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The History of the Future of Education Technology

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    Earlier this year, Microsoft made headlines when it debuted Tay, a new chatbot modeled to speak like a teenage girl, which rather dramatically turned into “a Hitler-loving sex robot within 24 hours” of its release, as The Telegraph put it. The Twitter bot was built to “learn” by parroting the words and phrases from the other Twitter users that interacted with it, and – because, you know, Twitter – those users quickly realized that they could teach Tay to say some really horrible things. Tay soon began responding with increasingly incendiary commentary, denying the Holocaust and linking feminism to cancer, for starters.

    Despite the public relations disaster – Microsoft promptly deleted the Tay bot – just a few days later Bloomberg Businessweek pronounced that “The Future of Microsoft Is Chatbots.” “Clippy’s back,” the headline read.

    Neither Tay nor Clippy should reassure us all that much, I’d contend, about that future.

    User Interface Agent as Pedagogical Agent


    Clippy was the user interface agent that came bundled with Microsoft Office starting in 1997. It remains, arguably, the best known and most hated user interface agent in computer history.

    The program’s official name was Office Assistant, but the paperclip was the default avatar, and few people changed it. Indeed, almost every early website offering instructions on how to use Microsoft’s software suite contained instructions on how to disable its functionality. (Microsoft turned off the feature by default in Office XP and removed Clippy altogether from Office 2007.)

    The Office Assistant can trace its lineage back to Microsoft Bob, which was released in 1995, itself becoming one of the software company’s most storied failures. (TIME named it one of “The 50 Worst Inventions” – “Imagine a whole operating system designed around Clippy, and you get the crux of Microsoft Bob.”) Bob was meant to provide a more user-friendly interface to the Microsoft operating system, functioning in lieu of Windows Program Manager. The challenge – quite similar to the one that Clippy was supposed to tackle – was to make computer software approachable to novice users. In theory at least, this made sense as the number of consumers being introduced to the personal computer was growing rapidly – according to US Census data, in 1993 22.8% of households had computers, a figure that had grown to 42.1% by 1998.

    How do you teach novices to use a PC? And more significantly, can the personal computer do the teaching?

    Microsoft drew on the work of Stanford professors Clifford Nass and Byron Reeves (who later joined the Bob project as consultants) and their research into human-computer interactions. Nass and Reeves argued that people preferred to interact with computers as “agents” not as tools. That is, computers are viewed unconsciously as social actors, even if consciously people know they’re simply machines. And as such, people respond to computers in social ways and in turn expect computers to follow certain social rules.

    “The question for Microsoft was how to make a computing product easier to use and fun,” Reeves said in a Stanford press release timed with the Computer Electronics Show’s unveiling of Microsoft Bob. “Cliff and I gave a talk in December 1992 and said that they should make it social and natural. We said that people are good at having social relations – talking with each other and interpreting cues such as facial expressions. They are also good at dealing with a natural environment such as the movement of objects and people in rooms, so if an interface can interact with the user to take advantage of these human talents, then you might not need a manual.” If you made the software social, people would find it easier to learn and use.

    Microsoft Bob visualized the operating system as rooms in a house, with various icons of familiar household items representing applications – the clock opened the calendar, the pen and paper opened the word processing program.

    This new “social interface” was hailed by Bill Gates at CES as “the next major evolutionary step in interface design.” But it was a flop, panned by tech journalists for its child-like visuals, its poor performance, and perhaps ironically considering Microsoft’s intentions for Bob, its confusing design.

    Nevertheless Microsoft continued to build Bob-like features into its software, most notably with Clippy, which offered help to users as they attempted to accomplish various tasks within Office.

    Clippy as Pedagogical Agent


    Start writing a letter in (pre-Office XP) Microsoft Word. No sooner have you finished typing “Dear” than Clippy appears in the corner of your screen. “It looks like you’re writing a letter,” Clippy observes. The talking paperclip then offers a choice: get help writing the letter or continue without help. Choosing the former opens up the Letter Wizard, a four step process in formatting layout and style.

    Other actions within the Office suite triggered similar sorts of help from Clippy – offering to implement various features or offering advice if, according to the program, it appeared that the user was “stuck” or struggling. The Office Assistant also provided access to the Answer Wizard, offering a series of possible solutions to a user’s help query. And it sometimes appeared as an accompaniment to certain dialog boxes – saving or printing, for example.

    In all these instances, Clippy was meant to be friendly and helpful. Instead it was almost universally reviled.

    Of course, software can be universally reviled and still marketed as good (ed-)tech. (See, for example, the learning management system.) But it seems doubtful that Clippy was all that effective at helping newcomers to Microsoft learn to use Office’s features, as Luke Swartz found in his study on Clippy and other user interface agents.

    Swartz suggests that part of the problem with Clippy was that it was poorly designed and then (mis)applied to the wrong domain. If you follow Nass and Reeves’ theories about humans’ expectations for interactions with computers, it’s clear that Clippy violates all sorts of social norms. The animated paperclip is always watching, always threatening to appear, always interrupting. For users busy with the rather mechanical tasks of typing and data entry, these were never the right situations for a friendly chatbot to interject, let alone to teach software skills.

    And yet, despite our loathing and mockery of Clippy, pedagogical agents have been a mainstay in education technology for at least the past forty years – before the infamous Microsoft Office Assistant and since. These agents have frequently been features of intelligent tutoring systems, and by extension then, featured in education research. Like much of ed-tech, that research is fairly inconclusive: depending on their design and appearance… pedagogical agents may or may not be beneficialto some studentsunder some conditionsin some disciplinesworking with certain content or material.

    The History of the Future of Chatbots


    This spring, despite the PR disaster of Microsoft’s Tay, the tech industry declared that chatbots would be The Next Big Thing, an assertion bolstered when Mark Zuckerberg announced at Facebook’s developer conference in April that the company’s 10 year roadmap would emphasize artificial intelligence, starting with chatbots on its Messenger platform.

    Bots are, in fact, a Very Old Thing traceable to the earliest theorization of computer science – namely, Alan Turing’s “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” published in 1950.

    The sudden and renewed interest in bots by tech investors and entrepreneurs, and the accompanying hype by industry storytelling, overlooks the fact that roughly half the traffic on the Internet is already bots. Bots crawl and scrape websites. Bots send spam. Bots spread malware. Bots click on ads. Bots tweet, and bots like. Bots DDOS. Bots monitor for vulnerabilities.

    Bots also chat but as Clippy demonstrated, not always that effectively. And as one recent Techcrunch opinion writer lamented about the Facebook Messenger platform, “No one actually wants to talk to a bot.” That seems to be rather a crucial observation, often overlooked when hyping the capabilities of artificial intelligence. To be fair, no one actually wants to talk to a human either in many of the scenarios in which bots are utilized – in customer service, for example, where whether conducted by human or machine, interactions are highly scripted.

    The first chatbot was developed at the MIT AI Lab by Joseph Weizenbaum in the mid–1960s. This bot, ELIZA, simulated a Rogerian psychiatrist. “Hello,” you might type. “Hi,” ELIZA responds. “What is your problem?” “I’m angry,” you type. Or perhaps “I’m sad.” “I am sorry to hear you are sad,” ELIZA says. “My dad died,” you continue. “Tell me more about your family,” ELIZA answers. The script always eventually asks about family, no matter what you type. It’s been programmed to do so. That is, ELIZA was programmed to analyze the input for key words and to respond with a number of canned phrases containing therapeutical language.

    Many of the claims that one hears about “the rise of bots” (now and then and always) focus on AI’s purported advancements– particularly in the area of natural language processing. The field has reached a point where “personal assistant” technologies like Siri and Alexa are now viable – or so we’re told. Commercially viable. (Maybe commercially viable.)

    But pedagogically viable? That still remains an open question.

    Scripting Pedagogy


    “Imagine Discovering That Your Teaching Assistant Really Is a Robot,” The Wall Street Journal wrote in May to describe an experiment conducted on students in an online course taught by Ashok Goel at Georgia Tech. The chatbot TA, “Jill Watson,” would post questions and deadline reminders on the class’s discussion forum and answer students’ routine questions. The surname is a nod to the technology that powered the chatbot – IBM’s Watson. The first name and gendering of the robot? Well, like Tay and ELIZA and Siri and Alexa, these bots are female, as Clifford Nass explained in an interview with The Toronto Star, because of the stereotypes we have about the work – and the gender – of personal assistants, and by extension, perhaps, of teaching assistants.

    Artificial intelligence and cognitive science professor Roger Schank, a vocal critic of IBM’s marketing claims about Watson, responded to the Georgia Tech TA bot story:

    The artificial TA is not an attempt to understand TA’s, I assume. But, let’s think about the idea that we might actually like to build an AI TA. What would we have to do in order to build one? We would first want to see what good teachers do when presented with problem students are having. The Georgia Tech program apparently was focused on answering student questions about due dates or assignments. That probably is what TA’s actually do which makes the AI TA question a very uninteresting question. Of course, a TA can be simulated if the TA’s job is basically robotic in the first place. [emphasis mine]


    But, what about creating a real AI mentor? How would we build such a thing? We would first need to study what kinds of help students seek. Then, we would have to understand how to conduct a conversation. This is not unlike the therapeutic conversation where we try to find out what the student’s actual problem was. What was the student failing to understand? When we try to help the student we would have to have a model of how effective our help was being. Does the student seem to understand something that he or she didn’t get a minute ago? A real mentor would be thinking about a better way to express his advice. More simply? More technically? A real mentor would be trying to understand if simply telling answers to the student made the best sense or whether a more Socratic dialogue made better sense. And a real TA (who cared) would be able to conduct that Socratic dialogue and improve over time. Any good AI TA would not be trying to fake a Rogerian dialogue but would be thinking how to figure out what the student was trying to learn and thinking about better ways to explain or to counsel the student.


    Is this possible? Sure. We stopped working on this kind of thing because of the AI winter than followed from the exaggerated claims being made about what expert systems could do in 1984.

    Schank’s commentary underscores that, despite all the recent hype about advances in artificial intelligence, we do not have thinking machines. Not even close. We certainly don’t have caring machines. Yet we continue to build teaching machines that reduce pedagogy to its most instrumental form. We continue to build pedagogical agents that reduce helping to the most mechanical and scripted gestures.

    “Do pedagogical agents work?” – the question, perhaps unintentionally, underscores the labor of teaching and caring we seem so eager to replace with machines. Instead of relationships, we'll get "chat." Instead of people, we'll have robots.

    All this gets to the heart of why Clippy remains (ironically perhaps) so instructive: Clippy was a pedagogical agent that urged Office users to utilize a step-by-step “wizard.” It referred them to the software’s knowledge base. Templated knowledge. Templated writing. Templated and scripted responses based on key words not on cognition or care. And according to Luke Swartz's research on Clippy, people preferred asking other people for help with Office than relying on the machine for guidance or support – asking co-workers, asking the Web. It's not a surprising finding. And yet the tech industry today insists that bots are coming to all sectors, including education. The history of the future...


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  • 09/16/16--03:01: Hack Education Weekly News
  • Education Politics


    An incredible piece of reporting by The Guardian on corporate lobbying and influence in Wisconsin politics following Scott Walker’s anti-union efforts in the state.

    Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has reiterated his promise for free community college tuition for eligible high school graduates.

    From the press release: “The U.S. Department of Education released the America’s College Promise Playbook, a comprehensive and up-to-date resource guide that provides practitioners with relevant and actionable information about how they can offer more students access to an affordable, high-quality education through which students can go as far as their talents and work ethic can take them.”

    Another Department of Education release: an update to the College Scorecard.

    Via The Washington Post: “ Obama administration goes ahead with $71 million grant for Ohio’s scandal-ridden charter sector– but calls it ‘high risk’.”

    The White House held a Computer Science for All summit this week. Here’s Anil Dash’s take.

    California vs. Massachusetts education ballot question politics” by Sherman Dorn.

    Presidential Campaign Politics


    Trump‘plans’ to make Peter Thiel a supreme court judge,” says Boing Boing.

    Via ProPublica: “Another Unrealistic Trump Policy Proposal: Homeschool Vouchers.”

    Libertarian (and longshot) presidential hopeful Gary Johnson says his education policy proposals would involvescrapping the Department of Education.

    Via Buzzfeed: “Clinton Touts Plan That Would Make College Free For Most.” (Thanks, Bernie Sanders!)

    Education in the Courts


    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “A year after filing a lawsuit against UCLA, two graduate students who said a professor sexually assaulted and harassed them will receive a combined $460,000 as part of a settlement agreement, the university said in a statement on Friday.”

    Via The Kansas City Star: “A lawyer for the largest teachers union in Kansas told the state Supreme Court on Tuesday that lawmakers’ 2014 decision to get rid of a job protection for tenured K–12 educators was unconstitutional.”

    Via Education Week’s Market Brief: “Closely Watched Lawsuit Has Implications for Open Ed. Resources Market.” Great Minds is suing FedEx, contending that FedEx stores are in violation of the Creative Commons non-commercial licensing of its materials when they charge for photocopies of Great Minds’ curriculum.

    More on toys as surveillance in the privacy section below.

    Testing, Testing…


    Via The Washington Post: “School informed parents of low-performing students they could opt out of state tests.” The school in question: Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia.

    Via Education Week’s Market Brief: “Test Vendors Weigh In On Future of PARCC.”

    More on test scores and ed-tech in the research section below.

    Online Education (The Once and Future “MOOC”)


    UC Berkeley says it will remove online course content in response to a Department of Justice assertion that the materials violate the ADA as they are not fully accessible to those with disabilities. Remind me: who’s keeping track of the bullshit associated with words like “open online education”?

    Udacity has launched a nanodegree program in self-driving car engineering. Edsurge has more details– including this tidbit on Udacity’s money-back guarantee for job placement, something that doesn’t apply to the self-driving car program: “While attractive, Udacity’s promise flirts with flouting rules set by California’s Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education, which state that institutions ‘shall not promise or guarantee employment.’” (In related self-driving car regulation news: “Google’s ‘Cozy’ Relationship With Driverless-Car Regulators.” Food for thought about how some folks hope this works in higher ed, no?)

    Coding Bootcamps (The Once and Future “For-Profit Higher Ed”)


    The fallout from ITT’s closure continues:

    “Some community colleges not transferring all ITT Tech credits,” KPCC reports. According to this story, students are opting instead to transfer to another for-profit (DeVry) as some community colleges contend that ITT courses were not rigorous enough to “count” for credit. NPR also explores what former ITT students will do.

    Reuters says that ITT plans to file for bankruptcy.

    SNHU will take overDaniel Webster College from ITT.

    Via The 74: “ITT Tech Isn’t Just a College Scandal. It Also Ran Charter Schools– and Left Teens Scrambling.”

    440+ ITT students are now on debt strike.

    “More than 20 Senate Democrats have signed a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education John King asking the Education Department to support former ITT Technical Institute students by discharging their student loans,” Inside Higher Ed reports.

    “After ITT’s Demise, More Trouble Is Likely for For-Profit Colleges,” according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Also via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has ordered Bridgepoint Education Inc., owner of the for-profit Ashford University, to forgive all outstanding private student loans and to refund any payments already made on those loans.”

    Via PBS Frontline on for-profits: “A Subprime Education.”

    Via Education Dive: “The Iron Yard and Code Fellows, have partnered with nonprofit financial literacy organization Operation HOPE to create a $100 million scholarship fund to spur minority and low-income student engagement in tech fields.”

    More “research” on for-profits and coding bootcamps in the “research” section below.

    Meanwhile on Campus


    Via The Houston Chronicle: “Denied: How Texas keeps tens of thousands of children out of special education.”

    Roger Ailes’ name will be removed from a WOUB newsroom, Ohio University President Roderick McDavis announced Monday during a Faculty Senate meeting,” the Post Athens reports.

    Via Muckrock: “The strangest military gear on campus police’s back to school shopping list.”

    Via the CBC: “University of Manitoba students receive ‘extortion’ letters over illegal downloads.”

    Via the Odyssey Online: “How The University Of New Hampshire Chose To Waste An Alum’s $4m Gift.” Robert Morin, a librarian at the university, bequeathed his estate to the school. The school spent $1 million of the money on a new scoreboard for its football stadium.

    Via The New York Times: “As Amazon Arrives, the Campus Bookstore Is a Books Store No More.”

    Inside Higher Ed’s Carl Straumsheim looks atIndiana University’s eText initiative, which he says is “rapidly becoming the go-to way for students there to buy textbooks and other course materials.”

    Philadelphia University and Thomas Jefferson University will merge.

    Via CNN: “Why ‘tents of love’ are popping up in Chinese colleges.” (It’s not what it sounds like: these are campsites for parents, set up in school gyms.)

    Accreditation and Certification


    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Quality Matters, which offers quality assurance programs for online courses, is this fall expanding into online teaching certification.”

    Go, School Sports Team!


    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Citing Civil-Rights Concerns, NCAA Pulls 7 Championship Events Out of North Carolina.”

    The Atlantic Coast Conference also announced it would move all of its championship games out of North Carolina, a response to the HB2“bathroom bill.”

    Via Sporting News: “High school football announcer’s answer to Kaepernick-style protesters? Shoot them.” David Brooks also weighs in with advice for youth athletes of color as white male op-ed writers are wont to do.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Head of Clemson football program says some protesting police violence against black people should move to another country, and implies his comments reflect the ideas of Martin Luther King Jr.”

    Via Yahoo Sports: “Why Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig is joining the Dakota Pipeline protest.”

    “With Wearable Tech Deals, New Player Data Is Up for Grabs,” says The New York Times, in a story that explores a $170 million deal between Nike and the University of Michigan. “A clause in the contract could, in the future, allow Nike to harvest personal data from Michigan athletes through the use of wearable technology like heart-rate monitors, GPS trackers and other devices that log myriad biological activities.”

    Via The Daily Beast: “UNC Student Claims Cops ‘Laughed’ at Her Rape by Football Player.” The football player in question has turned himself in to face misdemeanor assault and battery charges.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Charleston Southern University suspended 32 of its football players after they violated National Collegiate Athletic Association rules by spending financial aid intended for textbooks on other items.”

    From the HR Department


    Carla Hayden is the new Librarian of Congress.

    Remind CEO and co-founder Brett Kopf will be replaced by Brian Grey, formerly CEO of the Bleacher Report.

    The Long Island University faculty lockout is over. Emily Drabinski writes, “Our collective bargaining agreement is extended until May 31, 2017, and the administration agreed to our condition that we engage a professional mediator to facilitate a fair contract.” More via Inside Higher Ed.

    UC San Francisco says it plans to outsource its IT operations to India. But oh yes, kids, “everyone should learn to code” for job security.

    Via Education Week: “The International Society for Technology in Education and its CEO, Brian Lewis, have parted ways, the organization announced this week, in an unexpected leadership change at the top of the prominent ed-tech organization.”

    Teach for America’s presence in New York City hits 11-year low,” Chalkbeat reports.

    Seattle University adjuncts have voted to unionize.

    Contests and Awards


    Via The New York Times: “$100 Million Awarded in Contest to Rethink U.S. High Schools.” More on the contest, funded by the XQ Institute, which is in turn is funded by Laurene Powell Jobs, via Edsurge.

    Upgrades and Downgrades


    Glam Media has closed. It’s transferred ownership of Ning– remember Ning? – to the New York-based company Cyndx.

    Beacon Reader, a journalism crowdfunding platform, is shutting down.

    Via NPR: “Teen Creates App So Bullied Kids Never Have To Eat Alone.”

    The Christian Science Monitor has launched a new education editorial section, EqualEd.

    Via The New York Times: “Apple Offers Free App to Teach Children Coding (iPads Sold Separately).”

    Via NPR: “Texas Textbook Called Out As ‘Racist’ Against Mexican-Americans.”

    Via Techcrunch: “CollegeBacker publicly launches its college savings account advisory service.” Robo-advisory, yo.

    Funding and Acquisitions (The Business of Ed-Tech)


    Open Up Resources has raised $10 million in “foundation funding,” says Edsurge. Founded by former Pearson exec Larry Singer, the company will offer openly licensed resources to schools.

    OpenClassrooms has raised $6.74 million in funding from Banque Publique d’Investissements, Citizen Capital, Xavier Niel, and Alven Capital. The startup, which something something MOOC something something, has raised $9.69 million total.

    Portfolium raises $6.6 million to get college students into jobs where they’ll kick butt,” says Techcrunch. Investors include SJF Ventures, University Ventures, and USA Funds. The company has raised $7.45 million total.

    Fluent City has raised $2.5 million from 1776, Learn Capital, Lerner Investments, and New Ground Ventures. “The New York City-based language company, founded in 2011, offers 10 language classes along with courses in interior design, mixing cocktails and French culture,” says Edsurge. It’s a place to “teach Brooklyn hipsters about French culture,” says Venture Beat.

    Everest Education has raised $1 million from unnamed investors for its “personalized learning” platform.

    “Engagement” app Check I’m Here has raised $1 million in Series A funding from Jeffrey Vinik, Ronald Schlosser, and 500 Mobile Collective.

    John Wiley & Sons has acquired online education marketing firm Ranku. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    The National Research Center for College & University Admissions has acquiredEduventures. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    Private equity firm Bridge Growth Partners has acquired acquire Finalsite from another equity firm, Spectrum Equity. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    Data, Privacy, and Surveillance


    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The science press release database EurekAlert went off-line on Wednesday after a hacker gained access to the website and leaked embargoed news out of the University of Sussex and the University of Montreal.”

    Via Christian Science Monitor: “The state attorney general [of New York] announced settlements Tuesday with Viacom, Mattel, Hasbro and JumpStart Games to stop them from using or allowing tracking technology on their popular children’s websites.”

    More on student athletes’ privacy in the sports section above.

    Data and “Research”


    Course Report has released its latest report on coding bootcamp graduates. “Coding bootcamp alumni report a 64% increase in salary” reads the subhead. Other details: “The typical attendee is 30 years old, has 6.8 years of work experience, has at least a Bachelor's degree, and has never worked as a programmer.” It would be great if there were independent evaluations of bootcamps, not just this self-reported survey stuff. But rah rah rah!

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “A new study co-authored by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the State University of New York at Buffalo finds that the streamlined curriculum at for-profit institutions is the reason many poor students – particularly young African-Americans – drop out.”

    The OECD has released its latest “Education at a Glance” report.

    Via Campus Technology: “The worldwide public cloud services market is projected to grow 17.2 percent in 2016 to total $208.6 billion, up from $178 billion in 2015, according to recent reports by tech market research firm Gartner.”

    Via Education Week’s Market Brief: “Global K–12 Market for Personal PCs to Contract in 2016, Experts Project.”

    “Best Evidence and the What Works Clearinghouseby Jason Stockard.

    The Joan Ganz Cooney Center has released the results of a survey of 700 parents whose 4–13-year old children play video games.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Since the late 1980s, colleges and universities have spent increasingly more per student across nearly every major spending category, according to a new report from a Federal Reserve Bank economist who says his findings indicate broad-based reasons behind rising college costs.”

    Via FiveThirtyEight: "Fancy Dorms Aren’t The Main Reason Tuition Is Skyrocketing."

    The Pew Research Center has released its latest report on libraries.

    Via Education Week: “Does Graduating From a Charter Help or Hinder Future Earnings?”

    “When School Feels Like Prison.” The Atlantic’s Melinda D. Anderson writes that “A new study shows that campuses with larger populations of students of color are more likely to use harsh surveillance techniques.”

    Also via The Atlantic: “How Marginalized Families Are Pushed Out of PTAs.”

    Via Education Week: “The latest attempt by researchers to determine the impact of educational technology investments on student achievement suggests that federal E-rate program subsidies that schools receive are unlikely to improve student test scores.”

    “The U.S. is teetering on the edge of a teacher shortage crisis, and if nothing is done to stop it, the country could be grappling with a shortage of more than 100,000 teachers annually by 2025,” according to a report by the Learning Policy Institute.

    The latest Horizon Report for K–12 has been released. On the horizon: makerspaces, online learning, robotics, VR, artificial intelligence, and wearables. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that most of those are going to be forever and always “on the horizon.”

    Icon credits: The Noun Project


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    This talk was presented today at the Designs on eLearning conference. The full slide deck is available here.

    Thank you very much for inviting me to speak to you today.

    I confess: I was immediately intrigued by the theme to this year’s conference – “Anxiety and Security.” By centering these two conditions, by taking them seriously as scholars and practitioners, I believe we can crack open some of the crises that we are experiencing, in higher education and beyond, always recognizing as George Siemens reminded us yesterday, of complexities.

    If nothing else, we can name these things: our fears, our worries about the present, about the the future. The utter turmoil that many feel this country, the whole world faces, right now and moving forward. The slipping, the stumbling. Disquietude. Our concerns over job security, financial security, national security, border security, information security, food security, environmental sustainability, institutional sustainability, physical and mental well-being, pharmaceuticals, addiction, automation, violence.

    These are rarely topics addressed at education technology conferences; even the topics that might be most directly pertinent to the field – information security, institutional sustainability, for example – are brushed aside, in part I would argue, because education technology has worked quite hard to repress the trauma and anxiety associated with the adoption of new technologies and more broadly with the conditions, the precarity, of everyday life. Education technology has become so bound up in arguments about the necessity of technology, that it’s forgotten how to be anything other than the most loyal of servants to ideologies of machines, efficiencies, capitalism. It’s always sunny in education technology. Its tools are golden and transformative; its transformation, its disruption is always profitable and progressive. Better. Faster. Cheaper. Shinier.

    Education technology is not always loyal to institutions, of course; it’s not always loyal to democracy either; it’s not always loyal to learning or to teaching – to students or to teachers; but it’s always fiercely loyal to itself and its own rationale, to its own existence. If there is an anxiety that education technology readily embraces, it is simply the anxiety that there’s not enough technology in the classroom. That education has not become sufficiently technologized. That education technology is still – somehow, strangely – an upstart, an outsider. That the digital flounders, powerless, against the entrenchment of the analog. That education technology has not been recognized, as some have recently lamented, as a discipline.

    I want to suggest that what we need instead of a discipline called “education technology” is an undisciplining. We need criticism at the center of our work. We need to recognize and sit with complexity; we need to demand and stand – or kneel – for justice. We also need care – desperately – the kind of care that has compassion about anxiety and insecurity and that works to alleviate their causes not just suppress the symptoms. We need speculative fictions and counter-narratives that are not interested in reproducing education technology’s legacies or reifying its futures. We need radical disloyalty, blasphemy.

    In her 1985 “Cyborg Manifesto,” science studies scholar Donna Haraway gave us a blasphemous, “ironic political myth faithful to feminism, socialism, and materialism,” one centered on the figure of the cyborg. This figure has been key in my own thinking about science and technology and nature and gender – how to challenge the exploitation and control wrapped up in our narratives and our practices of education technology. Haraway writes – and I’m going to quote her at length, my apologies,

    The cyborg is resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity. It is oppositional, utopian, and completely without innocence. No longer structured by the polarity of public and private, the cyborg defines a technological polis based partly on a revolution of social relations in the oikos, the household. Nature and culture are reworked; the one can no longer be the resource for appropriation or incorporation by the other. The relationships for forming wholes from parts, including those of polarity and hierarchical domination, are at issue in the cyborg world. Unlike the hopes of Frankenstein’s monster, the cyborg does not expect its father to save it through a restoration of the garden; that is, through the fabrication of a heterosexual mate; through its completion in a finished whole, a city and cosmos. The cyborg does not dream of community on the model of the organic family, this time without the oedipal project. The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust. Perhaps that is why I want to see if cyborgs can subvert the apocalypse of returning to nuclear dust in the manic compulsion to name the Enemy. Cyborgs are not reverent; they do not remember the cosmos. They are wary of holism, but needy for connection – they seem to have a natural feel for united front politics, but without the vanguard party. The main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism. But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their fathers, after all, are inessential.

    We must be more unfaithful to the inheritance and intentions of information technology and education technology. And I say this as someone who’s constantly reminding people of ed-tech’s history. Not ignorant. Unfaithful. We must remember – we must always remember – that the origins of computer technologies are in militarism. Command and control. We cannot feign surprise when these technologies are used to surveil and to punish. They do so by design. When I echo Haraway and call for an undisciplined blasphemy against the sacrosanctity of “computers in the classroom,” I do not mean we ignore or forget history; rather we need to be wary when this history gets rewritten and stylized. There is actually no need for us to long for a “Web that was,” and certainly no imperative we muster nostalgia for “once upon a time at university….” Many of us have never been welcome in either space.

    It’s worth underscoring, particularly as the essay has remained so relevant, that the Cyborg Manifesto is thirty years old. It was penned in the middle of the Reagan era, when anxiety and security involved a Cold War, a threat of mutually assured destruction. One slogan that it spawned, “cyborgs for earthly survival,” meant to call together feminists and socialists and scientists in building technologies and stories that walked us back from the brink and towards a more sustainable and equitable world – for humans and more-than-humans alike.

    And yet here we are. Thirty years later. On the brink still. On the brink once again.

    I fret about this quite a lot, being “ed-tech’s Cassandra” and whatnot. I fret about the brink, no doubt, and I fret that the theories and practices we’ve devised to resist destruction are actually quite ineffective. I think about this in relation to the Cyborg Manifesto as well as one of the other pieces of writing that’s central to my own thinking, Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms, published in 1980. I do wonder if we have been too hopeful – ironically perhaps considering we were all in the midst of Reagan’s reign of apocalypticism when these ideas were first published – about a radical potential for computers and cyborgs. (“We” – I mean, I was 9 in 1980, 14 when the Cyborg Manifesto was published.)

    Papert, who helped develop the first programming language for children, LOGO, and its beloved Turtle robot, and who passed away earlier this year, was a visionary thinker about computers as powerful “objects to think with.” He described himself as a Robin Hood – another blasphemous figure – stealing computing power from the AI labs of MIT and giving it to children. And to be clear, it wasn’t simply stealing computers; his intention was all about power. “In most contemporary educational situations where children come into contact with computers the computer is used to put children through their paces,” Papert wrote, “to provide exercises of an appropriate level of difficulty, to provide feedback, and to dispense information. The computer programming the child.” He envisioned something profoundly different:

    In the LOGO environment the relationship is reversed: The child, even at preschool ages, is in control: The child programs the computer. And in teaching the computer how to think, children embark on an exploration about how they themselves think. The experience can be heady: Thinking about thinking turns the child into an epistemologist, an experience not even shared by most adults.

    By the time Papert published The Children’s Machine in 1993, he readily admitted “little by little the subversive features of the computer were eroded away: Instead of cutting across and so challenging the very idea of subject boundaries, the computer now defined a new subject; instead of changing the emphasis from impersonal curriculum to excited live exploration by students, the computer was now used to reinforce School’s ways. What had started as a subversive instrument of change was neutralized by the system and converted into an instrument of consolidation.”

    Perhaps it’s worth asking how subversive the computer truly ever was.

    Like Papert, I too am interested in “objects to think with,” but I’m less enthralled by computation or calculation, I confess. And today, I want to talk instead about figuration, figures to think with.

    The cyborg is a figure to think with, to be sure. I’ve written elsewhere about monsters as figures to think with. Education technologies’ monsters. Education technologies as monstrous. My contention, drawing on the work of sociologist of science Bruno Latour, is that we have created these technological monstrosities because, like Dr. Frankenstein, we have forgotten to love and care for our scientific creations. Care is largely absent from education technology, which instead promises rigorous and efficient training. Care is too often completely absent from education, let’s be honest; our institutions do not value the affective labor of teaching and learning.

    But it’s another figure I want to turn to in this talk, another “figure to think with.” And that’s the pigeon.

    I’ve used the pigeon as an emblem on my website Hack Education for a couple of years now. I thought I was ridiculously clever to tie the pigeon to the history of the future of education technology. Then, a couple of weeks ago, as I started to prepare for this keynote, I picked up Donna Haraway’s brand new book, Staying with the Troubles, and, sure enough, the first chapter is on pigeons. I admit, I was both thrilled and mortified. It wasn’t really an anxiety about whether or not I was wrong about pigeons; but what if – and this is the real fear of writers, I think – my work is redundant, simplistic, or worse irrelevant.

    For her part, Haraway writes of pigeons that they are “competent agents – in the double sense of both delegates and actors – who render each other and human beings capable of situated social, ecological, behavioral, and cognitive practices.” She traces this pigeon figure, to a certain extent, along the arc that I’d planned to – from cyborg figure through the figure of the “companion species.” The latter, she argues, are those critters with which we have historically situated relationships – not just as meat but as creatures that keep us company, with which we have relationships, for whom we care, again not simply so we can eventually eat them, but because they offer a deeper sort of reciprocity and we them. Companion species, Haraway says, are “relentlessly becoming-with,” and as I think about the task of how to “re-con-figure” our education technologies – as the word’s etymology suggests “to figure again together” – I believe we need this deliberately messy, convivial response, one that extends beyond our current categorizations of whose words and whose ideas and whose bodies and whose lives matter.

