassoed, tied, fettered, and manacled. She’s locked in an electric cage. She’s winched into a straitjacket, from head to toe. Her eyes and mouth are taped shut. She’s roped and then coffined in a glass box and dropped into the ocean. She’s locked in a bank vault. She’s tied to railroad tracks. She’s pinned to a wall. Once, so that she can be both entirely bound and movable, her fettered feet are welded to roller skates. “Great girdle of Aphrodite!” she cries. “Am I tired of being tied up!”
As Marston wrote to a member of the DC editorial advisory board, attempting to explain why Wonder Woman was morally acceptable fare,
This, my dear friend, is the one truly great contribution of my Wonder Woman strip to moral education of the young. The only hope for peace is to teach people who are full of pep and unbound force to enjoy being bound – enjoy submission to kind authority, wise authority, not merely tolerate such submission. Wars will only cease when humans enjoy being bound.
I hear echoes of that argument in much of education technology today, a subtext of domination and submission. There is freedom in scripted adaptive learning, for example. I invoke Wonder Woman here as a beloved figure, but one that always makes us uncomfortable. And I want to sketch out further connections for us to sit with – uncomfortably – with ed-tech’s “golden lasso.” I want us to think about the history of machines and the mind. I want us to think about the stories we tell about truth and justice and power. After all, Marston’s lie detector machine shares a history with education psychology and by extension education technology.
Marston’s work remained on the margins of his field, to be clear. Despite a promising career as an undergraduate at Harvard, he was largely rejected by academia (for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with Wonder Woman). He took his theories and his experiments elsewhere: to Hollywood, and eventually to comics.
For many years Marston was an adjunct professor. He could not secure permanent employment at the universities he worked at, including Harvard, Ratcliffe, Tufts, Columbia, and American University. (Ironically, I suppose, Marston was arrested and charged with fraud while chair of the psychology department at the latter.) Despite not remaining in academia, Marston was present at these elite universities as the disciplines of educational psychology and experimental psychology were being developed. He was a student of Hugo Münsterberg, who William James had recruited in 1892 to come to Harvard and run its brand new psychology lab.
Münsterberg frequently experimented on the young women who took classes at the Harvard annex (the annex became Radcliffe in 1894). Although he was still an undergraduate, Marston was hired by Münsterberg to help him teach at Radcliffe, in the words of Jill Lepore, “strapping girls to machines.”
It was at Harvard/Ratcliffe where Marston assisted Münsterberg with his experiments that sought to identify deception, based on the subject’s physical response – that is, they wanted to devise a methodology, a machine that could distinguish the truth from a lie. Marston’s research specifically involved measuring systolic blood pressure.
Marston was also interested in the nascent film industry and was curious “what psychological factors are involved when we watch happenings on the screen?” (He was interested too in marketing these insights to screenwriters and studios.) He conducted experiments with nickelodeons, also involving “strapping girls to machines” – always the self-promoter, he called this machine “the Love Meter” – in order to monitor them while they watched movies. In one experiment, he gauged the reactions of showgirls to the silent film Flesh and the Devil starring Greta Garbo. Marston claimed that this study proved that brunettes were more easily aroused than blondes. Blondes react to more “superficial things.”
I want to pause here (again) and think of the reverberations of this sort of experimentation that are still felt today – the “strapping girls (and boys) to machines” that still happens in education technology in the name of “science.” Take, for example, the galvanic skin response bracelets that the Gates Foundation funded in order to determine “student engagement.” The bracelets purport to measure “emotional arousal,” and as such, researchers wanted to use measurements from the bracelets to help teachers devise better lessons. This is arguably not that different from Marston’s work in Hollywood. It’s particularly not that different if you see education, much like film, in the business of “content delivery.” Make a better lesson, make a better movie.
The strapping of viewers to machines doesn’t have to look like blood pressure cuffs or galvanic skin response bracelets. I’d argue that much of education technology involves a metaphorical “strapping of students to machines.” Students are still very much the objects of education technology, not subjects of their own learning. Today we monitor not only students’ answers – right or wrong – but their mouse clicks, their typing speed, their gaze on the screen, their pauses and rewinds in videos, where they go, what they do, what they say. We do this because, like early psychologists, we still see these behaviors as indicative of “learning.” (And deception too, I suppose.) Yes, despite psychology’s move away from behaviorism over the course of the twentieth century – its “cognitive turn” if you will – education technology, as with computer technology writ large, remains a behaviorist endeavor.
Now Marston wasn’t a radical behaviorist like B. F. Skinner, who famously rejected the notion that people had an “inner mind” at all. Marston was incredibly interested in emotions, publishing Emotions of Normal People in 1928. But Marston did believe that emotions were expressed in behaviors – as such, they could be monitored and altered. (For what it’s worth, Marston’s theories from that book led to the development of DISC assessment, which is often used by HR departments as a personality test of sorts – a self-help intervention, if you will, to see how you interact with others in the office.)
It is in a similar sort of work-based assessment where education technology can find another one of its roots – namely in the recruitment, testing, and training of soldiers. Like many psychologists of his day, Marston saw World War I as an opportunity to further his research. (At the time, he was still in academia, not in comics.)
On April 6, 1917, the day that Congress declared war, a group of psychologists gathered at Harvard, including Herbert Langfeld, Marston’s undergraduate advisor, and Robert Yerkes, then the president of the American Psychological Association. They formed the Psychology Committee of the National Research Council. Its task: “the psychological examining of recruits to eliminate the mentally unfit.”
While Marston’s work involved testing deception via machine – something with obvious wartime applicability – most of the wartime efforts of psychologists concerned assessing recruits’ intelligence – some 1.75 million men were tested – a project that was deeply intertwined with eugenics and the belief that intelligence was determined by biology and that socio-economic differences among people and groups of people are inherited. Yerkes, for example once said that “no one of us as a citizen can afford to ignore the menace of race deterioration.” As evolutionary biology Stephen Jay Gould chronicles in his book The Mismeasure of Man, Yerkes worked with Lewis Terman, a Stanford professor responsible for localizing Alfred Binet’s intelligence test to the US (hence, the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales) to create the battery of tests that military recruits would take. Literate recruits would take a written exam, the Army Alpha. Those who failed would be given a pictorial exam, the Army Beta. And those who failed that test would be tested by an individual. Recruits would be ranked, based on their results – A through E – and job placement recommendations would be made based upon these.
Gould suggests that the Army was quite uninterested in either the psychologists’ input or in their findings. It had its own methodology of promotion, thank you very much. Rather, Gould argues, the major impact of the intelligence testing in World War I was in the trove of data that was gathered by researchers, along with the “general propaganda” – those are Gould’s words – that accompanied Yerkes’ report on what he’d discovered.
The “facts” about intelligence, Gould argues, “continued to influence social policy in America long after their source in the tests had been forgotten.” These “facts” included:
“Science.” These differences were hereditary, Yerkes and others argued – they were not the result of, say, not speaking English or not being literate when given a written exam in English. They certainly were not the result of flaws in the tests the psychologists had designed. Oh no.
And yet, intelligence testing is one of the legacies of World War I. The war was the catalyst for assessment - and for education technology - as we know it today, as the school system in the US opted to replicate elements of this testing process. For much like the military, it wanted to be able to test “at scale,” an incredibly important feature at a time when enrollment in public education in the US was expanding rapidly.
This is when the multiple choice test came into vogue, thanks in part to the work of Columbia University psychology professor Edward Thorndike – a behaviorist and I should add, a eugenicist. The multiple choice test purports to be more "objective." It takes the power of judgment out of the hands of individual (likely female) teachers. Multiple choice enables standardization.
Moreover, multiple choice assessment promised an education system that could be more efficient. And in conjunction with twentieth century techno-futurism, it was nod towards an education system that could become more automated.
How do you test millions of people? By machine, of course.
Here’s what psychologist Sidney Pressey wrote in 1926 when he published an article on the device he’d built to do just that:
For a number of years the writer has had it in mind that a simple machine for automatic testing of intelligence or information was entirely within the realm of possibility. The modern objective test, with its definite systemization of procedure and objectivity of scoring, naturally suggests such a development. Further, even with the modern objective test the burden of scoring (with the present very extensive use of such tests) is nevertheless great enough to make insistent the need for labor-saving devices in such work.
A professor at Ohio State University, Sidney Pressey first displayed the prototype of his “automatic intelligence testing machine” at the 1924 American Psychological Association meeting. (He’d come up with the idea before World War I but had to pause his research.) Two years later, he submitted a patent for the device and spent the next decade or so trying to market it to manufacturers and investors, as well as to schools.
It wasn’t his first commercial effort. In 1922 he and his wife Luella Cole published Introduction to the Use of Standard Tests, a “practical” and “non-technical” guide meant “as an introductory handbook in the use of tests” aimed to meet the needs of “the busy teacher, principal or superintendent.” By the mid–1920s, the two had over a dozen different proprietary standardized tests on the market, selling a couple of hundred thousand copies a year, along with some two million test blanks.
As standardized testing had become more commonplace in the classroom by the 1920s, it was already placing a significant burden upon those teachers and clerks tasked with scoring them. Hoping to capitalize yet again on the test-taking industry, Pressey argued that automation could “free the teacher from much of the present-day drudgery of paper-grading drill, and information-fixing - should free her for real teaching of the inspirational.” Again, we hear echoes of that argument today in why teachers should use automated essay grading software and the like.
This video from 1964 shows Pressey demonstrating his “teaching machine,” marketed as the Automatic Teacher.
Pressey started looking for investors for his machines in late 1925 – “first among publishers and manufacturers of typewriters, adding machines, and mimeograph machines, and later, in the spring of 1926, extending his search to scientific instrument makers” – but no one was interested. In 1929, he finally signed a contract with the W. M. Welch Manufacturing Company, a Chicago-based company that produced scientific instruments. But as UBC professor Stephen Petrina writes, there were still problems: Pressey wanted to sell the devices for $5 a machine. The manufacturer wanted to charge $50, and said that it “preferred to send out circulars advertising the Automatic Teacher, solicit orders, and then proceed with production if a demand materialized.”
The demand for teaching machines never did, not until after World War II when Americans became more enthralled with technological gadgets and labor-saving devices – at home, at work, and at school. This was when and how Skinner’s teaching machines became more successful (somewhat more, at least) commercially.
But Pressey’s influence shouldn’t be overlooked simply because he could not commercialize his teaching machine. We can see in Pressey and other early educational psychologists arguments for mechanization that are echoed today.
In his article “Toward the Coming 'Industrial Revolution' in Education” (published in 1932), Pressey wrote that
Education is the one major activity in this country which is still in a crude handicraft stage. But the economic depression may here work beneficially, in that it may force the consideration of efficiency and the need for laborsaving devices in education. Education is a large-scale industry; it should use quantity production methods. This does not mean, in any unfortunate sense, the mechanization of education. It does mean freeing the teacher from the drudgeries of her work so that she may do more real teaching, giving the pupil more adequate guidance in his learning. There may well be an ‘industrial revolution’ in education. The ultimate results should be highly beneficial. Perhaps only by such means can universal education be made effective.
Pressey intended for his automated teaching and testing machines to individualize education. It’s an argument that’s made about teaching machines today too. All of this is – viva la ed-tech revolution. These devices will allow students to move at their own pace through the curriculum. They will free up teachers’ time to work more closely with individual students.
As Stephen Pretina argues, “the effect of automation was control and standardization.”
The Automatic Teacher was a technology of normalization, but it was at the same time a product of liberality. The Automatic Teacher provided for self-instruction and self-regulated, therapeutic treatment. It was designed to provide the right kind and amount of treatment for individual, scholastic deficiencies; thus, it was individualizing. Pressey articulated this liberal rationale during the 1920s and 1930s, and again in the 1950s and 1960s. Although intended as an act of freedom, the self-instruction provided by an Automatic Teacher also habituated learners to the authoritative norms underwriting self-regulation and self-governance. They not only learned to think in and about school subjects (arithmetic, geography, history), but also how to discipline themselves within this imposed structure. They were regulated not only through the knowledge and power embedded in the school subjects but also through the self-governance of their moral conduct.
This gets at the heart of the bind that education technology finds itself in – its golden lasso. Education technology promises personalization and liberation, but it’s really, most often in the guise of obedience, a submission to the behavioral expectations and power structures that are part of our educational institutions (and more broadly, of society). It’s a loving authority, I imagine William Moulton Marston might reassure us – stereotypically at least, since the classroom has become a realm (supposedly) ruled by women.
Much like Wonder Woman, education technology claims – wants, even – to be a progressive force for social transformation. But like Wonder Woman, education technology is entangled in conservative, if not reactionary, forces.
Much like Wonder Woman, education technology is, in Marston’s words, “psychological propaganda.” It promises the future, while running students through the paces of a curriculum still largely circumscribed by the past.
Much like Wonder Woman, education technology insists it offers a scientific intervention. As Philip Sandifer writes in his “critical history” of Wonder Woman, “This is crucial to understanding the nature of Wonder Woman. She's not just a popular response to Marston’s psychological theories, nor is she just the product of his fetishes. Rather, she’s part of a concentrated effort to advance a technocratic worldview that comes not from the hard sciences but from the field of psychology at a point when it was caught between two competing approaches.” In post-War America, that really cannot be understated. We have these early twentieth century efforts – intelligence testing, Pressey’s Automatic Teacher – but it’s in the push and the hope for science and technology after the Second World War that we really see ed-tech take off. Education technology helps to make teaching and learning look like science. It helps to make them look modern, shiny.
Much like Wonder Woman, education technology could serve to extend human capabilities. Instead, it winds up being assigned the role of secretary of the League of Justice, doing menial tasks and not saving the world.
Much like Wonder Woman, education technology perpetually rejects and re-inscribes its origins, trapped in a cycle of re-starts and re-boots, old narratives redrawn by new artists and engineers, old narratives completely rewritten.
And much like Wonder Woman, that means there is this multiplicity to the whole project. There is not one single, authoritative direction that this story has to go, despite the origin myth originally set for us in the early twentieth century. That’s something quite powerful and subversive. And I think that’s how we can retain hope for a progressive change. But that does mean we have to demand much better stories and not simply fall into a genre that placates us with classic superheroes or that insists that students are ours to rescue.
Image credits: Push-Button Education, Skinner, Thorndike, Terman, Yerkes, Sensation Comics No. 1, Sensation Comics No. 58, Ms. Magazine No. 1, Action Comics No. 1, Sensation Comics No. 51, Sensation Comics No. 3, Sensation Comics No. 6, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman No. 5, Sensation Comics No. 31, "Why 100,000 Americans Read Comics," Harvard University Archives, Tufts University Digital Collections, Sensation Comics No. 3, Wonder Woman No. 2, Wonder Woman No. 230, The Mismeasure of Man, Wonder Woman No. 46, Sensation Comics No. 7, Sensation Comics No. 36, Superman vs. Wonder Woman, Sensation Comics No. 102, Wonder Woman No. 88
The Tories’ win in the UK elections could have a major impact on education.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “It took the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, on average, 1,469 days to complete campus sexual assault investigations in 2014, according to data released Tuesday by three Senate Democrats. The average time it took to resolve a complaint in 2009 was 379 days.”
ProPublica reports that“Traditional colleges and universities have become unlikely allies of the beleaguered for-profit industry as each group tries to fend off the government's push for more accountability.”
The for-profit college chain Corinthian College is appealing its $30 million fine levied by the Department of Education. Meanwhile, “Corinthian Colleges Secretly Funded D.C. Think Tanks, Dark Money Election Efforts,” reports The Intercept’s Lee Fang.
The Oregon Justice Department has ordered for-profit Penn Foster College to pay more than $73,000 in order to refund a student’s tuition and to change its claims that it actually is accredited.
And The Plain Dealer explains how tests are graded: "a very focused assembly line operation: Scoring 55 to 80 answers an hour is no problem for most."
Glitches with Smarter Balanced testing continue in Nevada.
“New standardized tests bring technical challenges, concern” and the AP is on it.
Via Education Week: “California’s state board of education has approved a contract for assessments valued at $240 million with the Educational Testing Service, despite a rival bidder’s [Pearson] complaint that the procurement process was illegal and unfair.”
Education Week also reports that the ACT is expanding computer-based testing.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
The University of Illinois Urbana Champaign will offer an online MBA through Coursera.
From the press release: “Elsevier, a world-leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services, announced today that it has launched a free MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) designed to help medical students prepare for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1, the first and most daunting of the three exams medical students must complete to become physicians.”
Chrysler will pay for tuition at Strayer University for its dealership employees, Fortune reports.
Meanwhile on Campus
Via The Oregonian: “Six University of Oregon employees, including a vice president and the school’s interim top lawyer, are under investigation for alleged misconduct in the handling of therapy records of a student who says she was gang-raped by three Ducks basketball players.”
Following the murder of a student, a feminist group at the University of Mary Washington have filed a complaint with the Department of Education, saying that “the university failed to protect them from a ‘sexually hostile environment’ in which they were verbally harassed in person and threatened on Yik Yak.”
At the university’s annual Orgo Night, the Columbia University Marching Band made fun of the campus’s sexual assaults.
Howard University is asking its alumni to help pay off some students’ final balances so that they can graduate.
For-profit “Kaplan University will now offer personalized ‘competency reports’ to its 45,000 students,” says Inside Higher Ed.
The for-profit universities Career Education Corporation and EDMC Corp announced they would close schools – the former, closing all its “career colleges” and the latter closing a quarter of its Art Institute campuses.