    Yet much like my doubts about Haraway’s cyborgs or Papert’s turtles, I will admit I’m less confident of the pigeon as a “competent agent”; or rather, when I talk about the pigeons of ed-tech, I worry that we have forgotten how to be faithful companions for these significant, persistent birds. I worry that rather than “competent agent,” that very agency is stripped away as birds and children and other “lab rats” are trained by various education technologies for obedience and compliance and – this is my greatest fear – destruction.

    There are a handful of questions that I frequently get about my work – questions, or rather, accusations. “Audrey, why do you hate ed-tech?” I do not hate ed-tech. I hate injustice and exploitation. And “Audrey, why do you hate pigeons?” I do not hate pigeons. I think they are fascinating creatures. I would not choose them as a key figure if they were dull. I find the bird to be quite beautiful and, I hope, more than a little subversive. Its plumage often shimmers with a surprising iridescence. Some species of the bird are incredibly striking – the headdress on the Victoria crowned pigeon, for example.

    Nevertheless, the black, white, and grey pigeons commonly found in cities elicit strong negative opinions and stern city policies – “Do not feed the pigeons!” London mayor Ken Livingstone once claimed that it cost his city $235,000 a year to clean up after the pigeons in Trafalgar Square alone. He supported a ban on feeding them. He hired a falconer – armed with falcon, of course – to keep the birds away. The Piazza San Marco in Venice, also famous for its pigeons, similarly tried to ban vendors who sold bird feed to the tourists. Other cities have undertaken various anti-pigeon efforts – shooting them, poisoning them, electrocuting them, installing plastic owls to scare them or spikes to prevent them from roosting, blaring music, and so on.

    Our hatred of these birds (and by “our” I should clarify that I mean specifically North American and Western European) is very recent. It’s only been in the last century or so that we’ve distinguished the pigeon from the dove. And while the dove has retained its symbolic power as a bird of peace, the pigeon is now viewed as a marker of defilement, a sign of urban decay. The pigeon was first described as a “rat with wings” in The New York Times in 1966, in an article by then parks commissioner Thomas Hoving calling for the restoration of Bryant Park. Hoving described the park in disarray, overrun by litter, vandals, homosexuals, the homeless … and pigeons. “Rats with wings,” he called them – that phrase now commonly used to frame the pigeon as a vector for disease.

    Pigeons are viewed, to borrow a phrase from anthropologist Mary Douglas, as “matter out of place.” They do not belong. They are taboo. They remind us of dirt and danger and disorder. They violate the social order, a transgressive invasion of public space, of human space.

    But this is an odd accusation to make of the pigeon. Unfair even. The pigeon evolved alongside us. The pigeon has been with us, thanks to us, for thousands of years.

    The rock pigeon – Columba livia– was domesticated some 5000 years ago. They were raised for their meat and for their guano, a resource so valuable that, in some regions, only the nobility had the right to possess a dovecote – la droit de colombier. While the fatter breeds became food, the leaner ones were bred for their homing instincts and became message carriers. Others were bred for their speed and became racers, a sport that continues to this day (but it’s worth noting, primarily in immigrant, working class neighborhoods). Pigeon “fancying” has long been so popular and produced breeds so diverse – in their shape, size, color – that Charles Darwin devoted the first chapter of Origin of Species to the genealogy of the pigeon.

    The pigeon, much maligned, is a figure at the center of science, of modernity. “These birds are thoroughly entrenched in the cityscape,” as Colin Jerolmack writes in his book The Global Pigeon. “Pigeons have in effect become naturalized urban citizens. Their presence on city streets is utterly pedestrian, in both senses of the word.” The rock pigeon was originally a cliff-dweller; now it lives surrounded by skyscrapers and cement.

    They are utterly mundane; and at the same time, the birds are contested figures – as Haraway describes them “contested subjects and objects of ‘modern progress’ and ‘backward tradition.’”

    Today’s city-dwelling pigeons are the feral ancestors of the long-ago domesticated birds. Pigeons are not native species in North America; they are “creatures of empire.” Rock doves were first brought to this hemisphere by the French in 1606. The pigeons most commonly in our midst are the ancestors of the birds that escaped. They are neither fully domesticated nor completely wild. They are – with a nod to Haraway once again – a companion species gone astray, a border creature that might mark its own and just as importantly our own trainability, a reminder of what happens when our cyborg fantasies about hybridity and resistance are, despite their subversive theoretical promise, quite submissive to the technologies of command and control.

    The importance of figures and figuration, again: doves and pigeons share the same bird family. The former is a symbol of peace; the latter has been used as a weapon of war.

    Computing technology is also a weapon of war, of course. The world’s first programmable, digital computer was developed by the British during World War II to crack German communications.

    Education technology has roots in war as well – in the development of standardized testing for World War I recruits, in the Department of Defense’s development of SCORM and computer-based training simulations. Simon Ramo, “the father of the intercontinental ballistic missile,” is also the oldest person to ever receive a patent – yes, in education technology – “for any person, business, or entity seeking information to ensure that information being presented is useful by being understood.”

    The pigeon. The object of technological experimentation, manipulation, and control, weaponized.

    The pigeon. A key figure in history of the future of education technology.

    A few moments from that history:

    In 1908, Dr. Julius Neubronner – the personal pharmacist to Victoria, Princess Royal, the Empress of Germany, and the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria – patented his “Method of and Means for Taking Photographs of Landscapes from Above.” The patent involved three objects – a miniature camera, a timer, and a homing pigeon. Neubronner was already using pigeons to deliver medications to his customers, and he purportedly came up with the idea for pigeon photography when one of his pigeons got lost en route, then showed up a month later. Where had the bird been? Neubronner decided to merge his usage of pigeons with his interest in photography, strapping a camera to a bird and transporting it some 100 kilometers from his house. The pigeon, eager to be rid of its heavy load, would fly directly home. The timer was set to snap a photo in flight. Neubronner displayed his photos and sold postcards at various exhibitions in the early 1910s. With the outbreak of the first World War, Neubronner believed the pigeon camera could be transformed from hobby to military technology. Nevertheless, pigeons were primarily utilized in WWI for their traditional function of carrying messages behind enemy lines rather than as “advanced” aerial surveillance.

    Perhaps the most famous of these pigeons was Cher Ami, a Black Check carrier pigeon, one of 600 birds owned and flown by the US Army Signal Corps in France during the war. Cher Ami delivered twelve important messages to troops in and around Verdun. On her last mission, she was shot through the breast by enemy fire but managed to return to her dovecote. A message capsule was found dangling from her leg from Major Charles Whittlesey, the commander of the “Lost Battalion” of the 77th Infantry Division, stuck behind enemy lines without food and ammunition and beginning to receive fire from allied troops who didn’t know they were there. After Cher Ami’s message was received, the survivors of the battalion were returned safely to the American line. The bird died from her wounds, but Cher Ami was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with palm for her service. She was actually registered as a cock, but when her body was prepared for taxidermy – she’s on display at the Smithsonian – it was discovered she was a hen.

    Some 32 pigeons were awarded the Dickin Medal – the animals’ version of the Victoria Cross – for their service in World War II, including Gustav who flew 150 miles on June 6, 1944 from Normandy to the British mainland in five hours and sixteen minutes, facing a headwind of up to thirty miles an hour, bringing the first report of the success of the D-Day landing back to the UK. (The allied forces were under radio silence for the operation.)

    In the 1970s and 1980s, the US Coast Guard worked with pigeons for its Project Sea Hunt, training pigeons to identify orange, yellow, or red objects in the water. The practical application: to identify humans in need of rescue – or at least identify their lifejackets. They were transported via a helicopter containing a plexiglass pod with three trained pigeons who’d peck an indicator when they saw the color. The pigeons accurately identified people and equipment in the water 90% of the time; humans only 38% of the time. But the Coast Guard used the search and rescue pigeons only once. Their rescue effort was successful, but the helicopter carrying the pigeons lost power and had to make an emergency landing. The pigeons were killed, presumed drowned at sea.

    There were no medals awarded for valor. I do not know these pigeons’ names.

    Training pigeons, whether for military service or otherwise, has a long history; studying this training, investigating how teaching and learning works for pigeons has been a main area of focus for the field of psychology, as it was developed and institutionalized in the twentieth century.

    One cannot talk about education psychology without talking about pigeons. One cannot talk about education technology without talking about education psychology. One cannot talk about education technology without talking about pigeons.

    This is the photograph I come back to again and again.

    As part of his graduate work, the famous behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner invented what’s now known as “the Skinner Box.” His “operant conditioning chamber” was used to study and to train animals to perform certain tasks. Do the task correctly; get a reward (namely food). This is the foundation of Skinner’s theories of behaviorism.

    Skinner was hardly the first to use animals in psychological experiments that sought to understand how the learning process works. Several decades earlier, for his dissertation research, the psychologist Edward Thorndike had built a “puzzle box” in which an animal had to push a lever in order to open a door and escape (again, often rewarded with food for successfully completing the “puzzle”). Thorndike measured how quickly animals figured out how to get out of the box after being placed in it again and again and again – their “learning curve.”

    We have in the puzzle box and in the Skinner Box the origins of education technology – some of the very earliest “teaching machines” – just as we have in the work of Thorndike and Skinner, the foundations of educational psychology and, as Ellen Condliffe Lagemann has pronounced in her famous statement “Thorndike won and Dewey lost,” of many of the educational practices we carry through to this day. (In addition to developing the puzzle box, Thorndike also developed prototypes for the multiple choice test.)

    “Once we have arranged the particular type of consequence called a reinforcement,” Skinner wrote in 1954 in “The Science of Learning and the Art of Teaching,” "our techniques permit us to shape the behavior of an organism almost at will. It has become a routine exercise to demonstrate this in classes in elementary psychology by conditioning such an organism as a pigeon.”

    …Such an organism as a pigeon.” We often speak of “lab rats” as shorthand for the animals used in scientific experiments. We use the phrase too to describe people who work in labs, who are completely absorbed in performing their tasks again and again and again.

    In education and in education technology, students are also the subjects of experimentation and conditioning. In Skinner’s framework, they are not “lab rats”; they are pigeons. As he wrote,

    …Comparable results have been obtained with pigeons, rats, dogs, monkeys, human children… and psychotic subjects. In spite of great phylogenetic differences, all these organisms show amazingly similar properties of the learning process. It should be emphasized that this has been achieved by analyzing the effects of reinforcement and by designing techniques that manipulate reinforcement with considerable precision. Only in this way can the behavior of the individual be brought under such precise control.

    Learning, according to Skinner and Thorndike, is about behavior, about reinforcing those behaviors – knowledge, answers – that educators deem “correct.” When educators fail to shape, reinforce, and control a student’s behavior through these techniques and technologies, they are at risk, in Skinner’s words, of “losing our pigeon.”

    Let me return, briefly again, to the pigeon as weapon of war.

    During World War II, Skinner worked on Project Pigeon – also known as Project Orcon, short for Organic Control – an experimental project to create pigeon-guided missiles.

    The pigeons were trained by Skinner to peck at a target and rewarded with food when they completed the task correctly. Skinner also designed a missile in which the pigeon could see the target through the windows. The pigeon would peck at the target; the pecking in turn would control the missile’s tail fins, keeping it on course, via a metal conductor connected to the bird’s beak, transmitting the force of the pecking to the missile’s guidance system. The pigeons’ accuracy, according to Skinner’s preliminary tests: nearly perfect.

    Skinner also tested the tenacity of the pigeons – testing their psychological fitness, if you will, for battle. He fired a pistol next to their heads to see if loud noise would disrupt their pecking. He put the pigeons in a pressure chamber, setting the altitude at 10,000 feet. The pigeons were whirled around in a centrifuge meant to simulate massive G forces; they were exposed to bright flashes meant to simulate shell bursts. The pigeons kept pecking. They had been trained, conditioned to do so.

    The military canceled and revived Project Pigeon a couple of times. “Our problem,” Skinner admitted, “was no one would take us seriously.” By 1953, the military had devised an electronic system for missile guidance, and animal-guided systems were no longer necessary.

    The pigeon-guided missiles were never tested in combat. No one seems to talk about what would have happened to each well-trained bird that was to guide an explosive warhead, pecking pecking pecking until impact, until her inevitable death.

    The same year that the military canceled Project Pigeon, Skinner came up with the idea for his teaching machine. Visiting his daughter’s fourth grade classroom, he was struck by the inefficiencies. Not only were all the students expected to move through their lessons at the same pace, but when it came to assignments and quizzes, they did not receive feedback until the teacher had graded the materials – sometimes a delay of days. Skinner believed that both of these flaws in school could be addressed through mechanization, and he built a prototype for his teaching machine which he demonstrated at a conference the following year.

    Skinner believed that materials should be broken down into small chunks and organized in a logical fashion for students to move through. The machine would show one chunk, one frame at a time, and if the student answered the question correctly, could move on to the next question. Skinner called this process “programmed instruction.”

    Skinner is often credited with inventing the teaching machine. He didn’t. Sidney Pressey, another educational psychologist, had built one decades beforehand. (Skinner said that Pressey’s was more testing than teaching machine.) Despite who was or wasn’t “the first,” Skinner has shaped education technology immensely. Even though his theories have largely fallen out of favor in most education psychology circles, education technology (and technology more broadly) seems to have embraced them –often, I think, without acknowledging where these ideas came from. Our computer technologies are shot through with behaviorism. Badges. Notifications. Haptic alerts. Real-time feedback. Gamification. Peck peck peck.

    According to Skinner, when we fail to properly correct behavior – facilitated by and through machines – we are at risk of “losing our pigeons.” But I’d contend that with this unexamined behaviorist bent of (ed-)tech, we actually find ourselves at risk of losing our humanity.

    One more pigeon fact and figuration: the species is one of the very few that has passed “the mirror test,” a psychological test that purportedly indicates self-awareness. In the test, first developed in 1970 by behavioral psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr., an animal is anesthetized and marked – with paint or a sticker – on some part of its body that it typically cannot see. When it awakens, it is placed in front of a mirror. If the animal touches itself to find and investigate the mark, it is seen as an indication that the animal recognizes itself in the mirror, that it’s not another animal. Only great apes, humans after age 2, dolphins, orcas, one single Asiatic elephant, and the Eurasian magpie have passed the test.

    Untrained pigeons have never been able to, but the trained pigeons in Skinner’s lab were able to pass the mirror test – to be precise, a modified version of the test – in 1981. But as Skinner noted when he published the findings in Science, “We should not attribute this, however, to a pigeon’s ‘self-awareness’ or claim that a pigeon has a ‘self-concept.’ We believe that such constructs impede the search for the controlling variables of the behavior they are said to produce.” Skinner and his co-authors suggest that what the animals that pass the test are displaying is the result of operant conditioning for mirror usage. There is not some sort of internal introspection or recognition, according to Skinner; there is no consciousness, no “mind” – not just in pigeons but in any living creature.

    There is, as Skinner was famously lambasted by Noam Chomsky for asserting, no free will. There is only training, operant conditioning ideally done via machine.

    No free will – I think that puts Skinner’s warning that, without the proper training and teaching machines, we might “lose our pigeons,” in the lab and in the classroom, in rather a foreboding, oppressive, authoritarian light. If responses – to stimulation, to screens – are just a matter of operant conditioning, then what can we mean by responsibility? To ourselves, to one another, to the world? What ability do we have to be curious, to think differently, to resist?

    Back to those fears and doubts and anxieties I have: can we extricate ourselves in education technology – our practices, our machines – from this particular pigeon lineage? How can we purposefully, willfully, subversively become “lost”? Purposefully “lost pigeons.”

    The pigeon is both wild and domesticated, un-wild and un-domesticated. Disciplined and undisciplined. Highly trainable but resolutely feral. A border figure. A cyborg, of sorts, if you close your eyes and squint. To “be less pigeon,” a tag-line on my site Hack Education, is, less about pigeons than it is, quite frankly, an appeal to all of us to be less machine. To probe, not just to peck.

    How can the pigeon as a figure – as a vector, a traveler, a neighbor, a racer, a messenger, a weapon, a spy, a conspirator, a companion – help us re/con/figure our educational practices, our educational technologies? To move carefully and ethically and lovingly away from exploitation and domination, from – returning to the conference theme – anxiety and insecurity?

    I don’t have answers, only stories, fragments from the history of the future. But in the pigeon, I do believe we have a fascinating “figure to think with,” one that I hope prompts us to reflect on our responsibilities to all beings – humans or otherwise. Our responsibilities to all who come to live and learn with us, to not merely strap them into machines and pilot them towards their own destruction, to not only to see them as objects but as subjects, and as Haraway insists, “competent agents.” What happens when we do not trust in one another’s competency or agency?

    I want for us all to be beautiful, iridescent, willful beings. I want for us all to be free.

    Works cited: Noam Chomsky, “The Case Against B. F. Skinner”; Charles Darwin, Origin of Species; Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger; Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto”; Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene; Colin Jerolmack, The Global Pigeon; Bruno Latour, “Love Your Monsters”; Seymour Papert, The Children’s Machine; Seymour Papert, Mindstorms; B. F. Skinner, “The Science of Learning and the Art of Teaching”; B. F. Skinner et al, “‘Self-awareness’ in the pigeon”

    Image credits: Slide 2: Patrick Marioné, 3: Jeremiasz Dx, 4: Misha Sokolnikov, 5: Young Sok Yun, 6: Boonkia, 7: Paul, 8: Peter Miller, 9: Peter Ficken, 10: GurtyGurt, 11: Robert Claypool, 12: Nathan Rupert, 13: German Federal Archive, 14: Helgi Halldórsson, 15: Ken Heyman, 16: Joe Price, 17: Neil Hall, 18: Theo Crowshaw, 19: Pedro Ribeiro Simões, 20: Dominique Cappronnier, 21: Nicholas Winspeare


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  • 09/23/16--03:01: Hack Education Weekly News
  • Presidential Campaign Politics


    Via Politico: “Donald Trump has put wealthy universities on alert. He warned colleges and universities Thursday night that those schools that don’t spend their endowments to directly benefit students could lose the tax break on their endowments.”

    Via the Pacific Standard: “Here’s the Lowdown on Trump’s New Childcare Proposals.”

    Via Education Week: “See Who’s Been Tapped to Lead Trump’s Transition Team for Education.” Williamson M. Evers from the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and Gerard Robinson, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Saved you a click.

    Via The Daily Beast: “Palmer Luckey: The Facebook Near-Billionaire Secretly Funding Trump’s Meme Machine.” Remind me again, all you fans of VR in education, how this technology is going to promote empathy? Well, one thing’s for certain: between this and Peter Thiel on its board, Facebook is well-positioned for a Trump presidency.

    There’s more Facebook fraud in the “upgrades and downgrades” section below.

    Education Politics


    “After Gayle Manchin took over the National Association of State Boards of Education in 2012, she spearheaded an unprecedented effort that encouraged states to require schools to purchase medical devices that fight life-threatening allergic reactions,” writes USA Today. The move helped to give Mylan, maker of the Epipen, a near monopoly in schools. And what a coincidence: the CEO of Mylan was Heather Bresch, Gayle Manchin’s daughter. And Manchin’s husband: Joe Manchin, the senior Senator from West Virginia.

    Not directly related to education, but man, aren’t you curious what an investigation of the Department of Education would turn up? Via Scientific American: “How the FDA Manipulates the Media.”

    State educational technology directors have outlined ambitious targets for increasing school bandwidth capacity in an effort to support digital learning and bridge the technology divide that exists in schools and in students’ homes,” says Education Week.

    Via Edsurge: “How Proposed Title I Changes Impact School Funding and Edtech Vendors” – “A Win for Edtech Vendors.” Well, as long as ed-tech vendors benefit, it must be grand.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Two U.S. senators on Wednesday proposed legislation that would give selective colleges that enroll relatively few low-income students (the bottom 5 percent of all institutions) four years to boost their enrollment numbers from this group or face paying a fee to continue being eligible for federal financial aid.”

    More political wrangling in the accreditation and for-profit higher ed sections below.

    Education in the Courts


    Via The Gothamist: “NY State’s Ferrari-Driving Nanotechnology Czar Facing Corruption Charges.” That would be Alain Kaloyeros, long-time head of SUNY Polytechnic.

    Via KPCC: “On Monday Northern California Judge Barry Goode denied the claims in the Doe v. Antioch Unified lawsuit – the second legal setback in recent months to education advocates who believe ineffective teachers have too many job protections.”

    Via the Lexington Herald Leader: “The Kentucky Supreme Court dealt a decisive blow to Gov. Matt Bevin’s executive power Thursday, finding that he exceeded his statutory authority by cutting state universities’ budgets by 2 percent last spring, after the General Assembly had already appropriated their funding.”

    Via Inside Higher Education: “A group of 37 Nigerian students is suing Alabama State University, claiming that the university failed to properly disburse scholarship funds awarded by the Nigerian government.”

    More lawsuits in the accreditation section below.

    Testing, Testing…


    Reuters continues its investigation into standardized testing: “Despite warnings, College Board redesigned SAT in way that may hurt neediest students.”

    Via the press release: “U.S. Education Department Awards 41 States and the District of Columbia $28.4 Million in Grants to Help Students From Low-Income Families Take Advanced Placement Tests.” Congrats, College Board for the taxpayer-funded boost.

    Online Education (The Once and Future “MOOC”)


    edXunveiled more “MicroMasters” – “a New Credential to Advance Your Career and Accelerate Your Master’s Degree.” Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education have more details.

    Inside Higher Ed has more details on the University of California Berkeley’s announcement that they’ll remove free online content rather than comply with a Justice Department demand to make it accessible to those with disabilities.

    Here is venture capital well spent: “Coursera Promotes Its ‘Affordable Online Courses’ With New TV Ad Spots,” says Class Central.

    Via Masslive.com: “Massachusetts state government announced a new partnership with an online education company on Thursday to help public employees and the state’s public universities take advantage of online classes.” The company in question: edX.

    Via Westworld: “Adams State’s ‘Egregious, Unethical’ Online Program Should Be Scrapped, Report Says.”

    Something something Brexit something something MOOCs will save British higher ed.

    Via The Awl: “The Masterclass Collection: Who taught it best?”

    Coding Bootcamps (The Once and Future “For-Profit Higher Ed”)


    ITT Educational Services has filed for bankruptcy.

    The Department of Education has created a website for students from closed for-profits. It took them two weeks after the announcement that ITT was shutting its doors to do this. Heckuva job. More via a Department of Ed blog post on what it’s doing to support these students. tl;dr: emailing them, holding webinars, using social media.

    The Department of Education announced that it would no longer recognize the accrediting powers of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, the accreditor for many of the country’s for-profit schools. Details from ProPublica, The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education,

    Via The Denver Post: “ DeVry University to limit revenue from federal student aid.” More via Inside Higher Ed.

    Via The Richmond Times-Dispatch: “[the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia] adopts contingency plan to keep 15 Va. for-profit schools open.”

    Via Politico: “The Senate on Monday approved a VA bill that includes a provision allowing GI Bill educational benefits to continue to flow to student veterans for up to 18 months after their school’s accreditor loses its federal recognition. Under current law, student veterans affected by an accreditor shutdown immediately lose access to their GI Bill benefits, including housing.”

    Meanwhile on Campus


    Via The New York Times: “‘Fees Must Fall’: Anatomy of the Student Protests in South Africa.”

    Via Buzzfeed: “Girl Suspended After Being Sexually Assaulted In School Stairwell.”

    Also via Buzzfeed: “Black Students At American University Say They’re Being Attacked With Bananas.”

    Via The Tennessean: “Belmont University ousted a student Tuesday after he made a social media post using the N-word to describe black NFL football players, who he said needed a ‘bullet in their head.’”

    Via The Huffington Post: “Florida Schools Are Forcing Students To Stand During National Anthem.” I do believe this is unconstitutional.

    Via AL.com: “Two more Alabama schools were on lockdown today after a social media posts and phoned-in threat warned ‘clowns’ might show up at two Birmingham area schools.” Clowns.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Accidental Gunshot Is Reported on Texas Campus That Now Allows Firearms.”

    In related campus carry news, musician Ray LaMontagne canceled a gig at UT Austin because people would be allowed to carry concealed weapons into the show.

    Also via The Chronicle: “The University of California at Berkeley has reinstated an undergraduate course about the history of Palestine that it suspended.” More on the course and the university’s decision via Inside Higher Ed.

    Via the Hechinger Report: “Eligible but got nothing: Hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities blocked from college aid.”

    Via the Knoxville News Sentinel: “The University of Tennessee is investigating a tweet by one of its law professors after the faculty member and contributing columnist for USA TODAY and the News Sentinel urged motorists to run over demonstrators blocking traffic in Charlotte, N.C.” That’d be Glenn Reynolds, @instapundit, who also briefly had his Twitter account suspended.

    “What’s Causing The Increased Enrollment At HBCUs?” asks NPR.

    Via Education Week: “More than 19,000 students on the small Canadian province of Prince Edward Island were evacuated Wednesday after police received a threat that bombs were placed at a number of schools. Police said nothing suspicious was found after officers searched all of the schools in the province.”

    A moment of silence, please, for Harvard, which has posted negative returns on its investments and now has a meager endowment of only $35.7 billion.

    Accreditation and Certification


    Via Senator Elizabeth Warren’s website: “Senators Warren, Durbin, and Schatz Introduce Bill to Reform Higher Education Accreditation and Strengthen Accountability for Students and Taxpayers.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “In San Francisco, the Fates of a College and Its Accreditor Are on the Line.” The college: the City College of San Francisco. The accreditor: the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Paine College announced on Saturday that it would sue the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools after its college commission rejected Paine’s appeal of SACS’ June decision to strip the college’s accreditation.”

    Via Edsurge: “New Lumina-Backed Registry Aims to Bring Transparency to the ‘Credentialing Marketplace’.” Via the press release: “Using web 3.0 technologies, the registry enables job seekers, students, workers, and employers to easily search for and compare credentials, similar to the way travel apps are used to compare flights, rental cars, and hotels.” Because credentialing works just like transportation.

    Some pushback on badges and alt-credentials via an Inside Higher Ed op-ed by Colin Mathews.

    More accreditation news in the for-profit higher ed section above.

    Go, School Sports Team!


    Via Inside Higher Ed: “At Saturday’s football game at Pennsylvania State University, the university played videos that honored the career of the late Joe Paterno on the 50th anniversary of when he became head football coach.” Which, you have to admit, is pretty fucking shameful. Also via Inside Higher Ed: “Penn State Professors Defend Student Who Questioned Paterno Honor.” Via The Undefeated: “Penn State doesn’t get to decide JoePa’s legacy.” “It’s up to the men who were molested. They get to decide,” writes Mike Wise.

    Via The Seattle Times: “Garfield football team will continue to kneel during anthem, seeks meetings with police, community leaders.”

    From the HR Department


    Edsurge has hiredJeffrey R. Young, a long-time writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Houghton Mifflin Harcourt CEO Resigns,” says The Wall Street Journal. Linda Zecher declined to explain to the newspaper why she was leaving the company.

    The faculty at the State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota have voted to form a union.

    An op-ed in IHE argues that IT professionals should receive tenure.

    Contests and Awards


    Apply to MuckRock’s Thiel Fellowship, and FOIA the heck out of his efforts to shape the public sphere.

    It’s MacArthur “Genius” time. Here’s the list of the 23 new fellows, which as IHE notes, includes many from academia.

    Upgrades and Downgrades


    From Desmos, one of the only ed-tech companies worth a damn: “The Desmos Guide to Building Great (Digital) Math Activities.”

    “LinkedIn doubles down on education with LinkedIn Learning, updates desktop site,” says Techcrunch. (I love how those two updates are paired in the headline.) The price-tag for this particular version of “lifelong learning” is $29.99 a month. More hype via Edsurge.

    Via The Wall Street Journal: “Facebook Overestimated Key Video Metric for Two Years.” But don’t worry. Facebook’s entry into the education technology market will be pure and good.

    More deception from another tech company trying to make headway into ed-tech – via ProPublica: “Amazon Says It Puts Customers First. But Its Pricing Algorithm Doesn’t.”

    “The Disruption of the College Bookstore Market Enters Phase Three,” says The Digital Reader.

    I’m not sure why Inc calls ClassDojo“Slack for Classrooms” when it’s really much more “operant conditioning and surveillance for schools.” But hey. Anyway, the business magazine gives some details on how ClassDojo plans to make money: hopping on that “mindset” bandwagon, of course, and charging parents for the data on their kids.

    In other ClassDojo news: “Tacoma 9-Year-Old Gets Explicit Report Card Through App Used by Teachers.”

    Via Business Insider: “A top education VC says these 6 startups could transform how we teach kids.” That’d be Jennifer Carolan from Reach Capital.

    And from Jennifer Carolan, an op-ed in Techcrunch: “Why VR matters, especially in rural schools.” Let’s ask Palmer Luckey what he thinks about this!

    Via The Backchannel: “Microsoft Weaponizes Minecraft in the War Over Classrooms.”

    Via Edsurge: “A Look at Square Panda, the Early Childhood Literacy App Funded by Andre Agassi.” Andre Agassi, early childhood literacy expert, right?

    Elsevier Wants CloudFlare to Expose Pirate Sites,” TorrentFreak reports.

    “What Does Innovation Mean in Higher Education?” – according to Edsurge.

    Via Buzzfeed: “After Reporting Abuse, Many Twitter Users Hear Silence Or Worse.”

    Via Edsurge: “Life After Merger: When Edtech Acquisitions Go Sour.” The story of UClass and Renaissance Learning. Lawsuits! Drama! Lessons!

    The Gates Foundation has released its list of higher ed priorities, doubling down on many of its terrible ideas, including measuring and counting the things it thinks matters to “innovation” in education.

    Funding and Acquisitions (The Business of Ed-Tech)


    Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Pledges $3 Billion for Science Research,” Philanthropy.com reports. “Of that $3 billion, CZI will spend $600 million to create a ‘biohub’ in San Francisco, where scientists and engineers from Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of California at San Francisco will collaborate on disease-eradication research.” (Related, via Devex: “An early look at Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s investments in education.”)

    Via a Medium post by the company co-founder: “Kahoot! Closes $10m Financing Round To Help Improve Learning For All.” Investors include Fredrik Cassel, Nagraj Kashyap, and Tellef Thorleifsson. The “game-based learning platform” company has raised $16 million total.

    Guild Education has raised $8.5 million from Redpoint, 1776, Cowboy Ventures, Fern Mandelbaum, Harrison Metal, and Social Capital. The “lifelong learning” platform has raised $10.5 million total.

    Lightneer has raised $3.15 million in seed funding from GSV Acceleration and IPR.VC. The learning games startup has raised $4.04 million total.

    PikMyKid– “a platform that seeks to streamline the end-of-day student dismissal process for parents and schools” – has raised $1 million from Florida Funders and The Fan Club.

    Stoodnt, certainly in the running for one of the dumbest startup names in ed-tech, has raised $300,000 from Rajan Anandan.

    Yellowdig has raised an undisclosed amount of money from QB! Ventures and Rosecliff Ventures. The social-collaboration-software-for-schools startup has previously raised $1 million.

    Private equity firm L Squared Capital Partners has acquiredLearners Edge. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    Data, Privacy, and Surveillance


    Congrats, Yahoo, on the worst hack ever. The information of some 500 million users was stolen in 2014, according to Yahoo, by “a state-sponsored actor.”

    Via Edsurge: “The George W. Bush Institute released a ‘State of Our Cities’ tool providing education data on some 100 cities.”

    The big data revolution: Will it help university students graduate? ” asks The Globe and Mail. And Betteridge’s Law tells us what?

    I’m sticking this here in the surveillance section as it crosses the line into creepy. Via Campus Technology: “MIT Teaches Wireless Routers to Know How You’re Feeling.”

    According to a survey by Webroot, “Students Say They’d Only Pay Ransomware Operators About $50.”

    “Kids need to reclaim their data and security... especially at school” says Techcrunch op-ed. Productize privacy violation. Productize privacy solutionism. Rinse. Repeat.

    Via The Intercept: “Tech Money Lurks Behind Government Privacy Conference.”

    Via The New York Times: “Who’s Too Young for an App? Musical.ly Tests the Limits.” (Once upon a time, Musical.ly was an ed-tech startup.)

    More on privacy-related research in the research section below.

    Data and “Research”


    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The State of Undergraduate Education.” According to the report by the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education, “more Americans are attending college than ever before.”

    2016 E-Rate Trends.”

    Via the Pew Research Center: “The state of privacy in post-Snowden America.”

    Also via Pew: “Digital Readiness Gaps.” “Americans fall along a spectrum of preparedness when it comes to using tech tools to pursue learning online, and many are not eager or ready to take the plunge.” Time to buy more TV ads, Khan Academy and Coursera!

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Zero Correlation Between Evaluations and Learning.”

    “What Business-School Application Trends Say About the Economy” – at least according to The Wall Street Journal.

    Many academics are fooled by robot-written peer reviews, Inside Higher Ed reports.

    “The Typical Undergraduate Takes More Than 5 Years to Graduate,” says The Chronicle of Higher Education, drawing on data from National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

    “Student Diversity at More Than 4,600 Institutions.” Data via The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Via Education Week: “K–12 Computing Market Moves Toward 2-in–1 Devices.” I need to write up something on how these market research firms’ predictions are treated like The Truth…

    Icon credits: The Noun Project


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    I confess. I’m a little perplexed by the recentcall to create a new discipline for education technology. There are already hundreds of academic conferences and academic publications and professional organizations and published studies devoted to education technology; hundreds of schools offer degrees – primarily graduate degrees – in education technology. Depending on what you count as ed-tech, the field has been around for at least a century.

    And yet, in a story in Inside Higher Ed in May none of that history or existing academic activity is mentioned. This particular push for a discipline apparently emerged at a small event at Georgetown, responding to a report from MIT on the future of online education. That report doesn’t call for a new discipline but instead for a “new breed of educational professional” – the “learning engineer,” a deliberate rebranding of the job title that many of the people who work in the field hold. And perhaps that’s the crux of my dissent here – this feels like yet another rebranding, rehistoricizing of ed-tech by elite American universities. Indeed, in a recent Campus Technology article – “Why It’s Time for Education Technology to Become an Academic Discipline” – it seems clear that this push for a formal discipline is a response to 2012, “The Year of the MOOC.”

    It’s not really clear from the media coverage why we might need a (new? another?) discipline. To be taken more seriously? To conduct more “rigorous” research? To glean more funding? To make better purchasing decisions? To boost test scores or graduation rates? Do these really require a discipline? Or does this reflect a more traditional academic initiative: to help “establish a canonical body of texts that you could assume most people in ed tech are familiar with,” as Martin Weller has recently suggested? That is, to determine the intellectual contours and to shore up the departmental boundaries – to decree an orthodoxy– for education technology?

    Why discipline ed-tech?

    I cannot help but think here of Michel Foucault and his Surveiller et punir, translated into English, of course, as Discipline and Punish. The book is certainly best known for the theory of Panopticism, Foucault’s history of the development of a disciplinary society through specific mechanisms, movements, technologies, and processes of surveillance. But this disciplinary society isn’t simply a function of an architectural or technological Panopticon. This is always for Foucault about knowledge and power. And importantly, in Discipline and Punish, he traces the rise of academic disciplines in the 18th century alongside the establishment of the modern prison – they share the practices of investigation, intervention, examination, interrogation, control. “The disciplines characterize, classify, specialize; they distribute along a scale, around a norm, hierarchize individuals in relation to one another and, if necessary, disqualify and invalidate.”

    Education technology is already a discipline; education technology is already disciplinary. That is its history; that is its design; that is its function.

    Education is replete with technologies of discipline. It has been, Foucault argues, since it was formalized in the late eighteenth century. By ranking students, for example, by assigning students to rows, these disciplinary technologies and practices “made the educational space function like a learning machine, but also as a machine for supervising, hierarchizing, rewarding” [emphasis mine].

    Can a discipline of education technology challenge or undo or even see its own disciplinary practices, mechanisms, technologies?

    Weller suggests that a discipline “creates a body against which criticism can push.” But I’m not sure that that’s the case. It seems more likely that the almost utter lack of criticality in education technology is because of how disciplined the field already is. It works quite hard to re-inscribe its own relevance, its own power – that's what all disciplines do, no doubt; it forecloses contrary ideas – most importantly, the idea that these technologies might not be necessary, that they might in fact be so tightly bound up in practices of surveillance and control that they forestall teaching and learning as practices of freedom and liberation.

    The very last thing that education technology needs right now is to become more disciplinary. We need, as I said last week in my keynote at DeL, a radical blasphemy, a greater willingness for undisciplining.


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  • 09/30/16--00:01: Hack Education Weekly News
  • Presidential Campaign Politics


    There was a Presidential Debate this week, but – no surprise and perhaps even a bit of a relief – education wasn’t much of an issue.

    Via NPR: “Hillary Clinton’s Plan For America’s Students.” Also via NPR: “Donald Trump’s Plan For America’s Schools.”

    Education Politics


    Via The Wall Street Journal: “The federal government is pumping $245 million into the creation and expansion of public charter schools across the nation with hopes of helping students in low-income communities.”

    Via the Data Quality Campaign: “Student Data Privacy Legislation: A Summary of 2016 State Legislation.”

    Education in the Courts


    Via The Guardian: “The Nevada supreme court has ruled that the state’s voucher-style education savings accounts program – seen as the broadest school choice initiative in the country – has an unconstitutional funding mechanism that should remain blocked.”

    Maybe or maybe not education-related. Via The New York Times: “Creepy Clown Reports Continue, and Clowns Are Not Happy.” “At least 9 ‘clown’ arrests so far in Alabama,” AL.com reports.

    More on legal battles in the sports section and the for-profit higher ed section below.

    Testing, Testing…


    Via the AP: “No average scores being released this year for new SAT exam.” More via Education Week, Edsurge, and Inside Higher Ed, which noted that “In Transitional Year, SAT Scores Drop on Old Test.”

    Online Education (The Once and Future “MOOC”)


    The University of Newcastle has joinededX.

    Udacity has launched a VR nanodegree. It doesn’t look like Oculus Rift founder and alt-right meme funder Palmer Luckey is building the curriculum, so that’s a relief I suppose.

    Via The Atlantic: “Virtual Classrooms Can Be as Unequal as Real Ones.” Shocking, I know.

    Via Edsurge: “Online Classes Get a Missing Piece: Teamwork.” Can you believe no one has ever thought about adding “social” to online education until now?!

    More odd observations, via Kevin Carey in The New York Times“An Online Education Breakthrough? A Master's Degree for a Mere $7,000.” (This story is about Udacity’s partnership with AT&T and Georgia Tech. MOOC hype deja vu.)

    Via LA School Report: “LAUSD credit recovery vendor finds strong demand for online makeup courses nationwide.” Online credit recovery programs are notoriously terrible (although, hey! they do boost graduation rates.)

    Coding Bootcamps (The Once and Future “For-Profit Higher Ed”)


    Via The Wall Street Journal: “ITT Educational Debuts in Bankruptcy Court.”

    Via Cleveland.com: “Veterans harmed by ITT Tech’s closing can’t get congressional help yet.”

    Via the Debt Collective: “Former ITT Tech Students on Strike!” (Debt strike.)

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Education Dept. Is Sued Over Debt Collection From Former Corinthian Students.” Senator Elizabeth Warren has also penned a scathing letter to the Department of Education, criticizing how it’s handled the debt collection for these students.

    Also via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Election Casts Spotlight on an Unusual For-Profit With Global Ambitions.” That “unusual for-profit” is Laureate Education.

    Via Buzzfeed: “The Industry That Was Crushed By The Obama Administration.” (And yet, the bootcamp thing. It lives.)

    Via Campus Technology: “CUNY to Train, Hire 2,000 Students in Free Coding Bootcamps.” It’s a strategic partnership with Revature. You can get a Microsoft certification!

    “Why Free Bootcamps + Inexpensive Bachelor’s Degrees Make Sense,” argues investor Ryan Craig in Edsurge, (whose VC firm invested in Revature– see above).

    Meanwhile on Campus


    (That's Sara Goldrick-Rab, talking about college affordability, on The Daily Show.)

    Via Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy: “These Colleges Have The Worst Student Loan Default Rates In The Country.”

    Via WYFF4.com: “2 students, teacher injured in shooting at Townville Elementary [in South Carolina]; teen in custody.”

    Via the OC Weekly: “Cal State Fullerton’s Math Department Has More Problems Than Overpriced, Mandatory Textbooks.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “U. of Mississippi Students Stage Sit-In Over Racist Social-Media Post.”

    “At a protest at East Tennessee State University, a white student shows up in a gorilla mask and taunts black students by dangling bananas at them,” Inside Higher Ed reports.

    “School officials have dropped most of the Tennessee middle school social studies standards involving Islam as part of newly proposed standards,” the AP reports.

    Via WXYZ Detroit: “Student suspended after posting picture of discolored water in school bathroom to social media.”

    Via The Hechinger Report: “School police have used electroshock weapons on at least 4 kids since August.”

    Via BoingBoing: “After School Satan Club gets approval in Portland.”

    Via The New York Times: “CUNY Application Fee to Be Waived for Low-Income Students.”

    Well, it looks like Yale will not go belly-up this year. Phew.

    Via Quartz: “Stanford will pay for your MBA– provided you then go work in this ‘underserved region’.” That region, what journalist Sarah Kendzior calls “flyover country”: llinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, or Wisconsin. Keep flying, Stanford MBAs. Please.

    Accreditation and Certification


    “Military and veteran students who attend colleges that are accredited by the Accrediting Council of Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) should be able to continue receiving Post–9/11 GI Bill benefits to attend those institutions, at least for another 18 months,” says Inside Higher Ed. This comes on the heels of last week’s decision by a federal panel to revoke ACICS’s accrediting powers.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Ed: “2 Projects That Promote Alternative Credentials Reach Key Milestones.” The projects are a credential registry, funded by the Lumina Foundation, and the 21st Century Skills Badging Challenge. It’s not quite clear what the milestones would be but I’m guessing including ITT in the credential registry wasn’t it. Ooops.

    Go, School Sports Team!


    Via The Bleacher Report: “Meet the team of 11- and 12-year-old mini-Kaepernicks protesting during the national anthem in southeast Texas– despite death threats and their coach’s suspension after a nonstop fight against injustice.”

    Patriotism and Protest Under Friday Night Lights” by The Atlantic’s Melinda D. Anderson.

    Via Yahoo Sports: “Nebraska regent wants players who knelt for anthem off team.” And via Raw Story: “Fans wanted me ‘hung before the anthem’: Emotional Nebraska football player reveals racist threats.”

    Via The Huffington Post: “Former USC Football Player Sues NCAA Over ‘Unpaid Wages’.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Chapel Hill Football Player Denies Sexual-Assault Accusation.”

    From the HR Department


    Jeb Bush will be a guest lecturer at Harvard this fall.

    The Chicago Teachers Union has set a strike date: October 11.

    Contests and Awards


    Amazon announced the Alexa Prize, a university competition dedicated to accelerating the field of conversational AI. From the press release: “The goal of the inaugural competition is to build a ‘socialbot’ on Alexa that will converse with people about popular topics and news events. The team with the highest-performing socialbot will win a $500,000 prize. Additionally, a prize of $1 million will be awarded to the winning team’s university if their socialbot achieves the grand challenge of conversing coherently and engagingly with humans for 20 minutes.”

    Upgrades and Downgrades


    Paging Roger Schank. Via The New York Times: “Next Target for IBM’s Watson? Third-Grade Math.” Quotes from the AFT in this story serve to remind us how easily people are fooled by the Watson parlor tricks.

    Google announced it was adding to search results about colleges and universities data from the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard. It’s about “helping prospective students make decisions about their future.” You know what would be helpful Google? Not accepting advertising from the for-profit higher sec sector.

    Via Edsurge: “A Timeline of Google Classroom’s March to Replace Learning Management Systems.” Color me skeptical about this replacement. As far as I know, the data shows otherwise.

    Via the BackChannel: “Melinda Gates Has a New Mission: Women in Tech.”

    PEARSONalized Learning” by Mindwire Consulting’s Michael Feldstein.

    Also by Michael Feldstein: “Why Ed-Tech Software Patents Could Harm Innovation.” More on the topic on his website, e-Literate.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Workday’s Full Student Information System Launches.”

    Teddy Ruxpin is back.

    “Mattel’s ThingMaker, the 3D printer that let kids make their own toys, delayed until next year,” Techcrunch reports.

    “This Accessory Makes VR So Real a Surgeon Could Train with It,” says MIT Technology Review. Something something “potential applications beyond gaming” something something education something something non-stop VR hype.

    Via Edsurge: “When Teachers Build Edtech, Awesomeness Ensues – and Here’s Why.” Among the not-awesomeness of ed-tech built by teachers, please let’s not forget: Blackboard, TurnItIn.

    Funding and Acquisitions (The Business of Ed-Tech)


    Homework-help site Zuoyebang has raised $60 million from GGV Capital, Xianghe Capital, Sequoia Capital, and Legend Capital. The app, owned by the search engine Baidu, raised an undisclosed amount of funding last year.

    OpenSesame has raised $9 million from Altos Ventures and Partech Ventures. The corporate training platform has raised $19 million total.

    CodeSpark has raised $4.1 million from Kapor Capital, Felton Group, Idealab, NewGen Capital, PGA Venture Partners, and Umang Gupta. The company, which makes games to teach preschoolers to code, has raised $5.75 million total.

    KidPass has raised $1.2 million in seed funding from the Bionic Fund, Cocoon Ignite Ventures, CoVenture, David Kidder, Dimitry Foux, Gidi Fisher, Ignacio Muñoz, Jere Doyle, Kevin Ryan, Lee Wang, Nina Cherny, Rick Bank, Rugged Ventures, Stephano Kim, Thomas Lehrman, Thought into Action Ventures, and Timothy Chi. The KidPass app locates activities and book classes for kids in New York City.

    Lingumi has raised $649,870 from LocalGlobe for an app that teaches preschoolers foreign languages.

    Education marketplace Fastudent has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Kanwaljit Sing, Ajay Lakhotia, Pavan Ongole, and Ashish Gupta.

    LIQVID eLearning Services has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Gray Matters Capital.

    I’m not sure what’s happening with the Ning acquisition. It’s not clear Ning really has a clue either.

    Cengage has acquiredWebAssign. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    Geisinger Health Systemsplans to buyCommonwealth Medical College. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    “The educational technology company Amplify is spinning off a service known as School by Design into a new, separate business that will provide schools with data and technical assistance focused on financial and instructional strategy,” EdWeek reports.

    Data, Privacy, and Surveillance


    Snapchat has rebranded and introduced Spectacles, glasses with an integrated camera that uploads your photos to Snapchat. I hope you got your ISTE proposals on “Surveilling Students with Snapchat Spectacles” in on time! (Just resubmit the ones about Google Glass, right?)

    Via ProPublica, the first in its “Breaking the Black Box” series: “What Facebook Knows About You.”

    Via Ars Technica: “As we speak, teen social site is leaking millions of plaintext passwords.” The site in question: i-Dressup.

    There’s more on privacy legislation in the politics section above.

    Data and “Research”


    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Study: Remedial Education Costs Students $1.3B.”

    Via InfoDocket: “New Reports: Trends on Use of Public Libraries, Reading Habits, and Bookstores in U.S.”

    From the Department of Education’s press release: “National Student Loan Cohort Default Rate Declines Steadily.”

    “Have Student Loan Guaranty Agencies Lost Their Way?” asks The Century Foundation in a report that suggests they are “severely diverging from their missions.”

    Via NPR: “Bias Isn’t Just A Police Problem, It’s A Preschool Problem.” It’s an everyone problem.

    Icon credits: The Noun Project


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  • 10/07/16--00:01: Hack Education Weekly News
  • US Presidential Campaign Politics


    There was a Vice Presidential debate this week. Among the education highlights: Republican VP candidate Mike Pencemade up a name for the university hosting the event. Actually, I think that was the only education highlight.

    Via Edsurge: “Experts Look Into the Crystal Ball of the Next Administration’s Ed Policy.” Nothing says “experts” like “crystal ball.”

    The Other US Clown Crisis


    Via The Independent: “13-year-old girl arrested after contacting clown on social media and asking him to kill her teacher.”

    Via EdWeek: “Student arrested for clown threats at Washington high school.”

    Via The AP: “Police in Vermont say a 15-year-old student was cited after approaching a classroom wearing a clown mask and banging on the windows as clown sightings are viewed as potential public safety threats throughout the country.”

    And in Delaware, “Authorities have arrested two Smyrna high school students in connection with threats involving clowns and bombs,” the AP reports.

    Via WJLA: “Multiple threats, some involving clowns, made to schools in DC area; security heightened.”

    Clown College Calls National Rash of Rumored Clown Scares ‘Troubling’,” The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

    Creepy Clowns Explained, Folklore-Style” by Sarah M. Gordon.

    Education Politics


    Via The Washington Post: “Education Department slammed for charter school oversight– by its own watchdog office.”

    Via The Houston Chronicle: “The federal government on Monday ordered Texas state officials to eliminate an 8.5 percent benchmark on special education enrollment enforced in the state’s 1,200 school districts unless they can show that it had not kept children with disabilities from receiving appropriate educational services.”

    Via The Guardian: UK Home Secretary “Amber Rudd has announced major new restrictions on overseas students, including two-tier visa rules affecting poorer quality universities and courses, a crackdown on work visas and the introduction of a £140m ‘controlling migration fund’.”

    In other Brexit news, via The Independent: “Government ‘bars foreign academics from advising on EU withdrawal’.”

    The Washington Post reports that Facebook is trying to convince the Obama Administration that it should be allowed to offer its “free Internet” service in the US. It’s not really “free Internet,” of course – it’s Facebook as Internet.

    From the FCC: “Fact Sheet on Broadband Consumer Privacy Proposal.”

    “The Internet Finally Belongs to Everyone,” says Wired, as the US has handed over the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority to ICANN.

    Via ProPublica: “New Jersey’s Student Loan Agency Has Started Getting Good Reviews – By Giving Free Stuff.” The agency, the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, is known for the onerous terms on its student loans. Now it’s giving away flash drives for positive online reviews. The Pacific Standard also has a story on HESAA and efforts to reform it.

    AllAfrica reports that the Kenyan government will begin distributing some 1.2 million laptops to all public primary schools.

    Education in the Courts


    SCOTUS is back and, according to EdWeek at least, there are “significant” K–12 education cases on its docket. These include cases about special education, service dogs in schools, and religion in schools. The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling surrounding college athletes and the NCAA’s “amateurism model.” More on that in the sports section below.

    Via The Washington Post: “Teen accused of stealing 65-cent carton of milk at middle school to stand trial.”

    Via The Chicago Sun Times: “Lawsuits seek elected school board in Chicago.”

    Via Buzzfeed: “NYU’s Asian Campus Was An ‘Educational Scam,’ Lawsuit Says.”

    Via the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “The Supreme Court will not lift its $100,000-a-day fine against the state, and on Thursday signaled very limited patience with the Legislature to come up with a plan to fully pay for K–12 public schools in Washington. … The state has until September 1, 2018 ‘to fully implement its program for basic education’ and it must have a plan for funding and implementing ‘by the final adjournment of the 2017 legislative session,’ the court said in a ruling written by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen.”

    Via The Pacific Standard: “More Transgender Students Sue to Use the Bathrooms They Want.”

    Testing, Testing…


    Via Reuters: “College Board says upcoming SATs won’t contain questions exposed in breach.”

    Via The Christian Science Monitor: “Louisville’s experiment: Can teaching empathy boost math scores?” Note: it’s not “can empathy make us more caring and compassionate people” – it’s always about those goddamn test scores.

    Online Education (The Once and Future “MOOC”)


    This week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines: Via The Washington Post’ Jeff Selingo: “After gaining legitimacy, can online higher education replace traditional college?” “Aftermath of the MOOC wars: Can commercial vendors support creative higher education?” by Chris Newfield.

    Via The Columbus Dispatch: “On top of the more than $60 million they may seek to recover from ECOT, the Ohio Department of Education also could demand about $23 million more from eight other online schools for inflated attendance.”

    The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Jeffrey Young interviews the head of FutureLearn, Simon Nelson: “Online Education Is Now a Global Market.”

    Coursera highlights its mentors – its volunteer mentors– on its blog. Raise $146.1 million in venture funding; ask people to work for you for free.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Less than a year after the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s M.B.A.-through-MOOCs program launched, its College of Business says it is seeing the contours of a model it can use to promote the university abroad, enroll previously untapped groups of students and attract corporate partners.”

    Coding Bootcamps (The Once and Future “For-Profit Higher Ed”)


    Via PBS NewsHour: “Why high-tech boot camps are appealing to students and lenders.” (Note that last word there: lenders.)

    ITT Tech Campuses Up for Sale in School’s Bankruptcy,” The Wall Street Journal reports.

    NPR asks, “Where Are The 40,000 Students ITT Tech Left Behind When It Closed?”

    More on for-profits in the accreditation section below.

    Meanwhile on Campus


    Buzzfeed continues its investigative journalism into higher ed stories that others just won’t touch: “Junk mail took on a new meaning when four philosophy professors received envelopes of feces last summer. Now, the hunt is on for the poopetrator. ”

    Via The Kansas City Star: “White nationalist group, seeking young recruits, targets college campuses.”

    Via Fusion: “White students in blackface mocked Black Lives Matter and black women and put it all on Snapchat.” More incidents of white students in blackface reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education and by Inside Higher Ed.

    “The Desegregation and Resegregation of Charlotte’s Schools” by Clint Smith in The New Yorker.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “With Campus Carry in Place, Some Texas Grad Students Make Bars Their Offices.”

    Via KATU2: “New PSU program offers qualifying Oregon residents four years tuition-free.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The vice chancellor and principal of the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg, on Monday issued an unusual plea for help to ‘save the 2016 academic year.’”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “What a $2-Billion Loss Really Means for Harvard and Its Endowment.” I bet it means it can still afford to offer better pay for its striking dining hall workers. (See the HR section below.)

    Via The New York Times: “Racial Bias Claim Looms Over Bronx School as Administrators Exit.”

    Moody’s Investors Service pushed the debt of the Chicago public schools further into junk territory on the same day last week the district’s teachers threatened to strike,” reports the AP. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports that “Chicago’s Struggling Schools Made Wall Street $110 Million From $763 Million in Bonds.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Smartphone Explodes in Rowan College Classroom.” The phone was not a Samsung Galaxy Note 7, which have been recalled because of battery explosions, but an iPhone 6 Plus.

    Accreditation and Certification


    “Hundreds of colleges have begun seeking a new accreditor after the U.S. Department of Education last month backed a federal panel’s decision to terminate the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools,” Inside Higher Ed reports.

    Via KPCC: “Students of for-profit colleges worry about loss of accreditation.”

    The Center for American Progress has released a report calling for an alternate form of accreditation.

    Go, School Sports Team!


    The US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of O’Bannon v NCAA, leaving questions surrounding college athletes and pay unresolved. More on this via CHE’s Brad Wolverton and Sports Illustrated’s Michael McCann.

    Via ThinkProgress: “Tracking the Kaepernick Effect: The anthem protests are spreading.” Even The New York Times has noticed: “Protest Started by Colin Kaepernick Spreads to High School Students.”

    “Why a Radio Station Censored the East Carolina University Band and Deepened a Backlash” – The Nation’s Dave Zirin on what happened when the band members took a knee during “The Star Spangled Banner.” More on ECU and a professor’s plans to open carry a firearm to class in response to the band’s protest via WNCT.

    Via The Washington Post: “ High school teams in Washington are forfeiting rather than play school with NFL-sized talent.” The school in question: Archbishop Murphy High School, which has six players who weigh at least 250 pounds and three who weigh 300 pounds.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Baylor’s Former Title IX Coordinator Says She Was Set Up to Fail.”

    From the HR Department


    Via Edsurge: “MasteryConnect Cuts 30 Percent of Staff, Brings Co-Founder Mick Hewitt Back as CEO.”

    Via the Deseret News: “Utah schools slowly begin hiring teachers without experience.”

    Via The Harvard Crimson: “Harvard Dining Services Picket in Historic Strike.”

    “If free college required a dramatically higher adjunct percentage, should we do it?” asks “Dean Dad” Matt Reed.

    It’s always fascinating to look at ed-tech companies’ job postings – this one is from Khan Academy. It’s looking for someone with an “entrepreneurial mindset” to help build out its world history content.

    Upgrades and Downgrades


    Sound the “universities haven’t changed in a thousand years” klaxon: “Why the university of the future will have no classrooms, no lectures, and lots of tech.”

    Via the BBC: “Young women should model themselves on Shakespeare’s heroines instead of reality stars like Kim Kardashian West, says a leading head teacher.” Um, like Juliet? (Dead) Cordelia? (Dead) Lady Macbeth? (Also dead) Ophelia? (Dead)

    Via Venture Beat: “Facebook and Oculus promise millions in funding for diverse apps, education, and more for VR.” From the article:

    Zuckerberg revealed that he wants to ensure that education has a chance to flourish in VR. That led to him announcing a $10 million fund specifically for learning applications.


    “Education is going to be a powerful example of the potential of VR,” he said. “Already today, 10 percent of the experiences in the Oculus Store are education.”


    On top of the funding, Oculus will get a specific spot in its store just for education. This could transform how teaching works going forward, and Facebook will stand at the center of that change.

    Google had a big press event this week too, unveiling shiny stuff to a cheering crowd of stenographers. A phone. A Wi-Fi system. VR headsets (well, it’s really just a mask that holds your Google phone up to your face).

    Google has also rebranded Google Apps for Education as G Suite for Education.

    Investor Fred Wilson onChromebooks in K–12.”

    Via Techcrunch: “Duolingo’s chatbots help you learn a new language.” Well, maybe they do; maybe they don’t.

    Via Edsurge: “Salesforce Announces Mobile App for Advising at Dreamforce.” For those not up on corporate conference speak, Dreamforce is Salesforce’s big annual event.

    In other Salesforce news, “The University of Texas System teams up with Salesforce to turn its learning platform into a learning relationship management system,” Inside Higher Ed reports. It includes all the buzzwords: competency-based education, personalized learning, and even blockchain!

    Funding and Acquisitions (The Business of Ed-Tech)


    No ed-tech startups raised venture funding this week. Oh well, it’s never too late to pivot towards “disrupting the premium pet food space.” Investors seem to love that.

    McGraw-Hill Education has acquiredRedbird Advanced Learning.

    Schoolzilla has acquiredDecision Science Labs.

    Amplify continues its dismantling, as Edsurge reports that some of its educational games division will merge with StoryToys. The new company will be called Touch Press (which was the name of another company that StoryToys acquired last year).

    Data, Privacy, and Surveillance


    ProPublica has released the second in its series on algorithms and bias, this one – “When Algorithms Decide What You Pay” – looks, in part, at differential pricing for tutoring services.

    Via the Stanford press office: “Stanford explores case for code of ethics to tackle big data’s deluge in higher ed.” Definitely no one I trust more on this topic, no siree.

    A Techcrunch op-ed: “Why edtech can’t grow as much as healthtech.” Spoiler alert: not enough access to data. Of course.

    More on data and privacy in the politics section above.

    Data and “Research”


    Via Vox: “A bot crawled thousands of studies looking for simple math errors. The results are concerning.”

    “The Weak Evidence Behind Brain-Training Gamesby The Atlantic’s Ed Yong.

    A report from Education International: “Schooling the Poor Profitably: The Innovations and Deprivations of Bridge International Academies in Uganda.”

    From the EdTech Researcher blog: “Project Based Learning as Mindset.” Mindset all the things.

    Pearson has issued a report on students’ attitudes toward digital course materials.

    iNACOL has released a report on advocacy for competency-based education.

    SRI has released a report on “maker educators.”

    Deloitte Publishes 2016 Digital Education Survey,” says Edsurge.

    Via Mindwire Consulting’s Phil Hill: “About That Cengage OER Survey.” And his partner Michael Feldstein: “Student-Centered Educational Software.”

    From the Pew Research Center: “The State of American Jobs.” There are some interesting insights here on how those surveyed view continuing education – 54% say it’s essential.

    Also from Pew: “Younger adults more likely than their elders to prefer reading news.” Good thing no major publications have gone “all in” on video lately, amirite.

    According to data from Techcrunch, “Stanford, MIT lead in graduating funded startup founders.”

    Via Education Week: “Textbook Costs Hurt Student Achievement, Study Finds.”

    Via The Atlantic: “How ‘Daycare’ Became ‘School’.”

    Via Edutechnica: “4th Annual LMS Data Update.”

    Do market research firms just straight up make up numbers for their reports? Anyway, via Venture Beat: “Juniper Research: VR hardware market will hit $50 billion by 2021.”

    Toward a Constructive Technology Criticism” – a report from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism’s Sara M. Watson.

    Icon credits: The Noun Project


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  • 10/14/16--00:01: Hack Education Weekly News
  • Presidential Campaign Politics


    There’s less than a month left of the 2016 Presidential campaign and The End can’t come soon enough.

    On Sunday, Clinton and Trump held their second debate. The topic of education didn’t really come up, save Clinton’s invocation of “The Trump Effect” and the increased bullying in school. Slate’s Dana Goldstein has more on how teachers are responding to the campaign.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Donald Trump Actually Talked About Higher Education on Thursday. Here’s What He Said.” He talked about income based repayment of student loans, “administrative bloat” at colleges, tax exemption for endowments, and the danger of political correctness on campus.

    Liberty University students have criticized their school’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr, and his media appearances supporting Trump. The Chronicle of Higher Education has Falwell’s response to the students.

    According to excerpts of speeches published by Wikileaks– stolen data – Clinton called the Common Core a “political failure” in a speech she gave to Knewton. Neither Knewton nor the Clinton campaign have confirmed the veracity of this leaked speech.

    Education Politics


    The US Department of Education released new federal rules on teacher preparation programs. These rules say that schools need not be so selective about admissions “so long as they maintain a high bar to exit, to allow programs to recruit a more diverse student body while maintaining the requirements for quality preparation as shown by graduation.” More on the teacher prep law from The Hechinger Report.

    Via Politico: “The NAACP is set to vote this weekend on a controversial resolution calling for a halt to charter school expansion.”

    “Modern E-Rate Puts Telephones On Hold in K–12,” Education Week reports, noting that schools are struggling to pay for phone service (still totally necessary) as well as expanded broadband.

    Via Education Week: “One million high school students from low-income families will receive free internet access under President Barack Obama’s ’My Brother’s Keeper’ initiative for minority males, the White House announced.” More on this scramble to serve (profit from) low-income broadband customers in the upgrades/downgrades section below.

    Via The Star Online: “Germany plans to invest an extra €5 billion over the next five years to equip more than 40,000 schools and colleges with faster internet, wireless access points and tablet computers, the Education Minister said.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Wesley College, in Delaware, violated the gender discrimination law Title IX when it disregarded the due process rights of students accused of sexual misconduct, the U.S. Department of Education announced Wednesday.”

    President Obama talked to Wired magazine about artificial intelligence, Mars, self-driving cars, Star Trek and more. I don’t think there’s any doubt that he’s set to be a VC when he leaves office, right?

    Education in the Courts


    “How America Outlawed Adolescenceby The Atlantic’s Amanda Ripley.

    Online Education (The Once and Future “MOOC”)


    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Microsoft-Branded MOOCs for K–12 Leaders.”

    Coding Bootcamps (The Once and Future “For-Profit Higher Ed”)


    DeVry University Reaches Settlement Deal With Education Department,” reports Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy. The settlement involves allegations that the for-profit’s marketing made unsubstantiated job placement claims. More via Inside Higher Ed.

    “‘Apple store for education’ to debut in downtown Las Vegas” reads the Las Vegas Review Journal headline. The “store” is actually a startup accelerator run by the University of Phoenix and a place where UofP’s coding bootcamp Iron Yard will run its classes.

    “One of India’s largest colleges, Amity University, is expanding into the US with the purchase of one campus in New York and a proposal to buy two more, drawing opposition from state officials in Massachusetts about the quality of the education it will offer,” the AP reports. More from Quartz.

    Via NBC News: “Minnesota education officials have launched a review of online PhD programs at a for-profit college with ties to former President Bill Clinton. ‘We have seen an increased number of complaints related to dissertations at Walden University,’ Sandy Connolly of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education (MOHE) told NBC News.” That for-profit is Laureate Education, the largest chain of for-profit schools in the world and an investor in Coursera.

    Campus Technology reports that Davidson College is partnering with Revature to offering coding classes to its students and graduates. Revature recently received $20 million in funding from University Ventures and Eden Capital.

    “Why For-Profit Education Failsby The Atlantic’s Jonathan A. Knee.

    Via the Hechinger Report: “For-profit colleges stay quietly on offense.”

    Meanwhile on Campus


    I’m going with the full NY Daily News headline here (because, you know, NY Daily News): “EXCLUSIVE: Shocking Facebook videos reveal brutal ‘Fight Club’ run by Bronx High School of Science students (WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT).” And this gem: “Bronx Science grads include eight Nobel Prize winners, eight winners of the National Medal of Science and six Pulitzer Prize winners – and no heavyweight champions.”