According to The LA Times, 75% of LAUSD 10th graders are not expected to graduate because they have not met new graduation requirements.
Via The Atlantic: “What Really Happened to Atlanta’s Students When Their Teachers Cheated.”
Go, School Sports Team!
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Ohio State University spent more than $4 million to travel to two college football playoff games last season, according to financial numbers reported to the National Collegiate Athletic Association and obtained by CBS News. The University of Oregon, which lost to Ohio State in the final playoff game, spent $3.8 million. The University of Alabama spent $2.6 million on its semifinal loss to Ohio State, spending $580,000 more on that one trip than Ohio State despite traveling from a closer distance. Florida State University spent $2.3 million on its loss to Oregon.”
From the HR Department
Funnymonkey’s Bill Fitzgerald and Jeff Graham are joining Common Sense Media to work on the latter’s privacy initiatives.
Ken Michaels will be the new CEO of Macmillan Higher Education, Edsurge reports. It adds too that Follett will have a new CEO: “Ray A. Griffith, who surely knows a thing or two about sourcing, scaling and selling from his time as President and CEO of Ace Hardware.” Surely.
Via Philly.com: “Charter operator ASPIRA Inc. of Pennsylvania is seeking to block certification of a union at its Olney Charter High School, despite recent assurances that it would negotiate in good faith.”
Part-time faculty at Cayuga Community College have won the right to unionize.
Upgrades and Downgrades
Thinkgate LLC has closed its doors “after receiving millions in Race to the Top funds,” reports The Washington Post.
“Berkeley to Stop Adding Lecture Videos to YouTube, Citing Budget Cuts,” reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. (Coming soon on Hack Education: a history of UC Berkeley lecture capture and the creation of iTunesU.)
Google added new features to Classroom. The full list is here.
No Internet security for those in the developing world, I guess:
By Evan Selinger: “The new Crystal app creates profiles ‘for every person with an online presence’ so its users can craft the ideal e-mail for every recipient. That’s not only troubling for privacy, but also threatens to strip individuality out of our digital dialogue.”
You can now add CC licenses to posts on Medium.
E-Literate TV is back with an episode on “personalized learning.”
Mozilla is changing many of its “Webmaker” tools, rolling Thimble into teach.mozilla.org and sunsetting Popcorn Maker.
Edsurge reports on one of its investor’s annual summit: “NewSchools New New Thing.”
Funding and IPOing
Stephen Colbert has agreed to fund every South Carolina teachers’ DonorChoose project, totaling about $800,000.
McGraw Hill Education is planning to IPO, says Reuters.
VC firm Rethink Education is looking to raise a $125 million second fund, says PE Hub.
AltSchool has raised $100 million in funding from Founders Fund, Andreessen Horowitz, First Round Capital, John Doerr, Harrison Metal, Jonathan Sackler, Learn Capital, and Omidyar Network. It brings the total raised by the private school to $133 million. Coverage – almost entirely love letters to Silicon Valley “disruption” – from Edsurge, Wired, Buzzfeed, BloombergBusiness, The New York Times, and Techcrunch. Instead of reading any of that drivel, read Swartmore’s Timothy Burke on AltSchool, “algorithmic culture,” and education.
Wonder Workshop (formerly Play-i) has raised $6.9 million in funding from WI Harper Group, Madrona Venture Group, CRV, Maven Ventures, and Bright Success Capital. The startup, which offers programmable robots called “Dash” and “Dot,” has raised $17.3 million total.
KleverKid has raised an undisclosed round of funding from Aarin Capital, Sunil Kaul, Ananda Kallugadde, and Maina Sahi. “Since 2014, KleverKid has provided an online marketplace for afterschool kids' activities in the Delhi region,” says Edsurge.
Springboard Education has raised an undisclosed round of funding from Bridges Ventures. The company offers before- and after-school programs.
Data and “Research”
A report from the Level Playing Institute“found that public schools with a high number of students of color are half as likely to offer computer science classes as schools with a predominately white or Asian student body.”
“Teachers Know Best” – a survey on ed-tech products by the Gates Foundation.
For-profit university Laureate Education surveyed its students and found they want higher education to focus on “career outcomes.”
Via The Atlantic: “The Disproportionate Burden of Student-Loan Debt on Minorities”
According to math education professor Jo Boaler, “data from the 13 million students who took PISA tests showed that the lowest achieving students worldwide were those who used a memorization strategy – those who thought of math as a set of methods to remember and who approached math by trying to memorize steps. The highest achieving students were those who thought of math as a set of connected, big ideas.” And the US has more memorizers than most countries in the world.
There is a correlation between education and wealth, research has found. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The Early Days of Educational TV
Even its earliest days, educational broadcasting – both radio and television – struggled to compete with commercial providers as the latter were often opposed to dedicating bandwidth for specifically educational channels. (Commercial providers argued too – and this will sound familiar to today’s debates about open educational materials – that the quality of their content was superior.) But in 1952, the FCC reserved 242 channels – 80 VHF and 162 UHF – for educational use. New stations were created, such as KUHT, which was licensed by the University of Houston and the Houston Board of Education and went on the air in May 1953, the first educational non-commercial station.
Educational TV stations faced several challenges: PR and programming to name just two. Often the stations did not have much regular programming to offer, and as such they tended to be off the air on the weekends. What programming they were able to provide was frequently low-budget and dependent on local producers. There was no educational network; that is to say, there were just individual stations.
One technical issue all early television stations faced was actually getting the signal from the transmitter to receivers, whether in homes or in classrooms. In the 1940s, Westinghouse engineer Charles Noble had developed a solution to this problem – something he called “Stratovision.” Stratovision involved broadcasting the transmission from the air, rather than the ground, via aircraft flying at 25,000 feet. But commercial television didn’t pursue Stratovision, instead developing networks that shared and broadcast programming via affiliate stations simultaneously across the country.
That was something that educational television did not have, and Westinghouse contacted Philip Coomb, executive director of education for the Ford Foundation and suggested that Stratovision be used to this end. The Ford Foundation was a major funder of educational television efforts – according to Paul Saettler, it invested $70 million in these initiatives from 1955–1965; and the Ford Foundation helped support one of the more unique experiments in ed-tech history, the Midwest Program on Airborne Television Instruction (MPATI).
“Six and half tons of identical transmitting equipment, consoles, VTRs, and related broadcasting equipment, along with shelves of duplicate libraries of videotapes were bolted down and shock-mounted onto two DC-6 planes leased from Purdue University,” writes Steve Jajkowski. The MPATI planes circled the skies, broadcasting educational TV to membership schools below - in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
The Midwest Program on Airborne Television Instruction
The Midwest Program on Airborne Television Instruction was a non-profit organization formed in 1959 and headquartered at Purdue University. Members of its board included Howard Cromwell, Superintendent of Schools in Middletown Ohio; John Ivey, Dean of Education at the University of Michigan; Samuel Miller Brownell from the Detroit Public Schools; and Benjamin C. Willis, Superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools.
The MPATI board identified the teachers for the project, selecting 20 with backgrounds in instructional television from an applicant pool of 300. The organization then worked to develop the primary and secondary level curriculum it would deliver: courses in English, math, science, arts, music, and foreign languages.
The FCC allocated two UHF channels for the project.
Although the first year of the project was fully funded by the Ford Foundation, the program needed to become self-sustaining. The plan was to gain 5600 member schools (out of a possible 15,000 which were in the viewing area), initialy charging schools $1 per student. In 1963, the MPATI had about 1200 member schools, but four years later, that number had only increased by 500 or so. Although it eventually served an estimated 400,000 students, the organization never reached its membership goals. (The MPATI signal was not scrambled incidentally, meaning that schools could pick up the channels without actually paying for the broadcasts.)
From Saettler’s The Evolution of American Educational Technology:
The first demonstration telecasts began in April 1961; complete programming started in September 1961. The system provided seventy-two half-hour television lessons in a five-hour day by broadcasting five separate programs simultaneously, four days a week, during the school year.
Despite having a significant amount of content to broadcast, scheduling remained a problem, complicated by the fact that MPATI member schools were spread across two time zones and were caught up in debates in Indiana about whether or not to observe Daylight saving time.
And, no surprise considering the UHF signal, there was a steady stream of complaints from schools about the reception.
The cost of establishing MPATI exceeded $8 million. It was estimated that the maximum use of this system would demand about $10 million annually. When the Ford Foundation grant was terminated in 1966, MPATI was expected to be sustained largely by member schools in the years ahead, but by 1968 the airplanes came down for the last time. MPATI remained as a production and library organization for another three years. Finally, in 1971 the entire MPATI operation was incorporated into the Great Plains National Instructional Television Library in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Aside from financial problems, MPATI also had a number of technical problems. First, the project could not get the four to six permanent UHF channel assignments it requested from the FCC because, it was reasoned, this would keep other ground-based facilities from developing. Moreover, since MPATI succeeded in stimulating interest in instructional television throughout the six-state region, numerous stations were started. Many used their CCTV systems, and several schools began experimenting with Instructional Television Fixed Service (ITFS). Consequently, by the mid–1960s there was no longer a great need for the flying transmitter, partly because of the stimulus of the MPATI project itself.
Teachers and TV
Historian Larry Cuban is somewhat less sanguine than Saettler about educators’ interest in instructional television, arguing that from the outset it was “hurled at teachers.” In Teachers and Machines, he writes that “teachers seldom were consulted or involved in the discussions in the early stages of introducing instructional television, except as studio teachers or perhaps as writers of scripts or teacher guides. A typical teacher worked in consort with the ‘master’ teacher beamed into the classroom or simply turned on the set and let a follow-up discussion after turning off the program. Teacher as technician would be a fair description of the role envisioned and carried out in the early decades of television’s entry into classrooms.”
Despite all the hype about what educational television could offer (and despite two DC-6 planes that briefly circled the Midwest broadcasting content to schools below), teachers simply didn’t use TV in the classroom all that much.
Senators Edward Markey (D-MA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) have reintroduced their update to FERPA, the “Protecting Student Privacy Act.” And David Vitter (R-LA) introduced his “Student Privacy Protection Act.” Vitter’s bill, according to Education Week, “would expand the types of student information covered under FERPA, require educational institutions to obtain prior consent from parents before sharing that information with third parties, outlaw a host of data-sharing practices that have become commonplace over the past decade, and require educational agencies and private actors who violate FERPA to pay cash penalties to individual families.”
Via the Sacramento Bee: “Gov. Jerry Brown presented a revised $115.3 billion general fund spending plan Thursday that includes hundreds of millions in additional money for the University of California in return for a tuition freeze on in-state students.” Here’s The New York Times’ take.
“Bills that would decriminalize truancy are moving through the Texas legislature, with the state House recently passing HB 2632. The bill would eliminate criminal penalties and institute fines for students who chronically skip school,” reports Politico.
The California State Senate has passed a bill that would mandate vaccinations for school children.
From the AP: “The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is opening a public inquiry Thursday into student loan servicing practices that it says can make paying back loans ‘stressful or harmful.’”
Interest rates on federal student loans will drop to 4.29%.
The Colorado Commission on Higher Education says it will standardize how colleges in the state accept “prior learning” for credit.
Moody’s has downgraded the credit rating of the Chicago Public Schools. Heckuva job, Rahm.
Education in the Courts
The US Department of Justice has joined a lawsuit by a student at Miami University in Ohio that charges the university has violated the ADA by adopting education technologies that are inaccessible to the disabled. The software listed in the suit includes the university’s websites, YouTube, Vimeo, TurnItIn, Google Docs, and more.
University of Virginia associate dean Nicole Eramo is suing Rolling Stone and journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely for defamation “alleging that it portrayed her as callous and indifferent to allegations of sexual assault on campus and made her the university’s ‘chief villain’ in a now-debunked article about a fraternity gang rape.”
Ivy Bridge Education has filed a lawsuit against the accreditor that put it out of business. Via Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy: “The education company filed suit today against the Higher Learning Commission, alleging that the accreditor illegally ‘strong-armed’ the closure of Ivy Bridge College as part of a ‘witch hunt’ against nontraditional higher education.”
California’s teachers’ unions have filed their opening brief in their appeal of Vergara v California, a decision that overturned the state’s tenure laws. More via Education Week. (Meanwhile, the group behind Vergara, Student Matters, had its website hacked.)
The SEC has filed a lawsuit against ITT “charging the large for-profit chain and its two top executives with fraud for allegedly concealing massive losses in two student loan programs the company backed.”
From the Palm Beach Post: “The principal of the Mavericks High of Palm Springs charter school has been suspended after police say they caught her in a marijuana-filled car with one of her students.” (Bonus: “The Mavericks charter school chain was founded by Frank Biden, brother of Vice President Joe Biden.”)
Security breach on the SAT. Security breach. Security breach.
“Pearson Blames ‘Third Party’ Attack for Disrupting Minnesota Online Tests.” I love it how everyone uses the excuse “Oh, we were DDOSed!” now when their sites go down.
“Testing company Pearson – slated to run Indiana’s statewide ISTEP+ tests beginning in 2016 – is facing criticism over security of assessments it handles in other states,” Indiana Public Media reports. (Indiana has chosen to ditch its current testing provider CTB-McGraw Hill to go with Pearson. LOL. Good luck with that!)
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
FutureLearn has signed a deal with Pearson to have the education giant handle administration of its MOOC tests. I mean, if it’s good enough for the Common Core tests, it’s gotta be good enough for MOOCs. Right?
edX is teaming up with Qualcomm, and according to the marketingspeak it’s “a collaboration aimed at further developing edX’s MOOC mobile capabilities and enhance its open source platform to benefit connected learners around the world.”
(Once upon a time this was a #Slatepitch. Now, it’s a Campus Technology article) “When Actors Replace Instructors as On-Camera Talent”
UC Irvine is offering a MOOC on the TV show The Strain.
HarvardX’s Justin Reich reports from China, “where everything is a MOOC.” (And here’s the report from the World Bank’s Michael Trucano on the same event.)
FutureLearn, bless its heart, boasts that it has the MOOC with a record number of students: “FutureLearn says it has 370,000 students enrolled for a British Council course preparing for an English language test,” the BBC dutifully reports.
“Disrupting Medical Education” with MOOCs. Eek?
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that “Four liberal-arts colleges on Monday formed a consortium to share information about their experiments with online education, and more members may soon join in.” It does not, however, report the name of the consortium, which I’m hoping is LiberalArtsX or UberLearn or Voracity or something like that.
Meanwhile on Campus
Virginia’s community college system is piloting an open textbook initiative, reports Campus Technology. “VCCS plans to model its open textbook initiative on Tidewater’s Z-Degree program. The pilot program will run at 15 of Virginia’s community colleges and is expected to save 50,000 students more than $5 million dollars in the first year.” Ink, Bits, & Pixels has more details.
“Waiting While Black: University Student Accused of ‘Harassment’ for Wanting to Talk to Adviser.” Kennesaw State University, that is.
The LAUSD iPad debacle is obviously an opportunity for every local education reporter to write about what their district’s doing differently. Oh, and also an opportunity for Wired magazine to cite Michael Horn. Again.
Go, School Sports Team!
Vox’s Libby Nelson collected Simon Cvijanović’s tweets, arguing they “show why college athletes need unions.” Cvijanović is a former offensive lineman at the University of Illinois who experienced a season-ending injury.
From the HR Department
Boston University (incoming) assistant professor of sociology Saida Grundy came under fire this week after conservative news sites had their feelings hurt by things she tweeted about white male privilege. She says she regrets the tweets. (Read: Tressie McMillan Cottom on public scholarship and public speech.)
The Orange, New Jersey school board has decided to fire Marylin Zuniga, a third-grade teacher who allowed her students to write “get well” cards to Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Upgrades and Downgrades
NewSchool Venture Fund has spun out and rebranded its seed fund: Reach Capital. More from the new investment firm here.
“A South Carolina school district is partnering with the local housing authority and two wireless service providers to get all students connected to high-speed Internet. Kajeet and Novatel Wireless are providing students in Spartanburg School District Seven with filtered, high-speed broadband in the form of mobile hotspots placed in public housing,” reports Politico.
Moodle 2.9, guys.
From Amazon: AWS Educate, which will provide students and teachers with “grants of AWS credits for use in courses and projects” and more.
The CHIP is a $9 computer. Or at least, it’s a Kickstarter campaign for a $9 computer.
Funding and Acquisitions
TAL Education Group has acquired the test prep company Gaokaopai. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Brazilian online education company eduK has raised $10 million from Accel Partners, Monashees Capital, and Felicis Ventures.
Knod has raised $3.5 million from Epic Ventures, Impact Investment Leaders, and “undisclosed investors.” The startup, which offers “online experience-based learning program,” has raised $6.2 million total.
Test prep startup Edrolo has raised $2.65 million from “14 different investors,” including Blackbird and AirTree Ventures.
Screencasting app Explain Everything has raised $2 million from Credo Ventures, New Europe Ventures, and RTAventures.
Test prep company Plancess has raised $2 million from the Aarti Group.
Tinkergarten has raised $500,000 in seed funding from Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, Structure Capital, John Katzman (founder of 2U, The Princeton Review, Noodle), and Don Katz (founder of Audible). Techcrunch’s Sarah Perez profiles the startup, which “is using technology to get kids back outdoors.”
WaPo’s Valerie Strauss looks at the money the Gates Foundation has invested in Common Core-related initiatives – $10 million over the last seven months.