    “San Francisco’s competitive lightsaber academy opens this week,” says BoingBoing.

    Via Arab American News: “Muslim boy was beaten on school bus for refusing to eat non-halal sandwich.” He was 7.

    Via The Pacific Standard: “Why Student Loans Don’t Work for Native American Students.” The answer, in part, is in this Buzzfeed article by Molly Hensley-Clancy: “ Native American Colleges Have Abandoned The Student Loan System.” These colleges no longer offer federal loans because of students’ high default rates.

    Via Telesur: “Brazil Students Occupy Nearly 60 Schools to Reject Austerity.”

    Via The LA Times: “South African university engulfed in violence in protests over education costs.”

    Via NSBA’s Legal Clips blog: “Satanic Temple withdraws request to start after school club at Washington state elementary school.”

    Via Techcrunch: “A Flint, MI university turned vacant land into autonomous vehicle proving grounds.” Good thing there are no other pressing research issues in Flint than self-driving cars.

    Elsewhere in autonomous vehicles and education: “Udacity open sources an additional 183GB of driving data,” says Techcrunch.

    Accreditation and Certification


    Khan Academy wants to start offering diplomas. What could go wrong?!

    Meanwhile, via Inside Higher Ed: “Stackable credential pathways have plenty of promise, but a new study fuels worries about poorly designed programs shunting underrepresented student groups into short-term programs of questionable value.”

    Go, School Sports Team!


    Via ESPN: “In an unprecedented foray into college sports, the National Labor Relations Board general counsel has declared that Northwestern University must eliminate ‘unlawful’ rules governing football players and allow them greater freedom to express themselves. The ruling, which referred to players as employees, found that they must be freely allowed to post on social media, discuss issues of their health and safety, and speak with the media.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Sonny Vaccaro Plans One Last Push Against the NCAA.” Vaccaro is the advocate for student athletes who helped orchestrate O’Bannon v NCAA, arguing that students should be paid when their likeness is used commercially.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “NCAA stance against discrimination draws praise and raises questions about how association picks its battles and why it doesn’t similarly challenge its own members.”

    From the HR Department


    “No End in Sight to Strike by Harvard’s Cafeteria Workers Over Wages,” The New York Times reports. The workers are demanding a salary of $35,000 per year, which the richest university in the world – one with an endowment of $37.6 billion – appears unwilling to pay.

    A strike of the Chicago Teachers Union has been averted. For now.

    Via The New York Times Magazine: “The Professor Wore a Hijab in Solidarity – Then Lost Her Job.”

    Awards and Prizes


    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Of the six winners of Nobel Prizes affiliated with American universities so far this year, all are foreign born.”

    Upgrades and Downgrades


    Sherry Turkle Says There’s a Wrong Way to Flip a Classroom,” says Edsurge, which thankfully updated the first sentence that initially described the MIT professor as a “former Wired magazine cover girl.”

    “Some Say Computer Coding Is a Foreign Language,” says US News & World Report. Some say the earth is flat. Some say the world is a computer simulation. Some say…

    “What to Ask When Choosing Tech for Schools” – a new Lynda.com course offered by Edsurge (which is funded in part by Lynda.com’s founder. Small world).

    Via Techcrunch: “Workplace by Facebook opens to sell enterprise social networking to the masses.” I look forward to the opinion pieces on how Workplace by Facebook will replace the LMS.

    Via Buzzfeed: “ Facebook Recorded An £11 Million UK Tax Rebate In 2015, Accounts Show.” That’s after paying £4,327 in UK taxes in 2014.

    Amazon Wants to Get College Students Addicted to Prime,” says Bloomberg in a story that fails to mention that Amazon recently scrapped its plans to offer student loans via a partnership with Wells Fargo to students via their Prime memberships.

    Via EdWeek’s Market Brief: “Telecommunications giant Sprint unveiled plans this week to bring devices and wireless connectivity to 1 million impoverished high school students, in what it describes as an ambitious campaign to close the ‘homework gap.’” The initiative is connected to President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance.

    Via The New York Times: “Tech Companies Expect Free High-Speed Internet for Poorer Americans to Pay Off Later.”

    Chromebooks destroyed Apple in back-to-school shopping,” says MarketWatch. DESTROYED. RIP Apple. Or something.

    “As the Note 7 dies, Oculus loses face(s),” says Techcrunch, noting how the exploding Samsung devices are pretty key to the whole strap-your-phone-to-your-face-and-call-it-VR thing.

    Nolan Bushnell's Modal VR launches next-generation virtual reality platform for enterprises,” says Venture Beat– a news item I am only including here because maybe this means Chuck E. Cheese and Atari founder Nolan Bushnell is no longer working on next-generation something something platform for education.

    XYZ launches a $249 3D printer for schools,” says Techcrunch.

    Via NPR: “Sesame Workshop CEO Outlines Vision To Ensure Show’s Survival.”

    “The hottest trend in education actually started in special-ed classrooms 40 years ago,” says Business Insider, demonstrating once again how venture capitalists and tech journalists just make up history. Perhaps, instead of tying “personalized learning” to special ed policies of the 1970s, you could read some Rousseau?

    The Chronicle of Higher Education looks at how college recruiters are using Snapchat.

    LinkedIn has published a “35 under 35” list. None of those chose for the education section are classroom educators, no surprise.

    When the Gates Foundation isn’t funding education companies and policies… via Business Insider: “Inside the Bill Gates-backed startup on a mission to reinvent meat.”

    Keeping an eye on the loan market: Goldman Sach’s new online lending platform Marcus has launched. More on loan companies raising venture capital in “the business of ed-tech” section below.

    Funding and Acquisitions (The Business of Ed-Tech)


    Affirm, a loan company that offers private student loans (as well as other types of financial services), has raised $100 million in debt funding from Morgan Stanley. The company has raised $420 million total.

    Everwise has raised $16 million in a Series B round from Canvas Ventures, Sequoia Capital, and Webb Investment Network. The professional development platform has raised $26.35 million total.

    Coorpacademy has raised $11 million in funding from Debiopharm Group, NextStage, and Serena Capital. The company, which offers online training for corporate education, has raised $15.26 million total.

    Noodle Partners has raised $4 million from Osage Venture Partners, New Markets Venture Partners, and 500 Startups. The company, which says it will help colleges deliver courses online, was founded by John Katzman, founder of the Princeton Review and 2U.

    Late last week, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Goldie Blumenstyk broke the story about the “sudden demise” of textbook/course material supplier Rafter. Edsurge’s Jeffrey Young (formerly of The Chronicle of Higher Education) weighed in today: “Why Rafter Failed and What It Means for Edtech.”

    Techstars will take over Startup Weekend Education, Edsurge reports. The startup accelerator acquired the Startup Weekend franchise last year, but the education vertical was run by 4.0 Schools.

    Data, Privacy, and Surveillance


    Via The Washington Post: “Facebook-backed school software shows promise – and raises privacy concerns.”

    Via the ACLU: “Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter Provided Data Access for a Surveillance Product Marketed to Target Activists of Color.” More via The NYT. This particularly tool is sold by Geofeedia, which also sells schools surveillance tools to monitor students’ social media profiles.

    Via Mic: “Crime-prediction tool PredPol amplifies racially biased policing, study shows.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “As Concerns Grow About Using Data to Measure Faculty, a Company Changes Its Message.” The company in question: Academic Analytics.

    “The UK government’s National Pupil Database has already been used to combat ‘abuse of immigration control’ – despite ministerial assurances that the collection of pupils’ nationality will not be passed to the border officials,” The Register reports. The Guardian has more details.

    Via the EFF: “Google Changes Its Tune When it Comes to Tracking Students.” Maybe.

    G Suite Found to Comply With Federal, State Privacy Laws,” says Edsurge– that is, compliant according to the California Educational Technology Professionals Association, not a court of law.

    Part 3 of ProPublica’s investigation into machine bias: “When Machines Learn by Experimenting on Us.”

    Data and “Research”


    Via The Wall Street Journal: “America’s Dazzling Tech Boom Has a Downside: Not Enough Jobs.” This is an important counterpoint to the narrative that “everyone should learn to code” because of some shortage of high-tech workers.

    Via NPR: “Race, School Ratings And Real Estate: A ‘Legal Gray Area’.”

    Virtual reality is rapidly coming to the classroom,” according to an infographic published by District Administration. Infographics are the most reliable education research, right?

    Edsurge has published the latest in its AT&T sponsored research into “The State of Ed-Tech” – this one on “How Edtech tools evolve.”

    “How the Stress of Racism Affects Learningby Melinda D. Anderson in The Atlantic.

    “The Challenge of Food Insecurity for College Students” – a new report from Students Against Hunger.

    “The Fractured Chinese Higher Education Marketby Alex Usher.

    The investment analyst firm CB Insights on venture funding for ed-tech startups so far this year:

    Ed tech startups faced a chilly investment environment earlier this year, with deal count dropping to a four-year low in Q1’16. However, the sector began to recover in Q2, and stabilized in Q3 with a comparable deal count and slight funding growth compared to the previous quarter.


    Still, even if ed tech funding continues at its current pace, 2016 will snap the sector’s four-year growth streak with drops in both deal count and investment dollars.

    RIP


    RIP Jack Greenberg, a lawyer who helped argue Brown v Board of Education.

    Icon credits: The Noun Project


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    The New York Times reported over the weekend that, despite a growing number of women who’ve come forward in the last week claiming that Donald Trump has groped or assaulted them, billionaire investor Peter Thiel will be making his first donation to the Republican Party candidate’s presidential campaign.

    While some have scoffed that the size of the donation – $1.25 million – isn’t that significant, I think the timing of the donation is still notable for a number of reasons:

    Well-known for his libertarian beliefs, Peter Thiel wrote in a 2009 article for the Cato Institute that “Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women – two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians – have rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron.” Giving women the right to vote, in other words, was a disaster. That sentiment was echoed this week in the hashtag #repealthe19th trended on Twitter, as Trump supporters responded to an image shared by poll analyst Nate Silver showing a landslide victory for Trump if only men voted this fall.

    Thiel appeared on stage at the Republican Party convention this summer, perhaps the first time that most Americans had heard of the billionaire. But Thiel has been in the news quite frequently as of late for his bankrolling of Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker, a suit that bankrupted the publication and has raised concerns about how this legal tactic will be used to curb free speech and free press. Thiel’s lawyers have threatened other lawsuits against the media – some on behalf of Melania Trump, Trump’s current wife – and Donald Trump himself regularly threatens and files lawsuits against news organizations who report damaging information about him.

    Peter Thiel’s beliefs about free speech and the free press are particularly important as he sits on the Board of Directors of Facebook. (He was the first investor in the social media company in 2004.) 44% of US adults, according to Pew Research Center, get their news from Facebook.

    Silicon Valley Ideology and the Future of Education


    I’ve written extensively about “the Silicon Valley narrative” and the ideological underpinnings of the technology and education technology industries. Libertarianism. Individualism. Global capitalism. Empire.

    Although many in these industries – pundits, entrepreneurs, and investors alike – try to paint Thiel as an anomaly, Thiel operates at the center, not at the margins. He operates at the center financially. He sits on boards. He shapes technology products and politics alike.

    That matters for the future of democracy, clearly. It matters for the future of "diversity" in tech. It matters for the future of education.

    Wait, Who Is Peter Thiel?


    Peter Thiel’s entrepreneurial and investment history, in brief:

    He co-founded the online payments company PayPal in 1998 with Max Levchin. PayPal merged with Elon Musk’s financial transaction company X.com the following year, going public in 2002 and then sold to eBay later that year.

    In 2004, Thiel founded Palantir Technologies, a data analysis company funded in part by Q-Tel, the investment wing of the CIA.

    In 2005, Thiel launched his investment firm Founders Fund. Other partners in the firm include Napster co-founder Sean Parker and PayPal execs Ken Howery and Luke Nosek.

    Thiel joined the tech accelerator program Y Combinator as a partner in 2015.

    A quick look at Thiel’s philosophies and philanthropy:

    He is openly gay, and some contend that Gawker’s outing him in 2007 was part of Thiel’s rationale for supporting Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against the publication.

    He has supported other political campaigns, prior to becoming a pledged delegate for Trump this year. He endorsed Ron Paul for President in 2008.

    Thiel believes in the singularity – the theory that artificial intelligence will reach a point where it far surpasses human intelligence, eventually bringing about the end of the Anthropocene. Thiel has funded the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. He’s also a financial backer of OpenAI (along with Elon Musk, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, and Y Combinator president Sam Altman), a non-profit research organization that promises to develop “friendly” AI and, according to recent New Yorker profile of Altman, to “prevent artificial intelligence from accidentally wiping out humanity.” In that profile, Altman described himself as a survivalist of sorts and name-checked Thiel as his back-up plan if the end-of-the-world does come and Altman can’t make it to his bunker. Thiel has also pledged money to the Seasteading Institute, supporting its efforts to develop autonomous ocean-dwelling communities outside of current nation-states’ jurisdictions. And Thiel has supported anti-aging and life-extension research.

    And then there’s his influence and investments in education…

    Thiel and the Silicon Valley Narratives about Education


    Thiel, a graduate from Stanford (with a BA in philosophy and a JD from its law school), pronounced in 2011 that we are in the midst of a bubble – not a real estate bubble but a higher education bubble. He told then Techcrunch editor Sarah Lacy, “A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed. Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It’s like telling the world there’s no Santa Claus.” College just isn’t worth the price, Thiel argued.

    Thiel had unveiled a “20 Under 20” contest at Techcrunch’s annual conference the previous year – a plan to offer twenty young people under the age of twenty $100,000 to drop out of school and pursue other work. Among the recipients of The Thiel Fellowship (which, now in its sixth iteration, has expanded to thirty recipients per year, all under the age of twenty-two): Dale Stephens, founder of UnCollege, a startup that encourages young people to pursue a non-college path and sells “gap year” services; Vitalik Buterin, the co-creator of Ethereum, a blockchain service; Ben Yu, inventor of sprayable caffeine; and Laura Deming, who has founded a venture capital firm to invest in anti-aging and life extension technologies. (Deming is one of the few female recipients of the fellowship.)

    Thiel is also the co-author of The Diversity Myth: ‘Multiculturalism’ and the Politics of Intolerance at Stanford, a book that argues that “political correctness,” restrictions on free speech, an “a curricular obsession with oppression theory and victimology” permeate higher education, lowering the quality of education at Stanford and undermining what he deems the most important type of diversity on campus – intellectual diversity.

    Despite actively promoting a narrative that college isn’t worth it, Thiel remains heavily involved in education, teaching at Stanford and, of course, investing in education companies.

    Thiel and his VC firm Founder’s Fund’s Education Technology Investments (since 2010)


    • Knewton (adaptive teaching software)
    • Declara (adaptive teaching software)
    • AltSchool (private school that relies heavily on data surveillance and software)
    • Thinkful (coding bootcamp)
    • Clever (helps connect various software products for schools so that data can be more easily shared)
    • Uversity (student engagement platform, formerly Inigral, acquired by TargetX)
    • ResearchGate (social networking site for researchers)
    • Lore (learning management system, formerly Coursekit, acquired by Noodle)
    • If You Can (education game-maker, founded by Trip Hawkins, the founder of Electronic Arts)
    • SoFi (private loans)
    • Upstart (private loans)
    • Affirm (private loans)

    This portfolio reflects some of the big stories Silicon Valley is selling via education technology – “personalized education,” data collection and analytics, private student loans, coding bootcamps.

    Those last two are noteworthy, I’d contend, particularly considering Thiel’s claims about a “higher education bubble.” That is, he seems quite happy to profit from the growing cost of tuition via the booming private student loan market which is well-positioned to profit from the growth in coding bootcamps, whose students are not currently eligible for federal financial aid.

    So What?


    I track all ed-tech funding data at funding.hackeducation.com. The data is freely and openly available via the GitHub repository that powers the site. The data includes a list of all investors in ed-tech companies going back to 2010, as well as a more detailed look at individual investments, acquisitions, and mergers so far this year.

    I track this data, in part, because it helps inform the criticism I write of the ideology of education technology – its business, its politics, its stories. It’s important to peel back the veneer of “progress” – technological progress, political progress – and scrutinize the message, not just the product, being sold. It’s worth scrutinizing the networks – powerful networks – behind education technology. Who is funding the technology makers? Who is funding the policy makers? Who is funding the storytellers? To what end?

    At the core of the companies that Thiel has founded and funded is surveillance. Palantir. Facebook. AltSchool. The regime of data collection and analysis is framed as “personalization.” But that’s a cover for compliance and control.

    "I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible"– Peter Thiel

    What if, instead of wondering how on earth Thiel could support Trump or Trump support Thiel, we consider how they’re quite well-aligned and how the technologies we’re adopting in education are shot through with this very ideological affinity?


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  • 10/21/16--01:30: Attending to the Digital
  • This talk was presented today at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, as part of the Domain of One's Own" initiative that the school is launching. The complete slide deck is here.

    I’m often asked to give a title for a talk months in advance, certainly weeks before I’ve ever actually planned what I’m going to say or written a word. So when I finally turn to do so, I frequently find that I’m confounded – what did I want to say? What did I mean to say? What will I say?

    Something about attending to the digital, reclaiming the Web, it looks like…

    When I’m spinning around, grasping for ideas, grasping at how to structure a talk, I read books. Yeah. I know. Weird. Books. Those old things. But ideas are developed more slowly and thoroughly in books. That’s something that’s desperately lacking in the steady stream of information flow online. There’s something about the pace of print – in reading and in writing. Deliberate. Deliberation. There’s something too about the pace of a keynote (and a sermon and a lecture) that I think draws on print. This type of speaking is perhaps, with a nod to Walter Ong, a “printed orality.”

    And in particular, I like to turn to the Oxford English Dictionary. To be honest, I turn to it quite often – keynote or not. I find etymology – the history of words’ origins, their changing meanings – to be quite useful in situating my own language, my own ideas, and to ground these ideas not just in whatever what’s on my mind at the moment, but in their historical origins. I find the OED to be quite useful in thinking about the history of technologies, particularly communication technologies. And perhaps it seems silly or redundant or obvious to say this: but communication technologies do predate computing technologies. Our communication practices might change – might– because of new computing technologies. But new practices tend not to be invented utterly whole cloth. The legacies of language and culture persist.

    “Attending to the digital,” the title of this talk, is not meant to signal entirely new forms of reading or writing; the digital does not signal entirely new forms of attention.

    But I want to pause there and explore some of the meanings of that word “attention,” in part because we seem to be in the middle of a moral panic of sorts about attention, particularly about the detrimental effects some contend that technology has on attention.

    According to the OED, “attention” – derived from the Latin “attendere,” to attend – means “The action, fact, or state of attending or giving heed; earnest direction of the mind, consideration, or regard; especially in the phrase to pay or give attention. The mental power or faculty of attending; especially with attract, call, draw, arrest, fix, etc.” “Attention” is a noun, but it refers to an action and/or a state of being. Attention is a mental activity. An earnest activity – which I particularly like. Attention is a military activity. It refers to how we stand and how we see and how we think.

    According to the OED, the word’s first usage in English came in 1374 by Chaucer, translating The Consolation of Philosophy, a sixth century tome, from Latin; and then “attention” was not used again until the 16th century. In Shakespeare’s Richard II:

    O, but they say the tongues of dying men

    Enforce attention like deep harmony:

    Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain.

    The word “attention” is a common word, with fairly steady usage in literature throughout the last hundred or so years, its meaning fairly consistent – to consider, to heed. That is, until the early twentieth century when we started talking about “attention seekers” and “attention getters” and “attention grabbers” – phrases that reflected a changes in media and advertising. The development of the field of psychology around the same time also introduced the concept of the “attention span.” Another new phrase originated in the 1960s, at first via articles in educational psychology journals: “attention deficit.”

    We’re doing “attention” wrong now, we’re told. We seek it too much; we hold it too little. There’s a deficit, a lack, a pathology even. But doing “attention” wrong how, I’d ask (well before I’d ask about doing it wrong why). After all, if you look through these definitions and usages, you can see that the noun is accompanied by all sorts of verbs. We pay attention. We give attention. Attract attention. Draw attention. Call attention. Fix attention. At which noun-verb combination are we failing? Surely not all of them. What and how are we not attending, not attending to? What and how are we not seeing? What role do technologies play in what we see, what we attend to, what we forget, what we ignore?

    Let me pause here and reassure you: this is not going to be a talk that functions as a screed against “digital distractions.” These have become incredibly formulaic. You know the arguments by now: new technologies – most recently the culprit is the cellphone – are making us un- or anti-social. They are shortening our attention spans. They are nudging us to pay attention to all the wrong things – checking Twitter, for example, at the dinner table or texting while driving. We can’t sit still. We don’t have empathy. We don’t look at people, engage with people. Yet we can’t handle solitude. We can’t handle the despair of the human condition. “And that’s why I don’t want to get a cellphone for my kids,” says Louis C. K., whose comedy routine is frequently referenced in essays on “digital distractions.” You can almost predict when these articles and arguments are going to invoke his bit with Conan O’Brien, when they turn to argue that somehow digital technologies foreclose meaningful contemplation, foreclose our experiences of existential angst.

    And then there are the responses, the counter-arguments to “digital distraction” that are often just as predictable. These often point dismissively to what’s almost a caricature of the work of MIT science studies professor Sherry Turkle, sneering at her claims that in Alone Together– that “we expect more from technology and less from each other.” Technologies makes us more social, these arguments insist. Technologies broaden our understanding and expand our capacity for empathy. We have never paid attention to one another in certain settings, these articles claim. And cue the requisite black-and-white photo of a train car full of men commuting to work, immersed in the solitude of their newspapers.

    I find neither of these types of essays, neither of these arguments very satisfying.

    In part, I find that those who want to dismiss such a thing as “digital distraction” tend to minimize the very real impact that new technologies do have on what we see, what we pay attention to. It’s right there in that phrase – “pay attention.” Attention has costs. It is a resource – one involving time and energy, a resource of which we only have a limited amount. Attention has become a commodity, with different companies and technologies bidding for a piece of it. As Matthew Crawford wrote in a New York Times op-ed last year,

    …We’ve auctioned off more and more of our public space to private commercial interests, with their constant demands on us to look at the products on display or simply absorb some bit of corporate messaging. Lately, our self-appointed disrupters have opened up a new frontier of capitalism, complete with its own frontier ethic: to boldly dig up and monetize every bit of private head space by appropriating our collective attention. In the process, we’ve sacrificed silence – the condition of not being addressed.

    This is “the attention economy,” we are told, where our attention is thoroughly monetized, where everything we do and think and are urged to do and urged to think reduced to a financial transaction. And it’s not just about our attention, of course; it’s about our data. It’s about a manufacturing of distractions – many, many distractions – so we are always clicking but rarely contemplative.

    This crisis of attention we face today is often linked to an overabundance of information. But this is hardly a new or unprecedented circumstance. This is not the only time in history in which we’ve experienced “information overload.” This is not the first time we have struggled with “too much information.” The capacity of humans’ biological memory has always lagged behind the amount of information humans have created. Always. We have created a variety of technologies to help us manage information and memory – writing most obviously, but also codices, indices, tables of contents, libraries.

    “In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes,” cognitive psychologist and computer scientist Herbert Simon wrote in 1971. “What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” 1971.

    So it’s not accurate – not remotely accurate – to say that our current (over) abundance of information began with computers or was caused by the Internet. “Distraction” cannot simply be a result of the digital, even if digital technology companies seem perfectly adept to encourage and exploit that distraction.

    Essays that both stoke and assuage fears about “digital distraction” tend towards the ahistorical because their assertions almost always focus on the digital, on new technologies as the cause. And again, this is why resources like the OED can be so valuable. As I said at the start of this talk, at the turn of the 20th century – well before the smartphone – the English language already reflected anxieties about attention, particularly about those who deliberately seek attention, those who seek notoriety, those who disrupt the social order. (Women.)

    I do wonder how much anxieties about a disrupted social order are at the core of our anxieties about attention and distraction, our anxieties about technological change. I don’t say this dismissively. Nor do I want to suggest that all disrupting and re-ordering is necessarily progressive. We too often confuse technological advancement with political progress or with socio-economic justice – they aren’t the same thing.

    But technological changes do alter and reflect the social and economic and political order.

    Amusing Ourselves to Death by media theorist Neil Postman is often described as a polemic against the corrosive effects of television, and perhaps for that reason some might be quick to dismiss the relevance of its insights to a “digital world.” But the communication technologies that have been developed alongside and since television are not, again, a new language. They are built on the language of TV. As Postman writes,

    On television, discourse is conducted largely through visual imagery, which is to say that television gives us a conversation in images, not words. The emergence of the image-manager in the political arena and the concomitant decline of the speech writer attest to the fact that television demands a different kind of content from other media. You cannot do political philosophy on television. Its form works against the content.

    “You cannot do political philosophy on television” – that’s a prescient and damning statement now that one of the major political party Presidential candidates today, in a Presidential campaign that some are calling the most corrosive to American democracy, is a reality TV star. Writing about television some thirty years ago, Neil Postman gets so much right about attention, about attention to public knowledge, attention to the public discourse.

    This public piece is important, I want to reiterate. This isn’t simply about attention or distraction on an individual level – whether or not your teen or your partner or your student is looking at you or looking at a screen – this is about public attention and public distraction. This is about public discourse – democracy really. What we pay attention to, shapes us. Collectively.

    You would be mistaken to think that, because it predates the World Wide Web and mobile phones, Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death has no insights to offer us about technology today. After all the book isn’t simply about television. It’s about electronic communications, something that Postman traces through the developments of photography and telegraphy.

    “The telegraph made a three-pronged attack on typography’s definition of discourse,” Postman writes, “introducing on a large scale irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence. These demons of discourse were aroused by the fact that telegraphy gave a form of legitimacy to the idea of context-free information; that is, to the idea that the value of information need not be tied to any function it might serve in social and political decision-making and action, but may attach merely to its novelty, interest, and curiosity. The telegraph made information into a commodity, a ‘thing’ that could be bought and sold irrespective of its uses or meaning.”

    Irrelevance. Impotence. Incoherence. Information as a commodity, and attention as a commodity.

    Surrounded by these informational conditions, what are we giving and paying attention to? What do we see? What do we contemplate?

    There’s another common trope when writing about the dangers of “digital distraction” – the admonition to unplug, go offline, disconnect. Of course, this has been commodified too, with expensive “digital detox” retreats and the like that promise to help you become more mindful (so that you can return to your job, reinvigorated, of course). The problem with this framework – I loathe the use of that word “detox” – is that it pathologizes, making the problem of technology usage, attention and distraction, an individual one rather than a systemic one.

    So I’m going to refer to another book here, and not to finger-wag about “digital distraction” – hell, this particular book was published in 1974 – or to set up some false dichotomy between humans in Nature and humans with computers. But I recently reread Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by nature writer Annie Dillard in preparation for this talk because it is fundamentally, I believe, a book about attention. The book – a latter day Walden of sorts as it’s often described – chronicles a year of exploration and observation and contemplation around Tinker Creek, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

    So what does it mean to attend to the world around us – immediately around us? A sustained and compassionate and curious attention? Annie Dillard writes about this beautifully:

    It’s all a matter of keeping my eyes open. Nature is like one of those line drawings of a tree that are puzzles for children: Can you find hidden in the leaves a duck, a house, a boy, a bucket, a zebra, and a boot? Specialists can find the most incredibly well-hidden things.


    …If I can’t see these minutiae, I still try to keep my eyes open. I’m always on the lookout for antlion traps in sandy soil, monarch pupae near milkweed, skipper larvae in locust leaves. These things are utterly common, and I’ve not seen one. I bang on hollow trees near water, but so far no flying squirrels have appeared. In flat country I watch every sunset in hopes of seeing the green ray. The green ray is a seldom-seen streak of light that rises from the sun like a spurting fountain at the moment of sunset; it throbs into the sky for two seconds and disappears. One more reason to keep my eyes open. A photography professor at the University of Florida just happened to see a bird die in midflight; it jerked, died, dropped, and smashed on the ground. I squint at the wind because I read Stewart Edward White: ‘I have always maintained that if you looked closely enough you could see the wind – the dim, hardly-made-out, fine débris fleeing high in the air.’ White was an excellent observer, and devoted an entire chapter of The Mountains to the subject of seeing deer: ‘As soon as you can forget the naturally obvious and construct an artificial obvious, then you too will see deer.’


    But the artificial obvious is hard to see.

    The artificial obvious. The naturally obvious. How much of what we are compelled to pay attention to with various digital technologies is precisely the latter? How much of this natural obviousness is manufactured and elevated to a level of immediate and unnatural importance. You get a push notification on your phone to tell you Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint in her exclusive Paris hotel room. What are we supposed to do with that information? How do we learn to see differently and not just react to what’s “obvious” about these sorts of stories?

    The idea of the “news of the day,” according to Neil Postman, is a result of the telegraph, “which made it possible to move decontextualized information over vast spaces at incredible speed.” Information, telegraphed, is stripped of its context and of its relevance, and because of the distance – literal, metaphorical – those consuming the information are stripped of their ability to act in response. The telegraph, says Postman,

    brought into being a world of broken time and broken attention, to use Lewis Mumford’s phrase. The principal strength of the telegraph was its capacity to move information, not collect it, explain it or analyze it. In this respect, telegraphy was the exact opposite of typography. Books, for example, are an excellent container for the accumulation, quiet scrutiny and organized analysis of information and ideas. It takes time to write a book, and to read one; time to discuss its contents and to make judgments about their merit, including the form of their presentation. A book is an attempt to make thought permanent and to contribute to the great conversation conducted by authors of the past. Therefore, civilized people everywhere consider the burning of a book a vile form of anti-intellectualism. But the telegraph demands that we burn its contents. The value of telegraphy is undermined by applying the tests of permanence, continuity or coherence. The telegraph is suited only to the flashing of messages, each to be quickly replaced by a more up-to-date message. Facts push other facts into and then out of consciousness at speeds that neither permit nor require evaluation.

    “A world of broken time and broken attention” – the telegraph, the television, and, of course, the Internet.

    Last fall, my friend Mike Caulfield, Director of Blended and Networked Learning at Washington State University Vancouver, gave a brilliant keynote titled “The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral.” He didn’t refer to Postman directly, but in his talk, he made some similar observations about how technologies – “Web 2.0” technologies specifically – shape public discourse in part by privileging this particular brokenness of time and attention. Caulfield argues that we rely on two powerful metaphors to describe contemporary Internet technologies. The Garden. The Stream.

    The stream privileges a rapid flow of information; this is “the feed” on Facebook and on Twitter. It is a serialization of information that you can wade in and out of, but the data always rushes by. The stream demands a certain kind of chronology – the presentation of information in reverse chronological order, with the latest updates at the top. Thus, these technologies command we pay attention to the newest information – via push notifications and counters that tell us the number of unread messages, for example.

    The garden, Caulfield argues, helps us imagine the Web as a place, as a topological space. It’s deliberately designed. (So is “the stream” of course.) But we can walk through the garden along different paths. We aren’t forced into a stream that rushes by us. We can stroll. We can experience the garden in many different ways. We move through it; the garden does not move but it does change. We choose the pace and the direction we navigate. And we tend to the garden. We pay sustained attention. We deliberately plant. We carefully cultivate. We propagate. We plow. We dig up from the roots. We find the best place – location, water, soil – for growth. We trim back. We weed. We graft. We fertilize. We harvest. We care.

    Some of those who imagined and developed the Web once talked about the technology in these terms. (Sometimes we still do.) Vannevar Bush’s Memex, outlined in a 1945 article in The Atlantic, is often the example cited here – he envisioned a personal “memory machine” where you could store and annotate all sorts of texts and images. And I think we like to imagine that that’s what the Web is. But it’s not. It never really was – due to both its infrastructure and intellectual property, for starters. Increasingly, the Web is even less of a garden.

    Instead of cultivation and contemplation – growing a garden takes time – we are swept up in the stream. Of course we are, I imagine Neil Postman saying. Here’s Caulfield’s description:

    The “conversational web”. A web obsessed with arguing points. A web seen as a tool for self-expression rather than a tool for thought. A web where you weld information and data into your arguments so that it can never be repurposed against you. The web not as a reconfigurable model of understanding but of sealed shut presentations.

    This isn’t simply about technologies of distraction. This is about technologies of a fragmented discourse, one that privileges “comments” – never read the comments – versus a deeper, critical commentary. “But comments are a conversation,” some will say, extolling the virtues of “Web 2.0” that encouraged – purportedly at least – a readable, writable web. But as Postman observed of far earlier technologies, namely the telegraph, these had “introduced a kind of public conversation whose form had startling characteristics: Its language was the language of headline – sensational, fragmented, impersonal.”

    Sensational, fragmented, impersonal – these are the characteristics that I think we should look at when we talk about distraction and attention. And I think we should contemplate how we can build technologies that foster a deep and sustained attention to ideas, to knowledge, and yes, to public discourse.

    “What is television?” Postman asked. “What kinds of conversations does it permit? What are the intellectual tendencies it encourages? What sort of culture does it produce?” What is the Internet, we should ask now. What kinds of conversations does it foster, and what kinds does it foreclose. What are the intellectual tendencies the Internet encourages? What sort of culture does it produce?

    As Middlebury rolls out MiddCreate, its initiative that will provide domains to students and staff, I urge you to think carefully about the metaphors and importantly the infrastructure of the Internet and of the Web. What are you going to attend to? How will you use your domain – a word with multiple meanings, referring to place and control and knowledge – to cultivate ideas carefully, thoughtfully, beautifully, collectively? These are questions of design – we can design differently. These are questions of intention. These are questions of attention. These are questions of incredible political significance right now. We need only look at the Presidential campaign, at an embrace of factlessness and conspiracy theories fostered by Facebook, to see the dangers of attending to technology at the expense of attending to democracy.

    I want to turn here, to close, to the second part of my title – a phrase I haven’t referred to yet: “reclaiming the Web.” I want to invoke the speaker’s prerogative to change the title of my talk here as I come to its conclusion. I’ve used the word “reclaim” a lot in my work. I done so in part because the word does mean to bring back. Reclamation is to reassert, to protest, to heal, to restore. But again, I don’t really believe the tale that the Web was once something pristine that we must rescue and convert from wasteland. Yes, we need to engage in a reclamation. But it’s not the Web per se that we must rebuild. It’s broader and deeper than that. Broader and deeper than technology. Broader and deeper than “the digital.”

    If there’s something to reclaim – or for many voices, to get to claim for the very first time – it is public discourse. It is, I hope, one that rests on a technological commons. I think we start towards that commons by thinking very carefully, by thinking very slowly and deeply, by cultivating very lovingly our spaces and places and own domains.

    Image credits: Slide 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18. Works cited: “The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral” by Mike Caulfield. Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. “The Cost of Paying Attention” by Matthew Crawford. “Louis C.K. Hates Cell Phones” on Conan. “Designing Organizations for an Information-Rich World” by Herbert Simon.


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  • 10/21/16--05:01: Hack Education Weekly News
  • Presidential Campaign Politics


    There was a Presidential debate this week. Thankfully, it was the last one. There’s also a global wine shortage, and I’m like, no shit. We are drinking so heavily to make it through this election.

    News broke over the weekend that billionaire investor Peter Thiel is making a million-plus dollar donation to the Trump campaign. Thiel spoke at the Republican Convention, but this is his first financial commitment to the campaign, one that comes on the heels of news that Trump has been accused by ten (or more?) women of groping and sexual assault.

    I wrote “an explainer” of sorts on Thiel and his politics, and I listed the education companies that he’s invested in. Mostly surveillance posing as “personalization” startups. To be honest, think Thiel and his ed-tech politics have more in common with the rest of Silicon Valley than those that feign outrage at his support of Trump. Y Combinator (I list its education investments here) has refused to sever ties with Thiel. He’s a partner there. So has Facebook. He’s on the board of directors. Some organizations have cut ties with Y Combinator over this – Project Include, for starters, which works to address Silicon Valley’s lack of diversity.

    “Horrified by Trump, Silicon Valley Leaders Debate Cutting Ties to Peter Thielby Sarah Jeong. The operative word is “debate.” More on how the rest of the tech sector is treating Thiel now, according to The New York Times at least. “Mark Zuckerberg breaks his silence on Peter Thiel” says CNN. The Guardian’s Julia Carrie Wong summarizes the comments: “Zuckerberg: white male Facebook board member’s Trump support provides ‘diversity’.” Also via Wong: “Peter Thiel once wrote a book calling date rape‘belated regret’.”

    Thrilling that these are the folks bankrolling ed-tech, no? Have any ed-tech companies, particularly those funded by Thiel or Zuckerberg or Y Combinator, spoken out about this?

    Donald Trump is crowdsourcing suggestions for his cabinet. You can fill out a form online to offer some names. One position that isn’t up for suggestion: Secretary of Education.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “A Closer Look at Income-Based Repayment, the Centerpiece of Donald Trump’s Unexpected Higher-Ed Speech.”

    Via the USA Today: “Kids pick Clinton over Trump in nationwide mock election.”

    More on the fallout from the Trump campaign at Liberty University in the “meanwhile on campus” section below.

    Education Politics


    In non-Presidential election news that also reflects pretty poorly on Silicon Valley: “Billionaire tech investors back ballot initiative to purge homeless people from San Francisco.” The investors in question: Michael Moritz from Sequoia Capital and SV Angel’s Ron Conway. You can always find out which education companies these folks have funded through my research at funding.hackeducation.com.

    Via the AP: “Most US Syrian arrivals are kids, now enrolling in school.”

    From the organization’s press release: the NAACP“ratified a resolution Saturday adopted by delegates at its 2016 107th National Convention calling for a moratorium on charter school expansion and for the strengthening of oversight in governance and practice.” Education reformers lost their minds, shed many white tears. “Charter backers can stop the NAACP moratorium – by meeting these four demands” by Adrienne Dixson and Andre Perry.

    From the Shanker Institute’s Matthew Di Carlo: “A Few Reactions To The Final Teacher Preparation Accountability Regulations.”

    Via The New York Times: “‘Brexit’ May Hurt Britain Where It Thrives: Science and Research.”

    British Columbia’s education minister has fired the Vancouver school board.

    Via The Washington Post: “ These states are spending less on education now than before the Great Recession.” tl;dr: all states except Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Alaska, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa, Illinois, North Dakota.

    The Los Angeles Board of Education decided to reject the renewal of five charter schools’ charters at its meeting this week. More via The LA Times.

    Via The New York Times: “The New Jersey State Senate on Thursday unanimously approved a bill requiring the state’s student loan agency to forgive the debts of borrowers who die or become permanently disabled.”

    “U.S. Department of Education Releases Guidance on Supporting Early Learning through the Every Student Succeeds Act,” per the press release.

    Education in the Courts


    The defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone for its 2014 story “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA” has begun. Nicole Eramo, a former dean of students, is suing the magazine for $7.9 million. More via NPR.

    Via Reuters: “An Illinois judge recommended the denial of an injunction to bar transgender high school students from using the restrooms and locker rooms of their choice, saying the Constitution does not protect students against having to share those areas with transgender classmates.”

    Via the AP: “Several families filed a class-action lawsuit Tuesday against the state of Michigan and the Flint school district, saying more needs to be done to help students whose academic performance and behavior have worsened because of the city’s lead-tainted water.”

    A blind mother of three has filed a lawsuit claiming that the Atlanta Public Schools has failed to make reasonable accommodations, refusing to provide bus service for the children.

    More on lawsuits in the for-profit higher ed section and the sports section below.

    Testing, Testing…


    Via Education Week: “The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a major designer of common-core tests for states, is looking for a new fiscal agent after the University of California, Los Angeles, said it will no longer do that work.”

    Via The Atlantic: “How the LSAT Destroys Socioeconomic Diversity.”

    Via NPR: “Educators Went To Jail For Cheating. What Happened To The Students?”

    The Atlantic profiles Robert Rorison, who has been proctoring the SAT for 53 years.

    “A Defense of the Multiple-Choice Examby Barbara Katz Rothman in The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Its value may be limited, but there is no better way to test whether students have read the material.” Talking to them, I guess, is not an option.

    Online Education (The Once and Future “MOOC”)


    Via Fortune (Reuters, really): “Why This Education Publisher Is Betting on Online Degrees.” The publisher in question: Pearson. In other Pearson news, via The Digital Reader: “ Pearson Shares Slump Following Poor Earnings Report.”

    Edinburgh University and Ural Federal University have joinededX.

    Via Class Central: “XuetangX: A Look at China’s First and Biggest MOOC Platform.”

    Via Education Dive: “Virtual charters threaten finances in Pennsylvania public schools.”

    Coding Bootcamps (The Once and Future “For-Profit Higher Ed”)


    Via Inc: “The Strange and Sudden Disappearance of a Coding Bootcamp Founder.” The bootcamp: Devschool. The founder has disappeared with some $100,000 in tuition, students say.

    This is an old article on Medium but it’s worth reposting in light of this story: “The Dirty Little Secrets About The Worst Coding Bootcamps Out There. 9 out of 10 programs are outright scams.”

    Devschool did have four starson Course Report, a Yelp-like review site for coding bootcamps. (Keep that in mind when you see Course Report’s data touted, cheerleading the coding bootcamp trend.)

    Thinkful (a company backed by Peter Thiel) is reaching out to Devschool students with this offer: “Send us your bill and we’ll apply half of it to our bootcamp.”

    You can now read all the applications of the coding bootcamps and “alternative education companies” that are part of the US Department of Education’s EQUIP experiment, and as such eligible for federal financial aid.

    Via The New York Times: “A Whistle Was Blown on ITT; 17 Years Later, It Collapsed.”

    Via the San Antonio Express News: “Career Point College closing doors in San Antonio over federal violation.”

    Via Politico: “The massive and financially troubled Education Management Corporation confirmed to POLITICO Wednesday that it is laying off 130 more Art Institutes employees. This is just the latest round of cuts at the cash-strapped for-profit college chain, which has been the target of multiple attorneys general investigations.”

    Via The Wall Street Journal: “For-profit education company Apollo Education Group Inc. swung to a quarterly profit even as revenue continued its yearslong decline driven by lower enrollment.”

    Via Education Dive: “For-profit colleges big spenders in federal lobbying.”

    Via The Miami Herald: “Ernesto Perez, the owner of the now-shuttered Dade Medical College, has been slapped with new criminal charges – this time for improperly closing the for-profit school one year ago.”

    Inside Higher Ed reports that a federal appeals court will allow a lawsuit to move forward against Heritage College.

    Meanwhile on Campus


    Liberty University has blocked a column from appearing in its student newspaper that was critical of Donald Trump. Inside Higher Ed has the story– and the censored article.

    Via the Ledger-Enquirer: “A 13-year-old student who said he was ‘thrown to the floor’ multiple times by a teacher at Edgewood Student Services Center on Sept. 12 is expected to have his leg amputated today as a result of the alleged incident, according to his attorney.”

    Nike co-founder Phil Knight will give $500 million to the University of Oregon for something not related to sports.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “To Improve Student Success, a University Confronts the Email Deluge.” The university in question: Michigan State University. Thankfully, Slack is not suggested here as an alternative.

    Via Reuters: “How a Chinese company bought access to admissions officers at top U.S. colleges.” The company in question: Dipont Education Management Group. The colleges include Vanderbilt, Wellesley, and UVA.

    Via NPR: “Students Clash With Police In South Africa Protests.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “After months of controversy surrounding Baylor University's handling of sexual-violence cases, the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights said on Wednesday that it had opened a Title IX investigation there.”

    “Another campus sacrifices the queen: IPFW to cut programs, majors, departments” by Bryan Alexander. That’s Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne for those unfamiliar with the acronym. And the “queen sacrifices,” for those who don’t know that terminology, is what Alexander calls it when a college sacrifices its most powerful resource – its faculty – in order to stem financial problems. Alexander also looks at the fallout of the queen sacrifice Chicago State University made last year.

    This is an interesting look at the screen-heavy architecture in “classrooms of the future,” featuring UVA professor Siva Vaidhyanathan’s classroom.

    This Week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines


    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Trump Said He Would ‘End’ Political Correctness on Campuses. Could a President Do That?”

    Remember, the answer to these headlines is always “No.”

    Accreditation and Certification


    “Forget Accreditation. Bring On the College Audit,” says The Chronicle of Higher Education. Bonus points for the image of the Ernst & Young auditor behind this idea, posing with Ben & Jerry of ice cream fame.

    The Competency-Based Education Network has released a draft of quality standards for competency-based education.

    Go, School Sports Team!


    Via Inside Higher Ed: “New report finds big-time college football players at wealthiest programs graduate at rates lower than their nonathlete male peers. For black players, the gap is even bigger.”

    “Sports and Laying Siege to Racism in Seattleby The Nation’s Dave Zirin.

    Via Colorlines: “Texas HS Football Team Faces Season Cancellation for Kneeling Protests.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The University of Louisville committed four major National Collegiate Athletic Association violations when a former men's basketball assistant paid an escort service to provide strip shows and sex for recruits and other players, the NCAA stated in a notice of allegations sent to the university Thursday.”

    Via the AP: “Penn State ex-coach who blew the whistle on Jerry Sandusky is suing the school for defamation.”

    From the HR Department


    Delicious headline from Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy: “Harvard Dining Hall Strike Enters Its Third Week, With Meat In The Banana Pudding.”

    The faculty at the state of Pennsylvania’s 14 public colleges and universities went on strike this week. The strike has been settled.

    The Chicago Sun Times’ Lauren Fitzpatrick on the contract negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and the city: “Chicago could become first city to bargain cap on charter schools.”

    In other Chicago news: “UNO teachers, charter network avert strike.”

    Professors at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design have voted to unionize, as have the adjuncts at Saint Xavier University.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “U. of Wisconsin Spent $24 Million on Faculty Retention After Perceived Threats to Tenure.”

    Via Fusion: “These teachers say they were fired for teaching about social justice.”

    Upgrades and Downgrades


    AltSchool (a company in Peter Thiel’s portfolio) issued a press release about its business model – a learning management system branded as Emilio Reggio, OMG. #nope. The Hechinger Report, Edsurge, Fast Company, and Wired were dutiful stenographers.

    Via New York Magazine: “Laurene Powell Jobs’s $100 Million Mission to Disrupt American High School.”

    Via Edutechnica: “5 Reasons Why Consolidation of the LMS Market Isn’t Necessarily a Bad Thing.”

    Online lending company SoFi (one of the companies in Peter Thiel’s portfolio) runs invitation-only cocktail parties, according to this NYT profile on the company. Student loans and singles parties. Excellent work, education technology industry.

    Via Campus Technology: “Online Learning Consortium, Tyton Partners Launch Courseware in Context.”

    Via Edsurge: “Educators, Tech Industry Leaders Collaborate to Develop K–12 Computer Science Framework.” The collaborators in question: “The project is led by a committee that includes Code.org, Cyber Innovation Center, National Math and Science Initiative, Association for Computing Machinery and Computer Science Teachers Association. The work is also supported by companies including Apple, Google and Expedia, as well as education organizations including the CollegeBoard, Teach For America and STEMx.”

    University of Michigan Turns Courses Into Games,” says Edsurge. Through an LMS. Sounds super fun.

    Via Techcrunch: “Amazon ramps up AWS Educate with free e-learning and job ads.” You can earn a micro-credential. Whee.

    Google has released an update to its Course Builder software.

    PBS debuts its own tablet for kids, the Playtime Pad,” Techcrunch reports.

    “Universities have turned over hundreds of patents to patent trolls,” says Yarden Katz.

    Funding and Acquisitions (The Business of Ed-Tech)


    Edlio, which makes an education-focused CMS, has raised $40 million from L Squared Capital Partners.

    Spark Schools has raised $9 million from the Omidyar Network. The company runs “blended learning” schools in South Africa. The Omidyar Network is also invested in another for-profit company running schools across Africa: Bridge International Academies.

    Student loan provider Indian School Finance Company has raised $6 million from Gray Matters Capital.

    Securly has raised $4 million in funding from Owl Ventures. The startup, which helps schools monitor their networks, has raised $7 million total.

    VR chemistry set-maker MEL Science has raised $2.5 million from Sistema Venture Capital.

    SoloLearn has raised $1.2 million from Learn Capital. The learn-to-code startup has raised $1.3 million total.

    CourseStorm has raised $760,000 from Maine Venture Fund for its online course registration software.

    Via Edsurge: “PowerSchool Buys Chalkable, Tops $200 Million in Acquisition Spending.” This is definitely my favorite sentence from the article: “[CEO, Hardeep] Gulati gushed about another Chalkable asset, Learning Earnings, that allows teachers to offer rewards (such as hall passes and lunch) to incentivize positive student behavior.” I love how getting to eat lunch or go pee is seen as a reward. Nice work, ed-tech. You’re definitely not making school even more awful.

    Imagine Learning has acquiredThink Through Learning.

    Jouve has acquiredSix Red Marbles.

    Data, Privacy, and Surveillance


    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “The Next Great Hope for Measuring Learning.”

    The Daily Dot reportsCIA-backed surveillance software was marketed to public schools,” which you knew already if you read last week’s Hack Education Weekly News.

    From the NASBE: “School Surveillance: The Consequences for Equity and Privacy.”

    Via ProPublica: “Google Has Quietly Dropped Ban on Personally Identifiable Web Tracking.” Google says this is merely an update to the TOS and privacy policy.

    The EFF points out“Loopholes and Flaws in the Student Privacy Pledge.” The Future of Privacy Forum responds: “Student Privacy Pledge Loopholes? Nope. We Did Our Homework.” Did you know that the Future of Privacy Forum is financially backed by AT&T, Comcast, Facebook, and Google? Did you know that its run by Jules Polonetsky, who used to run DoubleClick, Google’s ad service? (I did. I did my homework.)

    Shocking, I know, but Campus Technology reports that “Yik Yak Users Not So Anonymous After All.”

    Via The Houston Chronicle: “Katy ISD warns staff, students after data breach.”

    Facebook’s Child Workforce” – Cathy “Mathbabe” O’Neil on Facebook’s personalized learning software.

    Data and “Research”


    Via NPR: “American Academy Of Pediatrics Lifts ’No Screens Under 2’ Rule.” That’s the story that’s getting the headlines, it seems. Not this one by the same organization: “Researchers Caution About Potential Harms of Parents’ Online Posts about Children.”

    Anne Trubek writes in the JSTOR Daily about “Student Writing in the Digital Age,” drawing on a study by Andrea and Karen Lunsford. Among the findings: “Students in first-year composition classes are, on average, writing longer essays (from an average of 162 words in 1917, to 422 words in 1986, to 1,038 words in 2006), using more complex rhetorical techniques, and making no more errors than those committed by freshman in 1917.”

    Via The New York Times: “How Much Graduates Earn Drives More College Rankings.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Competency-based education programs may be inexpensive to run, but they can also take longer than expected to turn a profit, according to a study released on Tuesday and supported by the Lumina Foundation.” (More in The Chronicle about the Lumina Foundation and the Gates Foundation’s policy focuses. The former says it plans to invest in credential reform, including CBE.) Inside Higher Ed also wrote about the Lumina-funded report.

    Via Education Dive: “Is CBE the future of higher education? Study says too early to tell.” (If the headline had just been the question, I could have listed this under the Betteridge subheader above.)

    Education Week has released a new report on “personalized learning.” A few of the articles: “‘Red Flags’ to Look for When Evaluating Personalized Learning Products.” “Personalized Learning: What Does the Research Say?” “Checking Up on Personalized Learning Pioneers.” Rousseau could not be reached for comment.

    From the Florida Virtual Campus, the “2016 Student Textbook and Course Materials Survey.”

    Via McGraw Hill Education: “Digital Study Trends: Student Habits.” You have to hand over some personal information to access the results of the survey, which certainly echoes a trend in how digital companies treat students’ data.

    Via NPR: “The High School Graduation Rate Reaches A Record High – Again.”

    Parents Bullish on Ed Tech, Skeptical About Its Implementation, Survey Says,” says Education Week, writing up a survey taken by the Gates Foundation funded Learning Assembly.

    Via Edsurge: “Trouble With the Curve: Estimating the Size and Growth Rates of K–12 Markets.”

    Via Pacific Standard: “Suspending Students Is Costing America Tens of Billions of Dollars.”

    Via Edsurge: “The Top Skills Employers Need in 2016, According to LinkedIn.”

    The shocking information in this story about LinkedIn’s diversity report isn’t that the company has made minimal gains in hiring women and people of color. It’s that Pat Wadors, LinkedIn’s senior VP of global talent uses the word “mulatto” to describe someone in her family.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “A new study released by the Brookings Institution finds disparities in student debt levels for black and white borrowers grow after graduation, a trend partly attributable to higher enrollment rates for black students in graduate programs, especially at for-profit institutions. That jump in enrollment is linked to higher federal borrowing rates introduced in 2006 and the weak job market – especially for black college grads – after the 2008 recession.”

    Via Edsurge: “Average Student Loan Debt Surpasses $30K.” (Let’s talk a bit why median works better than mean for reporting on student loans.)

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “One-Third of Low-Income Student Borrowers Who Rehabbed Loans Could Default Again.”

    83% of colleges pay to promote posts or to advertise on Facebook, according to a study by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

    Via Education Week: “Career-Readiness Will Require Training, and Re-Training, Beyond High School, Study Finds.”

    Google has released two research reports on computer science education: “Diversity Gaps in Computer Science: Exploring the Underrepresentation of Girls, Blacks and Hispanics” and “Trends in the State of Computer Science in U.S. K–12 Schools.” Among the findings: Black and Hispanic students are 1.5 and 1.7 times more likely to be very interested in learning about computer science than their white peers. But they have less access to computer science in school.

    According to the press release, the venture capital firm Learn Capital and VIPKID, one of its portfolio companies, are spending $10 million to launch “the world’s first research institute focusing on children's English online education.” I guess universities aren’t churning out “the right kind of research” for investors, or something.

    “Best Practices for Conducting Risky Research and Protecting Yourself from Online Harassmentby Alice Marwick, Lindsay Blackwell, and Katherine Lo. I’m sad this has to exist, but I am also happy it does.

    RIP


    William Bowen, long-time president of Princeton and popularizer of the concept of Baumol’s cost disease (along with William Baumol, of course) has died. The New York Times obituary.

    RIP Venida Browder, mother of Kalief, her teenage son who was kept mostly in solitary confinement on Riker’s Island for three years for a crime – stealing a backpack – he said he did not commit and was never convicted of committing. Kalief killed himself last year.

    Icon credits: The Noun Project


    0 0

    This talk was presented today at ETUG's Fall Workshop in Vancouver, BC. Special thanks to Jason Toal for DJing my talk. You can find the full slide deck here.

    Thank you very much for inviting me here to speak to you today. (And in particular, thank you to Jason Toal. When he asked me to speak, I said “only if you DJ my talk” – something that’s been a dream of mine for a number of years now, since I saw him do the same for a Brian Lamb keynote up in Kamloops. Honestly, I’ve always wanted my life to be musical theater, so this is amazing.)

    And thank you too for the theme of this event – your willingness to talk about failures and struggles with education technology rather than, what’s almost always the case, this strange dogma the field demands – that we only offer praise and thanks for the glory of education technology.

    In the face of this dogma, I find that my keynotes are often received with shudders and squirms. No one wants to make eye contact. After my talk, I sometimes get a couple of folks who come up and confess with a combination of shyness and panic, “Shit. What am I doing?!” I don’t always intend to frighten people – I mean, obviously sometimes I do – but I do want to shock people. That’s the role of the keynote speaker, I’d like to think. I want to shock listeners and readers in a similar way to what avant-garde artists and theorists have called for: to defamiliarize education technology, “to make the familiar unfamiliar,” to détourne, to disrupt (and to détourne and disrupt, in particular, the Silicon Valley narratives of disruption).

    But today I have been asked to talk about monsters and monstrosity. I’ve been sanctioned, encouraged to do so. I’m not sure if I can be as shocking under these circumstances. I will still try to be brutally frank. It’s almost Halloween – I will try to be frighteningly frank.

    I’ve written two books on the monsters of education technology; I’m publishing a third in the series at the end of the year.

    My academic background – I do have an official, institutional credential – is in Folklore. So while I am not officially, institutionally credentialed to speak or write about education technology – I’ve never taken a class on the topic – I have a Master’s Degree in Folklore. Saying scholarly things about monsters just might be right up my academic alley.

    My background in Folklore certainly informs my interests in storytelling: what are the stories we tell to cajole, frame, admonish, ordain, encourage, frighten, teach?

    I want to talk briefly about Folklore Studies here not so much to tout my academic qualifications to speak to you here today about monsters – quite the opposite really. I want to touch on the monstrosity of academic disciplines. There have been some calls recently that education technology needs to become a discipline – which I guess implies that the field is not one already, despite all the journals and departments and degrees and jobs and conferences and gatherings (like this one). The rationale for a discipline: more coherence, more prestige. That last item seems key to this initiative, even if it’s a point not always explicitly made – how can education technology, education technologists get more respect, more power, more money?

    Let us consider that the subtext to this talk, perhaps. And let us keep in mind these questions: How historically have disciplines emerged? How have they managed to convince the university’s administrative and intellectual infrastructure that they are legitimate? How historically have technologies emerged? How have they managed to convince the university’s administrative and intellectual infrastructure that they are legitimate.

    For academic disciplines, this involves a couple of rhetorical tactics, I’d contend: you can either reach back and tie your field to antiquity or you can reach forward and tie its claim to science.

    Folklore Studies, for its part, did a bit of both.

    A bit of history: Around the turn of the twentieth century, folklorists – many most academics at the time – became particularly enthralled with creating classification systems. In the 1920s, American folklorist Stith Thompson translated a system developed by the Finnish folklorist Antti Aarne, adding his own revisions to help others to identify and organize folk narratives into tale or motif-types. The Clever Fox. The Quest for a Lost Bride. The Magic Ring. The Golden Goose. The Fool’s Errand. The Dragon Slayer. Not a list of titles; a classification system of tale types. The Soviet folklorist Vladimir Propp criticized this index, the Aarne-Thompson index, for not accounting for how these tale types and motifs functioned, publishing in the late 1920s The Morphology of the Folktale. Propp identified thirty-one functions – no more no less – of the structural elements in Russian tales. Again, not the titles of tales, but the pieces that moved the stories forward. Someone in the hero’s family is missing – a mother, a father. There is an interdiction, but the hero ignores it. The hero must undertake a journey, a quest. The hero must face a villain. The hero must obtain a magical item. There’s a battle. The hero is victorious. And so on.

    We recognize the structure. We recognize the types. We might quite like the classification – it’s comforting; it’s organized and orderly; it’s “science.”

    And that’s what’s important to note here: to classify tale types and their function is to make the study of folklore appear to be much more rigorous, more scientific. For its part, the field of education – particularly education psychology – did something quite similar around the same time. Education developed its own classification systems; we’ve churned out graphs and charts and rankings. Our current obsession with educational data has its roots in very similar attempts: to quantify.

    How do you turn a craft, a practice into a discipline? You invoke history, sure. But more significantly, you invoke science. You measure. And as the twentieth century progressed, another tactic became clear: you add machines.

    I want to point out that we have added monsters. Unpredictable and wild and terrible and unsettling. I don’t summon monsters to classify them – they’re too unruly and I am utterly uninterested in rule – but rather to name them and then to un-name them and to wake us up from ed-tech’s nightmares.

    I could, I suppose, sketch out a taxonomy of sorts of education technology’s monsters to underscore the types of tales we already tell. Again, the types of tales, not necessarily the titles of the tales or technologies themselves. I could construct a morphology of monsters. But I have no interest in order or hierarchy, only a hope to unravel the pretense of science, a hope to unleash ourselves from the way in which these monsters discipline us.

    See, I don’t want us to become Max, the little boy sent to bed without any supper in Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are. That is, we shouldn’t aim to become the king of the monsters by growling and shouting and convincing them we can be just as horrid. I don’t want us to long for Max’s Wild Rumpus, as celebratory as that joining with monsters might seem, because this is not about a taming or a disciplining or a mastery or a return at the end of the storybook to (a warm supper and) order unchanged. I want us to refuse to be disciplined. I do want us to be wild; I don’t want us to be monstrous.

    When I conjure “the monsters of education technology,” it’s an alchemical acknowledgment of both science studies scholar Donna Haraway and computer scientist Seymour Papert. These monsters are “figures to think with” – epistemological markers, not merely (sorry, folklorists) narratological motifs.

    Any disassembly of the monsters of education technology is assembled with the work of sociologist of science Bruno Latour and his argument that we have misread the most famous literary monster, the main character in Mary Shelly’s 1818 novel Frankenstein. Indeed, we often mistake Dr. Frankenstein for his monstrous creation, calling the latter Frankenstein. We tend to read the book as a cautionary tale about science gone awry. But as Latour has argued, we misjudge Frankenstein’s crime. It “was not that he invented a creature through some combination of hubris and high technology,” writes Latour, “but rather that he abandoned the creature to itself.”

    “Remember that I am thy creature,” the creature says when he confronts the scientist. "I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good – misery made me a fiend.”

    Left alone to discover the world, to educate himself, the creature becomes a monster. And we too have created technological and scientific monstrosities because, like Dr. Frankenstein, we have forgotten to love and care for our technological and scientific creations. We have forgotten to love and care for one another.

    These are our monsters. These are the monsters of education technology.

    What follows is not a taxonomy, not a morphology. It’s just some monsters I’ve seen as I’ve traveled through the nightmarish landscape of education technology.

    “Books will soon be obsolete in schools” – Thomas Edison, 1913

    “Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete” – Arne Duncan, 2012

    “I believe that the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system and that in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks. I should say that on the average we get about two percent efficiency out of schoolbooks as they are written today. The education of the future, as I see it, will be conducted through the medium of the motion picture... where it should be possible to obtain one hundred percent efficiency.” – Thomas Edison, 1922

    “Nothing has more potential to enable us to reimagine higher education than the massive open online course, or MOOC, platforms that are being developed by the likes of Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and companies like Coursera and Udacity.” – Thomas Friedman, 2013

    Zombie ideas, according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman are “beliefs about policy that have been repeatedly refuted with evidence and analysis but refuse to die.” The American political landscape, he contends, is crawling with them.

    The history of education technology is as well.

    If you’ve worked in the field long enough, you readily recognize the undead of ed-tech, those monsters that, despite our best efforts, our refusals, our outcry, our challenges, just keep coming back. Learning objects. Learning portals. Portals to learning object repositories.

    Sometimes we think that we’ve vanquished them. The zombies seem to wither and die. But then a few years later, they resurface, and they’re in the headlines again. “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could hold college lectures in virtual reality?” “Wouldn’t it be awesome if students could watch moving images about other places and other cultures?” (This time, of course, with an Android phone strapped to their face.)

    Perhaps the most powerful of zombies in education technology is the student information system and its monstrous offspring the learning management system. Reviled, utterly reviled. And yet these monsters have become part of schools’ infrastructure, embedded in the very way in which we imagine – imagine not just administer – the relationships among the student, the teacher, the course, the institution.

    This zombie has become such a banal monstrosity that we cannot tell the story of education technology, so it seems, without it.

    Both the learning management system and the student information system could also be categorized as another form of ed-tech’s undead: the vampires of education technology.

    Every time you hear someone talk about “student data,” imagine them saying “students’ life blood” instead.

    Vampires.

    These are the monsters that live off our digital lives, feeding off our personal data, the monsters most sanguine about the promises of data extraction and analysis. These are the monsters hoping to extend their own existence, their own relevance by normalizing surveillance – the ambient collection of all types of data through devices that promise more efficiency, that promise better “outcomes.”

    That’s the lure, in part, of the vampire: their supernatural power. But that power always comes from stealing life from others. The vampires of education technology might convince us to do their bidding, but they can only sustain themselves through extraction and exploitation.

    Conveniently, they are powerful enough to not cause a reflection in the mirror.

    These vampires – many of education technology’s monsters, if we are honest – are what literary theorist Noel Carroll has described as “horrific metonymy.” They might appear to be normal (or normalized), but we always sense that they are dangerous. There are hints and clues and just that uneasy, unsettled feeling that something is very very wrong.

    There is a spectre haunting education technology… the spectre of behaviorism. Actually there are several spectres. The spectre of venture capitalism. The spectre of racism. The spectre of imperialism. The spectre of war. The spectre of libertarianism. The spectre of individualism. The spectre of instructivism. The spectre of elitism. The spectre of “roaming autodidacticism.”

    The ghosts of education technology’s past. The ghosts of education technology’s present. The ghost of education technology yet to come.

    The ghosts of failed projects. The ghosts of broken promises. The haunted closet where the overhead projects and mimeos and discarded machines reside.

    Papert. Pask. Montessori. Minsky. Mitra. Skinner. Suppes. Siemens. Schank. Kay. Kaplan. Koller. Khan. Katzman. Cormier. Dewey. Thorndike. Thrun. Gates. Gardner. Groom. Agarwal. Bushnell. Bruner. Bloom. Zuckerberg. Piaget. Pittinsky. Chasen. Wiley. Rousseau. Illich. Ng. Downes.