Data, Privacy, and Surveillance
Via The Atlantic: “Long-Range Iris Scanning Is Here. An engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon says he’s invented technology that can identify someone from across the room with the precision of a fingerprint.” What could possibly go wrong?
Well, here’s a chilling headline from Edsurge: “How Bank Regulation Applies to Student Data Privacy.”
“Anything that can be counted or measured will be,” as The New York Times reports“Some Schools Embrace Demands for Education Data.”
Data and “Research”
A study by the University of North Carolina system (in conjunction with the National Council on Teacher Quality) questions the value of meeting the NCTQ’s teacher education standards.
The report will cost you – “Ka’Ching” – but according to a promo for Edsurge’s latest findings on venture capital and ed-tech, “More Money, Fewer Deals.”
The US Department of Education has released data that it says shows that school bullying is on the decline.
The US high school graduation rate has hit a record high (81%).
Educause has released a white paper on “next generation learning management systems,” a phrase that totally bums me out.
Mindwires Consulting’s Phil Hill pushes back on PR: “About Those D2L Claims of LMS Usage Increasing Retention Rates.”
Via David Perry: “The New York Times Confirms Academic Stereotypes: Two months of opinion essays on higher education.”
The NEPC reviews a recent report by the Center for American Progress on turnaround schools. tl;dr “The report’s recommendations are unsupported by rigorous research.”
This week's final word on bullshittery in research and marketing: the Luminosity edition.
When I spoke at Davidson College earlier this month, several of the questions from the audience involved my framing of a “Silicon Valley narrative” involving education, technology, and innovation. They said that this narrative was unfamiliar to them – that the arguments that they heard, particularly from colleagues, about education, technology, and innovation were quite different. That is, education technology is supportive, not exploitative. Education technology opens, not forecloses, opportunities. Education technology is driven by a rethinking of teaching and learning, not expanding markets. Education technology meets individual and institutional and community goals.
I pointed to the discussions of education technology in the press – The New York Times op-eds, for example, that prompted the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors to fire president Teresa Sullivan for not moving to MOOCs fast enough, or the repeated proclamations that Sal Khan and the instructional videos at Khan Academy are “the messiah of math,” poised to save students and boost test scores.
“Education is broken,” and technology will fix it. It’s an old and tired refrain, but it’s a refrain nonetheless, repeated over and over. It’s a core theme I point to in the “Silicon Valley narrative.”
But the phrase “Silicon Valley narrative” – one that, I confess, I use a lot in my work – does have some flaws.
After all, the powerful forces at play in education technology don’t simply emanate from Silicon Valley, which sticklers about geography will readily point out only includes one part of the San Francisco Bay area. Silicon Valley’s locus (historically at least) is San Jose, not San Francisco, where many startups are located today. “Silicon Valley” is not an adequate term to describe where Bay Area tech companies or their investors reside. And the phrase surely obscures the international scope of the operations of the technology industry – tax havens in Ireland, manufacturing in China, and so on.
I think “narrative” is probably inadequate too. Yes, I’m particularly interested in the stories we tell about technology – its past, present, and future. I am interested in the ways in which our discursive practices shape the way we move through the world – what we build, what we buy.
The better term here is “ideology.”
To better analyze and assess both technology and education technology requires our understanding of these as ideological, argues Neil Selwyn – “‘a site of social struggle’ through which hegemonic positions are developed, legitimated, reproduced and challenged.” In Distrusting Educational Technology, Selwyn identifies three contemporary ideologies that are intertwined with technology (many of which my shorthand “Silicon Valley narrative” are meant to reference): libertarianism, neoliberalism, and “the ideology of the ‘new economy.’” He writes,
Most people, it would seem, are happy to assume that educational technologies are ‘neutral’ tools that are essentially free from values and intent (or, at most, shaped by generally optimistic understandings and meanings associated with educational change and improvement). In this sense, it is difficult at first glance to see educational technology as entwined with any aspect of the dominant ideologies just described. Yet, as was noted earlier, one of the core characteristics of hegemony is the ability of dominant ideologies to permeate commonsensical understandings and meaning. Following this logic, then, the fact that educational technology appears to be driven by a set of values focused on the improvement of education does not preclude it also serving to support and legitimate wider dominant ideological interests. Indeed, if we take time to unpack the general orthodoxy of educational technology as a ‘positive’ attempt to improve education, then a variety of different social groups and with different interests, values and agendas are apparent. …While concerned ostensibly with changing specific aspects of education, all of these different interests could be said to also endorse (or at least provide little opposition to) notions of libertarianism, neo-liberalism and new forms of capitalism. Thus educational technologies can still be said to be ‘ideologically freighted’, although this may not always be a primary intention of those involved in promoting their use.
We tend not to see education technology as ideological. (No doubt, we largely fail to scrutinize the ideology of education as well.) We do not recognize the ways in which education technology can, as Selwyn notes, “accommodate all these agendas (from the countercultural to the commercial) with little sense of incompatibility or conflict.” How does a push for “self-directed learning” feed a libertarian anti-institutionalism? How does the mantra “everyone needs to learn to code” serve the interests of global capitalism? How much of the “Maker Movement” is venture-backed consumerism? What does it say that this profitable version of "making" dovetails so neatly with some visions of progressive education?
We don’t ask; we don’t answer. We shrug and assent that education technology is necessary; progress demands it.
As much as the phrase “Silicon Valley narrative” doesn’t work for reasons of geographic specificity – I’m going to stop using it, I promise – I still find the phrase “Californian ideology” quite compelling. Or to be more precise – and that’s the point, right? – I find the arguments of Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron in their 1995 essay “The Californian Ideology” to be remarkably prescient:
At the end of the twentieth century, the long predicted convergence of the media, computing and telecommunications into hypermedia is finally happening. Once again, capitalism’s relentless drive to diversify and intensify the creative powers of human labour is on the verge of qualitatively transforming the way in which we work, play and live together. By integrating different technologies around common protocols, something is being created which is more than the sum of its parts. When the ability to produce and receive unlimited amounts of information in any form is combined with the reach of the global telephone networks, existing forms of work and leisure can be fundamentally transformed. New industries will be born and current stock market favourites will swept away. At such moments of profound social change, anyone who can offer a simple explanation of what is happening will be listened to with great interest. At this crucial juncture, a loose alliance of writers, hackers, capitalists and artists from the West Coast of the USA have succeeded in defining a heterogeneous orthodoxy for the coming information age: the Californian Ideology.
This new faith has emerged from a bizarre fusion of the cultural bohemianism of San Francisco with the hi-tech industries of Silicon Valley. Promoted in magazines, books, TV programmes, websites, newsgroups and Net conferences, the Californian Ideology promiscuously combines the free-wheeling spirit of the hippies and the entrepreneurial zeal of the yuppies. This amalgamation of opposites has been achieved through a profound faith in the emancipatory potential of the new information technologies. In the digital utopia, everybody will be both hip and rich. Not surprisingly, this optimistic vision of the future has been enthusiastically embraced by computer nerds, slacker students, innovative capitalists, social activists, trendy academics, futurist bureaucrats and opportunistic politicians across the USA. As usual, Europeans have not been slow in copying the latest fad from America. While a recent EU Commission report recommends following the Californian free market model for building the information superhighway, cutting-edge artists and academics eagerly imitate the post human philosophers of the West Coast’s Extropian cult. With no obvious rivals, the triumph of the Californian Ideology appears to be complete.
The widespread appeal of these West Coast ideologues isn’t simply the result of their infectious optimism. Above all, they are passionate advocates of what appears to be an impeccably libertarian form of politics – they want information technologies to be used to create a new ‘Jeffersonian democracy’ where all individuals will be able to express themselves freely within cyberspace. However, by championing this seemingly admirable ideal, these techno-boosters are at the same time reproducing some of the most atavistic features of American society, especially those derived from the bitter legacy of slavery. Their utopian vision of California depends upon a wilful blindness towards the other – much less positive – features of life on the West Coast: racism, poverty and environmental degradation. Ironically, in the not too distant past, the intellectuals and artists of the Bay Area were passionately concerned about these issues.
There are many elements of that phrase “California ideology” that I find quite compelling. California is the promised land, the end-of-the-road of the US’s westward expansion, the fulfillment of Manifest Destiny, colonization upon colonization, the gold rush, the construction of an invented palm-tree paradise. California includes geographically – ideologically – both Hollywood and Silicon Valley. California is media plus technology, both of which readily export their products (and narratives and ideologies) globally. California built an amazing public higher education system; Governor Reagan, fearing radicalism and intellectualism, began the move to dismantle it. California is always already the future; California rejects and rewrites the past.
The California ideology ignores race and labor and the water supply; it is sustained by air and fantasy. It is built - historically as today - upon white supremacy and imperialism. But we’re so wrapped up in the marketing, we don’t stop to ask more questions about the source.
How much of education technology reinforces and reinscribes the dominant forces of production and power? Under what circumstances, swayed by which stories, do we not even notice?
This article first appeared on Educating Modern Learners in February 2015
The interest roused by historical simulation games is readily explained,"" writes Jeremiah McCall in a 2012 article in The History Teacher. "These games offer immersive, interactive, multimedia representations of the past that are radically different from other forms of media. They engage players through multiple modes of communication: visual, textual, aural, and tactile. Through these modes of communication, compelling problems are presented that invite the player to engage and make world-changing decisions. Given these features, it is not surprising that a growing number of educators want to use such games in the teaching and study of history."
But simulations and games are not without controversy or criticism.
The historical simulation games created by Mission US are not new; the first one was released in 2010, and they've been reviewed favorably by both the gaming and education press. But over the weekend, the second game in the series, Flight to Freedom, caught the attention of educator (and EML contributor) Rafranz Davis when it was promoted by Common Sense Media's Graphite site as a good piece of technology to "celebrate black history month and beyond." Davis objected to the game - the content, the storyline, and the gamification of history.
Flight to Freedom is a simulation of slavery: "It's 1848. You are Lucy King, a 14-year-old slave in Kentucky. Will you find a path to freedom?"
The game opens with the protagonist, Lucy, waking up in the slave quarters of the King plantation. She overhears her mother helping Henry, a fellow slave who has been beaten. Lucy’s mother says that Henry will need comfrey root and requests Lucy bring some from down by the creek. On the way to the creek, the plantation’s overseer assigns Lucy a handful of tasks.
Throughout the game, the player is presented with choices of how to have Lucy respond: to comply fully, to rebel a little bit, or to outright resist. The player earns badges for these choices, and they shape the direction that Lucy's story will take.
Davis argues that by framing Lucy's experiences as a series of individual choices, rather than framing it as an institution of violence and exploitation, this history of slavery offers a "too easy fix.""Why put children through 'decision making' as a slave?" Davis asks. "Why would any person think that slave simulation is a necessary component of curriculum?"
Davis's reaction stands in vivid contrast to one game reviewer who said"I was struck by how effectively the game placed me in the shoes of an American slave."Can a simulation, particularly one designed for middle school students, really do that? What other consequences might a simulation have?
In 1995, parents of an African-American student sued his school district over a similar game called Freedom!, in which players had to escape slavery. The game was humiliating, they argued. Prior to the lawsuit, the game had already been pulled from shelves by its publisher.
The use of simulations - "real" not "virtual" ones - in the history classroom is often quite controversial. Designed to give students a deeper understanding by role-playing and acting out certain scenarios, these activities can be highly fraught, particularly when they relate to racial or ethnic identity. Indeed, while these simulations might be presented as episodes from the past, that past is never severed from the present. Oppression isn't something that just happened "back then," and students experience these simulations very differently based on their own backgrounds. Simulations can be incredibly traumatic.
Too often, simulations seem to be designed with an "identity-less" student in mind (that is, a white student), and they are not always carefully or thoughtfully facilitated.
When it comes to computer-based simulations, this design is a reflection, in part, of what Davis has identified in her new book, The Missing Voices in Ed-Tech. Because of the lack of diversity in education technology, it too often ends up failing to meet the needs of students of color, students of poverty, immigrant students, girls, and so on.
This is a particularly important issue to address, in ed-tech broadly but in the development of education games and simulations specifically. Who is the imagined player?
Can games and simulations be designed to be thought-provoking and persuasive? Certainly. Can games and simulations be designed to be intellectually challenging? Of course. Can computers enable the creation of simulations that are more vivid and interactive than simply role-playing in the classroom? Sure. Do computer games and simulations have biases and flaws that students should be encouraged to identify and discuss? Definitely. They are simulations, after all, and like any secondary source, they should be interrogated as such. They are interpretations of history, further constrained by the engineering of game-play.
But if educators have become more cautious about having students act out historical simulations, particularly those involving slavery, is turning to a computer-based simulation really an improvement? Are educators ready and willing to address biases (hidden and overt) and power dynamics in games and other technologies?
A couple of weeks ago, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the University of California Berkeley will no longer post video recordings of its lectures to YouTube and iTunesU. The decision was framed in terms of “budget challenges” with a note that, as a partner with edX, Berkeley instead intends to pursue “open education” via MOOCs. (They’re “more effective,” the article argues.) The university will continue to record its classes as it currently does, but starting in the fall, that content will only be available to students on campus.
UC Berkeley has uploaded thousands of hours of videos and audio to YouTube and iTunesU, but its efforts to share lecture materials openly on the Internet predate both of those. Indeed, I’d argue that UC Berkeley played an important role in the development and legitimization of educational webcasting and podcasting, influencing the efforts of Google and Apple in supporting and distributing that very content.
UC Berkeley developed a technical infrastructure to record and broadcast content 20 years ago. The Berkeley Internet Broadcasting System (BIBS) was a lecture-capture and webcasting system developed by the Berkeley Multimedia Research Center, which itself was founded in 1995 and run by Larry Rowe. Here’s an early history of BIBS, excerpted from a 2001 report:
The Berkeley Internet Broadcasting System (BIBS) offers live webcasts and on-demand replay of class lectures using streaming media (i.e., audio, video, and presentation material) on the Internet. We began Internet webcasting of the weekly Berkeley Multimedia, Interfaces, and Graphics (MIG) Seminar in January 1995. After webcasting this seminar for several years and experimenting with different technologies, lecture webcasting of regularly scheduled classes began in Spring 1999. As more experience was gained with this technology, and in response to student and faculty demand, the system was scaled up each semester. Fourteen and fifteen classes were webcast in the Fall 2000 and Spring 20001 semesters, respectively, including several large introductory courses (e.g., Biology 1B, Chemistry 1A, Classics 28, Computer Science 61A and 61B, IDS 110, Nutrition Sciences 10, and Physics 8A and 8B) and small upper division and graduate engineering courses.
The recordings were streamed online, accessible via a program guide that showed the entire course schedule. Lectures were available live or on-demand. Clicking on a link in the program guide launched a video player, and the Berkeley Multimedia Research Center also developed software that allowed lectures to be synchronized with other presentation materials from class (PowerPoint slides, for example).
As that 2001 report notes, only about 5–10% of classrooms on the Berkeley campus were set up with the equipment for live-streaming lectures. The recording process involved both the live-streaming as well as videotaping (used in case something went wrong with the former). A database system was built to manage the recording process, including detailed information on class meeting days and times so that the process of webcasting could be automated. (That is, staff time was spent on other tasks, not on taping.)
(I love the clipart here)
From that 2001 report:
BIBS allows a start and end time to be entered for each lecture because the actual time the speaker begins and ends a lecture can vary. The lecture replay starts and ends at the times specified rather than at the beginning and end of the captured material so that when a student asks to watch a lecture, it starts when the speaker begins the class.
The BIBS system was eventually rebranded to webcast.berkeley, and the number of courses that were recorded and shared online continued to expand.
In 2005, Obadiah Greenberg (disclosure: my friend), who’d been hired in 2000 to manage the BIBS program, began attending podcasting meetups in San Francisco and experimenting with streaming audio of classes on webcast.berkeley. During the 2005–2006 Winter Break, Barix audio streaming devices were installed in classrooms, which meant that many more courses could have their materials recorded and broadcast. Expanding the automated video-streaming infrastructure, webcast.berkeley was rebuilt to automate audio capture and streaming of courses and to distribute these recordings as podcasts. When the spring term started in January 2006, UC Berkeley launched a fully automated system to provide open access course podcasts.
Berkeley wasn’t the first US university to make course content openly available online, of course. MIT famously kicked off its open courseware initiative in 2001, posting syllabi and course materials on the Web. Nor was Berkeley the first to experiment with recording lecture content at an institutional level. Duke University (also famously) gave its incoming freshmen 20 GB Apple iPods and Belkin voice recorders in the fall of 2004, encouraging students to record their courses for themselves. And Stanford University announced at an alumni event in the fall of 2005 its plans to make “Stanford-related audio content,” including materials restricted solely to Stanford students and podcasts from football games, available through iTunes.
And ah, that Stanford-Berkeley rivalry… A few months later, in April 2006, UC Berkeley responded with its own iTunes initiative. “Berkeley on iTunes” was unveiled, with all the content available to students and to the general public – and here’s a great quote from Greenberg: “As a public university, UC Berkeley has a tradition of openness.”
In September 2006, the university announced “Berkeley on Google Video.” And this was a genuine “first” – the first school to have its own page on the Google Video website. Less than two weeks later, it’s worth noting, Google signaled its interest in the rapidly growing area of online video content by acquiring a little startup called YouTube. (By the end of the year, incidentally, Obadiah Greenberg was also working at Google – first for Google Video and then for YouTube, where he later helped create YouTubeEDU.) Berkeley was also the first university to have a branded channel on YouTube and the first to offer serialized courses there.