    So many men...

    Some of these names are unassailable. Some of these are “big friendly giants,” no doubt. Some are not.

    The mad scientists of education are those who experiment on students. Those who experiment on public education. They do so for their own ego. They isolate themselves – in their laboratories, in their towers, in their executive suites – distancing themselves from any sort of ethical core.

    They build machines. They model and aim to mold mankind. They believe they’re on the cusp of building a new world, a world that they alone can control.

    Maybe the trolls of education technology are mine to battle alone. I don’t know. Maybe you see them too. I hope not. But I face them all the time, particularly on Twitter. (This is after I purposefully removed comments from my website. Trolls, as we all know, live under bridges and in comments sections.)

    Women, particularly women of color, are assaulted by trolls constantly online. We need to recognize there are trolls when we compel our students to work on the Internet.

    The trolls of education technology fish for fights, starting arguments just to anger and upset people with intentionally inflammatory messages. “Wait Audrey, that’s what you do!” No. I start arguments to make things better; I don’t start arguments simply to sow discord. I believe in what I say and write. I stand by it. The trolls of education technology don’t always, yet they’ll summon their friend, the straw man.

    Where do the trolls of education technology live? In a well, actually. #rimshot

    Clowns are not necessarily monstrous, of course. Clowns can make us laugh. Clowns – as jokers and jesters – can challenge and mock political authority. Clowns are kin to tricksters, those mythological creatures that make and break the world.

    There’s a whole pantheon of tricksters. Mischievous, chaotic, deceptive, witty, lewd, sacred, profane.

    Some tricksters are humbugs, as P. T. Barnum proudly described himself. These do not lie per se but lure you into their circus tents with fanciful stories and promises, just want you want to hear. The show men. The ones who sell you “sea monkeys” that are, in fact, brine shrimp. The snake-oil salesmen. The ones who promise you that their adaptive teaching software can “semi-read your mind” and that “we literally know everything about what you know and how you learn best, everything.” The ones who waves their hands about as they make their sweeping proclamations about the future of education, desperately hoping you do not peek behind the curtain and see that there is no great and mighty wizard there. There’s just a clown.

    Monstrous education technology is the Blob, a corrosive alien substance of unknown origin that consumes everything in its path. It’s almost impossible to stop. It’s almost impossible to fight. No one knows how it started. But it rolls through the streets, through the schools.

    “There’s a tsunami coming,” as Stanford president John Hennessey put it when the massive open online blob lurched out of Palo Alto, oozing through the pages of The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Wall Street Journal into the administrative offices of many, many college campuses. “Software is eating the world,” as investor Marc Andreessen gleefully proclaimed.

    The Blob is education technology is obsessed with scale – it must always grow and extend its reach. The Blob dominates through massiveness, through expansion, through fear and horror, through imperialism.

    Cthulhu is the mythical monster created by the writer H. P. Lovecraft. Cthulhu, a malevolent cosmic creature, first appeared in the pulp fiction magazine Weird Tales in 1928. Lovecraft describes a statute of Cthuthlu as “a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind.” Just looking at Cthulhu drives a person insane, but even without eye contact, Cthulhu is said to be the cause of an ongoing and perpetual anxiety among humans.

    Cthulhu might fall under the literary theorist Noel Carroll’s classification of monsters as a “magnification” – a giant octopoid, a kin of other monstrous giants like Godzilla and King Kong. Or perhaps he’s an example of what Carroll called “massification.” (I’m trying very hard to avoid classification systems here, I promise.) That’s what I’m going with – even though Carroll used the term to classify swarms of monsters – swarms of birds, swarms of worms, swarms of zombies.

    The massification of Cthulhu as a monster of education technology gives us MOOCthulhu, that terrifying monster that paralyzed us, filled us with anxiety, that threatened to bring about the final disruption of education.

    Education’s end times.

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre

    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

    The best lack all conviction, while the worst

    Are full of passionate intensity.

    The rough beast, W. B. Yeats cautions, is coming, bringing with it despair and suffering.

    There is something quite apocalyptic about the stories you hear about education, particularly those stories told by Silicon Valley and by Harvard Business School professors and Stanford University presidents – stories of “disruptive innovation,” of “tsunamis” set to wipe out institutions. Soon half the colleges in the US will be bankrupt. Soon there will only be ten colleges left in the whole world. Soon education will be automated, “personalized,” with students hard-wired to some Matrix-like machine all uttering in that deadpan Keanu Reeves voice, “Whoa I know calculus.” “Whoa I know chemistry.” “Whoa I learned to code.” “Whoa I know Kung Fu.”

    Robots are coming for our jobs. They will drive our cars and order our groceries and diagnose our diseases and vacuum our floors and teach our children. Or so we’re told.

    The robots of education technology sometimes boast of their artificial intelligence, but they do not want us to think too deeply what exactly we mean when we talk about “intelligence” or how intertwined the history of “intelligence testing” is with eugenics.

    The robots of education technology boast of “machine learning,” then create frameworks and models for learning that they try to fit humans into in turn. This is the monstrosity of standardization.

    The robots of education technology, like many of education technology’s monsters, privilege speed and efficiency. The robots of education technology watch our clicks and analyze our preferences. The robots of education technology are teaching machines and testing machines and surveillance machines.

    I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my beloved pigeons. Symbols of decay and disorder. Weaponized by the military and by educational psychologists. We forget, of course, that doves and pigeons are the same bird, so also symbols of peace. Neither fully domesticated nor completely wild. As I’ve argued elsewhere, pigeons are – with a nod to Donna Haraway once again – a companion species gone astray, a border creature that might mark its own and just as importantly our own trainability, a reminder of what happens when our cyborg fantasies about hybridity and resistance are, despite their subversive theoretical promise, quite submissive to the technologies of command and control.

    We train pigeons, curbing their own desire and agency in order that they become compliant. Our training devices and practices are monstrous. It’s no surprise that in response pigeons cover our streets and statues with shit.

    We are warned of the dragons in dangerous places, the unexplored places, the over-explored places, the stagnant, the lands of outmoded ideas – all the places where we should no longer venture.

    Hic Sunt Dracones. Here be dragons.

    Instead of avoiding the margins and staying to the safety of center, I’d argue, we need to face our dragons. We need to face our monsters. We need to face the giants. They aren’t simply on the margins; they are, in many ways, central to the narratives of education technology.

    One story I return to again and again is the closing keynote from NEXT 2013 held in Berlin, in which science fiction writer Bruce Sterling spoke about “Fantasy Prototypes and the Real Disruption.” The theme of that event was “Here Be Dragons.” Hic Sunt Dracones.

    In his keynote, Sterling offers what he admits is probably a painful message for an audience of entrepreneurs and designers, an audience the conference itself describes as “digital forethinkers and tech experts”: “Those that live by disruption die by disruption.”

    “Those that live by disruption die by disruption.”

    I’ve written and spoken about disruption a lot over the last few years – not in terms of “design fiction” as Sterling does it but in terms of folklore. I link the stories I hear about ed-tech disruption to Silicon Valley mythology, millennialism, apocalypticism, late capitalism, End Times fantasies. Sterling links disruption to dragons.

    His talk reminds me of the necessity of always circling back to monsters.

    Sterling is very clear that startup culture lives within the belly of a fiery, destructive, disruptive beast. All this entrepreneurial exuberance is, he argues, actually “a tacit allegiance between the hacker space favelas of the startups and offshore capital and tax avoidance money laundries. And what were they doing? They were building a globalized networked society. And that’s what’s coming next. An actual globalized networked society.”

    The globalized networked society that the 1% envisions – the technology investors, the venture capitalists, the banking class – is neither progressive nor egalitarian nor transgressive, despite all the stories that we tell ourselves as we do their bidding, use their products, fatten their wallets, feed their monsters. Their globalized networked society is about a system of finer-tuned surveillance and control, all thanks to the technologies we readily adopt. It’s about the extraction of our data, about turning every moment in our lives into some sort of transaction – a transaction for profit and for profiling.

    Startups tell themselves otherwise, of course. They say they’re here to challenge “the system” and “the Man.” But “we are all auto-colonialized by the austerity,” insists Sterling. “That’s your big dragon,” he tells them. “That’s your actual dragon. … As long as you are making rich guys richer, you are not disrupting the austerity. You are one of its top facilitators.”

    These are startups’ dragons. These are the technology industry’s dragons. These are the dragons of education technology too.

    As long as you are making rich guys richer, smart kids smarter, smart rich kids smarter and richer, you are not disrupting the austerity. You are one of its top facilitators.

    Whether we like it or not, these are our monsters.

    I see these monsters all around us. I fret that others don’t. I fret that others are content to curry favor with monsters, to leave gifts for them, to offer them students as sacrifices, to take gifts from them, to wear their swag.

    I often joke about being called “ed-tech’s Cassandra.” It’s an incredibly serious and incredibly awful name and role to invoke. I already cringe when I’m threatened with violence online. Things didn’t work out so well for Cassandra; things didn’t work out so well for the Trojans either. I’m not pleased that, by being “ed-tech’s Cassandra,” I’m placing myself in a familiar tale of destruction and death.

    It’s been a decade since I left academia. I don’t look back. But nor can I seem to escape my training as a folklorist. I’m not sure that I would want to. I am fascinated by storytelling. I am fascinated by tradition, by culture, by mythology, by ritual. I recognize that traditions are fragile; culture changes. But I know too that traditions are also incredibly resistant; culture is resilient. It refuses to change.

    Humans have long told stories of monsters. Monsters are, quite often, those who live on the edges and the outskirts. Those who defy expectations of appearance and behavior. Monsters transgress. They disobey. They defile. They destroy.

    As Cassandra, I must warn you that education technology’s monstrosity will bring about our doom. The monsters of education technology are a Trojan Horse poised to dismantle public education, to outsource and unbundle and disrupt and destroy. Those who tell you that education technology promises personalization don’t actually care about student autonomy or agency. They want surveillance and standardization and control. You have been warned.

    Education technology is full of monsters. We’ve given birth to some of them. We’ve given birth to the story in which “everyone should be online.” We’ve demanded that everyone have their own device. We’ve demanded that everyone use the learning management system. Look what we have done. We’ve welcomed monsters into our schools, our classrooms, our homes.

    We needn’t. We needn’t accept the monstrosity of technology. Remember Dr. Frankenstein. Technology, education technology, is our creation. It need not be our monster. Education technology requires our deliberate and loving attention so as to not become even more monstrous, so that it can become marvelous instead.

    That demands we resist and we fight – undisciplined – that we build better, that we care more, that we tell a different story.


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  • 10/28/16--05:01: Hack Education Weekly News
  • Presidential Campaign Politics


    November 8 cannot come soon enough.

    Via Education Week): “Hillary Clinton Campaign Releases $500 Million Anti-Bullying Plan.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “For Some Republicans, Trump’s Higher-Ed Proposals Reflect ‘Lost Opportunity’.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Trump Threatens Visas for Those From China.”

    Education Politics


    In other political campaigning news: “Campaign contributions from for-profit colleges continue to tilt heavily to Republicans. But the struggling sector’s political giving is down since peaking in 2012,” Inside Higher Ed reports.

    “An International Business Times/MapLight investigation has found that executives at eight financial firms with contracts to manage Massachusetts state pension assets have bypassed anti-corruption rules and funneled at least $778,000 to groups backing Question 2, which would expand the number of charter schools in the state,” David Sirota writes.

    Via NPR: “The Return Of Bilingual Education In California?”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “The U.S. Education Department has released its long-awaited defense-to-repayment rules, which codify how borrowers who are defrauded by predatory colleges can obtain relief from the federal government.” More via IHE.

    From the department’s press release: “U.S. Department of Education Announces Requirements for New Federal Loan Servicing System.”

    Via The Atlantic: “Jill Biden’s Push to Make Community College Free.”

    Via Edsurge: “U.S. Dept. of Ed. Unveils Free Online Tool for Rapid Evaluation of Edtech Products.”

    Via The New York Times: “Obama Brought Silicon Valley to Washington.” (Is that a good thing?)

    Education in the Courts


    Via Slate: “…The Supreme Court agreed to hear Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., a blockbuster case whose outcome will affect whether transgender students can use the school bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. G.G. involves the validity of guidance by the Department of Education interpreting 'sex discrimination' to encompass anti-trans discrimination. The case marks the first time the Supreme Court has directly addressed trans issues head-on. Its outcome will have ramifications in schools throughout the country.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “A divided federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld a lower court’s ruling that a Minnesota community college was justified when it kicked a student out of a nursing program because of Facebook comments administrators deemed to be unprofessional and threatening to fellow students.”

    Via the Education Law Center: “Several New Jersey civil rights and parent advocacy organizations have filed a legal challenge to new high school graduation regulations recently adopted by the State Board of Education. The new rules make passing the controversial PARCC exams a requirement for a New Jersey high school diploma and will also prevent students who opt out from graduating.”

    Via the Chicago Sun Times: “Barbara Byrd-Bennett sentencing hearing set for April 13.” The former Chicago Public Schools head pleaded guilty to fraud charges last year.

    More on sports-related lawsuits in the sports section below.

    Testing, Testing…


    Via the Hechinger Report: “On a classroom-based test for new teachers, black teachers score lower.”

    Via The Toronto Star: “Cyber attack to blame for Grade 10 literacy test chaos.”

    There’s more testing news in the courts section above.

    Online Education (The Once and Future “MOOC”)


    Via the Udacity blog: “Introducing the Artificial Intelligence Nanodegree program.”

    Coding Bootcamps (The Once and Future “For-Profit Higher Ed”)


    Via the AP: “Trump U staff included drug trafficker, child molester.”

    “A Conveyor Belt of Dropouts and Debt at For-Profit Collegesby Susan Dynarski.

    The BBC profiles 42, the teacher-less coding school for people under age 30.

    Via Politico: “The trustee appointed to liquidate ITT Tech’s assets and help divvy them up among creditors wants to put the brakes on just about everything as she dissects the carcass of the crumbled for-profit college.”

    “When For-Profit Colleges Prey on Unsuspecting Students” by The Atlantic’s Melinda D. Anderson.

    More on loan forgiveness for students from predatory colleges in the politics section above.

    Meanwhile on Campus


    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Brigham Young Will Grant Disciplinary Amnesty to Sexual-Assault Victims.”

    Via The Chicago Tribune: “UW-Madison sex assault case snowballs as dozens come forward, ‘stalking’ list seized.”

    Via Politico: “Elizabeth City State University, UNC Pembroke and Western Carolina University will each offer $500 in-state tuition starting in fall 2018.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “MIT Seeks to Expand Role Promoting Startups.”

    In other MIT news: “MIT task force releases preliminary ‘Future of Libraries’ report.”

    Via The Atlantic:Liberty University Students Want to Be Christians – Not Republicans.”

    I wrote about this in last week’s Hack Education Weekly News– a thirteen year old boy who had his leg amputated after a school contractor allegedly body-slammed him repeatedly. I read another story about it this week and have to note that this contractor was at the school teaching “MindSet curriculum.” The longstanding distrust I had for this particular fad has now turned into white hot rage and disgust.

    Accreditation and Certification


    Mozillaannounced it is handing the Open Badges initiative to the IMS Global Learning Consortium.

    Via the MIT Media Lab: “Blockcerts  –  An Open Infrastructure for Academic Credentials on the Blockchain.”

    “It’s Time to Change What We Mean by ‘Credential’,” says Sean Gallagher in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Go, School Sports Team!


    Via the AP: “A jury awarded a former Penn State assistant football coach $7.3 million in damages Thursday, finding the university defamed him after it became public that his testimony helped prosecutors charge Jerry Sandusky with child molestation.”

    Via Reuters: “Children’s brains undergo noticeable changes after just one season of football, even if they were never diagnosed with a concussion, according to a new imaging study.”

    From the HR Department


    The richest university in the world has reached a deal with its striking workers. “Harvard’s Dining-Hall Workers ‘Achieved Every Goal’ in Strike,” says The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Upgrades and Downgrades


    Twitterannounced big layoffs this week – 9% of its staff – and said it would shutter its video app Vine. The company said that it would keep the Vine website online, but you should probably download anything you’ve got there. And maybe in the future, think twice about using these platforms, particularly about compelling students to work there. Via the New York Magazine: “The Death of Vine Makes the Internet a Worse Place.”

    Googleannounced it was cutting jobs in its Google Fiber division. The CEO has resigned. And Google has put plans to expand Fiber to more cities on hold.

    But despite all these cuts, big companies rolled out New Products this week that were perhaps Very Exciting if you’re into New Products. Microsoft is doing a desktop PC thing. Apple, as always, helps us see how criticism-free technology journalism can be. And Google is getting into the whiteboard business.

    Via eCampus News: “Barnes & Noble Education announces advanced OER courseware.”

    IBMreleased a Watson-powered education app for iPad.

    IBMpartners with Pearson.

    OpenEdpartners with Pearson.

    “The Great Unbundling of Textbook Publishersby Michael Feldstein.

    Michael Horn writing for Edsurge: “Return of the Virtual Reality Hype Cycle (What's Different This Time?)”

    Inside Higher Ed on EDUCAUSE: “The higher education IT organization will over the next five years focus on collaboration, personalization and professional development in order to create an experience that is more ‘inclusive, equitable and simplified,’ according to a new strategic plan.”

    Creative Commonsreleased a “Termination of Transfer Tool” to help manage authors’ copyrights.

    Via TorrentFreak: “iKeepSafe Inadvertently Gives Students a Valuable Lesson in Creators’ Rights.”

    Edsurge points to new guidelines for education companies participating in Y Combinator’s startup accelerator program.

    I’m including this just for the buzzword lulz. Via Campus Technology: “Learning Objects Debuts Competency-Based Education Platform.”

    Via The New York Times: “An Annuity for the Teacher – and the Broker.” “A look inside the high-pressure job of selling workplace annuities to public schoolteachers.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “When the Teaching Assistant Is a Robot.”

    IHE’s Scott Jaschik interviews the authors of Beyond the Skills Gap: Preparing College Students for Life and Work.

    Funding and Acquisitions (The Business of Ed-Tech)


    3D printing startup 3Dexter has raised $150,000 in seed funding from ICA Edu Skills.

    Blackboard has acquiredFronteer, a software company that helps make course materials accessible. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    Not directly related to ed-tech, I suppose (except it’s entirely related to ed-tech): AT&T plans to merge with Time Warner. “Individualized Ads on TV Could Be One Result of AT&T-Time Warner Merger,” says The New York Times. Should have called them “personalized ads,” and then education reformers would be super stoked.

    Data, Privacy, and Surveillance


    Via The New York Times: “Broadband Providers Will Need Permission to Collect Private Data.” So says the FCC.

    Via the MIT Technology Review: “AT&T Is Selling Law Enforcement Access to Its Customers’ Data.”

    Via ProPublica: “Facebook Lets Advertisers Exclude Users by Race.” So great that these folks are now involved in education technology, don’t you think?

    Meanwhile, over at Edsurge: “A Small Liberal Arts School Becomes a Testing Ground for the ‘Facebook of Learning Management Systems’.”

    Also via Edsurge: “Pursuing Academic Freedom and Data Privacy Is a Balancing Act.”

    Via the Pacific Standard: “Google’s Broken Privacy Promise.”

    “What You Need to Know About Learning Analytics,” according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Via New America: “The Promise and Peril of Predictive Analytics in Higher Education.”

    Data and “Research”


    Via The Next Web: “Survey shows millennials fall for cyber scams more often than seniors.”

    Via EdWeek’s Market Brief: “Value of Education Industry Sector Transactions Nosedives in 2016.” The article draws on the latest report from investment bank Berkery Noyes.

    Via The Wall Street Journal: “College Tuition Rises 2.4% at Public Schools, College Board Says.”

    Via The Atlantic: “The Racial Disparity of the Student-Loan Crisis.”

    The NMC has released a“Horizon Project Strategic Brief on Digital Literacy.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Blackboard Study on How Instructors Use the LMS.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “If Emotion Aids Learning, Does It Work Online?”

    “SRI Study on ASSISTments Finds Boost in Math Achievement,” says Edsurge.

    Inside Higher Ed on the results of the 2016 Campus Computing Survey."

    Inside Higher Ed on its 2016 Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology.

    “Comparing the 2016 and 2012 FLVC Student Textbook Survey Results” by David Wiley.

    Online Delivery Increases Pipeline of Students Pursuing Formal Education,” says Edsurge. Expanding enrollment options is found to expand potential enrollments. My God! It's science!

    Related NBER research: “A federal rule change that opened the door to more fully online degree programs has not made college tuition more affordable, according to a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, but at some place-based institutions, enrollment has declined and instructional spending has increased as a result,” Inside Higher Ed reports.

    Via EdWeek’s Market Brief: “Virtual Schools’ Record Serving Special Education Students Is Unclear, Inconsistent, Report Finds.”

    “Has the Elite Foundation Agenda Spread Beyond the Gates? An Organizational Network Analysis of Nonmajor Philanthropic Giving in K12 Education” by Joseph J. Ferrare and Katherine Reynolds.

    Via Education Dive: “How artificial intelligence could shape higher education.” Sweeping hand-wave gesture: this will change everything.

    RIP


    Education historian David Tyack passed away this week. Here’s a reflection on his work from Education Week’s Sarah Sparks.

    Tom Hayden, a founding member of the Students for a Democratic Society and the chief author of the Port Huron Statement, died this week.

    Icon credits: The Noun Project


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    This talk was delivered at Virginia Commonwealth University today as part of a seminar co-sponsored by the Departments of English and Sociology. The slides are also available here.

    Thank you very much for inviting me here to speak today. I’m particularly pleased to be speaking to those from Sociology and those from the English and those from the Media Arts departments, and I hope my talk can walk the line between and among disciplines and methods – or piss everyone off in equal measure. Either way.

    This is the last public talk I’ll deliver in 2016, and I confess I am relieved (I am exhausted!) as well as honored to be here. But when I finish this talk, my work for the year isn’t done. No rest for the wicked – ever, but particularly in the freelance economy.

    As I have done for the past six years, I will spend the rest of November and December publishing my review of what I deem the “Top Ed-Tech Trends” of the year. It’s an intense research project that usually tops out at about 75,000 words, written over the course of four to six weeks. I pick ten trends and themes in order to closely at the recent past, the near-term history of education technology. Because of the amount of information that is published about ed-tech – the amount of information, its irrelevance, its incoherence, its lack of context – it can be quite challenging to keep up with what is really happening in ed-tech. And just as importantly, what is not happening.

    So that’s what I try to do. And I’ll boast right here – no shame in that – no one else does as in-depth or thorough job as me, certainly no one who is entirely independent from venture capital, corporate or institutional backing, or philanthropic funding. (Of course, if you look for those education technology writers who are independent from venture capital, corporate or institutional backing, or philanthropic funding, there is pretty much only me.)

    The stories that I write about the “Top Ed-Tech Trends” are the antithesis of most articles you’ll see about education technology that invoke “top” and “trends.” For me, still framing my work that way – “top trends” – is a purposeful rhetorical move to shed light, to subvert, to offer a sly commentary of sorts on the shallowness of what passes as journalism, criticism, analysis. I’m not interested in making quickly thrown-together lists and bullet points. I’m not interested in publishing clickbait. I am interested nevertheless in the stories – shallow or sweeping – that we tell and spread about technology and education technology, about the future of education technology, about our technological future.

    Let me be clear, I am not a futurist – even though I’m often described as “ed-tech’s Cassandra.” The tagline of my website is “the history of the future of education,” and I’m much more interested in chronicling the predictions that others make, have made about the future of education than I am writing predictions of my own.

    One of my favorites: “Books will soon be obsolete in schools,” Thomas Edison said in 1913. Any day now. Any day now.

    Here are a couple of more recent predictions:

    “In fifty years, there will be only ten institutions in the world delivering higher education and Udacity has a shot at being one of them.” – that’s Sebastian Thrun, best known perhaps for his work at Google on the self-driving car and as a co-founder of the MOOC (massive open online course) startup Udacity. The quotation is from 2012.

    And from 2013, by Harvard Business School professor, author of the book The Innovator’s Dilemma, and popularizer of the phrase “disruptive innovation,” Clayton Christensen: “In fifteen years from now, half of US universities may be in bankruptcy. In the end I’m excited to see that happen. So pray for Harvard Business School if you wouldn’t mind.”

    Pray for Harvard Business School. No. I don’t think so.

    Both of these predictions are fantasy. Nightmarish, yes. But fantasy. Fantasy about a future of education. It’s a powerful story, but not a prediction made based on data or modeling or quantitative research into the growing (or shrinking) higher education sector. Indeed, according to the latest statistics from the Department of Education– now granted, this is from the 2012–2013 academic year – there are 4726 degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the United States. A 46% increase since 1980. There are, according to another source (non-governmental and less reliable, I think), over 25,000 universities in the world. This number is increasing year-over-year as well. So to predict that the vast vast majority of these schools (save Harvard, of course) will go away in the next decade or so or that they’ll be bankrupt or replaced by Silicon Valley’s version of online training is simply wishful thinking – dangerous, wishful thinking from two prominent figures who will benefit greatly if this particular fantasy comes true (and not just because they’ll get to claim that they predicted this future).

    Here’s my “take home” point: if you repeat this fantasy, these predictions often enough, if you repeat it in front of powerful investors, university administrators, politicians, journalists, then the fantasy becomes factualized. (Not factual. Not true. But “truthy,” to borrow from Stephen Colbert’s notion of “truthiness.”) So you repeat the fantasy in order to direct and to control the future. Because this is key: the fantasy then becomes the basis for decision-making.

    Fantasy. Fortune-telling. Or as capitalism prefers to call it “market research.”

    “Market research” involves fantastic stories of future markets. These predictions are often accompanied with a press release touting the size that this or that market will soon grow to – how many billions of dollars schools will spend on computers by 2020, how many billions of dollars of virtual reality gear schools will buy by 2025, how many billions of dollars of schools will spend on robot tutors by 2030, how many billions of dollars will companies spend on online training by 2035, how big will coding bootcamp market will be by 2040, and so on. The markets, according to the press releases, are always growing. Fantasy.

    In 2011, the analyst firm Gartner predicted that annual tablet shipments would exceed 300 million units by 2015. Half of those, the firm said, would be iPads. IDC estimates that the total number of shipments in 2015 was actually around 207 million units. Apple sold just 50 million iPads. That’s not even the best worst Gartner prediction. In October of 2006, Gartner said that Apple’s “best bet for long-term success is to quit the hardware business and license the Mac to Dell.” Less than three months later, Apple introduced the iPhone. The very next day, Apple shares hit $97.80, an all-time high for the company. By 2012 – yes, thanks to its hardware business – Apple’s stock had risen to the point that the company was worth a record-breaking $624 billion.

    But somehow, folks – including many, many in education and education technology – still pay attention to Gartner. They still pay Gartner a lot of money for consulting and forecasting services.

    People find comfort in these predictions, in these fantasies. Why?

    Gartner is perhaps best known for its “Hype Cycle,” a proprietary graphic presentation that claims to show how emerging technologies will be adopted.

    According to Gartner, technologies go through five stages: first, there is a “technology trigger.” As the new technology emerges, a lot of attention is paid to it in the press. Eventually it reaches the second stage: the “peak of inflated expectations.” So many promises have been made about this technological breakthrough. Then, the third stage: the “trough of disillusionment.” Interest wanes. Experiments fail. Promises are broken. As the technology matures, the hype picks up again, more slowly – this is the “slope of enlightenment.” Eventually the new technology becomes mainstream – the “plateau of productivity.”

    It’s not that hard to identify significant problems with the Hype Cycle, least of which being it’s not a cycle. It’s a curve. It’s not a particularly scientific model. It demands that technologies always move forward along it.

    Gartner says its methodology is proprietary – which is code for “hidden from scrutiny.” Gartner says, rather vaguely, that it relies on scenarios and surveys and pattern recognition to place technologies on the line. But most of the time when Gartner uses the word “methodology,” it is trying to signify “science,” and what it really means is “expensive reports you should buy to help you make better business decisions.”

    Can it really help you make better business decisions? It’s just a curve with some technologies plotted along it. The Hype Cycle doesn’t help explain why technologies move from one stage to another. It doesn’t account for technological precursors – new technologies rarely appear out of nowhere – or political or social changes that might prompt or preclude adoption. And at the end it is simply too optimistic, unreasonably so, I’d argue. No matter how dumb or useless a new technology is, according to the Hype Cycle at least, it will eventually become widely adopted. Where would you plot the Segway, for example? (In 2008, ever hopeful, Gartner insisted that “This thing certainly isn’t dead and maybe it will yet blossom.” Maybe it will, Gartner. Maybe it will.)

    And maybe this gets to the heart as to why I’m not a futurist. I don’t share this belief in an increasingly technological future; I don’t believe that more technology means the world gets “more better.” I don’t believe that more technology means that education gets “more better.”

    Every year since 2004, the New Media Consortium, a non-profit organization that advocates for new media and new technologies in education, has issued its own forecasting report, the Horizon Report, naming a handful of technologies that, as the name suggests, it contends are “on the horizon.”

    Unlike Gartner, the New Media Consortium is fairly transparent about how this process works. The organization invites various “experts” to participate in the advisory board that, throughout the course of each year, works on assembling its list of emerging technologies. The process relies on the Delphi method, whittling down a long list of trends and technologies by a process of ranking and voting until six key trends, six emerging technologies remain.

    Disclosure/disclaimer: I am a folklorist by training. The last time I took a class on “methods” was, like, 1998. And admittedly I never learned about the Delphi method – what the New Media Consortium uses for this research project – until I became a scholar of education technology looking into the Horizon Report. As a folklorist, of course, I did catch the reference to the Oracle of Delphi.

    Like so much of computer technology, the roots of the Delphi method are in the military, developed during the Cold War to forecast technological developments that the military might use and that the military might have to respond to. The military wanted better predictive capabilities. But – and here’s the catch – it wanted to identify technology trends without being caught up in theory. It wanted to identify technology trends without developing models. How do you do that? You gather experts. You get those experts to consensus.

    So here is the consensus from the past twelve years of the Horizon Report for higher education. These are the technologies it has identified that are between one and five years from mainstream adoption:

    It’s pretty easy, as with the Gartner Hype Cycle, to look at these predictions and note that they are almost all wrong in some way or another.

    Some are wrong because, say, the timeline is a bit off. The Horizon Report said in 2010 that “open content” was less than a year away from widespread adoption. I think we’re still inching towards that goal – admittedly “open textbooks” have seen a big push at the federal and at some state levels in the last year or so.

    Some of these predictions are just plain wrong. Virtual worlds in 2007, for example.

    And some are wrong because, to borrow a phrase from the theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli, they’re “not even wrong.” Take “collaborative learning,” for example, which this year’s K–12 report posits as a mid-term trend. Like, how would you argue against“collaborative learning” as occurring – now or some day – in classrooms? As a prediction about the future, it is not even wrong.

    But wrong or right – that’s not really the problem. Or rather, it’s not the only problem even if it is the easiest critique to make. I’m not terribly concerned about the accuracy of the predictions about the future of education technology that the Horizon Report has made over the last decade. But I do wonder how these stories influence decision-making across campuses.

    What might these predictions – this history of the future – tell us about the wishful thinking surrounding education technology and about the direction that the people the New Media Consortium views as “experts” want the future to take. What can we learn about the future by looking at the history of our imagining about education’s future. What role does powerful ed-tech storytelling (also known as marketing) play in shaping that future? Because remember: to predict the future is to control it – to attempt to control the story, to attempt to control what comes to pass.

    It’s both convenient and troubling then these forward-looking reports act as though they have no history of their own; they purposefully minimize or erase their own past. Each year – and I think this is what irks me most – the NMC fails to looks back at what it had predicted just the year before. It never revisits older predictions. It never mentions that they even exist. Gartner too removes technologies from the Hype Cycle each year with no explanation for what happened, no explanation as to why trends suddenly appear and disappear and reappear. These reports only look forward, with no history to ground their direction in.

    I understand why these sorts of reports exist, I do. I recognize that they are rhetorically useful to certain people in certain positions making certain claims about “what to do” in the future. You can write in a proposal that, “According to Gartner… blah blah blah.” Or “The Horizon Reports indicates that this is one of the most important trends in coming years, and that is why we need to commit significant resources – money and staff – to this initiative.” But then, let’s be honest, these reports aren’t about forecasting a future. They’re about justifying expenditures.