20 years of history, and a long-running effort to make UC Berkeley content available online to the public. And now?
Here’s webcast.berkeley’s official announcement regarding “Changes coming to Webcast Classroom Capture in Fall 2015”:
Beginning Fall 2015, ETS will make key changes to our Webcast service in order to reduce service costs and enable us to maintain a lecture capture service focused on students:
We will no longer make recorded lecture videos available to the public
We will make recorded lecture videos available to enrolled students via CalCentral and bCourses
Existing lectures up to and including those recorded during Spring 2015 will remain available at public distribution channels
Currently, ETS provides Webcast Classroom Capture as a common-good service in over 50 of our general assignment classrooms. For the past 20 years, recorded lecture videos have been available to students as well as the public. In more recent years the Webcast Classroom Capture program has broadened the window of access into UC Berkeley's intellectual riches through distribution partnerships with YouTube and iTunes U. Each year we capture and publish nearly 4,500 lecture videos and each video requires an average of 15 minutes of staff time to prepare for public distribution.
In consideration of the current state of our budget, we have chosen to reduce spending by no longer making Webcast Classroom Capture videos available to the public. By transitioning to this student-only lecture capture service capture we will continue to provide a valuable study resource to our students and garner significant cost savings. Resources will be reallocated toward mission-critical activities that support teaching, learning, and research at UC Berkeley.
The recording infrastructure stays in place, but the lecture content is now officially proprietary and closed to the public. And according to The Chronicle, UC Berkeley will save $300,000 per year by not publishing its lecture content publicly on iTunes or YouTube. For what it’s worth, the cost of developing a MOOC? Anywhere between $38,980 to $325,330 per course.
And the history and the recognition of the contributions made by those who built and expanded BIBS? The commitment as a public university to openness? I hope there's a record somewhere, right?
Education Politics and Policies
Bernie Sanders for President. “Sanders introduced legislation that calls for the federal government to dole out $47 billion per year to states that agree to eliminate undergraduate tuition and fees at their public colleges and universities,” reports Inside Higher Ed. “Bernie Sanders’s plan to have Wall Street pay for your college tuition, explained” via Vox’s Libby Nelson. (More from Nelson on Sanders here.)
In other Presidential candidate news: “Hillary Clinton Paid by Jeb Bush’s Education Company.”
The Department of Education is “poised to announce a limited exemption to the federal ban on prisoners receiving Pell Grants to attend college while they are incarcerated,” says Inside Higher Ed. Meanwhile a bill has also been introduced to Congress that would reinstate Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated college students.
“The California Department of Veterans Affairs is ordering a for-profit college company with 15 campuses in the state to stop enrolling new or returning students who plan to fund their educations with GI Bill benefits,” KPCC reports. The for-profit in question: ITT Educational Services.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has vetoed a bill that included a $400 million increase for the state’s schools, arguing that that increase was “inadequate to serve the needs of Minnesota schoolchildren” particularly in light of the state’s $1.9 billion budget surplus.
A bill to provide state oversight over the East Ramapo School District “faces an uncertain future,” The New York Times reports. A majority of the school district’s students are Black or Latino but the school board has been dominated by Orthodox Jews, who according to a state investigation “shown favoritism to Orthodox Jewish students who attend private schools in the area.” “Since 2005, the board has made severe cuts to public schools, eliminating 445 positions; reducing full-day kindergarten to a half-day; and dropping half the district's athletic programs and extracurricular activities, the state investigation found.”
Elections for LAUSD School Board saw two incumbents lose – “Tamar Galatzan in District 3 and Bennett Kayser in District 5. But each winner hews more closely to the views of the incumbent who lost in the other race, making the day’s results a political wash,” says LA School Report.
The Oregonian reports that “Sabin School’s principal violated a federal anti-discrimination law when he pulled students out of class in groups sorted by race to question them about a teacher’s missing purse, a U.S. Department of Education investigation found.”
According to Inside Higher Ed, “More than 60 Asian-American organizations on Friday filed a complaint with the U.S. Education Department charging that Harvard University discriminates against Asian-American applicants.”
Education in the Courts
The US Supreme Court has denied the appeal of New Orleans public school employees who say they were wrongly fired following Hurricane Katrina.
The AP reports that the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that private colleges’ police departments are subject to the state’s open records laws because their personnel are state certified.
Via The Washington Post: “A nonprofit watchdog group filed a lawsuit in a Wisconsin circuit court against Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Tuesday, alleging that he is refusing to make public documents relating to an effort by his office to change the mission of the University of Wisconsin that is embedded in state law.”
Via Politico: “California teachers and students today are filing file a class-action lawsuit in Los Angeles federal court against the Compton Unified School District. They're arguing that the district is obligated to protect students who've been exposed to trauma and violence but is doing little to nothing to help students or curb the effects that violence has on academic success.”
For the first time in 30 years, the Texas Education Agency has awarded its $280 million standardized testing contract to a company whose name isn’t Pearson. ETS won the bid to provide the STAAR tests for the next four years. Pearson will still get $60 million to develop a portion of the state’s assessments.
The New York Times examines the “Opt Out” movement in New York state. “At least 165,000 children, or one of every six eligible students, sat out at least one of the two standardized tests this year, more than double and possibly triple the number who did so in 2014.”
Florida’s end-of-course exams in biology, US History, and civics were interrupted by “hackers,” according to the state’s Department of Education.
PARCC plans to cut back on the length of its assessments. Currently, the tests run 10–11 hours, and the testing organization says it’s shaving off 90 whole minutes.
“The Agony of Taking a Standardized Test on a Computer” by 11th grader Rebecca Castillo.
“Sen. Rand Paul, Presidential Candidate, Not Opposed to National Testing.” (Just a “national curriculum,” I guess?)
The BBC explores the techniques schools are using to help make tests less stressful, including bouncy castles, micropigs, and knitting. Nothing against micropigs here, but maybe instead of these elaborate initiatives, schools could address some of the underlying issues of why students are so stressed?
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom“faults insufficient outreach to faculty in push for online education.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education picks up Jen Ebbeler’s story about the development of the UT Austin class “Introduction to Ancient Rome”: “When Your Online Course Is Put Up for Adoption.”
Campus Technology says that edX and ASU will use “Software Secure’s RPNow to provide proctored assessments for students at any time and from any location. The cloud-based service uses a webcam to verify the student’s identity and to record the student throughout the assessment to ensure there are no violations.” (No mention of the recent controversy at Rutgers over similar software. Because churnalism.)
The New York Times investigates the digital diploma mill Axact, which makes tens of millions of dollars a year selling fake degrees.
Meanwhile on Campus
Remember the news a couple months ago about Uber’s partnership with Carnegie Mellon to create a lab to build robot-driven cars? Looks like it was really just an effort by Uber to poach AI folks from the university. “These guys, they took everybody.”
“Two-thirds of college and university risk managers responding to a recent survey said they consider the risks associated with fraternities to be among the most significant risks facing higher education.” Congrats, bros. You’re a bigger risk than MOOCs.
Via Bloomberg: “Oil tycoon Harold Hamm told a University of Oklahoma dean last year that he wanted certain scientists there dismissed who were studying links between oil and gas activity and the state’s nearly 400-fold increase in earthquakes, according to the dean’s e-mail recounting the conversation.”
Elsewhere in energy industry attempts to influence education: here’s a wonderfully uncritical piece of industry PR from Wyoming Public Radio: “Energy Companies Step In To Fund STEM Education.” The story opens with these sentences: “Many public high schools lack funding for STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – programs. Energy companies worried about finding future employees are donating to schools.” It then explores the ways in which students in Wyoming are getting special, spendy training in engineering, thanks to money from the natural gas industry. I’m pretty confused how Wyoming has no money for STEM as the state ranks near the top of per pupil spending in the country, due to the enormous tax revenues generated from the oil and gas industry (although perhaps here the issue is the $200,000 for this marvelous STEM curriculum). But hey, go ahead. Just rewrite industry PR: “industry is really leading the STEM charge.” ORLY.
In other Wyoming-related news: Parents in Cody are concerned about the reading curriculum and “don’t like the way some the reading materials address topics like war, slavery, global climate change and the treatment of indigenous people. In a local newspaper ad, Cody parents say the readings show ‘left-wing bias that criticizes, denigrates and demeans America’s history, accomplishments, and founding principles.’” One school board member says he’s concerned that students might learn about Cesar Chavez and Langston Hughes. OH GOD NO! NOT LANGSTON HUGHES! They’ll never get a job in Wyoming’s booming energy industry! … Oh wait. What’s that I hear? The Wyoming mining industry is no longer booming?
“Cutting-edge new tracking software distributed to schools across the city on Tuesday will chart student and faculty performance with laser-like accuracy, the Daily News has learned.” LOL, okay Daily News.
From MySanAntonio.com: “Four Wagner High School students say they were suspended for a demonstration at a school-sponsored fashion show Thursday in which they carried signs donning phrases such as ‘Black Lives Matter.’”
“Campus Child Care, a ‘Critical Student Benefit,’ Is Disappearing,” according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Chinese applicants to the University of San Francisco need not submit a transcript or an SAT score under a newly announced pilot program. Rather, the private Jesuit institution plans to admit students based on their scores on the grueling, multiday Chinese university entrance exam, the gaokao, and their performance in an in-person interview in Beijing.”
Via the BBC: “Students at Oxford University are voting on whether or not they should continue being forced to wear special clothes to sit their exams. At the moment, students and examiners have to wear a gown over an outfit known as ‘sub fusc.’ The compulsory clothing includes a dark suit, black shoes, a plain white shirt or blouse with a bow tie, long tie or ribbon.”
The Economist reports that“As more firms have set up their own ‘corporate universities,’ they have become less willing to pay for their managers to go to business school.” Wait. So the choice is a corporate university or business school? Ew.
Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz graduated this week and walked across the stage with the mattress that has become the symbol of the school’s failure to address her alleged sexual assault. President Lee Bollinger turned his back on her– also pretty symbolic, eh? – refusing to shake her hand. Jezebel covers a harassment campaign against Sulkowicz, timed with commencement: large posters hung around campus featuring her photo and the words "Pretty Little Liar" and "#fakerape."
Go, School Sports Team!
The University of Louisville is expanding Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, thanks in part to a $3 million donation from the Sun Tan City chain of tanning salons, now the Official Tanning Center for the school (whose cheerleaders can tan there for free). Go team.
The University of Illinois’ women’s basketball program has been accused of player abuse, according to The Chicago Tribune.
“Concussion Lawsuits Rankle School Groups” via The New York Times.
From the HR Department
Congratulations to Coursera CEO Richard Levin. The former President of Yale has received a $8.5 million payout from the university – “an unprecedented lump-sum payout highlighting the increasingly lucrative compensation for leaders at the nation's top universities,” says The Wall Street Journal. Perhaps it was recognition for his work on AllLearn? (Probably not.)
And speaking of MOOCs and college presidents, the UVA Board of Visitors has voted to extend Teresa Sullivan’s contract for two more years.
“Dean Dad” Matt Reed will have a new gig starting in July: “Vice President for Learning at Brookdale Community College.”
Upgrades and Downgrades
“Academic, library and technology organizations are denouncing a new sharing and hosting policy adopted last month by publisher Elsevier, saying it undermines open-access policies at colleges and universities and prevents authors from sharing their work,” reports Inside Higher Ed, which has more details on the 21 organizations who issued a statement asking Elsevier to reconsider its policy.
The public beta of LibraryBox v2.1 is now available. Details via Jason Griffey.
The headline on the press release reads: “ Harvard Graduate School of Education and Expeditionary Learning Launch Largest Online Library of Exemplary K–12 Student Work.”
Code.org plus the College Board: because everyone needs to learn to code and then hand over money to the College Board for an AP test on the subject.
The Economic Times reports that “Infosys co-founder and billionaire Nandan Nilekani, who spearheaded [India’s] massive unique identification project, is gearing up for an equally ambitious project – to help elementary school children across the country improve their reading and arithmetic skills using low-end tablets and smartphones.”
Via Apple Insider: Gartner says that Google is selling its Chromebooks primarily to schools (72% of sales go to the education sector). And gee, you know things aren't looking good for Apple when Apple Insider covers Chromebooks.
Funding and Acquisitions (and Bankruptcy)
The investment firm Sandbox Partners has acquired Pearson’s Family Education Network. Terms were not disclosed.
The Learning House has acquired Carnegie Mellon University spinoff Acatar, reports Inside Higher Ed. No details about the terms of the deal.
Automattic, the company that runs WordPress, has acquired WooThemes, one of the oldest providers of WordPress themes. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The acquisition has prompted Edukwest’s Kirsten Winkler to ask, “Is WordPress the next major Online Education Platform?”
Zaption, which makes “online interactive videos,” has raised $1.5 million from NewSchools Venture Fund, Redcrest Enterprises, and Telegraph Hill Capital.
MeetUniv, “an Indian platform for finding universities and colleges abroad,” has raised $1 million from Peesh Venture Capital.
Via The New York Times: “A United States bankruptcy judge on Wednesday cleared the way for RadioShack to sell its brand name and customer data to a Standard General affiliate for about $26 million.”
Data, Privacy, and Surveillance
From the Pew Internet Center: “Americans' Attitudes About Privacy, Security and Surveillance.” “93% of adults say that being in control of who can get information about them is important; 74% feel this is ‘very important,’ while 19% say it is ‘somewhat important.’”
But it’s “privacy for me, but not for thee,” I guess. Parents who want implants in children. “Mark Zuckerberg just dropped another $100M to protect his privacy.” Etc.
“Wherefore Art Thou, Google Apps For Edu Terms of Service?” asks Funnymonkey’s Bill Fitzgerald.
The Internet of Things for poor people. Gee, what could possibly go wrong.
Via The Reporter: “An 18-year-old Dixon High School student was arrested Thursday on suspicion of altering a computer data system, a felony, in connection with more than 200 grade changes for more than 30 students at the school.” From the Office of Inadequate Security: “So does it concern anyone else that had a teacher not noticed a change, the district’s system didn't detect any unusual or questionable activity – given that the changes were being made from an IP outside of the district? Yes, teachers can work from home, but what controls did this district have in place? And if the student could access the electronic gradebook, what else could potentially be accessed of a sensitive nature?” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The New York Times reports that “Hackers from China infiltrated the computer systems of Pennsylvania State University’s College of Engineering, gaining usernames and passwords in what investigators described as a sophisticated cyberattack that lasted more than two years.”
Data and “Research”
According to a study published in The Journal of Adolescent Health, “18.6 percent of women at a university in upstate New York who started there in 2010 experienced either rape or attempted rape in their freshman year.”
Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy looks at recent research that examines “How Public Universities Shortchange Poor And Minority Students.”
Research published last year in Science that purported to show that short conversations with canvassers going door-to-door could change people opinions about same-sex marriage. Turns out the data was faked by a UCLA grad student, something discovered when two UC Berkeley grad students tried to replicate the findings. Here’s This American Life’s follow-up on the story. (The radio show was one of many many many news organizations that covered the original study.)
I haven’t read this study closely, but here’s the headline in The Guardian’s coverage: “Schools that ban mobile phones see better academic results.”
Further demonstrating my contention that the phrase “blended learning” is utterly meaningless, the Education Technology Industry Network of the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) says that according to a study it conducted, the definition of “online course” now means “blended learning.”
Consulting firm predicts the global market for ed-tech hardware will grow. News at 11.
Like many kids, I reckon, field trips were some of my favorite and most memorable happenings at school. Field trips were great, in no small part, because they involved missing school. Schedules and lessons were interrupted so that we could all pile into school buses or parents’ cars and venture out into the world.
I remember in first grade visiting a classmate’s granddad’s ranch where I got to feed a bum lamb. I remember annual trips to the local planetarium. Other regular destinations for a student growing up in Casper, Wyoming: the Werner Wildlife Museum, the Dave Johnston Power Plant, Fort Caspar. I remember a longer drive to Fort Laramie and one to the Wyoming Territorial Prison. I remember the year all the elementary students in the city sat in the bleachers at the Casper College gym and listened to the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra perform Peter and the Wolf; I remember because Pete Williams – yes, that Pete Williams, then a reporter at a local TV station – narrated, and our music teacher Ms. T played the bassoon. The bassoon in Peter and the Wolf plays the Grandfather’s part. The Wolf’s part is played by the French horn. I remember that too – not from watching the Disney cartoon or listening to the story and soundtrack on an LP at home. The instruments and the animals stuck with me, some 35 years later, from that field trip.
These days, field trips are on the decline. According to a 2012 survey by the American Association of School Administrators, 30% of respondents said they’d eliminated field trips in the 2010–2011 school year; 43% indicated they planned to eliminate them for the 2012–2013 school year. Museums and historical sites around the country also report that the number of school field trip visitors has fallen dramatically over the past decade.
The blame for this drop is often placed on a combination of school budget cuts and increased admission fees at museums and other popular field trip sites. Many schools increasingly offset the cost of field trips, in whole or in part, by asking parents to foot the bill. That means that access to field trips is an education equity issue, as affluent schools (and affluent parents) can continue to provide this sort of cultural enrichment while low income schools (and low income parents) cannot.