    “The best way to predict the future is to invent it,” computer scientist Alan Kay once famously said. I’d wager that the easiest way is just to make stuff up and issue a press release. I mean, really. You don’t even need the pretense of a methodology. Nobody is going to remember what you predicted. Nobody is going to remember if your prediction was right or wrong. Nobody – certainly not the technology press, which is often painfully unaware of any history, near-term or long ago – is going to call you to task. This is particularly true if you make your prediction vague – like “within our lifetime” – or set your target date just far enough in the future – “In fifty years, there will be only ten institutions in the world delivering higher education and Udacity has a shot at being one of them.”

    Let’s consider: is there something about the field of computer science in particular – and its ideological underpinnings – that makes it more prone to encourage, embrace, espouse these sorts of predictions? Is there something about Americans’ faith in science and technology, about our belief in technological progress as a signal of socio-economic or political progress, that makes us more susceptible to take these predictions at face value? Is there something about our fears and uncertainties – and not just now, days before this Presidential Election where we are obsessed with polls, refreshing Nate Silver’s website obsessively – that makes us prone to seek comfort, reassurance, certainty from those who can claim that they know what the future will hold?

    “Software is eating the world,” investor Marc Andreessen pronounced in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in 2011. “Over the next 10 years,” he wrote, “I expect many more industries to be disrupted by software, with new world-beating Silicon Valley companies doing the disruption in more cases than not.” Buy stock in technology companies was really the underlying message of Andreessen’s op-ed; this isn’t another tech bubble, he wanted to reinsure investors. But many in Silicon Valley have interpreted this pronouncement – “software is eating the world” – as an affirmation and an inevitability. I hear it repeated all the time – “software is eating the world” – as though, once again, repeating things makes them true or makes them profound.

    If we believe that, indeed, “software is eating the world,” that we are living in a moment of extraordinary technological change, that we must – according to Gartner or the Horizon Report – be ever-vigilant about emerging technologies, that these technologies are contributing to uncertainty, to disruption, then it seems likely that we will demand a change in turn to our educational institutions (to lots of institutions, but let’s just focus on education). This is why this sort of forecasting is so important for us to scrutinize – to do so quantitatively and qualitatively, to look at methods and at theory, to ask who’s telling the story and who’s spreading the story, to listen for counter-narratives.

    This technological change, according to some of the most popular stories, is happening faster than ever before. It is creating an unprecedented explosion in the production of information. New information technologies, so we’re told, must therefore change how we learn – change what we need to know, how we know, how we create and share knowledge. Because of the pace of change and the scale of change and the locus of change (that is, “Silicon Valley” not “The Ivory Tower”) – again, so we’re told – our institutions, our public institutions can no longer keep up. These institutions will soon be outmoded, irrelevant. Again – “In fifty years, there will be only ten institutions in the world delivering higher education and Udacity has a shot at being one of them.”

    These forecasting reports, these predictions about the future make themselves necessary through this powerful refrain, insisting that technological change is creating so much uncertainty that decision-makers need to be ever vigilant, ever attentive to new products.

    As Neil Postman and others have cautioned us, technologies tend to become mythic – unassailable, God-given, natural, irrefutable, absolute. So it is predicted. So it is written. Techno-scripture, to which we hand over a certain level of control – to the technologies themselves, sure, but just as importantly to the industries and the ideologies behind them. Take, for example, the founding editor of the technology trade magazine Wired, Kevin Kelly. His 2010 book was called What Technology Wants, as though technology is a living being with desires and drives; the title of his 2016 book, The Inevitable. We humans, in this framework, have no choice. The future – a certain flavor of technological future – is pre-ordained. Inevitable.

    I’ll repeat: I am not a futurist. I don’t make predictions. But I can look at the past and at the present in order to dissect stories about the future.

    So is the pace of technological change accelerating? Is society adopting technologies faster than it’s ever done before? Perhaps it feels like it. It certainly makes for a good headline, a good stump speech, a good keynote, a good marketing claim, a good myth. But the claim starts to fall apart under scrutiny.

    This graph comes from an article in the online publication Vox that includes a couple of those darling made-to-go-viral videos of young children using “old” technologies like rotary phones and portable cassette players – highly clickable, highly sharable stuff. The visual argument in the graph: the number of years it takes for one quarter of the US population to adopt a new technology has been shrinking with each new innovation.

    But the data is flawed. Some of the dates given for these inventions are questionable at best, if not outright inaccurate. If nothing else, it’s not so easy to pinpoint the exact moment, the exact year when a new technology came into being. There often are competing claims as to who invented a technology and when, for example, and there are early prototypes that may or may not “count.” James Clerk Maxwell did publish A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism in 1873. Alexander Graham Bell made his famous telephone call to his assistant in 1876. Guglielmo Marconi did file his patent for radio in 1897. John Logie Baird demonstrated a working television system in 1926. The MITS Altair 8800, an early personal computer that came as a kit you had to assemble, was released in 1975. But Martin Cooper, a Motorola exec, made the first mobile telephone call in 1973, not 1983. And the Internet? The first ARPANET link was established between UCLA and the Stanford Research Institute in 1969. The Internet was not invented in 1991.

    So we can reorganize the bar graph. But it’s still got problems.

    The Internet did become more privatized, more commercialized around that date – 1991 – and thanks to companies like AOL, a version of it became more accessible to more people. But if you’re looking at when technologies became accessible to people, you can’t use 1873 as your date for electricity, you can’t use 1876 as your year for the telephone, and you can’t use 1926 as your year for the television. It took years for the infrastructure of electricity and telephony to be built, for access to become widespread; and subsequent technologies, let’s remember, have simply piggy-backed on these existing networks. Our Internet service providers today are likely telephone and TV companies; our houses are already wired for new WiFi-enabled products and predictions.

    Economic historians who are interested in these sorts of comparisons of technologies and their effects typically set the threshold at 50% – that is, how long does it take after a technology is commercialized (not simply “invented”) for half the population to adopt it. This way, you’re not only looking at the economic behaviors of the wealthy, the early-adopters, the city-dwellers, and so on (but to be clear, you are still looking at a particular demographic – the privileged half.)

    And that changes the graph again:

    How many years do you think it’ll be before half of US households have a smart watch? A drone? A 3D printer? Virtual reality goggles? A self-driving car? Will they? Will it be fewer years than 9? I mean, it would have to be if, indeed, “technology” is speeding up and we are adopting new technologies faster than ever before.

    Some of us might adopt technology products quickly, to be sure. Some of us might eagerly buy every new Apple gadget that’s released. But we can’t claim that the pace of technological change is speeding up just because we personally go out and buy a new iPhone every time Apple tells us the old model is obsolete. Removing the headphone jack from the latest iPhone does not mean “technology changing faster than ever,” nor does showing how headphones have changed since the 1970s. None of this is really a reflection of the pace of change; it’s a reflection of our disposable income and a ideology of obsolescence.

    Some economic historians like Robert J. Gordon actually contend that we’re not in a period of great technological innovation at all; instead, we find ourselves in a period of technological stagnation. The changes brought about by the development of information technologies in the last 40 years or so pale in comparison, Gordon argues (and this is from his recent book The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The US Standard of Living Since the Civil War), to those “great inventions” that powered massive economic growth and tremendous social change in the period from 1870 to 1970 – namely electricity, sanitation, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the internal combustion engine, and mass communication. But that doesn’t jibe with “software is eating the world,” does it?

    Let’s return briefly to those Horizon Report predictions again. They certainly reflect this belief that technology must be speeding up. Every year, there’s something new. There has to be. That’s the purpose of the report. The horizon is always “out there,” off in the distance.

    But if you squint, you can see each year’s report also reflects a decided lack of technological change. Every year, something is repeated – perhaps rephrased. And look at the predictions about mobile computing:

    • 2006 – the phones in their pockets
    • 2007 – the phones in their pockets
    • 2008 – oh crap, we don’t have enough bandwidth for the phones in their pockets
    • 2009 – the phones in their pockets
    • 2010 – the phones in their pockets
    • 2011 – the phones in their pockets
    • 2012 – the phones too big for their pockets
    • 2013 – the apps on the phones too big for their pockets
    • 2015 – the phones in their pockets
    • 2016 – the phones in their pockets

    This hardly makes the case for technological speeding up, for technology changing faster than it’s ever changed before. But that’s the story that people tell nevertheless. Why?

    I pay attention to this story, as someone who studies education and education technology, because I think these sorts of predictions, these assessments about the present and the future, frequently serve to define, disrupt, destabilize our institutions. This is particularly pertinent to our schools which are already caught between a boundedness to the past – replicating scholarship, cultural capital, for example – and the demands they bend to the future – preparing students for civic, economic, social relations yet to be determined.

    But I also pay attention to these sorts of stories because there’s that part of me that is horrified at the stuff – predictions – that people pass off as true or as inevitable.

    “65% of today’s students will be employed in jobs that don’t exist yet.” I hear this statistic cited all the time. And it’s important, rhetorically, that it’s a statistic – that gives the appearance of being scientific. Why 65%? Why not 72% or 53%? How could we even know such a thing? Some people cite this as a figure from the Department of Labor. It is not. I can’t find its origin – but it must be true: a futurist said it in a keynote, and the video was posted to the Internet.

    The statistic is particularly amusing when quoted alongside one of the many predictions we’ve been inundated with lately about the coming automation of work. In 2014, The Economist asserted that “nearly half of American jobs could be automated in a decade or two.”“Before the end of this century,” Wired Magazine’s Kevin Kelly announced earlier this year, “70 percent of today’s occupations will be replaced by automation.”

    Therefore the task for schools – and I hope you can start to see where these different predictions start to converge – is to prepare students for a highly technological future, a future that has been almost entirely severed from the systems and processes and practices and institutions of the past. And if schools cannot conform to this particular future, then “In fifty years, there will be only ten institutions in the world delivering higher education and Udacity has a shot at being one of them.”

    Now, I don’t believe that there’s anything inevitable about the future. I don’t believe that Moore’s Law – that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every two years and therefore computers are always exponentially smaller and faster – is actually a law. I don’t believe that robots will take, let alone need take, all our jobs. I don’t believe that YouTube has been rendered school irrevocably out-of-date. I don’t believe that technologies are changing so quickly that we should hand over our institutions to entrepreneurs, privatize our public sphere for techno-plutocrats.

    I don’t believe that we should cheer Elon Musk’s plans to abandon this planet and colonize Mars – he’s predicted he’ll do so by 2026. I believe we stay and we fight. I believe we need to recognize this as an ego-driven escapist evangelism.

    I believe we need to recognize that predicting the future is a form of evangelism as well. Sure gets couched in terms of science, it is underwritten by global capitalism. But it’s a story – a story that then takes on these mythic proportions, insisting that it is unassailable, unverifiable, but true.

    The best way to invent the future is to issue a press release. The best way to resist this future is to recognize that, once you poke at the methodology and the ideology that underpins it, a press release is all that it is.

    Image credits: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28. And a special thanks to Tressie McMillan Cottom and David Golumbia for organizing this talk. And to Mike Caulfield for always helping me hash out these ideas.


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  • 11/04/16--05:01: Hack Education Weekly News
  • Presidential Campaign Politics


    Welp. It’s almost over.

    Via NPR: “What Trump And Clinton Have To Say About Education.”

    This seems dumb but you know, it makes for a headline: “ Higher ed split 50–50 on Clinton vs. Trump,” according to Education Dive.

    Blah Blah Blah. [Peter Thiel](Tech Billionaire Backing Trump Suggests Silicon Valley Is Out of Touch). Blah Blah Blah.

    Via The NYT: “Making Sense of the Two Candidates’ Plans on Student Debt.”

    Education Politics


    Via the Roll Call: “Democrats Eye Debt-Free College Push in Next Congress.”

    From the press release: “The U.S. Department of Education today launched the EdSim Challenge, a $680,000 competition to design the next-generation of educational simulations that strengthen career and technical skills. The Challenge calls upon the virtual reality, video game developer, and educational technology communities to submit concepts for immersive simulations that will prepare students for the globally competitive workforce of the 21st century.”

    Via The Recorder: “Four cities including Boston could face downgrades in their bond ratings if state voters approve an expansion of charter schools, a major credit rating agency suggested this week.” Moody’s says passing the measure would be a “credit negative.”

    Education in the Courts


    Via SCOTUSblog: “The most famous goldendoodle in America was outside the Supreme Court today, accompanied by some of his service dog friends. A Michigan school district's refusal to allow Wonder, a trained service dog, to go to school with E.F., a student who was born with cerebral palsy and whose mobility is impaired, was the catalyst for the first oral argument of the day, in Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools.” More on the case from David Perry.

    Via The Guardian: “Parliament alone has the power to trigger Brexit by notifying Brussels of the UK’s intention to leave the European Union, the high court has ruled. The judgment, delivered by the lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, is likely to slow the pace of Britain's departure from the EU and is a huge setback for Theresa May, who had insisted the government alone would decide when to trigger the process.”

    Via The Wall Street Journal: “A bankruptcy judge on Wednesday temporarily barred regulators from continuing litigation against ITT Educational Services Inc., questioning whether there is any point in calling the defunct school operator to account for alleged fraud.”

    A follow-up to something in last week’s news. From the Foundation for Individual’s Rights in Education: “In a decision issued last week in Keefe v. Adams, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit rejected a nursing student’s claim that his free speech and due process rights were violated when his school punished him for his off-campus Facebook posts. The decision strikes a blow to the rights of students in professional-level programs.”

    There’s more on court cases in the accreditation and the sports sections below.

    Testing, Testing…


    Via EdSource: “Testing company fined in California for second year.” The testing company in question: ETS.

    Online Education (The Once and Future “MOOC”)


    Coursera’s new monthly subscriptions could monetize procrastination,” says Techcrunch. In other words, MOOCs are now gym memberships. You pay because you feel guilty about not being fit.

    Babson Collegehas joinededX.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The Georgia Institute of Technology is expanding its model of low-cost online computer science education to undergraduates. The institute on Tuesday said it has partnered with massive open online course provider edX and McGraw-Hill Education to offer a fully online introductory coding course. Initially, the course will be available to anyone as a MOOC with an optional $99 identity-verified certificate. After piloting the course next spring among its own students, Georgia Tech intends to offer another incentive for completion: college credit.”

    Via Edsurge: “Why Udacity and EdX Want to Trademark the Degrees of the Future – and What’s at Stake for Students.”

    Via Techcrunch: “IBM Watson and Udacity want developers to learn AI online.”

    Education Week has published a series of articles on virtual schools: “Cyber Charters vs. ‘Multi-District Online Schools’.” “Problems With For-Profit Management of Pa. Cybers.” “Outsized Influence: Online Charters Bring Lobbying ‘A’ Game to States.” “A Virtual Mess: Inside Colorado’s Largest Online Charter School.”

    Coding Bootcamps (The Once and Future “For-Profit Higher Ed”)


    “Investors are getting jittery about whether the U.S. Department of Education will approve the proposed sale of the Apollo Education Group, owner of the University of Phoenix, to a group of three private equity firms,” Inside Higher Ed reports.

    Via eCampusNews: “Trilogy Education Services partners with University of California, Berkeley Extension to launch coding boot camp.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed via Wikileaks: “A former adviser to Bill Clinton co-founded a corporate consulting firm that did communications work for Education Management Corporation, a for-profit college chain, as well as a company that does student-loan default-prevention.”

    Heritage College, a for-profit chain with ten campuses around the US, is shutting down, effective immediately.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “A private Indian university system planning to expand into the U.S. recently purchased a 170-acre, 11-building campus on Long Island but has canceled plans to acquire two campuses of the for-profit Art Institutes, one in Boston and one in New York City, after the deal came under scrutiny from state regulators in Massachusetts.”

    More on the ongoing legal action against ITT in the for-profit higher ed section above.

    Meanwhile on Campus


    Racism. The problem Crash failed to solve. More from John Oliver.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Delta State University, which has been the last public university in Mississippi to fly the state flag, announced Thursday that it would stop doing so.”

    “To Prevent Sexual Assault, Do Colleges Target Serial Offenders?” asks The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Via IHE: “Trustees at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne have voted to close the institution’s law school at the end of June 2017.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: CUNY’s Hunter College Violated Title IX, Education Dept. Says

    The University of New Mexico has come under fire for spending some $7000 on an (unsuccessful) expedition in search of Bigfoot.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “U. of Oregon Censures Professor Who Attended Halloween Party in Blackface.”

    Accreditation and Certification


    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has asked an appeals court to throw out a lower court’s ruling that the federal agency lacks the authority to investigate accreditors’ oversight of for-profit colleges.”

    My partner Kin Lane has been tracking on the ways in which tech companies are using certification to promote fields that might not quite be “a thing” yet.

    There’s a story on “micromaster’s” in the Betteridge’s Law of Headlines section below, as well as one in the MOOC section above.

    Go, School Sports Team!


    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Bringing to an end a five-year investigation into sex offenses involving a former assistant football coach, the U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday that it will fine Pennsylvania State University nearly $2.4 million for failing to comply with federal crime disclosure laws.”

    Via The Harvard Crimson: “Harvard has cancelled the men's soccer team's season after an Office of General Counsel review found that the team continued to produce vulgar and explicit documents rating women on their perceived sexual appeal and physical appearance.”

    Via The New York Times: “How the University of Alabama Became a National Player.”

    From the HR Department


    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Yale Graduate Students’ ‘Microunit’ Unionization Strategy Could Have Nationwide Implications.”

    This Week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines


    Via eCampus News: “Is higher ed finding its ideal in micro-master’s?”

    Upgrades and Downgrades


    “Meet Dot, the new children’s show character inspiring girls to embrace tech,” Mashable coos. Dot is the product of Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Mark, so I’m sure this idea was forwarded on merit on not on nepotism.

    Via Edsurge: “The Case for Learning Engineers in Education.” Hahahahahaha. No. What bullshit. But if you read Edsurge seriously and not ironically, then perhaps you think this is genius.

    Minecraft: Education Edition officially launches,” and Techcrunch has all the press release-ness, as do all the education technology outlets, but I’ll link Techcrunch because at least they’re honest in how they are beholden to this reporting regime.

    Via Campus Technology: “Top 10 Education Technologies that Will Be Dead and Gone in the Next Decade.” I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that the prediction that print will be “dead and gone” in ten years time is inaccurate.

    “Is Your School Toyota or General Motors?” asks Edsurge.

    Via eCampus News: “How chatbots will change the face of campus technology.”

    VR’s Higher-Ed Adoption Starts With Student Creation,” insists Edsurge.

    Via e-Literate: “Instructure’s Current Market Position.”

    Funding and Acquisitions (The Business of Ed-Tech)

    Knowbox has raised $15million from Genesis Capital. The mobile app developer has raised $25.76 million total.

    Pi-top has raised $4.3 million from Hambro Perks and Committed Capital. The learn-to-code company has raised $4.34 million total.

    CollegeVine has raised $3.1 million from Morningside Technology Ventures and University Ventures. The company, formerly known as Admissions Hero, connects high school students to college mentors.

    Triseum, a Bryan, Texas-based developer of learning games, has closed an additional $2 million in funding led by existing private investors, enabling the company to further build out its products, operations and team. The company did not name the investors.” – all that is from EdWeek’s Market Brief.

    Mightifier has raised $250,000 in seed funding from xEdu and Courage Ventures Seed 1 for an app that develops “social emotional skills.”

    Shark Tank contestant Brightwheel has acquired MyChild. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    “The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is just getting started giving away money – this week the organization awarded $2.25 million to Californians Dedicated to Education Foundation to support professional development,” Edsurge reports. The organization is working with Declara to create a social network for PD. (Declara is funded, in part, by Peter Thiel. (WHAT A SMALL WORLD THAT NO ONE AT EDSURGE COMMENTS UPON)

    Data, Privacy, and Surveillance


    Via The Guardian: “ Virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Echo break US child privacy law, experts say.”

    Via NPR: “How One University Used Big Data To Boost Graduation Rates.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The FBI and the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York on Wednesday announced the arrest of a Phoenix-based man who attempted to gain access to more than 2,000 university email accounts at more than 75 colleges and universities.”

    Data and “Research”


    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Students are more likely to drop out of college if they lose even small amounts of financial aid – regardless of their grade point average – according to a study from the Education Advisory Board, a research and consulting firm based in Washington.”

    Via Education Week: “Tracing Personalized Learning Research Back to the 1970s.”

    Via Educause by way of the Center for Digital Education: “Top 10 Higher Ed IT Issues of 2017.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “STEM Jobs and the ‘Ideal Worker’ Woman.”

    Via The New York Times: “For Schoolchildren, Weights Rise Along With Summer Temperatures.”

    A response to the NMC report on digital literacies from Lee Skallerup Baines and Autumm Caines.

    “Silicon Valley gender gap is widening,” says The USA Today.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “An analysis released today by the Humanities Indicators Project shows how different job patterns are for those with humanities Ph.D.s (where academic work remains the norm) compared to other fields, which except for the arts send the vast majority of Ph.D.s to jobs outside higher education. Not surprisingly given some of the fields that employ nonhumanities Ph.D.s, people with humanities Ph.D.s earn less than Ph.D. recipients in other fields. The new analysis also shows substantial gender gaps in the pay of Ph.D.s across disciplines.”

    Via Campus Technology: “Tablet Market Slumps in Third Quarter 2016, Though it’s Better Than Q2.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The first audits of the employment data that law schools report about their recent graduates have generated concern among watchdogs, with a series of reviews finding several deficiencies that raise questions about the class of 2015’s reported outcomes.”

    Via Quartz: “A new study shows how Star Trek jokes and geek culture make women feel unwelcome in computer science.”

    Via NPR: “300 Million Children Are Breathing ’Extremely Toxic’ Air, UNICEF Says.”

    Icon credits: The Noun Project


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  • 11/10/16--23:01: Hack Education Weekly News
  • Presidential Politics


    President-Elect Donald J. Trump.

    The President-Elect on the First Amendment:


    Trump’s education platformpromises to “make post-secondary options more affordable and accessible through technology enriched delivery models.” “Make MOOCs great again.”

    Trump has threatened to close the Department of Education. Is that possible? It seems likely that the Trump Administration would target the Office for Civil Rights and challenge Title IX enforcement. Inside Higher Ed has more on the latter.

    ESSA Would Handcuff a Trump Education Secretary on Common Core And More,” says Education Week, even though ditching Common Core was one of Trump’s campaign promises. More on the future of Common Core from NPR. Via The 74: “Trump’s Education Paradox: Return Schools to Local Control– By Expanding Federal Power?” Via The Atlantic: “Donald Trump and the Future of Education.”

    Shares in for-profit higher education companies were up on news of Trump’s election. “Regulatory Relief Under Trump Could Favor Both For-Profit and Traditional Colleges,” says The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    “What does Trump’s victory mean for higher education?” asks Bryan Alexander. “Higher Education Policy Under Trumpby Sara Goldrick-Rab. “Trump Victory Jolts Higher Ed,” says IHE. (And yes, I’m watching who is celebrating this victory and/or minimizing the potential devastation. ACE. AEI. Brookings. Looking at you.) Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “AAUP Warns of Historic Threat to Academic Freedom Posed by Trump.”

    Via The San Diego Union Tribune: “Trump University trial goes on despite presidential win.”

    And despite all the promises to “drain the swamp,” it appears as though Trump is planning to fill cabinet seats and advisory roles with lobbyists and industry insiders. Via Politico: “Meet Trump’s Cabinet-in-waiting.” Via The New York Times: “Peter Thiel’s Bet on Donald Trump Pays Off.” Emphasis on “pays.” Via AFR: “Peter Thiel’s company Palantir Defense could win contracts under Donald Trump.”

    Speaking of Peter Thiel, “Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook fake news didn’t sway election,” USA Today reports from the Techonomy conference.

    The fallout of the election and Trump’s sanctioning of hate: Via The NYT: “Campuses Confront Hostile Acts Against Minorities After Donald Trump’s Election.” Via The Hechinger Report: “Schoolchildren ‘have a lot of questions and a lot of fear’ in aftermath of Trump victory.” Via Chalkbeat: “‘Will I be deported?’ Inside America’s classrooms in the wake of Trump’s win.”

    Via NPR: “Here’s What Students Are Saying About The Election Results.” Via EdSource: “Undocumented students react with fear and anger to election results.” Students staged walk outs and protests at schools all over the country: Seattle, Santa Barbara, Eugene, Boston, Los Angeles, and elsewhere.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “How Voters’ Education Levels Factored Into Trump’s Win.”

    Education aside: “If he fulfills his campaign promises, President-Elect Donald J. Trump and his future administration could prove cataclysmic for the planet’s climate,” says The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer.

    Education Politics


    “What Went Down in Massachusetts” – Edushyster on the failure of Question 2, which would have lifted the state’s cap on charter schools.

    Via Education Week: “California Voters Repeal Ban on Bilingual Education.”

    Georgia voters defeated a measure that would have put the state’s worst performing schools under state, not local, control.

    Via News on 6: “Oklahomans Deny Sales Tax To Fund Education.”

    Via Chalkbeat: “Jeffco voters rejecting tax measures to support schools and teacher pay.” (That’s Jefferson County, Colorado.)

    Here’s a list of election outcomes pertaining to library-related measures, thanks to EveryLibrary.org.

    Inside Higher Ed looks at various higher ed-related contests.

    Via EdSource: “California leaders join GOP critics of draft federal school funding rules.” On the other side of the issue: “Civil rights group makes legal case for controversial Education Dept. regulation,” reports The Washington Post.

    Via The Chicago Sun Times: “Standard & Poor’s drops Chicago Public Schools’ credit rating.”

    Via Education Week: “Education Department Awards $103 Million in Investing in Innovation Projects.”

    Education in the Courts


    Via Education International: “Uganda’s High Court has ordered the immediate closure of more than 60 Bridge International Academies found operating in contravention of the law, a decision that backs the Ministry of Education’s clampdown on the global edu-business.”

    Via NPR: “Jury Finds ‘Rolling Stone,’ Reporter Liable Over Rape Allegation Story.” Former UVA Associate Dean Nicole Eramo has been awarded $3 million in damages.

    More on the Trump University court case in the presidential politics section above.

    Testing, Testing…


    Via Inside Higher Ed: “ACT is closing all of its 32 existing test centers in South Korea for the remainder of the academic year and shifting all testing in the country to a single site to be monitored directly by ACT staff from the U.S. in response to what the nonprofit college entrance test provider described as ‘repeated test material breaches’ in the country.”

    Coding Bootcamps (The Once and Future “For-Profit Higher Ed”)

    Politico looks at some of the data for-profit universities are disclosing about how they might fare under the “gainful employment” rules.

    “U.S. Education Secretary John King Jr. last week affirmed an administrative judge’s March ruling that relieved now-defunct Decker College of a $31.6 million repayment the Education Department demanded the for-profit institution make in 2005,” reports Inside Higher Ed.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Dubious Claim in WSJ Editorial About Laureate.” That WSJ piece suggests that Laureate Education has been spared the scrutiny other for-profit companies have faced under the Obama Administration because of the company’s ties to Bill Clinton.

    Meanwhile on Campus


    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Her Students Asked About Police Shootings. So She Created a Guide for Them.” That’s Tricia Matthew, who also has a new book out, Written/Unwritten: Diversity and the Hidden Truths of Tenure.

    Yale is rich as hell, and The New York Times is on it: “The Money Management Gospel of Yale’s Endowment Guru.”

    Via NPR: “Out Of Options, This School Got Uber To Pick Up Its Students.”

    More in the presidential politics section above about racist and sexist attacks on students following the election of Trump.

    Accreditation and Certification


    Open Badges, BlockCerts, and high-stakes credentialing” by Doug Belshaw.

    Go, School Sports Team!


    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The University of Wisconsin at Madison on Wednesday announced that it was banning fans from bringing nooses and ropes to its football stadium.”

    This Week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines


    Via Education Dive: “ Is Snapchat the future of the virtual college tour?”

    Via Edsurge: “Making Video Games for Higher Ed Requires Major Investment. Is It Worth It?”

    (Reminder: according to Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”)

    Upgrades and Downgrades


    Inside Higher Ed profiles homework help company Course Hero. “Websites that offer students online study guides and tutoring services grow, but faculty members find they raise copyright and academic integrity issues – as case at U Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shows.” (The company has raised over $17 million in venture funding from investors including GSV.)

    Inside Higher Ed also profilesThe Affordable College Public Benefit Corporation, “a network, marketplace and app that helps students transfer from community colleges with more credits to the university that fits their career and degree goals.” (According to Crunchbase, at least, it has raised $18,000 in funding.)

    “The Failure of the iPad Classroom” by David Sax.

    Via EdWeek’s Market Brief: “Officials at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, one of the largest K–12 content providers, admitted on Nov. 3 that the company had lost 3 to 4 percent market share in the domestic education market, largely because of a failure to create new reading programs for California’s latest English/language arts adoption.”

    From the press release: “Jisc Collections and Elsevier Sign Landmark UK Agreement, Securing Access to Research Publications and Initiating Open Science Collaboration.”

    Facebook’s ‘Free’ Internet Will Harm Low-Income Consumers,” says Wired.

    Funding and Acquisitions (The Business of Ed-Tech)


    Via Edsurge: “New Markets Venture Partners Adds $30 Million, Former Gates Foundation Executive to Edtech Fund.” Some of New Markets Venture Partner’s investments include BetterLesson, Credly, Civitas Learning, and Mashable.

    Smartstudy has raised $29.54 million from Golden Brick Capital, Haitong International Securities Group, and Nanfang Asset Management. The Chinese online learning company has raised $40.14 million total.

    Indonesian online education company HarukaEdu has raised $2.2 million from Pearson Affordable Learning Fund (PALF), Samator Education, and CyberAgent Ventures.

    The Jefferson Education Accelerator has invested $2 million in Formative, “a tool that lets teachers create, distribute and give feedback on assignments and exercises,” according to Edsurge.

    Data, Privacy, and Surveillance


    “Popular Discussion Platform Piazza Getting Pushback For Selling Student Data,” says Mindwire Consulting’s Phil Hill.

    Via EdWeek’s Market Brief: “Calif. Attorney General Cautions Ed-Tech Companies on Data Privacy.”

    Facebook Says it Will Stop Allowing Some Advertisers to Exclude Users by Race,” says ProPublica.

    Via The Guardian: “The government’s controversial Prevent counter-radicalisation strategy is to be toughened rather than scaled back despite criticism that it is a toxic brand and a ‘big brother’ security operation among Britain’s Muslim communities.” This includes the surveillance of students.


    Data and “Research”


    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The U.S. Office of Management and Budget is considering revisions to its standards for collection of federal data on race and ethnicity– the first change those standards would see since 1997.”

    Mindwire Consulting’s Phil Hill has data on what LMS is used by large online programs.

    Via Tony Bates: “A survey of distance education in Brazil.”

    Social media causes some users to rethink their views on an issue,” says Pew Research Center. Either way, I plan to be up in my friends’ grill on Facebook every time they share fake news on the site.

    Via Times Higher Education: “Students on courses that combine online delivery with face-to-face interaction are the least satisfied in Times Higher Education’s US student survey.” Bravo, blended learning.

    Edsurge is very interested in “what works” in ed-tech this week: Story 1: “Which Edtech Companies Are Producing the Best Research-Based Products?” Story 2: “What Data Will Show That Edtech ‘Works’?” (Note the ideological underpinnings here: “what works” is a product – it’s always a product – that has some of demonstrable impact through data, typically as a signal of “achievement.”)

    Via NPR: “Middle School Suicides Reach An All-Time High.” Heckuva job, America. Heckuva job.

    Icon credits: The Noun Project


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    How do we understand Trump and ed-tech? How do we help students understand? How do we help all of us understand and respond?

    Back in June, The Chronicle of Higher Education published a mock syllabus for “Trump 101” – “this course will explore the phenomenon that is Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.” The syllabus, which tried to position itself in a long line of crowdsourced syllabi– relevant and radical, generated to help students understand recent events – failed to include the work of scholars of color. Utterly failed.

    There have been several responses and rewrites, most notably Trump Syllabus 2.0, written by N. D. B. Connolly and Keisha N. Blain. It's an important document. Work your way through all of it.

    This is my addition of a week (or more) of reading, if you will, to that syllabus. It’s a week (or so) focused on understanding Trumpism and/with education technology (and technology more broadly). (There’s still a lot that could be added about education specifically, I think.)

    This is a very rough draft.

    Before listing the readings, I want to go through the assignments– one of those other core elements of a syllabus. In other words, these are the tasks I’d like to see those working in education and education technology undertake:


    Assignments:

    • What data are you gathering on students and teachers?
    • If this data puts students at risk – of profiling, of deportation – can and will you delete this data before January 20?
    • What data is being shared with third party vendors? Why? Who do they share data with? Why? At what point might the risks of data sharing outweigh the benefits? What are your plans to protect students’ data once that happens?
    • Do you know who the investors are of the third party vendors your school utilizes -- those sanctioned and unsanctioned by administration? (Do you know, for example, that Clever and Knewton are funded by Peter Thiel?)
    • What sorts of profiles are being built about students based on the data that’s being gathered -- thanks to policy and thanks to promises of "ed-tech innovation"? How is this data being used? How might this be used?
    • Do students know what data is being gathered about them? Do they have any say in that?
    • How are you helping students understand the role of technology in surveillance, in propaganda, not simply in homework or testing?