Field trips are sometimes dismissed as trivial distractions and unnecessarily deviations from the curriculum, but the enrichment they offer is actually quite important, particularly for low-income students who might not otherwise have the opportunities their wealthier peers do to visit museums and the like. According to one recent study:
One consistent pattern in our results is that the benefits of a school tour are generally much larger for students from less-advantaged backgrounds. Students from rural areas and high-poverty schools, as well as minority students, typically show gains that are two to three times larger than those of the total sample. Disadvantaged students assigned by lottery to receive a school tour of an art museum make exceptionally large gains in critical thinking, historical empathy, tolerance, and becoming art consumers.
Other research has found that field trips have a long-lasting impact on students, most of whom can still (like me) recall significant elements from the outings – who was there, what they saw, what they did – even years later:
The early-elementary-school field trip recollections of 9-, 13-, and 20+-year old individuals were virtually identical in the categories of items and/or experiences recalled. These findings strongly suggest that museum field trips – regardless of type, subject matter, or nature of the lessons presented – result in highly salient and indelible memories. These memories represented evidence of learning across a wide array of diverse topics.
Also reinforced by this study were the strong interrelationships between cognition and affect, cognition and the physical context, and cognition and social context.
But let's be honest: virtual field trips are not field trips. Oh sure, they might provide educational content. They might, as Google’s newly unveiled “Expeditions” cardboard VR tool promises, boast "360° photo spheres, 3D images and video, ambient sounds -- annotated with details, points of interest and questions that make them easy to integrate into curriculum already used in schools." But virtual field trips do not offer physical context; they do not offer social context. Despite invoking the adjective “immersive,” they most definitely are not.
So when Google says, as it did onstage today at its annual developer/marketing event Google IO, that its new tool will “take your students to places a school can’t,” let’s ask more questions and not simply parrot the tech giant’s PR.
Let’s ask why certain students from certain schools can’t go places -- even local places -- anymore (if, indeed, they ever were able to). Let’s consider how equating viewing 3D movies in the classroom with experiential learning off-campus could give even more schools an excuse to cut back further on funding actual field trips. And, please, let’s not conflate providing students a VR viewer made out of cardboard with actually addressing how education technology exacerbates inequalities.
Chris Christie was for the Common Core before he was against it. (He’s proposed that New Jersey drop the standards that Christie once pushed for.) As Politico notes, “The Republican flip-flop on the Common Core is nearly complete,” with almost every (potential) Republican presidential candidate now opposing the CCSS – save Jeb Bush.
“Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sought – and received – advice from Jeb Bush about how to deal with Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s concerns about Common Core, emails obtained by BuzzFeed News show.”
Meanwhile in Newark, thousands of high school students walked out in a major protest of the designation of eight schools as “turnaround schools.”
A bill has passed the Michigan Senate that would strip families of welfare benefits if their child misses too much school.
The FCC might make changes to its “Lifeline” program. The program currently helps subsidize phone service for low-income families, and the FCC is weighing whether or not it could help pay for broadband service as well.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The U.S. Department of Education said Tuesday that its four main federal student loan servicers, including Navient, have mostly followed the law in granting special interest-rate benefits to members of the military.” I love that adverb there: “mostly.”
The Copyright Board of Canada has delivered what Michael Geist calls a “devastating defeat” to Access Copyright, rejecting much of the latter’s claims for how (and how much) it be reimbursed for use of copyrighted materials.
“Many students in Silicon Valley community not reading by 3rd grade,” so San Mateo County is launching a campaign that will, among other things, help expand preschool programs for low-income families.
Education in the Courts
A district court judge has tossed out a lawsuit filed by for-profit colleges challenging the Obama Administration’s new “gainful employment” rules.
“Neither the legal principle of academic freedom nor the receipt of outside financial support for his work gives a public-college lecturer a right to declare his correspondence private, the University of Kansas argued this week in state court.” More on the legal battle between the university’s director of Center for Applied Economics and Students for a Sustainable Future in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
“A Georgia woman likely faces probation after she was arrested and put in ankle shackles earlier this month because of her son’s school absences,” says AJC.com.
Via PBS NewsHour: “What galvanized standardized testing's opt-out movement.”
The New York Times reports that 15 Chinese nationals have been accused of cheating on the SAT, “with a scheme that involved fake passports and test-taking impostors.”
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Some historians at the University of Oklahoma aren’t too thrilled about the school’s partnership with the History Channel (because, ya know, there is no “history” there.) More via Inside Higher Ed and OU instructor Laura Gibbs.
“The Invisible Learners Taking MOOCs” by George Veletsianos.
Mindwires Consulting’s Phil Hill looks at reports that the University of Florida Online is not meeting its enrollment goals. Here’s The Chronicle of Higher Education’s coverage.
Meanwhile on Campus
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill board has voted to change the name of Saunders Hall, which was named after a leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
In other NC higher ed news: the state’s Board of Governors has voted to eliminate 46 degree programs across the UNC-System.
“7 in 10 schools now have shooting drills, needlessly traumatizing huge numbers of children,” Vox reports.
The Washington Post mocks Harvard undergraduates because apparently they aren’t having sex.
NYU says its admissions officers will no longer review take into consideration if applicants have a criminal record.
Via NiemanLab: “What happened when a college newspaper abandoned its website for Medium and Twitter.” (A look at student journalism at Mt. San Antonio College.)
Via Campus Technology: “Why Blogging Is Key to the Future of Higher Ed.” (A look at the digital learning initiatives out of Virginia Commonwealth University.)
Another example of a wealthy tech exec creating his own school because “regular school” (public school) just wasn’t cutting it: “Elon Musk created his own grade school for the children of SpaceX employees.”
Go, School Sports Team!
Oh look! More news from North Carolina! “UNC receives Notice of Allegations from NCAA” regarding pervasive academic fraud and “paper classes” for athletes.
Congratulations to the University of Tokyo baseball team, which has ended its 94 game losing streak.
USA Today reports that just 24 of 230 public schools in Division I" have self-sufficient athletics programs.
Oregon led the nation with $196 million total operating revenue and an $83.5 million difference between its generated revenue and its total operating expense of $110.4 million. However, the school reported that its revenue included in-kind facility gifts of $95 million – the value of a football training facility funded primarily by Nike co-founder Phil Knight and his wife.
Spelling as Sport
Congratulations to Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam, co-champs of this year’s Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee.
From the HR Department
The one-and-only Jim Groom has submitted his resignation from the University of Mary Washington in order to work full-time at Reclaim Hosting, helping spread the good word on “Domain of One’s Own”-ish efforts.
Louise Richardson will become Oxford University’s new vice chancellor– the university’s 272nd vice chancellor and the first woman to hold the job.
Upgrades and Downgrades
Onstage at its annual developer/marketing event Google IO, Google said that it would release something called “Expeditions” this fall – “virtual field trips” that utilize Google’s cardboard-wrapper-for-Android-phone-VR-viewer.
Meanwhile, according to a patent application, “Google wants to make creepy bunny robots to talk to your kids.”
“Startup Aims to Make Silicon Valley an Actual Meritocracy,” says Wired which is always the publication I turn to for insights on “actual meritocracy.” (The startup in question is Gradberry, a Y Combinator-backed artificial intelligence recruitment tool.)
Education Week covers The Learning Accelerator’s plans for a “pricing database” that would allow districts “to share information on the costs they’re paying for education technology – primarily desktop computers, laptops, and tablets.”
A web standard for annotations? “Introducting hypothes.is for Education.”
Ed-Tech Investment (Singular)
Online tutoring company Boost Academy has raised $600,000 in seed funding from Tom Ladt and other investors.
Data and “Research”
The National Center for Education Statistics released its annual report on “The Condition of Education 2015.” According to the report, approximately 21% of school-age children live in poverty (that is, they live in families with household incomes of less than $15,510). That’s a 50% increase since 2000.
According to a survey conducted by Northwestern University, approximately 55% of preschool teachers have a tablet computer in the classroom.
Via Education Week: “Data breaches are costing companies in education up to $300 per compromised record, making it the second most impacted sector – behind only healthcare – for businesses with lost or stolen records globally, according to research released Wednesday by the Ponemon Institute.”
KPCC looks at research on Hot Wheels math and science lessons: “Mattel funds classroom lessons that teachers love, critics want to limit.”
Via Politico: “About 39 million people ages 16 to 29 across the globe weren’t employed and weren’t participating in any kind of education or training in 2013. That’s 5 million more than before the economic crisis of 2008, a new OECD report stresses, and 2014 predictions don’t look much better.”
But hey! At least they’ve got mobile phones, right? That’s one of the insights from analyst-turned-VC Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Dartmouth College researchers say a new app they have created can predict with great precision the grade point averages of students. The app tracks student behaviors associated with higher or lower GPAs. Students need to report their activities, as the app infers what they are doing and can tell when students are studying, partying or sleeping, among other activities.” Gee, no privacy issues there.
Highly influential educator Grant Wiggins passed away suddenly this week. Wiggins was the author of the 1998 book Understanding by Design, which argued that teachers engage in “backwards design” – that is, determine the learning goals and then design their lessons “backwards” from there in order to meet those goals.
Earlier this month, In Touch magazine revealed that Josh Duggar, one of the stars of the TLC reality TV show 19 Kids and Counting, had been named in a 2005 police report as an “alleged offender” in a sexual assault probe. Duggar, then a juvenile, had been brought to the Arkansas State Police by his father, but the state trooper – himself later convicted of child pornography – had apparently never followed up. (TMZ claims that Duggar has admitted to molesting 5 girls when he was a teen, including his sisters.)
It’s a rather stunning revelation about someone whose family’s fame rests not just on its size – Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar have 19 children – but on its devout Christianity. The Duggars have homeschooled all their children, severely restricting their access to the media (to TV and the Internet specifically), their dress, and most famously, their relationships with the opposite sex – no hand-holding, no kissing, no sexual contact until marriage.
Although TLC has yanked all scheduled episodes of 19 Kids and Counting from broadcast, it has not officially cancelled the show. (Yet.) As CNN Money observes, “‘19 Kids’ is one of TLC’s highest-rated shows. And TLC is one of Discovery Communication’s most valuable assets. The fate of the show is obviously being orchestrated at the highest levels of the company.” (It’s not the first time that TLC has had to deal with accusations of sexual abuse involving one of its reality TV stars incidentally. Last year, the network cancelled Here Comes Honey Boo Boo after reports surfaced that Mama June Shannon was dating a convicted sex offender – a man who’d molested one of her daughters.)
These stories – heck, its whole programming line-up, with or without sex scandals – often prompt observations like “Remember when TLC used to be called ‘The Learning Channel’?” But the history of TLC isn’t simply a story about changes to branding or programming; it’s also a story of what has happened over the past 40 years to public, educational television – content and courses that, at one time, were available for college credit.
"What is still one of the more interesting uses of new technology traces its beginnings back a decade, when farsighted individuals from a number of federal agencies realized America was on the edge of a major technological breakthrough whose proportions were only being glimpsed at the time." - Harold Morse, President of ACSN-The Learning Channel (1982)
The Appalachian Education Satellite Project: TLC’s Origin Story
In the 1960s, the governors of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia appealed to the federal government for special financial assistance to help support economic and community development in the Appalachian region, which has historically lagged behind the rest of the country. In response, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) was established, and among its initiatives, were efforts to boost access to health and educational services.
The formation of ARC coincided with NASA’s efforts to expand its technologies’ usage for the public good. Along with the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, NASA began developing plans in 1972 to use its ATS–6 satellite to test the feasibility of broadcasting education and health information – what became the Education Satellite Communication Demonstration (ESCD), a massive education technology undertaking.
ARC submitted a proposal to participate in ESCD, to use the satellite technology to disseminate “career education” to teachers in the region. The proposal was accepted, and the Appalachian Education Satellite Project (AESP) was created, with 15 receiver sites across 8 states. The AESP worked with local education service agencies to establish these sites where teachers could watch these broadcast courses, which in turn were accepted for academic credit at 12 regional universities.
The ATS–6 satellite was launched in 1974, and the first year of the AESP proved successful. According to a 1982 report on the project submitted to the National Institute of Education, “What was most especially apparent was that the project filled a community need not otherwise easily met, particularly in remote areas. As a result, a demand was being created for the establishment of a permanent communication network to continue and expand the services.”
In 1975, the ATS–6 changed its orbit, and the transmission of educational programming to Appalachia ceased until the satellite returned again to US orbit in 1976. When broadcasting resumed, there were some 45 sites that acted as receivers, some making their antenna available to other local TV stations. Over 2800 people in the region were taking courses delivered via the satellite, and those courses had expanded beyond continuing education for teachers to EMT training and business management.
But in October 1978, NASA announced technical difficulties with the ATS–6; it would not be able to broadcast transmissions for 12 months, the agency said, and it had no plans to replace the satellite either. So ARC decided that instead of ending its educational TV programming, it would purchase transponder time on a commercial satellite.
The Appalachian Community Service Network
This meant that the satellite transmissions were no longer free – new and larger expenses forced ARC to find more revenue and to rethink the organization of the project. The Appalachian Community Service Network (ACSN), a non-profit corporation with a board of directors appointed by ARC, was created in 1980. Its mission:
To serve and benefit the people of the Appalachian Region….by providing educational, cultural, and public interest programs through a television network utilizing a satellite distribution system … while … the primary purpose … (is) to serve the Appalachian Region, the corporation may also provide such services to other portions of the Appalachian States and the United States….
To … conduct … the creation, design development, production, origination, distribution, and broadcasting of educational, cultural, and public service programs on the basis of priorities and needs identified in the Appalachian Regional Development Act. …The programs will be made available to all citizens, with an emphasis placed on the needs of underserved populations in rural and non-metropolitan areas.
The new network expanded its coverage beyond ARC’s community receiver sites, making its programming available directly to home viewers. ACSN also expanded its programming from formal educational courses to “informational” content. Following its launch in October 1980, the network claimed that it “achieved the fastest rate of growth of all basic cable programming services,” with some 70 cable affiliates and 1.5 million subscribers by 1982. 70 universities granted academic credit for its courses.
In its report to the National Institute of Education, ACSN boasted that it “remains the only cable programming. network with a full-time commitment to the delivery of educational, instructional and informational programs for adult viewers and learners.”
That report details ACSN’s plans in the 1980s to generate revenue – to charge cable fees, to sell ancillary materials, to syndicate its content, to charge universities for credit hours. But the network struggled and increasingly turned to corporate investment. In 1986, Infotechnology Inc acquired a 51% stake in the company for $3 million.
TLC and Discovery Communications
When Infotech and its sister company the Financial News Network declared bankruptcy in 1991, Discovery Communications bought that stake for a reported $32 million. Discovery also bought ACSN’s stake as well, becoming the full owner of The Learning Channel. (Hearst and ABC had offered more money for the channel, but withdrew the offer when TCI, the cable provider that accounted for almost a fourth of The Learning Channel’s subscribers, said it couldn’t guarantee that it would continue to carry the channel. TCI was at the time one of the cable companies that owned a majority stake in Discovery Communications.)
Once part of Discovery, The Learning Channel quickly abandoned the formal educational courseware to other networks (such as the for-profit Jones International University and its network Mind Extension University, later Knowledge TV – also later acquired by Discovery), opting for programming that could appeal to more affluent audiences and in turn, of course, to advertisers. By the early 2000s, the network had dropped its “Cable in the Classroom” programming entirely as well, as it steadily began to distance itself from “learning,” promoting itself instead as “TLC.”
Lessons from The Learning Channel
This history - what TLC has become - shouldn’t simply serve to confirm FCC chairman Newton Minnow’s famous pronouncement that television is a “vast wasteland.” But it does highlight several key issues that education technology continues to struggle with today:
This post first appeared on Educating Modern Learners in March, winter in the Northern Hemisphere at least
North America is in the middle of a particularly rough winter. February was Toronto's coldest month on record, with temperatures never getting above freezing. Buffalo, Syracuse, Binghamton, and Ithaca, New York also had record-setting cold weather in February. Providence, Rhode Island had 31.8 inches of snow, breaking the old record for the month. Boston had 64.8 inches and is on track to have had the snowiest winter ever. And it's not just the Northeast. Cities in the south have experienced snow and ice as well - in Texas, for example, and in Tennessee.
This, no surprise, has prompted a lot of school closures.
There is no national policy or set of guidelines in the US for when schools should close. Instead individual district and school policies and administrators get to dictate what conditions prompt a school closure: freezing temperatures, high winds, National Weather Service warnings, impassable roads, the availability of public transportation and school buses, the heating systems of school buildings, and so on.
But even if there are specific policies in place, there's often uncertainty and the wait - for parents, students, teachers, and staff - to hear the official word: Has school been cancelled?
"Snow days" have always been a challenge for parents, particularly if they are still supposed to get to work. Arranging for last minute childcare is never easy, especially when the weather is bad. No school can also mean no hot lunch for lots of children.
It's easy to imagine that the news that there's "no school today!!" is met with joy by students. (And certainly, in many cases, it is - something that should tell us a lot about what students think about school.) But much like Kris Schaffer's recent argument that "homework is a social justice issue," we should recognize too that not all students experience either "school" or "home" the same way.
This should give us pause when we see the push for more programs such as the one described by Emily Richmond in a recent article in The Atlantic: "Are iPads the Solution to Snow Days?" She describes a pilot program for "flexible learning time" in Farmington, Minnesota in which students work from home on their school-issued iPads. During a recent storm and school closure, "the teachers had uploaded their assignments by 10 a.m., and they spent the rest of the day interacting with students via the district's Schoology digital platform."
Richmond notes that this school district is small and affluent; less than 17% of its 7000 students qualify for free or reduced lunches. Nationwide, about half of all public school students do. 98% of the Farmington students have high-speed Internet access at home. Again, that's much higher than the national average: about 70% of Americans have broadband at home.
Other school districts that have tried to implement ed-tech initiatives to handle snow days have run into problems, as many students still have neither computers nor Internet access at home. In December, the Associated Press reported on efforts in Kentucky, a state that ranks 46th out of 50 for access to high speed Internet, to replace snow days with online instruction. For students without computers: "prepared snow day work packets."
Prepared snow day work packets.
Of course, if there are offline activities that students should be doing when school is cancelled - that is, if schools deem it necessary to dictate what students do on their snow days - then it hardly seems like "work packets" are the best or most interesting or innovative option. (This raises questions too if the online version in Kentucky is anything more than a digital work packet. Sadly, much of online instruction turns out to be precisely that.)
No doubt, there are pressures - policy requirements - to make sure students have enough "instructional time" over the course of the academic year. Too many snow days could mean having to extend the school year into the summer or to take away other vacation days. Perhaps the answers can, in part, be technological: expand access to computers to all students; expand access to the Internet to all homes.
But we still need to ask then: access to technology to what end? What are students expected to do with technology at home? Hopefully it's something much more powerful and engaging and meaningful than "prepared snow day work packets." Otherwise, why bother?
WTF, Wisconsin. First, it was the $300 million slashed from the budget for public higher ed. Now, the state’s Joint Finance Committee voted (12 to 4) to eliminate tenure from state statute. It also moved to limit faculty’s role in shared governance. More coverage from The New York Times and from the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.
Meanwhile in Texas: it’s now okay to carry a concealed weapon on college campuses in the state, thanks to a Senate vote.
Starting next year, parents in Nevada will receive vouchers – about $5000 – that they can use to pay tuition at private or parochial schools if they opt not to send their child to public school.
Education in the Courts
Four people were arrested for disturbing the peace after cheering for a family member at a high school graduation in Clovis, Mississippi.
Two North Carolina high school students were arrested and are facing felony charges for pulling the ol’ "alarm clock in the locker" prank.
A North Carolina Court of Appeals has ruled that the state’s repeal of its teacher tenure law in 2013 was unconstitutional.
Clovis Unified School District has agreed to allow Christian Titman, who is Native American, to wear an eagle feather to his high school graduation, settling a lawsuit brought by the ACLU.
Via the NSBA’s Legal Clips blog: “Utah Court of Appeals rules that video from school camera was subject to FERPA disclosure restrictions because it was an ‘education record.’”
Via Inside Higher Ed: “New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman on Thursday announced a lawsuit against the College Network, an Indiana company. The suit charges that the company duped students in the state into thinking that the College Network had an affiliation with Excelsior College and then selling various services that were in theory designed to help with Excelsior programs. But the services were unrelated to Excelsior, and the College Network’s products did nothing to prepare students for Excelsior exams, the suit says.”
The free SAT test prep website from Khan Academy (built in partnership with the College Board) is now live. There have been lots of predictions that this will “disrupt” the test prep industry and “level the playing field.” Akil Bello, who works in test prep, offers his thoughts.
Starting in 2017, students who take the NAEP – “the nation’s report card” – will be asked questions about their level of grit and their mindset.
11th graders in Connecticut might be able to take the SAT next year instead of the Common Core tests, if a bill that passed the state Senate gets approval in the House.
The Missouri legislature has “directed the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to sever ties with the test developer, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which provided 17 other states with exams aligned with the Common Core. The provision is part of an appropriations bill that Gov. Jay Nixon signed into law. It eliminates $4.2 million the education department needed to pay Smarter Balanced for next year’s tests.”
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Another news tidbit that strengthens my argument that MOOCs are really just the latest in educational TV: A UVA MOOC – “The Kennedy Half Century” – has been nominated for an Emmy.
edX has made it possible for instructors on its platform to add CC licenses to their courses. Open!
A musical interlude: “When the MOOC is Over.”
“An Increasingly Popular Job Perk: Online Education.” – “A partnership between Southern New Hampshire and Anthem Inc., a health-insurance company, will allow some 55,000 Anthem employees to earn associate or bachelor’s degrees through the university’s College for America, a competency-based assessment program.”
Meanwhile on Campus
Westmont College is scanning its students’ brains to see if they’re learning. I love this quote:
“I was trying to think of something more ridiculous, but I couldn't,” said Robert A. Burton, a neurologist and author of A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves.
“The Garden Valley School school district in Idaho purchased four rifles and 2,000 rounds of ammunition to help school officials protect students against potential threats,” says TPM. The school district will post signs warning that its staff is armed.
Evan Young has been blocked by his high school, Twin Peaks Charter Academy High School, from giving a valedictorian speech in which he planned to out himself as gay.
“The University of Sydney plans to increase its undergraduate courses from three to four years and cut many of its double degrees in a radical overhaul of education that would see the number of degrees reduced by at least 100,” says The Age. (The university would only offer 22 degrees.)
St Benet’s Hall will admit women, the last Oxford University institution to become co-ed.
“Chegg, the textbook and student services company that has long been a nuisance to physical campus bookstores, will this fall take over and run the textbook center at Bowdoin College,” reports Inside Higher Ed.
It’s 2015 and school districts are still freaking out about teachers interacting with students on social media.
Via The New York Times: “New York City is installing 21,000 audible door alarms at public schools to prevent another tragedy like the disappearance and death of a student with autism in 2013, education officials said on Thursday.”
In other NYC news: the city’s schools will allow condom demonstrations in class.
In still more NYC news, there’s a new database for parents to use to see their children’s attendance and grades, replacing the ARIS system.
Hal Friedlander, the department’s chief information officer, said on Tuesday that NYC Schools was designed internally for less than $2 million and was expected to cost under $4 million for further development over the next four years. By contrast, ARIS, developed by IBM and a group of subcontractors, cost the Education Department $95 million from 2007 to 2014. Department officials said that only 3 percent of parents used it. Teachers and principals used it more often, but a 2012 audit report by the city comptroller found that nearly half of them had not logged into the system during the previous year.
Via the NY Post: “Former Washington Post Publisher Don Graham has raised $81 million for a college-tuition scholarship program for undocumented immigrant students — and attracted gold-plated donors like Bill Gates, Mike Bloomberg and Bill Ackman to the cause. But Graham has raised some eyebrows by quietly sending 5 percent of the scholarship students to his for-profit Kaplan University schools, The Post has learned exclusively.”
Go, School Sports Team!
The SEC will no longer allow its member colleges to accept transfer athletes who have a history of domestic or sexual violence.
The NCAA has charged the University of North Carolina with five “Level 1” violations following an investigation that found that some 3000 students – mostly athletes – had participated in fake “paper classes.”
“Ten of the 16 institutions with teams facing National Collegiate Athletic Association penalties this year for the NCAA’s idea of poor academic performance are historically black colleges and universities,” Inside Higher Ed reports.
The US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights will investigate the University of Iowa’s handling of gender bias complaints against athletic director Gary Barta.
From the HR Department
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has picked four new members who’ll join the CPS school board. Among those stepping down from board positions: ed-tech investor Deborah Quazzo, “whose financial holdings with companies doing business with the school system have come under scrutiny.”
Elsewhere in the CPS: “Barbara Byrd-Bennett has resigned as chief executive of Chicago Public Schools amid a federal investigation into a $20.5 million no-bid contract.”
James Cibulka, head of the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, has been dismissed, according to Inside Higher Ed.
“Della Curry was fired by the Cherry Creek School District after she decided to give a few school lunches to students who didn't have any money at the time,” The Root reports.
Florida high school science teacher Dean Liptak has been suspended for using a signal jamming device in his classroom in order to block students from using cellphones.
Jim Shelton, former deputy secretary of education, is joining 2U as “Chief Impact Officer.”
Upgrades and Downgrades
“A group representing the seven regional accrediting agencies has developed a common framework for assessing and approving competency-based education programs proposed by their member institutions,” Inside Higher Ed reports.
“Introducing Blackboard’s New School Design Language System,” which among other things supports the “emotional needs of learners.” LOL.
Code.org has new curriculum partners, including Code Studio, ScratchEd, Codeacademy, Amplify Education, Beauty and Joy of Computing, Bootstrap, CodeHS, Globaloria, National Math and Science Initiative, Project Lead the Way, Technology Education And Literacy in Schools, and Tynker.
“Raise a Glass,” says Edsurge. “It's Now Possible to Become a Thiel Fellow and Legally Drink.” That is, those 22 and under can now apply for the $100,000 fellowship.
Funding and Acquisitions
Udemy has raised $65 million for its marketplace of classes. Investors in this round were Stripes Group, Upwork (the company formerly known as Elance-oDesk), Art.com, Pond5, Norwest Venture Partners, and Insight Venture Partners. Udemy has raised $113 million total.
Oxford University Press has acquired Epigeum for “£10.7 million,” says EducationInvestor.
“Investors Rethink EdTech As Dealflow Declines,” says Techcrunch. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Data, Privacy, and Surveillance
Via The Washington Post: “People's Daily Online wrote that authorities in central China's Luoyang City are using drones during the administration of university entrance exams, gaokao. The score on this exam, usually given in June, is the only measure that most Chinese institutions of higher education use to admit students.”
Via the BBC: “Schools are being offered new software that helps teachers spy on pupils’ potentially extremist online activity. It alerts teachers if pupils use specific terrorism-related terms or phrases or visit extremist websites on school computers, laptops or tablets.”
Via the Orlando Sentinel: “What Orange County students – and staff – post on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube is now being monitored by their school district to ‘ensure safe school operations.’”
Data and “Research”
“Large-Scale, Government-Supported Educational Tablet Initiatives” (PDF)
A report from Education Week on “life after special education” details, among other things, the graduation rates for students with disabilities.
Via Politico: “A new report from the Center for Community Alternatives finds that nearly 75 percent of colleges and universities collect high school disciplinary information, and the overwhelming majority consider those records in deciding which students to admit.”
An Edsurge op-ed by Nick Sheltrown, VP of analytics at a charter school management company: “Dear Education Data Geeks: Stop Obsessing Over Subgroup Analyses.”
Also via Edsurge: “Do Learning Management Systems Actually Improve K–12 Outcomes?”
“Can Text Messages and Interventions Nudge Students Through School?” asks HarvardX researcher Justin Reich.
“For the Poor, the Graduation Gap Is Even Wider Than the Enrollment Gap,” writes Susan Dynarski in The New York Times.
A study by the Campaign for College Opportunity calls for the end to the ban on race-based admissions to California’s universities.
Via The Atlantic: “A startling number of Chinese students are getting kicked out of American colleges. According to a white paper published by WholeRen, a Pittsburgh-based consultancy, an estimated 8,000 students from China were expelled from universities and colleges across the United States in 2013–4. The vast majority of these students – around 80 percent – were removed due to cheating or failing their classes.”
Students at Theodore Roosevelt High School have conducted their own research into the LAUSD district’s iPad debaucle.
Five years ago today, I published my first post here on Hack Education. The origin story of the blog is one that I’ve told a lot – I was a tech blogger, editors didn’t want me to write about ed-tech, they couldn't stop me, blah blah blah. Kin tells the story too, since we’d just started dating when we purchased the domains http://hackeducation.com and http://apievangelist.com. I’m amazed at what both of those sites, and by extension our lives, have become.
I realize that the traditional fifth anniversary gift is wood, but maybe you could consider something else. Remember: the work I do here is funded, in part, through the donations of readers. You can support my work via Patreon or Paypal.
Thank you all for putting up with Hack Education for the past five years. Here’s to many more years of ed-tech doomsaying.
“Television came to American Samoa on Sunday afternoon, October 4, 1964.” Thus opens a 1981 book by mass communications scholar William Schramm and his colleagues, Bold Experiment: The Story of Educational Television in American Society. Although there were other instructional television initiatives ongoing around the world, its introduction in American Samoa “was the first time a developing region set out to use that medium in an all-out attempt to modernize an educational system.”
Four years later, after visiting a school in American Samoa, President Lyndon Johnson declared“the bold experiment” a success:
“Samoan children are learning twice as fast as they once did, and retaining what they learn. Surely from among them, one day, will come scientists and writers to give their talents to Samoa, to America, and to the world.”
But in the following years, there grew a substantial resistance and resentment to this centralized system of televised instruction – from teachers and from students, particularly at the high school level. (Perhaps there had been earlier too, but data on teachers’ and students’ attitudes, as well as on students’ educational attainment was not tracked in the initiative’s early years.) By 1979, Schramm reports, the broadcasts had been radically trimmed – from a studio system that produced 6000 educational programs a year to one that produced just one series. Instead of supplanting teachers, “television’s classroom role had been largely reduced to that of a supplemental or enrichment service, to be used when and if a teacher decided it was appropriate.”
Television didn’t go away, of course. But the transmissions became commercial – carrying NBC (and some PBS) programming. (The two most popular shows in American Samoa in 1976: Police Woman and Sanford & Son.)
Coming of the Kennedy Administration in Samoa
The United States took control of the eastern Samoan islands at the turn of the century, following the Tripartite Convention of 1899 that split Samoa into two parts. American Samoa remains an unincorporated US territory. In the 1950, the jurisdiction of the territory was handed over by the US Navy to the Department of the Interior, and until 1978, the governor was a presidential appointment. Rarely did those appointed stay in office longer than a year or two.
In 1961, the Kennedy administration appointed H. Rex Lee governor. He served from May 1961 to July 1967 and again from May 1977 to January 1978, appointed by President Carter to help with the transition of the territory to an elected executive branch. In those intervening years, he served as the commissioner of the FCC.
He was a believer in television.
Lee said in 1966, “I was not only intrigued with what television might do for our children and teachers, but I also was convinced that it would be a useful tool in working with the community as a whole – a community that was grossly undereducated but one that America needed to bring into the 20th century in a hurry.” His daughter had learned to type while watching an instruction television show and had then landed a job. He’d taken a television course on conversational French. Lee believed that television would be the key to modernizing American Samoa’s education system.
American Samoa’s School System
When Lee arrived in American Samoa, its education system was, in Schramm’s words “a shambles, literally in terms of facilities and figuratively in terms of educational standards and results.” Most of the elementary schools were one room fales, traditional wall-less structures with wooden posts holding up domed, thatched roofs. There was not enough space in the high schools to accommodate all the students who graduated from the elementary level. Annual expenditure per pupil expenditure for the 1959–60 school year was $50. (The average on the mainland:$487.) Furthermore, the teachers themselves had limited training. Not a single one had a mainland teaching certificate, and the Gates Reading Survey in 1967 found that elementary school teachers were only barely reading at a level higher than their students.
When there were educational materials available for classes, often they were were “hand-me-down mainland textbooks that had been discarded as out-of-date,” Schramm noted.
Samoan children read about snow, railroads, highways, and great cities with tall buildings. All this in a climate where the temperature rarely drops below 75°F, where there is nothing that faintly resembles a railroad, and where an occasional two-story building towers above the native houses. The world of Dick and Jane, in short, had little relevance to the Samoan youngsters.
While most students spoke Samoan at home, there were pressures – as well as promises from the administration – for English-language learning. At the same time, there were ongoing concerns about how the education system would support or undermine the traditional Samoan culture.
Recommending the Move to Educational Television
Governor Lee asked Congress for $40,000 for a “feasibility study” to see if educational television could be used to “fix” the Samoan education system. His request was granted, and Lee approached the National Association of Educational Broadcasters to conduct it.
The NAEB team visited American Samoa in 1961 and issued their report in January 1962 recommending that television be made the major form of instruction. But they also recommended that the entire educational system be revamped – they suggested that schools be reorganized so that elementary schools covered grades 1–8 and high schools focused on 9–12; they urged a new curriculum, one that was “relevant to Samoa and to its customs and people”; they recommended that English be taught as a second language, so that literacy and comprehension in Samoan was attained first.
With respect to television, the report recommended that the “new curriculum” should be in the planning for at least a year before the changeover. In the way of equipment and staff, it recommended the construction of a six-channel VHF television station operating through transmitters located atop Mount Alava, Tutuila’s second-highest mountain; the establishment of a four-studio production center capable of turning out approximately 200 television lessons each week, complete with lesson guides, worksheets, tests, and materials; and the recruitment of approximately 150 curriculum specialists, engineers, and principals, along with television and research teachers, producers, artists, photographers, and printers."
A budget request of $2,579,000 for a television system and $3,173,750 for construction of new schools was made for fiscal 1963, which Congress approved in almost its entirely (providing $1,000,000 less for the TV system).
No other method of improving the Samoan education system – better training of its teachers, replacing those teachers with American ones – was ever really considered.
“There was no time for waiting, no time for armchair patient – there had been too much of that for sixty years,” Governor Lee said. The television system was built rapidly – a process that had to include wiring some remote places for electricity. The curriculum was developed rapidly as well. 26 new schools were also under construction (many of which kept the fale architecture but contained two areas with a wall dividing them, where a 23" television was installed), although when KVZK-TV went on the air in October 1964, only four of them were complete.
Classroom and Telecast Schedule, Level 4 (Grades 7 and 8), September 1965
Students across all grade levels spent about one-third of their day watching television.