    Support independent ed-tech journalism.

    Readings:

    • Edwin Black, IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation
    • Simone Browne, Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness
    • Jesse Daniels, Cyber Racism: White Supremacy Online and the New Attack on Civil Rights
    • David Golumbia, The Politics of Bitcoin: Software as Right-Wing Extremism
    • Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality
    • Stuart Leslie, The Cold War and American Science: The Military-Industrial-Academic Complex at MIT and Stanford
    • Tressie McMillan Cottom, Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy
    • Evgeny Morozov, The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom
    • David Noble, Digital Diploma Mills
    • Cathy O’Neil, Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy
    • Seymour Papert, The Children's Machine
    • Neil Postman. Amusing Ourselves to Death
    • Astra Taylor, The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age
    • Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry)

    (For fiction: see this list of education technology and SF novels and movies.)

    This is a work in progress. Obviously. And I hate publishing stuff that isn’t polished. But here we are.

    This document is available for editing via GitHub. Please suggest readings or tasks. (Yes, I know Google Docs might be easier for some. But I’m disinclined to make a publicly editable doc on Google for many many reasons. If you do not know how to make a pull request on GitHub, you can also leave a comment by filing an issue. Or you can email me or DM me with your addition/deletion/feedback.)


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  • 11/17/16--23:01: Hack Education Weekly News
  • President-Elect Trump


    It’s all so awful.

    Trump and Chief Strategist Pick Bannon Disagreed on Foreign Student Policy,” says Inside Higher Ed. That is, Trump thought foreign students who graduate from “top” universities should get to stay in the US. White nationalist Bannon disagreed.

    Via Chalkbeat: “Eva Moskowitz: I will work with Trump, but not as U.S. education secretary.” Moskowitz, a Democrat, is the head of the charter school chain Success Academy.

    Via Education Week: “Weighing the Odds: Eva Moskowitz or Michelle Rhee as Trump Ed. Secretary?” I’m a little surprised that either of these women – both Democrats, both Common Core supporters, if nothing else – would be under serious consideration. I thought that Trump planned on returning control of K–12 to states, and as such, I’d assumed he’d pick a higher ed-oriented secretary. But who friggin’ knows. Other names being thrown about: Betsy DeVos. Scott Walker. Ted Nugent.

    “The Education Platform I wrote for Mr. Trump” by Roger Schank.

    Via The Seattle Times: “Fast-food fan Trump could remake healthy school lunches.”

    Education Technology Under Trump: A Syllabus.”

    “How will the presidential election results influence education technology in schools?” asks The Hechinger Report.

    Some in ed-tech seem quite excited:


    Deregulation of for-profits is “likely,” Inside Higher Ed reports.

    I’ve been urging people to watch the private student loan market for a while now. And now this. Via Bloomberg: “Under Trump, Student Lenders Get a Chance to Cut Loose.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Higher Ed Innovation in a Trump Era.” We’re going to have the best innovation, I’m sure.

    Via Buzzfeed: “Palantir Has Well-Placed Friends In Trumpworld.” Palantir is the data analytics company co-founded by Peter Thiel and funded in part by the CIA. “Peter Thiel’s Investment Portfolio Has A Lot of Government Ties,” says Dan Primack.

    Another tech company ready and willing to support Trump: IBM. If you know the history of this company, it’s a rather frightening gesture.

    Journalist Susie Cagle has calculated where some major tech firms and tech investors sent their political donations.

    Via KPCC: “LAUSD board: If Trump administration asks for student data, district will resist.”

    Via Chalkbeat: “Flooded with questions after Trump win, Denver Public Schools produces immigration fact sheet.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Cal State Says It Will Not Help Deport Students.” Many schools are looking at how they will become part of the “sanctuary” movement, ostensibly protecting undocumented students.

    Via The Los Angeles Times: “Rep. Judy Chu asks President Obama to protect the information of ‘Dreamers’ before Trump takes office.”

    Via Reuters: “Immigration hardliner says Trump team preparing plans for wall, mulling Muslim registry.”

    Lots and lots and lots of racist, anti-Semitic, white nationalist messages in schools across the country. A sample: UCLA. Silverton High School. Iowa State. North Park University. Archer City ISD. Middlebury College. Penn. Some 400 incidents, according to the SPLC. Some threats are from teachers themselves. Also, via NJ.com: “Rutgers prof given psych evaluation after anti-Trump tweets.” And via the Monterey Herald: “A history teacher at Mountain View High School has been placed on paid leave after drawing parallels between Republican President-elect Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler in his lesson plan.”

    Via Buzzfeed: “ There Was A Trump Protest On This Kids Game And People Are Shook.” Club Penguin!

    Who’s to blame? Education, of course.

    Alternate “who’s to blame” – people who make predictions.

    All Trump University-related stories are in the courts section below.

    Education Politics


    Via CBS Baltimore: “Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent S. Dallas Dance is facing backlash after retweeting a controversial message on election night.” The controversial message: love all students, regardless of their race or religious background.

    Among the recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom: Bill and Melinda Gates, Grace Hopper, Eduardo Padrón, and Margaret Hamilton. I am having a hard time imagining who President Trump will select for this honor. Oh, who am I kidding – I can imagine. I can imagine.

    Via Politico: “The Education Department estimates that in fiscal year 2016 it incorrectly calculated more than $2.2 billion in Pell grants– an error rate of 7.85 percent that is up considerably from last year’s 1.88 percent. Most of the improper payments for Pell grants – slightly more than $2 billion – were the result of overpayments, while nearly $200 million reflected underpayments, according to the department’s annual financial report released this week.”

    Via Reuters: “Congress could undo Obama-era student loan relief.” (Something else to keep an eye on: restricting loans to students based on grade, major, other data that’s been collected about them.)

    Via The Texas Tribune: “Texas State Board of Education rejects Mexican-American studies textbook.” The book was racist.

    E.D. Hirsch Jr. is disappointed in Common Core.

    Education in the Courts


    Although there had been some talk of trying to postpone the Trump University trial until after the inauguration – when he claimed he wouldn’t be so busy – or to run the thing without Trump, it looks like there won’t be a trial concerning fraud allegations after all. According to The New York Times, “Donald Trump Agrees to Pay $25 Million in Trump University Settlement.” There’s no admission on the part of the President-Elect of any wrongdoing. But the New York State Attorney General certainly saw otherwise, as is clear in his statement:

    In 2013, my office sued Donald Trump for swindling thousands of innocent Americans out of ​millions of dollars through a scheme known as Trump University. Donald Trump fought us every step of the way, filing baseless charges and fruitless appeal​s​ and refusing to settle for even modest amounts of compensation for the victims of his phony university.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Jurors Deadlock in Case of Shooting by U. of Cincinnati Police Officer.”

    Online Education (The Once and Future “MOOC”)


    Via The New York Times: “Udacity, an Online Learning Start-Up, Offers Tech Job Trials.”

    The program, called Blitz, provides what is essentially a brief contract assignment, much like an internship. Employers tell Udacity the skills they need, and Udacity suggests a single candidate or a few. For the contract assignment, which usually lasts about three months, Udacity takes a fee worth 10 to 20 percent of the worker's salary. If the person is then hired, Udacity does not collect any other fees, such as a finder's fee.

    This sounds pretty anti-worker, but recall, Thrun promised to bring about an "Uberification" of education. Here’s the blog post from Udacity on Blitz, as well as one announcing it was opening shop in Saudi Arabia.

    (Related, from the Social Media Collective: “Spike in Online Gig Work: Flash in the Pan or Future of Employment?” And from MIT Technology Review: “Is the Gig Economy Rigged?”)

    The University of Oxford has joined edX.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “U of Florida Online finds stability after canceling deal with Pearson, but scales back its plan for ”exponential“ growth in online education for undergraduates.”

    Make Writing Classes Larger and Other Heresies of Connected Courses” by Justin Reich.

    There’s some data on the growth of online education at private colleges in the research section below.

    Coding Bootcamps (The Once and Future “For-Profit Higher Ed”)


    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Newt Gingrich and U.S. Representative Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, are slated to join Career Education Colleges and Universities at an event Friday. The group, which is the primary trade organization for the for-profit sector, is announcing a new campaign to close the skills gap with five million trained professionals.”

    “Doing Well By Doing Good: For-Profit Schoolsby Larry Cuban.

    Apple to offer free ‘Hour of Code’ workshops for full week,” says Techcrunch. So that’s something to look forward to: a week full of corporation promotions surrounding CS education. Maybe instead of learning to code, people should read up on anti-fascist activism.

    There’s more on for-profits under the President-Elect Horror Show section above. And I’m not sure if Udacity now better fits here in this for-profit higher ed section, but there’s news about it in the MOOC section above.

    Meanwhile on Campus


    Via The New York Times: “Video Shows Baltimore Teacher Using Racial Slur in Class.” The teacher has been fired.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “A student at the University of Oklahoma at Norman who sent racist text messages last week to students at the University of Pennsylvania is no longer enrolled at the university, Oklahoma’s president, David L. Boren, said in a written statement on Tuesday.” How did that student get Penn students’ names to send them racist messages? Data-mining a Facebook group.

    A Q&A with Chris Newfield: “Public universities have ‘really lost our focus’.” His just-released book is The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them.

    Harvard’s Computer Science 50: ‘Introduction to Computer Science I’ saw a significant drop in enrollment at Yale University as it kicks off its second year,” The Harvard Crimson reports.

    Via abc.net.au: “Queensland children as young as four will learn coding and robotics as a compulsory part of their education from next year.”

    Via the Bristol Herald Courier: “Bank planning to foreclose on Virginia Intermont campus.”

    Accreditation and Certification


    Via the San Francisco Business Times: “LinkedIn CEO says college degrees are overrated and more vocational training is needed.” (He has a college degree.)

    Via The Wall Street Journal: “College Accreditors Largely Staffed by Employees of Schools They Oversee.”

    Go, School Sports Team!


    “High graduation rates for African-American men’s basketball players are ‘fueling an all-time high graduation success rate for Division I college athletes,’” says Inside Higher Ed.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Baylor Faces Rising Calls for Transparency in Sexual-Assault Scandal.”

    From the HR Department


    Via the LA Times: “Plumbers, carpenters, electricians at UCLAstrike for higher wages and back pay.”

    Via The Wall Street Journal: “THL Hires Ex-Blackboard Exec to Hunt for Tech Deals.” That’s Jay Bhatt and investment firm Thomas H. Lee Partners.

    Via the Pacific Standard: “Why Black Lives Matter Protestors Become Teachers.”

    Robot Takeover of Higher Ed Hits a Snag,” Inside Higher Ed reports. So that’s encouraging, I guess.

    This Week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines


    Via The Washington Post: “Did the idea of free public higher education go down with the Democrats?”

    Via The New York Times: “’Is It Safe?’ Foreign Students Consider College in Donald Trump’s U.S.”

    (Reminder: according to Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”)

    Upgrades and Downgrades


    Via The Guardian: “‘Post-truth’ named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries.”

    Speaking of “post-truth,” via the Google blog: “Google Earth VR– Bringing the whole wide world to virtual reality.”

    And speaking of “post-truth,” Facebook. I’ll say more about Facebook’s role in spreading propaganda during the election in my newsletter tomorrow.

    “With legalization, college marijuana enterprise stands to increase,” says Education Dive. But frankly, let’s see what the Trump administration does about legal marijuana before we get too excited about profiteering, okay?

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “IBM picks Blackboard and Pearson to bring the technology behind the Watson computer to colleges and universities.”

    Via Edsurge: “What Edtech Can Learn from Theranos.” (Perhaps a starting place would be to be much more skeptical of the claims of IBM Watson and PR about “mind reading robot tutors.”)

    Via Edsurge: “The Road to Disastrous Educational Businesses Is Paved With Good Intentions.”

    “Why I’m Leaving the Thiel Fellowshipby Cosmo Scharf.

    Via Laughing Squid: “Adam Savage Announces the Launch of Nation of Makers, A Nonprofit Supporting Makers in the US.”

    Via Education Week: “Ed-Tech Pilots: New Resource Tries to Help K–12 Districts Get Them Right.” The resource in question is a framework from Digital Promise.

    Another resource, via Education Week: “K–12 Districts to Get Price Transparency on Broadband Rates With New Tool.” This one is from EducationSuperhighway.

    Via ProPublica: “These Professors Make More Than a Thousand Bucks an Hour Peddling Mega-Mergers.”

    Microsoft joins the Linux Foundation,” Techcrunch reports. RIP Linux.

    Via the MIT Technology Review: “If Apple Builds Smart Glasses, They’d Better Be Spectacular.” Smart glasses. The world is burning, and we’re still talking about smart glasses.

    Via the USA Today: “As college costs skyrocket, more students try crowdfunding.”

    Via ProfHacker: “Help Defray Scott Eric Kaufman’s Medical Bills.”

    Look for more crowdfunding to pay for health care and education under President Trump.

    Funding and Acquisitions (The Business of Ed-Tech)


    “The Tri-Valley Learning Corporation, which runs two Livermore charter schools, has filed for bankruptcy,” reports the East Bay Times.

    Handshake has raised $20 million from Spark Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Lowercase Capital, and True Ventures. The career placement startup has raised $34 million total.

    Unlike Handshake, CodeFights isn’t pitched at students. But I think the “job placement” space is something to watch, so I’m including this funding news here: CodeFights has raised $10 million from e.ventures for its “skills-based recruiting platform.” The company has raised $12.5 million total.

    Firefly Learning has raised $5.63 million from Beringea and BGF Ventures for a “teaching support platform.”

    The tutoring app Yup has raised $4 million from Sesame Street Ventures– its first investment – which is pretty gross considering how private tutoring expands educational inequality. Yup has raised $7.5 million total.

    Echo360 has acquired testing company Astute Technology.

    The City & Guilds Group has acquirede3Learning from Open Universities Australia

    It’s not an ed-tech company – unless you believe all the stories that it’s the future of campus visits, college recruitment, and so on – but Snapchat’s parent company has filed for an IPO.

    Data, Privacy, and Surveillance


    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The American Civil Liberties Union this week declared its opposition to a federal database of student-level outcomes in a letter signed by a handful of education advocacy groups.”

    Via Mindwire Consulting’s Phil Hill: “Piazza Response To Blog Post On Student Privacy.”

    Wearable Tech Weaves Its Way Into Learning,” says Edsurge. Surveil all the things.

    Via Techcrunch: “UK parliament rubberstamps mass surveillance law.”

    Via the EFF: “Tech Companies, Fix These Technical Issues Before It’s Too Late.” “If a tech product might be co-opted to target a vulnerable population, now is the time to minimize the harm that can be done.” Education technology companies. Get your shit together now.

    Via the Brennan Center for Justice: “Map: Social Media Monitoring by Police Departments, Cities, and Counties.”

    Via The Verge: “The FBI just got its hands on data that Twitter wouldn’t give the CIA.” Good thing @jack’s so woke.

    Holy shit. Phrenology 2.0“Automated Inference on Criminality using Face Images.”

    And speaking of horrors, this via The Conversation: “How genetics could help future learners unlock hidden potential.” Eugenics 2.0.

    Lots of questions and concerns about data and surveillance under the incoming administration in the President-Elect section above.

    Data and “Research”


    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Student engagement survey finds black students are more than twice as likely as other students to feel ‘physically unsafe’ on campus, and that black professors interact more with their students than do other professors.”

    Via ProPublica: “Hate Crimes Are Up – But the Government Isn’t Keeping Good Track of Them.”

    Via Politico: “The average incarcerated adult in the U.S. scores so low in the ability to understand and work with numbers – numeracy skills, in research parlance – that they lag behind the unemployed, according to a report released today by the National Center for Education Statistics. The report looks at the educational background and work history of prison inmates. It finds that greater percentages of incarcerated adults scored at the lowest levels of proficiency in literacy and numeracy skills when compared to the overall U.S. population.”

    Via the Pew Research Center: “A Divided and Pessimistic Electorate.” and “Social Media Update 2016.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Private colleges are growing more accepting of online education, according to a survey of chief academic officers conducted by the Council of Independent Colleges and the Learning House.”

    From the press release: “Education Department Releases New Graduate Earnings Data for Career College Programs.” Among the findings: “Overall, mean earnings of graduates of public undergraduate certificate programs are nearly $9,000 higher than mean earnings of graduates of for-profit undergraduate certificate programs.”

    From Google Research: “Community college pathways to a four-year computer science degree.”

    Via LinkedIn: “The Most Popular Entry-Level Jobs and Companies for College Graduates” (based on LinkedIn data).

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Thirty-eight percent of master’s degree students and 36 percent of doctoral students worry about their ability to meet monthly expenses, found a research study from the Council of Graduate Schools and TIAA.” These financial fears seem low, to be honest.

    The latest report from the Whiteboard Advisors Education Insider survey panel speculating on the future of education policy.

    Via Education Dive: “K–12 system is failing to leverage data.” Good. Then we can delete it before Trump takes over.

    Icon credits: The Noun Project


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  • 11/19/16--23:01: Support Hack Education
  • I told myself this year that I had to get better at asking folks to support the work I do on this website. I added a blurb to the bottom of my newsletter, for example, informing readers that this site is not funded by ads or investors or corporations or philanthropic organizations. Well, I added that blurb, like, twice. And then I forgot.

    I always remember this time of year, when I’m in the middle of writing the series of stories I publish on the “Top Ed-Tech Trends” (and feeling fairly overwhelmed by the task) that I need to remind people that there are a couple of ways to support my work.

    You can donate via PayPal or become a monthly subscriber. You can support me via Patreon. (You can hire me to speak on your campus or at your event, yes, but I’d also love to have a more regular monthly income that doesn’t involve travel or public speaking.)

    I have Hack Education stickers that I can send you as a gesture of “thanks.” There are also now Hack Education t-shirts (for a very, very limited time).

    But I don’t want to be in the sticker business. And I don’t want to be in the t-shirt business. I want to write education technology criticism. Your support helps me continue to do just that.

    Thank you.


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  • 11/24/16--23:01: Hack Education Weekly News
  • Presidential-Elect Donald J. Trump


    After much speculation– and meetings from those the media described as “potential candidates,” including Michelle Rhee (who visited the President-Elect with husband, “accused sexual abuser Kevin Johnson,” as Deadspin put it, in tow) – Donald Trump has made his pick for Secretary of Education: Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos. There was some talk that, despite being vociferously anti-union, Michelle Rhee’s support for the Common Core was allegedly a deal-breaker. Of course, DeVos has supported groups that back the Common Core in the past, including Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. (She serves on its board.) Edsurge parrots DeVos’s tweet – “I am not a supporter – period” – without any questions about this sudden change of heart. Edsurge says she likes ed-tech though so "everything's fine."

    Betsy DeVos is part of the DeVos family, of the Amway Corporation fame. “The DeVoses sit alongside the Kochs, the Bradleys, and the Coorses as founding families of the modern conservative movement,” Mother Jones wrote in 2014. “Since 1970, DeVos family members have invested at least $200 million in a host of right-wing causes -- think tanks, media outlets, political committees, evangelical outfits, and a string of advocacy groups. They have helped fund nearly every prominent Republican running for national office and underwritten a laundry list of conservative campaigns on issues ranging from charter schools and vouchers to anti-gay-marriage and anti-tax ballot measures.”

    DeVos’s brother, Erik Prince, is the founder of the private military company Blackwater, infamous for its human rights violations, including the murder of 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007 by its employees. Prince and the DeVos family have been major supporters of Indiana Governor and now Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, particularly for his efforts to outlaw gay marriage and criminalize abortion.

    From 1995 to 2005, DeVos sat on the board of the Acton Institute, which recently published a blog post decrying child labor laws.

    Earlier this year, the DeVos family lost a huge tax break on their property after Michigan’s Department of Treasury investigated improper exemptions. Reminder: paying property taxes helps fund public schools. Not paying property taxes means you do not support public schools.

    Oh. I see…

    DeVos’s support for charter schools and vouchers are the signature of her efforts in Michigan, which has the least regulated charter school system in the country– “The Poster Child for How Not to do Charter Schools,” according to HuffPo. As The New York Times notes, “The Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids school districts have among the nation’s 10 largest shares of students in charters, and the state sends $1 billion in education funding to charters annually. Of those schools, 80 percent are run by for-profit organizations, a far higher share than anywhere else in the nation.” The choice of DeVos, according to Slate’s Dana Goldstein, would “gut public education.”

    More on Trump’s pick – and do note how her views are often normalized and their abhorrence minimized by journalists – from NPR, Inside Higher Ed, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and The New York Times.

    Elsewhere in this fucking disaster…

    Via Education Week: “The prospect that the incoming Trump administration could scale back the federal role in civil rights enforcement in education has many rights advocates deeply worried after nearly eight years of high-profile attention to such issues under President Barack Obama.” Important to watch, particularly under a Secretary of Education like Betsy DeVos.

    Via The USA Today: “About one in five American Federation of Teachers (AFT) members who cast a ballot voted for Trump, the union's leader estimated. Among the larger National Education Association (NEA), which comprises more than 3 million members, more than one in three who voted did so for the billionaire developer, early data show.”

    I’m including this here mostly because it’s worth noting that, when published, the headline describing the questions about the election raised by computer science professor Alex Halderman said “activists.” Now it reads “experts.” I think the two have become conflated in frightening ways.

    Via WaPo: “ The secretive brain trust of Silicon Valley insiders who are helping Trump.”

    Via The New York Times: “Where Donald Trump Stands on School Choice, Student Debt and Common Core.”

    According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, one “silver lining” of Trump’s election is that academic researchers might not have to share their data. FFS.

    More on President-Elect Trump and Trump University in the court section below. And more on how this is affecting campuses in the campus section below. And more… yeah. Everywhere. The awfulness permeates all the things…

    Education Politics


    Via the San Antonio Current: “Proposed Bill [in Texas] Would Make Teachers Out Their LGBT Students.” The bill would require school officials inform parents, even if the student asks for the information to be kept secret. Teachers could be terminated if they refuse to comply.

    Secretary of Education John King penned a letter urging states to end corporal punishment in schools. While it’s banned in 28 states, “more than 110,000 students across the country were subjected to corporal punishments in 2013–14, according to the latest version of the Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection.” (Well hey, even if we don’t end corporal punishment, at least Trump could end Civil Rights Data Collection, and then folks with power and privilege can just pretend that this sort of thing doesn't happen.)

    Via The Establishment: “Conservative Group Launches Watchlist For Liberal Professors.” One of the professors on the list responds on Facebook.

    From an op-ed in The LA Times, written by Michael Hiltzik: “The Department of Education and the Social Security Administration jointly are doing yeoman’s work in identifying about 387,000 severely disabled and insolvent Americans saddled with federal student debt they can’t repay and informing them that the law allows their loans to be forgiven. But one agency still needs to act to make sure these people aren’t hit with a tax penalty when that happens: the Internal Revenue Service.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Department of Education data indicate zero borrowers are on pace to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness by 2017, a prominent higher ed group warned the department in a letter last month.” The group in question: National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. It accuses the department of creating too many administrative hurdles for people to qualify.

    “The United States Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General has found in a recent report that the department’s overall information technology security is ‘not generally effective’ in meeting several federal requirements,” Campus Technology reports. “The ed department (ED) and its Federal Student Aid (FSA) office scored only 53 points out of 100 in a recent security audit.”

    Education in the Courts


    Via The New York Times: “Would Trump Have Won Trump University Cases? Evidence Says He Faced Hard Fight.” The New York Times also reports that the Trump Foundation will not pay the $25 million settlement for Trump. (It has previously paid off Trump’s personal legal debts.) But Trump – of course – will be able to deduct the settlement on his taxes.

    “Attorneys for Gov. Rick Snyder and state education officials say no fundamental right to literacy exists for Detroit schoolchildren who are suing the state over the quality of their education,” The Detroit News reports. Well, thank goodness no one who’s funded the Michigan GOP is going to be in charge of the nation’s literacy or quality of public education. Oh. Fuuuuck.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Student loan servicer Xerox Education Services will pay $2.4 million in a settlement agreement over allegations it mishandled students borrowers’ applications for income-based repayment plans, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced Tuesday.”

    “A school bus driver who authorities say was speeding along a narrow, winding road when he wrapped his vehicle around a tree was arrested and charged with vehicular homicide in the deaths of five children,” Education Week reports. More via The NYT on the Chattanooga bus crash.

    Via Motherboard: “Kids Win the Right to Sue the US Government Over Climate Change.”

    Testing, Testing…


    Via Education Dive: “Schools turn to universal screening to increase equity in gifted programs.”

    An op-ed in Inside Higher Ed by Erik Gilbert: “Why Assessment Is a Waste of Time.”

    The Once and Future “For-Profit Higher Ed”


    “With Trump, Investors See Profits Again in For-Profit Colleges,” writes Susan Dynarksi in The New York Times.

    “Dean Dad” Matt Reed onFor-Profits, Phase Three.”

    Meanwhile on Campus


    Racist and anti-Semitic harassment continues on school campuses. Reports in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The New York Times, and elsewhere.

    Via the AP: “Charlotte’s public school system is investigating allegations that a kindergarten teacher singled out a 5-year-old student for harassment because he’s Muslim. The Council on American-Islamic Relations said Wednesday that the teacher grabbed the student by the neck at one point and called him a ‘bad Muslim boy’ multiple times over several weeks.”

    Gavin Newsom asks that California colleges become sanctuaries,” the Bay City News reports. Columbia University announced that it would become a sanctuary, providing financial support for undocumented students so that they can complete their education.

    Via Raw Story: “Campus Trump fans compare themselves to ‘hippies protesting at Kent State’ – or ‘grunge in the 90s’.” Campus Trump fans know nothing about history.

    Sojourner Truth Enslaved By Family of Rutgers’ First President,” says The Root.

    This is horrible, and The Baltimore Sun should be ashamed:


    Via ProPublica: “The Story Behind Jared Kushner’s Curious Acceptance into Harvard.” Spoiler alert: it involves a big donation from his father. Of course, as ProPublica notes, “Jared Kushner Isn’t Alone: Universities Still Give Rich and Connected Applicants a Leg Up.”

    Deakin University gags staff over harassment case,” ABC.net.au reports. “Dr Melanie Thomson said her former employer, Deakin University, imposed a gag order on staff preventing them from talking about complaints against a scientist who has since moved on to a more senior position at another university.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The American Bar Association, whose accrediting arm oversees law schools across the country, announced this month that it has censured Valparaiso University School of Law and placed the Charlotte School of Law on probation.”

    Via The Chicago Tribune: “Three of the state’s most financially vulnerable public universities are set to receive a combined $17 million in emergency funding to support operations through the end of the year.” That’d be Western Illinois, Eastern Illinois and Chicago State universities.

    Via the BBC: “Bletchley Park, the site of secret code-deciphering projects during World War Two, could become the centre for a new generation of codemakers and codebreakers. There are plans for a training college to teach cybersecurity skills to 16–19 year olds at the Buckinghamshire site.”

    Go, School Sports Team!


    Via NPR: “Notre Dame Must Vacate 2012, 2013 Football Wins Over Academic Violations.” More via CHE. Notre Dame says it will appeal the NCAA’s decision.

    Via The Kansas City Star: “ Former Mizzou tutor tells how, why she allegedly helped student-athletes cheat.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “U. of Kansas Cheerleaders Are Suspended From Squad Over ’KKK’ Snapchat.”

    Via The USA Today: “Baylor associate athletic director Heath Nielsen charged with assaulting reporter.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Baylor University has reached an undisclosed settlement with two women who reported being gang raped by football players in 2012.”

    “The Myth of the Sports Scholarshipby Brad Wolverton in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    From the HR Department


    Via Inside Higher Ed: “A federal district judge in Texas blocked a Department of Labor overtime rule Tuesday night in a major setback for the Obama administration. The rule, which would have affected 4.2 million workers, was highly controversial among many employers, including higher education institutions. It would have raised to $47,476 from $23,660 the threshold under which salaried employees would be eligible for overtime pay.” The American Council on Education was among those opposing the new rule.

    Michael Barber will leave Pearson some time next year, according to EdWeek.

    Cornel West Will Return to Teach at Harvard,” The New York Times reports.

    This Week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines


    Will Trump care about student data privacy?asks WaPo’s Valerie Strauss.

    Could virtual reality set new standards for educational access?asks Education Dive.

    (Reminder: according to Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”)

    Upgrades and Downgrades


    Pearson’s Bet on Common Core Fails to Pay Off,” according to The Wall Street Journal. The headline doesn’t quite match the article, which notes that “Reduced college enrollment and the closure of some for-profit colleges in the U.S. have cut college textbook sales, Pearson’s largest North American revenue stream.” Regardless of the cause, Pearson sales and share prices are down.

    Analytics Literacy is a Major Limiter of Ed Tech Growth,” says Mindwire Consulting’s Michael Feldstein. Also from Feldstein: “Vendor Roles in Fostering Educational Literacies.”

    “Where to Find Money for Your School’s Edtech Purchases,” according to Edsurge.

    Montessori has long been alternative to ‘factory’ ed model,” says Education Dive, in a re-write of sorts of this piece in The Hechinger Report. In the new year, look for an article on me on how Montessori has been rebranded to support ed-tech marketing.

    “Librarian in Black” Sarah Houghton responds to a series of statements issued by the ALA about the organization’s willingness to work with a President Trump.

    Mike Caulfield onWikity, One Year Later.”

    Note the framing of this NYT story: “A new private research institute financed by the billionaire James H. Simons in New York will develop software tools and apply cutting edge computing techniques to science often not possible in academia and industry.” (emphasis mine)

    Funding and Acquisitions (The Business of Ed-Tech)


    UNICAF has raised $12 million from University Ventures, CDC Group, and Savannah Fund. The company offers online degrees in Africa.

    Google has acquiredQuiklabs, a tech training company.

    Data, Privacy, and Surveillance


    From The Verge: “The UK is about to wield unprecedented surveillance powers– here’s what it means.”

    The UK government will keep a record of every website every citizen visits for up to a year, with this information also including the apps they use on their phone, and the metadata of their calls.

    This story is from August, but my understanding is that it’s now in effect at Edinburgh: “UK university is introducing a new staff monitoring policy that will require employees to tell management if they leave their ‘normal place of work’ for half a day or longer.”

    Via The New York Times: “Facebook Said to Create Censorship Tool to Get Back Into China.” The software will prevent stories from appearing from people’s news feeds.

    Via The Daily Dot: “Twitter tells developers to stop making police surveillance tools that use its data.”

    Via the Lansing State Journal: “An email sent to Michigan State University last weekend attempting to ‘extort money’ helped the university identify a data breach that affected about 400,000 records and included names, Social Security numbers and MSU identification numbers, a university spokesman said Friday evening.”

    Via Mindwire Consulting’s Phil Hill: “University Responses to Piazza: Some good, some bad, some web site changes.”

    Data and “Research”


    Via Mashable: “More U.S. teenagers are battling major depression in cyber bullying era, study finds.”

    “Most Students Don’t Know When News Is Fake, Stanford Study Finds,” reads The Wall Street Journal headline. (And yes, to all the clever people who’ve pointed out that adults do not either. Good eye.) Bryan Alexander has more thoughts on the Stanford study, noting that the phrase “information literacy” doesn’t appear in it.

    Education, Not Income, Predicted Who Would Vote For Trump,” according to Nate Silver.

    Scholastic has released its “Teacher & Principal School Report.” Among the findings: “High percentages of principals across all school poverty levels say they have students who are experiencing family or personal crisis (95%), in need of mental health services (91%), living in poverty (90%), coming to school hungry (85%), and in need of healthcare services (82%).”

    Science’s Minority Talent Pool Is Growing—but Draining Away,” reports The Atlantic’s Ed Yong. “The number of Ph.D. graduates from underrepresented groups grew by nine times since 1980. The number of assistant professors from those groups grew by just 2.6 times.”

    Via EduKwest: “EdTech Market Brief India Q3 2016.”

    Renaissance Learning has released the results of its annual survey on what students are reading.

    “Higher Ed Faculty Skeptical About Online Course Qualityaccording to a Gallup survey.

    Via EdWeek’s Market Brief: “Two recent reports that track K–12 spending reveal schools’ strong interest in purchasing security-related hardware, products, and technology.” One of the most popular pieces of technology: gun detectors. Yes, gun detectors are ed-tech.

    RIP


    RIP SEK. This one hurts.

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