During the first years of the system, approximately 170 programs were produced locally each week, representing 53.5 hours of air time and some 180 hours of studio time. All programs intended for use in the schools were prerecorded and broadcast from videotape. After the first year, the weekly television schedule was augmented with the use of the videotapes of 51 school programs (mostly language drills) from the preceding year. This represented a weekly output of 221 instructional programs, or about 61.25 hours.
The station also broadcast two to four in-service programs each week, varying in length from 30 minutes to one hour, plus four to six hours of evening programming six nights a week, which normally included six to eight different local programs, totally approximately three hours. The station was thus responsible for about 88 hours of programming a week, two thirds of which was new production. Looked at in another framework, the instructional programming alone amounted to more than 6,100 telecasts a year, or about 2,000 hours of air time. In comparison, not even the largest U.S. commercial stations of the day produced local programs at anything like this rate.
But the quantity of programming - and the rapidity of the roll-out - came at the expense of quality, as the studio teachers were responsible for creating 10 to 15 programs per week. Each television lesson came with directions for the Samoan classroom teachers, who were told precisely what to do to prepare for each lesson, what to do during the broadcast, and what to say afterwards. As Schramm points out, “although students spent only about two hours of each school day actually watching the screen, all instruction revolved around the broadcast curriculum.” There were supposed to be supplementary worksheets that came with each broadcast, but often these did not reach a classroom until long after the lesson had been shown.
Teachers, no surprise, were frustrated by the lack of control over their classrooms – this centralized system had replaced one that was most often managed at the individual village level. Teachers argued that the strict broadcast schedule meant they could not deviate, even if their students needed or wanted to spend more time on a topic.
There were also problems because, contrary to the NAEB’s initial recommendations, the emphasis was not on English as a second language but on Samoan – the students’ native language – as the second language. Most of the studio teachers came from the mainland, and the curriculum presupposed that English was the language of instruction after the third grade. This made it particularly challenging to craft lessons in other subject areas as students had a very limited English vocabulary. As Schramm observes, “In effect, what this meant was that no teacher of any subject, at any grade level, could use words or phrases in his or her instruction that had not already been introduced in the English language course at that grade level. It made an already inflexible system still more inflexible and introduced a requirement that many television teachers later were to find seriously inhibiting in their subject areas.”
A survey of teachers and students conducted in 1972 found that the higher the grade level, the more the attitudes towards educational television declined. 70.6% of fifth graders, for example, said they learned better with educational television, but just 23.5% of twelfth graders said that. (It’s important to note that 1972 was the first time that students and teachers were systematically asked for their opinions on the initiative, and it’s hard to see if the growing dissatisfaction and disillusionment with educational television could have been addressed better –or at least differently – if it had been addressed earlier.)
In 1973, policy makers decreed that teachers, principals, and students should participate in the course planning process; moreover teachers should have control over whether or not they used a television lesson. Over the next few years, television – both the production of lessons and their use in the classroom – was cut further and further back. By 1975, high schools were not using instructional television at all. KVZK was separated from the Department of Education in 1976. (It’s still on air today – a local PBS station.)
Despite the excitement about the initiative in its early years and despite the endorsement of President Johnson, educational television in American Samoa was hardly an overwhelming success. But nor was it an utter failure, at least by Schramm’s assessment. They piece together some of the various test scores from the islands – again a problem since there was no baseline against which to compare the impact of educational television, concluding “There is nothing in this evidence to say television succeeded or failed, except that it did not accomplish the expected miracle.”
Excitement about the possibility of educational television as a “modernization” effort did, Schramm argues, serve to convince Congress to increase the amount of money spent on the Samoan education system: from $50 per pupil in 1961 to $1041 per pupil in 1980 when Schramm’s book was published. Still today, however, the per pupil expenditure for students in American Samoa remains the lowest of all states and territories. ($3,826 in 2007, which is the last year I can find the data on the NCES website.)
The rejection of educational television wasn’t a rejection of the technology. But it was at the very least, a rejection of too much technology, a rejection of the centralized control over curriculum and instruction, and a rejection of the insistence from mainland administrators and ed-tech proponents that a change to the educational system occur rapidly, with no input from teachers or students.
When I was asked to give a title for this talk several months ago, I quickly made something up (as one does), throwing out this phrase “Learning Networks, Not Teaching Machines.” I figured I’d say something about the century-old efforts to automate education and the possibilities instead for a new and different technological architecture that might help us re-orient education towards learners certainly, but also towards greater equity and social justice.
But as often happens with me, the more I thought about the topic, and the more I explored the history and the ideology of “networks,” the less confident I became that we’re paying close enough attention to justice, to politics and power when we use that word “network” as either a noun or a verb or an adjective. And I don’t mean this just when we use the word as a metaphor for personal and professional connections either. “The network map is not the political territory,” as VCU professor David Golumbia tweeted, just a couple of days after I submitted the title for this talk.
This is a telegraph and railroad map from New England, circa 1850. This is where this particular usage of the word “network” originates – in roughly the same time period – in transportation (rivers, canals, railroads) and later applied to communications and broadcast transmissions (telegraph, telephone, radio). We’ve come recently to think about networks as organizational systems for human relationships, but I want us to consider the infrastructure here – technologically, etymologically, historically – when we invoke “networks.”
As some of you might know, 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. In part, the project grows out of my frustration with the claims made 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.” This is a powerful and purposeful re-telling and revising of history, I’d contend, designed to shape the direction of the future. In fact, education was one of the “industries” – I loathe that word, that framing too – that helped create Internet technology in the first place. Education – or more accurately, I suppose scientific and technical research at universities – was one of the first industries to be “networked” by the Internet.
Of course, these sorts of 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.
This image represents to me ed-tech’s past, its present, and its future – hilariously sad since it’s over one hundred years old. This print from 1910 is by the French artist Villemard, commissioned as part of a series “En l’an 2000” (“In the Year 2000”) to promote the World’s Fair and to celebrate the new century (and centuries to come). Prints like this one were included in the packaging of cigar and cigarette boxes and later became popular postcards and PowerPoint slides.
Here we see the teacher stuffing textbooks – L’Histoire de France– into a machine, where the knowledge is ground up and delivered electronically, via wires connected to headphones and helmets, into the brains of young male students.
Arguably this image is so frequently cited because it confirms some of our beliefs and suspicions about the future of education: that it’s destined to become mechanized, and that automation is designed around a belief that educational content is something to be delivered. Students’ heads are something to be filled with knowledge.
There is too, I’d contend, a certain “vestigiality” of education technology. With each subsequent technological invention or innovation, that is, as ed-tech purportedly “evolves,” it continues to carry forward older features and structures regardless of their continuing functionality. I think we can see this in the Villemard print; it also explains why it still resonates so deeply with us. We don’t simply recognize the classroom; we recognize the impetus behind a century-old prediction about the future of education technology.
Just three years after this print was released – that is, in 1913 – Thomas Edison famously predicted that “Books will soon be obsolete in schools.” 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, a reminder too that predictions about the coming ed-tech revolution are at least a hundred years old.
Often when we talk about education technology, we focus on “the machine” itself – on the grinder and headsets in this Villemard print, on the film projector in Edison’s case, or the radio receiver, the television set, or more recently on the computer, the tablet, the smartphone. (Perhaps we even do so at the expense of focusing on the “educational content” that the machine is supposed to deliver or instead of talking about the new practices that new technologies purportedly afford. Certainly we do so at the expense of focusing on pedagogy, on people.)
We don’t talk as often about the wires that connect the textbook grinder to the students’ headphones. These students, arguably, are networked (something that Edison’s film projector did not offer, I should point out – although we can see in this “En l’an 2000” print, that there was already an imagined world where moving images and sounds would be sent over the network).
But what can we say about the Villemard vision of “a learning network”? Does it meet our standards today, our belief in the ways in which networks can transform teaching and learning? I’d imagine it does not because this particular learning network is centralized. In that way, it is more akin to Edison’s vision of the future of education – where the knowledge is delivered by (and this power resides in) whatever replaces the teacher and the textbook. For both Edison and Villemard here, the students are receptors, not transmitters of knowledge.
When we talk about the potential for “networked learning” today, I think (I hope) we mean something different. The promise: the Internet – and the Web in particular – enable a readable and a writable platform, where a multitude of voices can express themselves as creators not just consumers and not just through text but through a multitude of media – audio, video, still images, code. These new wires have powerful implications for self-organized learning, some argue – a new participatory culture of learning that need not be managed or monitored by formal educational institutions or by traditional sources of information. The new networks, like the Web itself, ostensibly act as this very postmodern sort of technical infrastructure whereby power is decentralized, distributed.
But it’s not decentralized entirely. It’s certainly not distributed evenly. It never has been. Yet there’s that tendency once again to recast the history of technology as equitable if not equalizing – a nostalgia for a “web we lost” – such as when last year Sir Tim Berners-Lee said it was time to “re-decentralize” his invention, the World Wide Web. Berners-Lee noted – rightly so, I’d say – that “for-profit internet monopolies such as search engines and social networks,” along with government surveillance, threaten the Web’s original, open infrastructure.
I’ve been thinking about this faith we’ve put in online networks – this trust that they are open, for example, or that they flatten hierarchies. I’ve been thinking too, as I’ve researched the history of education technology and teaching machines, about other, older networks. Indeed, many of these networks have not gone away. The telephone company or the television cable company is likely now – in the United States at least – your Internet provider as well. We are building our learning networks on these older technologies. We are building them on and with pre-existing and emerging monopolies.
Take Comcast, for example, the largest cable company and home Internet service provider in the US. It is the country’s third largest home telephone service provider. Comcast also owns one of the original “big three” networks NBC, along with the Spanish-language network Telemundo. It owns the film production studio Universal Pictures, as well as the studio’s associated parks and resorts. It has tried unsuccessfully to buy its competitor, cable provider Time Warner Cable. It has tried unsuccessfully to buy Disney (which in turns owns ABC).
Comcast also partnered with the online learning site Khan Academy a few years ago, incidentally, making a substantial donation to the education non-profit and paying for TV advertisements for Khan Academy which would in turn promote Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, a federally-mandated initiative in the US whereby Comcast offers low-income families broadband for $9.95 per month. This cheaper broadband has been criticized for a number of reasons, in part because it offers download speeds of only “up to” 5 Mbps, sufficient for streaming online video content but barely. Comcast Internet Essentials does not include a WiFi-enabled modem.
When we think about Comcast’s lobbying and legal efforts, its opposition to “net neutrality,” for example – the principle that Internet Service Providers treat all data on the network equally – we can start to see how important it is that we pay attention to “the wires” and to the network. The physical infrastructure; not the metaphor.
It’s not just Comcast, of course. We can see similar efforts to control the network infrastructure in Facebook’s recent partnership with various cellphone manufacturers to create something called “Internet.org,” to provide Internet access to those in the developing world. The effort has been criticized lately for also violating “net neutrality” by deciding which websites would be available for free – that is, accessible without paying for a data plan. No big surprise, Facebook access via Internet.org is free. Other apps are free for a time being, then the data surcharges begin. Here’s one way this is directly relevant to ed-tech: as part of its Internet.org efforts, Facebook also partnered with edX and Nokia to offer MOOCs to students in Rwanda – to offer “access to free, high-quality, localized educational content via low-cost smartphones” via a special “Facebook integrated edX app.”
Despite the promise of the Internet and the Web to “democratize education” – we hear the MOOC proponents talk about this a lot – or to offer this new and radically meritocratic form of “networked learning,” we must remember that our technical infrastructure is controlled by a small number of powerful corporations, alongside – in terms of support, censure, and surveillance, the world’s governments. To repeat David Golumbia, “The network map is not the political territory.”
As I’ve conducted some of my recent research about the history of education technology, I’ve become fascinated by a different sort of pre-Internet network – the television network. Television technology was developed around the same time as film which did not – sorry Edison – replace textbooks, but did shape our ideas about scale and broadcast – for our purposes here, specifically the broadcast and delivery of educational content.
(This is the part of the talk where, in typical American fashion, I come to Europe and talk about the history of education technology in the US. My apologies in advance. My point is not that all ed-tech history is US ed-tech history, but rather there’s something about what Siva Vaidhyanathan calls “infrastructural imperialism” going on here that will affect all of us globally. Also I love to subtly reference the latest MOOC craze while talking about educational TV in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.)
The FCC (the Federal Communications Commission) was/is in charge of determining the engineering standards for television and approving licenses, with the first commercial licenses issued to NBC and CBS-owned stations in New York City in 1941. (NBC and CBS were already powerful radio networks – remember, we build new networks on top of older ones.) As the demand for licenses (and more broadly the demand for television) grew, many educators felt as though they were going to need special channels devoted specifically to education if they were going to be able to compete with the commercial broadcasters. In 1952, the FCC announced that it would reserve 242 television channels for educational use.
Educational TV stations immediately faced several challenges: PR and programming to name just two. Often the stations did not have much regular programming to offer, and as such they tended to be off the air on the weekends. What programming they were able to provide was frequently low-budget and dependent on local producers. There was no educational network; that is to say, there were just individual stations, often with a very limited transmission reach.
Indeed, one technical issue all early television stations faced was actually getting the signal from the transmitter to receivers, whether in homes or in classrooms. In the 1940s, Westinghouse engineer Charles Noble had developed a solution to this problem – something he called “Stratovision.” Stratovision involved broadcasting the transmission from the air, rather than the ground, via aircraft flying at 25,000 feet. But commercial television didn’t pursue Stratovision, instead developing networks that shared and broadcast programming via affiliate stations simultaneously across the country. Commercial TV chose networks.
And that – namely, networks and affiliates – was something that educational television did not have. Westinghouse contacted the Ford Foundation, which was funding many early educational TV initiatives, and suggested that Stratovision be used to this end; and the Ford Foundation in turn helped support one of the more unique experiments in US ed-tech history, the Midwest Program on Airborne Television Instruction (MPATI).
The program, which ran out of Purdue University from 1961 to 1968, involved two DC–6 airplanes with over six tons of transmitting equipment and shelves containing a library of backup videotapes circled the skies, broadcasting educational TV to membership schools below – in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. It’s hard to call it a success – it struggled with a number of financial and technical and scheduling problems. And as historian Larry Cuban notes, teachers simply didn’t use television in the classroom all that much.
But that didn’t stop the push for more instructional television or the belief that this new technology would, to quote Edison again, “supplant the use of textbooks.” But again – let’s take a closer look not at the television itself but at the control of programming, channels, spectrum, networks.
I recently wrote a story about the history of “The Learning Channel,” which is back in the news once again because of the behavior of some of its reality TV stars. (And once again I apologize for this being such a US-centric talk, but even more deeply, I apologize for US reality television.) The Learning Channel, now known as TLC, actually started as an education initiative to bring satellite television – televised continuing education for teachers, specifically – to remote areas in Appalachia, a historically poor, rural area in the mid- to southeastern US.
The Appalachian Education Satellite Project was launched in 1974, taking advantage of NASA’s ATS–6 satellite which agreed to transmit educational broadcasting for free. Two years later, NASA announced that the satellite was experiencing technical difficulties, and so the project bought transponder time on a commercial satellite. This started a chain of events that, I think, should be quite familiar to those of us in education. The satellite transmissions were no longer free, so the Appalachian Education Satellite Project, a non-profit organization, had to come up with more revenue. It decided to formally create a television network so that it could expand coverage and programming. The Appalachian Community Service Network launched in 1980, branding itself “The Learning Channel.” At its peak, some 70 universities granted academic credit for its courses.
Yet the network still struggled financially, selling 51% of the stake in it to a company that went bankrupt just 5 years later. Discovery Communications then bought The Learning Channel for a reported $32 million in 1991. (Incidentally, Hearst and ABC had offered more money for the channel, but withdrew the offer when TCI, the cable provider that accounted for almost a fourth of The Learning Channel’s subscribers, said it couldn’t guarantee that it would continue to carry the channel. TCI was at the time one of the cable companies that owned a majority stake in – you guessed it – Discovery Communications. See? Who owns the network matters!) After acquiring The Learning Channel, Discovery ended its formal courseware offerings, and its programming has become more and more salacious and less and less “educational.”
See, I’m particularly struck by these stories when I stop and consider “learning networks.” Many television networks grew out of earlier radio networks, and as I mentioned earlier, these are now massive multinational media corporations. We must ask: Who owns the “pipes” and “the wire”? Who owns the means by which content is transmitted? Who owns the satellites? Who owns the spectrum? Who owns the cables? Who owns the network? What networks – what infrastructure – have we inherited?
I realize, of course, that when we invoke “learning networks” today, we aren’t (necessarily?) attempting to emulate the Discovery Channel or NBC or the BBC. And yet I think it would be naive to think that the work we do online – our ability to be “connected” through the Internet – is not something built upon or at least adjacent to these powerful networks. We might not talk about them. But that doesn’t mean they do not shape what we can do online, who has access, what that access look like. They shape too, as early educational television channels learned, what the content looks like and what the commercial competition looks like when it comes to garnering attention.
The Internet and the Web do not exist at the end of history. Technology will change. But the geopolitics, the economic forces will change the Internet and the Web as well. Networks change – canals are replaced by railroads; radio stations are replaced by television and now the Internet. The Internet will be likely replaced by something else. And no doubt, we can see already its consolidation and centralization. We can see the battles for who owns the signal. (The FCC plans soon to license off more wireless spectrum for the “Internet of Things” via auction – that is, to the highest bidder.) We can see the battles for who owns, who controls the network.
Education has not historically fared well when it comes to competing with commercial providers – not on the radio, not on the television, nor I’d argue on new computer-based technologies. These networks have triumphed commercially, politically. In turn, they frame what we mean by network – what we expect them to do, who gets to participate in them and how.
There is no inevitability here. And resistance and alternatives are certainly possible. But we must act to shape the future – to shape the technology and the politics that we want to have. We must act to shape the learning networks we want to have – starting, as I originally intended this talk to address – that we do not want the centralized control, the automation, the teaching machines that Villemard envisioned for us a century ago. If, as some argue, learning networks are powerful new ways for us to organize and share as learners, then we must consider how we can build and wield them (or at least, how they are built and wielded). Networks – not just as analogies, but as what is becoming the very real architecture of how we learn and live.
“The network map is not the political territory.” What territory do we maintain for the future of education? Whose network map are we using to find our way?
RIP Kalief Browder, 1993–2015
Kalief Browder, a young man profiled in a New Yorker story last year, who spent three years in solitary confinement on Rikers Island without ever being committed of a crime, has died. He committed suicide.
The Department of Education announced this week that it is forgiving the student loans of those who attended Corinthian College – or rather, those whose schools have been closed and those who believe that they were defrauded will be able to apply to have their loans discharged. More via The New York Times and Vox.
“The Education Department is beefing up its oversight over the hundreds of different companies that colleges hire for a wide range of services that it says are somehow related to federal student aid dollars and therefore subject to regulation,” according to Inside Higher Ed.
The Department of Education might issue new guidance on FERPA “after Oregon Democrats Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici inquired about the legality of a recent case at the University of Oregon. That institution caused a stir when administrators said they acted under FERPA when accessing a student’s therapy records for its legal defense.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren has “outlined a sweeping college affordability agenda to ‘dramatically reform’ higher education,” reports Inside Higher Ed. That agenda includes a “debt-free option.”
Senator Lamar Alexander has vowed to block the Obama Administration’s new “gainful employment” rules.
Texas agriculture commissioner Sid Miller wants to reverse the state’s ban on deep fat fryers in school cafeterias. Because freedom.
Former US Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert was indicted recently for evading regulations around large bank withdrawals. It appears as though those withdrawals were being done in order to pay someone blackmailing him. And it appears as though the blackmailing involves accusations of sexual assault when Hastert was a teacher and wrestling coach.
FOIAs have uncovered that – surprise, surprise – following passage of the Louisiana Science Education Act which protects teachers who teach anti-scientific ideas, schools in the state are indeed using creationist materials in lieu of teaching about evolution.
Education in the Courts
The Virginia Supreme Court has sent a ruling on the closure of Sweet Briar College back to the lower court, which had denied a temporary injunction on the closure, for more arguments.
Due to a printing error in the June 6 SAT, the College Board says it won’t score two sections of the test but it assures everyone that the test is still totally valid. “From fire drills and power outages to mistiming and disruptive behavior, school-based test administrations can be fragile, so our assessments are not.”
CTB/McGraw-Hill will pay the state of Georgia $4.5 million for problems it experienced with its testing service.
Arkansas plans to drop the PARCC test and use the ACT instead.
“Opt out” legislation moves forward in Oregon and Maine.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Via The Wall Street Journal: “Daphne Koller on the Future of Online Education.”
"If you put an instructor to sleep 300 years ago and woke him up in a classroom today, he’ll say, Oh, I know exactly where I am,” says Daphne Koller, co-founder of the online-education company Coursera.
If you put a reader of The Wall Street Journal to sleep 2 years ago and woke him up and showed him an article quoting Daphne Koller today…
Remember Unizin? If not, it’s probably because the university group which launched last year promising to “enhance colleges’ control of online courses” has been slow to do anything, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The British government plans to crack down on websites offering fake degrees.
Meanwhile on Campus
“Oakton Community College (OCC) is insisting that a one-sentence ‘May Day’ email referencing the Haymarket Riot sent by a faculty member to several colleagues constituted a ‘true threat’ to the college president,” FIRE reports.
Clearwater Christian College, a small Christian college in Florida, has announced it plans to close.
In Grand Rapids, Michigan, a Commodore Amiga from the early 1980s runs the heat and air conditioning system at 19 district schools.
No charges will be filed against University of Virginia student Martese Johnson. When he was arrested earlier this year, photographs of him handcuffed and bloodied went viral, raising questions about racist police practices.
Kennesaw State University has apologized to a student after a video of him attempting to meet with an academic advisor (and being accused of harassment for doing so) went viral.
Chipotle is the latest company to offer tuition benefits to all employees, not just those who work on salary.
Go, School Sports Team!
UNC has been placed on probation by its accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, following investigations into academic fraud and student athletes.
From the HR Department
Newly minted PhD Dan Meyer is joining Desmos as its Chief Academic Officer.
“The typical public-college leader who served for the entire 2014 fiscal year earned just over $428,000, almost 7 percent more than the median from the year before,” The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.
Nobel Prize winner Tim Hunt has resigned from the University College London after criticism of Hunt’s sexist comments about women in science.
Five members of the Cooper Union board of trustees and the university’s president have resigned.
Via the AP: “College professors in [Venezuela] plagued by a cash crunch, shortages and spiraling inflation are abandoning their jobs in droves, unable or unwilling to survive on salaries as minuscule as $30 per month at the widely used black market exchange rate.”
Upgrades and Downgrades
“Jott, a messaging app that works without a data plan or WiFi connection, has caught on among junior high and high school students,” says Techcrunch.
“When it comes to preventing sexual assault,” asks The Chronicle of Higher Education, “should there be an app for that?”
Prison ed-tech – “inmate tablets.”
Bill Fitzgerald continues his exploration of ed-tech Terms of Service with a look at Google Apps for Education.
Mike Caulfield looks at the “massive Blackboard fail” as embedded YouTube URLs no longer work in the LMS.
I used to think the main problem with Blackboard was that it applied an enterprise solution to a consumer software problem. I increasingly think the main problem is that it’s just lousy enterprise software.
Another name and ownership change for the Sakai partner formerly known as rSmart, according to Phil Hill. In other LMS news, also from Phil Hill: “Moodle Association: New pay-for-play roadmap input for end users.”
The cost of developing an open textbook, according to Tony Bates: $80,000 - $130,000.
“In response to criticism from the math community, EdReports.org, the group that bills itself as the Consumer Reports of common-core instructional materials, is making changes to its textbook review process,” Education Week reports.
The Barbara Bush Foundation is sponsoring a $7 million XPRIZE for adult literacy.
Funding and Acquisitions
Duolingo has raised $45 million from Google Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, New Enterprise Associates, and Union Square Ventures. The language-learning startup has raised $83.3 million total.
Language skills training company Speexx has raised $5 million from Ventech and Alto Invest.
Digital Assess has raised $3 million from “new and existing investors.”
“Edfintech” startup Allovue has raised $1 million in seed funding from Baltimore Angels, Serious Change II, Red House Education, and the Baltimore Boost Fund.
Learn-to-code startup Treehouse has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Red Ventures.
Bertelsmann and the World Bank’s IFC have acquired a 40% and 31% stake respectively in the Brazilian online training company Affero Lab.
TES Global has acquired Hibernia College UK. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
West Corporation has acquired K–12 content management system SharpSchool for $19 million.
Learnbrite has acquired Chat Mapper for an undisclosed sum.
Pearson subsidiary Pearson VUE has acquired online proctoring service ProctorCam for an undisclosed sum.
Data and “Research”
Education Week has released a report called “Tech Counts 2015: Learning the Digital Way.” Among the stories: “Why Ed-Tech Is Not Transforming How Teachers Teach.”
“Research” by the Fordham Institute’s Michael Petrilli on “What Twitter Says about the Education Policy Debate.”
An AAUP survey raises questions about the effectiveness of student evaluations.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Textbook and student services provider Chegg is getting into the research business and is partnering with CSO Research to turn the Outcomes Survey into a national study of career outcomes for recent college graduates.” “The research business.” LOL.
Also via Inside Higher Ed: “A national poll released by the Robert Morris University Polling Institute Monday found that only a little more than half of respondents viewed the college selection process favorably and less than half thought colleges were doing enough to help graduates find jobs.”
A study published in the journal Communication Education has found that “frequent messaging unrelated to class content interferes with student learning while in class; however, relevant messaging does not appear to negatively impact student learning.” Startling.
Course Report has released a study on the size of the learn-to-code bootcamp market, which it predicts will grow “by 2.4x to an estimated 16,056 graduates in 2015, up from 6,740 in 2014.”
With an op-ed in Edsurge, Conrad Wolfram argues “Don’t Let Evidence Stifle Innovation in Education.”
Via NPR: “A Wellesley College and University of Maryland study finds Sesame Street has a big impact on how well kids do in school. Children who watch the show are less likely to fall behind in later grades.” Edsurge goes with the headline “The Original MOOC: Can Sesame Street Replace Preschool?” – of course, Sesame Street is pretty much the opposite of the VC-funded MOOCs, in part because it was designed by education researchers, not software engineers. But hey, hype machine’s gotta hype.
This is not the history of the phrase "education technology." But someone should write that...
Ed-tech. Is it short for “education technology” or “educational technology”? And really, what’s the difference?
Does “ed-tech” mean “instructional technology,” or does it refer to “learning technologies”? (Look at that previous sentence. One phrase is singular; one is plural. Hmm.) Could you just as easily – a nod to another decade – call it “programmed instruction” instead? Or has all that been rebranded now to “personalized learning”? If you push for “personalized learning,” do you advocate for CAI or CMI (or neither)? If you don't know what those acronyms mean, what then?
CAI or ICT? Or something else?
And how is that different from e-learning? Distance learning? Online learning? Mobile learning? Blended learning? Virtual learning? Or hey, run through all those terms again but substitute “teaching” for “learning” – teaching machines or learning machines or hell, whatever, as long as the machines are schooling us. Right?
Do you hyphenate “ed-tech”? Or have you decided that the hyphen is no longer necessary: it’s “edtech” now, Edsurge insists in an article modestly titled “Edsurge: the New Lexicon of Edtech.” Or is it “EdTech”? Capital E, capital T because this is So Important.
What counts as “ed-tech”? Is it the technology used in a formal educational setting? If it’s used in an informal setting, when does it become more than “consumer tech”? How has "the consumer" shaped what "the learner" now expects from "ed-tech," even in school?
Is "ed-tech" the technology used in the central office? Or is it the technology used in the classroom? Ed-tech as teaching machine, ed-tech as testing machine, ed-tech as tutoring machine – wait, why machines?
Which machines? Which technologies? The textbook? Then mechanical pencil? The radio? The TV? The PA system? The blackboard? The whiteboard? The computer? The app? The very most latest technological "innovation"?
Or are you one of those folks who insists that it is not about the technology – despite that word “technology” being right there in “ed-tech”? If so, what makes the tech so darn fabulously transformatively educational - to the point you'd argue the tech should be invisible?
Like everything in ed-tech, these concerns are not new. I stumbled across an essay from 1973 tonight about what to call this "ed-tech""thing" by Charles W. Slack: “How to Name Our Baby”. (Slack is interesting for so many other reasons too.) He argues that,
Educational movements of the last decade have been hampered by absolutely awful vocabularies: “teaching machines,” “intrinsic programming, ”programmed instruction,“ ”operant conditioning,“ ”behavioral objectives,“ ”contingency management,“ ”systems approach,“ ”linear programming,“ ”rul-eg,“ ”pro-mod,“ ”frame-up,“ ”schedules of reinforcement,“ ”mathetics,“ ”chaining,“ ”discrimination," and on and on.
I’m pretty sure the vocabulary is not the problem that "hampers" us, truth be told, although I do think that the incoherence tells us something – something that shouldn’t be erased or paved over with some enforced, "shared" terminology. That is: those of us who work in and around and near ed-tech do not agree at all about politics, purpose, function, future, funding, labor, learning. Different words and phrasing are okay, instructive even.
I’m keeping the hyphen in ed-tech, by the way. I like that little dash that separates education from technology. Because I don’t think we need to give ourselves over to a future of mechanized education, of teaching or learning machines (let alone one of uncritical and purposefully branded neologisms)...
This article first appeared on Educating Modern Learners in March 2015
Last month, a story from New York's PS 116 went viral: the school sent a note home to parents, explaining that it had stopped giving homework so that kids could do something else with their time after school - play, for starters. According to news reports, parents rebelled - some threatening to remove their children from the school. "I think they should have homework - some of it is about discipline. I want [my daughter] to have fun,"said one parent, "but I also want her to be working towards a goal."
Do parents want more homework or less? Why would they want more? Why might they want less?
This debate is just one example of the battles over homework: how much, if any, is appropriate? How do expectations about homework change with age? What should homework look like? Why should students do homework? What's the purpose? Does homework actually matter? If so, how? Does it lead to better "outcomes" (and what do we mean by "outcomes")? What's the expectation for parental involvement when work gets sent home from school? What's the expectation about all sorts of resources at home? What are the presumptions and assumptions when homework is assigned about what students' home life actually looks like? Is it a place where "work" can be done? ("Is there WiFi at home?" is a crucial question, no doubt, but it's just the beginning because even access to WiFi is hardly sufficient for "home" to be a safe and conducive place to "work."")
Questions about the value of homework have debated in education circles for a while now. (Or at least, to a certain extent, in some circles.) Some educators will invoke Alfie Kohn, for example, and his arguments about "rethinking homework." That is: homework makes kids frustrated because homework simply asks them to repeat the tasks they did in school. Homework takes away from time for other activities. (That's part of the PS 116 argument). Homework doesn't actually do much for achievement. And so on. But the data isn't 100% clear. Some kids do benefit from homework - but the studies are based on pretty traditional measures of what we mean by "benefits."
No matter the arguments for or against homework, it's worth asking: how successful have we been in convincing parents of any of this? The PS 116 example suggests "not so much."
With all our talk about modern learners and modern leaders, how much are we pulling parents into these conversations? Are they seen as stakeholders in these discussions, or as obstacles? How many parents are modern leaders and modern learners?
What do we have to convince them that the future of education doesn't look like their experiences in the classroom?
This is one of education's biggest obstacles to change, I would argue. We all went to school. We know what school looks like. Or, at least, what it looked like when we went to school. We know what assignments, assessments, tests, homework should look like. Or at least, we know what they looked like for us. And that's the thing: our experiences in school were deeply personal. We know what worked and didn't work for us. But all of this - our assessments about the good and the bad and the ugly and the important and the extraneous of school work and homework - largely depends upon where and when we went to school, not to mention where we fit in that school's profile - that is, what our school expected from us based on race, class, gender. Parents carry forward these experiences and expectations with school when it comes to their children - for better or for worse - and all of this shapes how they prepare their children to deal with education institutions. Are schools and teachers something to be feared? To be trusted? To be admired? What does it mean, in light of all of this, when work comes "home."
Here's my own lesson as a parent, as a learner: What I experienced as a student isn't universal-izable. I did okay in school. My son hated it. I managed; he refused. And even recognizing and comparing what he liked with what I liked, none of this is it is necessarily relevant to what my son needs to learn today. The economy, the labor market has changed.
That's not to say that parents' demands should be ignored. Indeed, if we look at the history of public schooling and race and class, certain parents' input has been almost completely neglected from conversations about what education should or could be. Certain parents have had very little say. Parents who could spend more time and spend more money have more say. With that in mind, parents' demands (alongside parents' fears) are worth listening to. All parents - not simply affluent parents. Parents (mostly) want their kids to excel, to move up in socioeconomic status.
Already we see a vicious circle, in part because how much homework someone does, or how well someone does on the SAT or the ACT or in college doesn't really mean that someone can ascend to the middle class. Nevertheless, that's the promise: parents want their children to perform well enough in school - whatever that means - to get into a good college. (That's what society deems "excelling" right now - even that is a conversation worth having to unpack that verb, that expectation.) That means scoring well on standardized tests like the SAT or ACT. It means getting good grades. It means having a robust profile of extracurricular activities. It means immense pressure on students to conform to the expectations that schools lay upon them - colleges and K-12 schools alike.
You'll often hear people say "school hasn't changed in hundreds of years." Some invoke that to demand change; some to insist that schools haven't changed at all. The latter is highly debatable. Plenty of things have: demographics, expectations, assessments, for starters. Nevertheless, there's a sense that school is a traditional, unchanging, unchangeable institution. School carries forward both curriculum and practices - it keeps certain things relevant: being quiet in the library, forming an orderly line and waiting your turn, raising your hand until you're called upon, and so on.
How do we help parents to become modern learners, if not leaders? How do we help leverage parents for change - progressive change, not simply change that benefits their own children? What does that look like?
Because convincing parents of a change isn't a policy issue. We can't simply demand that parents spend more time reading progressive education books or blogs. We can't demand they spend more time reading futurist visions for college or work. We can't approach them with fearful stories - or at least, that's not the angle I would take - that the future is full of robots, unemployment, and a dwindling middle class. We can't ask them to not prepare their children for a very traditional future - can we? I mean, how many parents - and parents from what demographics - would respond to a "don't go to college" mantra? (The answer isn't politically progressive.)
What's the angle we can take to help parents become modern learners (and by extension, modern leaders)? How do we help them see their own role in reshaping the future of schools and other public institutions? How do we do so without coercion or condemnation? How do we do so with equity in mind - that is, not simply appealing to parents who have time? Parents are a key to change in education, but how do we make that change not simply about selfishness - about what their individual children will be able to do?
A whole school saying "no" to homework is just the first step...