December Education Reading

Imagine that, instead of fawning over future-oriented “trends” or the future promise of products – be they virtual reality or “personalized learning” or “flexible seating” or what have you, that education technology actually centered itself on ethical practices – on an ethics of care. And imagine if education’s investors, philanthropists, and practitioners alike committed to addressing, say, economic inequality and racial segregation instead of simply committing to buying more tech.

Source: The Business of ‘Ed-Tech Trends’

My Writing

I chilled in December, resulting in only a couple posts with education relevance:

Older Pieces

Older pieces that I updated:

The Stories We Were Told about Education Technology (2017)

I highly recommend Audrey Watters The Stories We Were Told about Education Technology. She watches the stories ed-tech tells us and the money it spends. Each of the eleven parts is worth the time.

Previous years:

Discussions of the Month

Two discussions dominated my timelines this month: #ActuallyAutistic reaction to “To Siri With Love” and tech and ed reaction to Google’s Project Oxygen.

To Siri with Love

The autistic community came out in numbers to oppose the ableist and eugenicist book “To Siri with Love”. Befuddled folks who don’t understand our perspective wonder why we get so upset.

Why is the autistic community so upset? Because almost all of the media representation of autism comes from people who aren’t even autistic. Autistics ARE speaking. Are YOU listening?

We’re upset because folks who aren’t autistic keep talking over us. They keep publishing books and making movies and television about us that are full of ignorance and harm.

Two of the biggest problems with To Siri with Love are that it spreads harmful tropes about autistic empathy and fails to presume competence. The empathic capacity of To Siri is stunted by the toxic and all-too-popular notion of Theory of Mind.

I think it’s fair to say that “Theory of Mind” started wreaking its havoc years ago, and considering how anti-autistic thinking has really evolved and dug injust over the last 10 years, or so, I would say that it has experienced something of a philosophical triumph. Woe betide any who challenge it. In fact, if you dochallenge it (as an autistic person), it’s easy enough to refute you by saying you lack ToM, yourself, so how could you understand something you’re too deficient to grasp?

It’s the ultimate intellectual castle surrounded by a moat. Just toss ToM out there, pull up the conceptual drawbridge, and you’re safe from all the marauding hordes of those developmentally disabled types.

Theory of Mind definitely dominates the mind-share space in mainstream autism thinking (and I use the term “thinking” with reservation). And nowhere is that more evident than in “To Siri With Love”. I mean, Siri-ously (sorry!), it’s just so pernicious and pervasive, and the author repeats its tenets so often, that it’s pretty clearly a foundational subtext that colors the entire discussion of Gus and his life.

Source: Without #TheoryOfMind, #ToSiriWithLove wouldn’t be the dumpster fire it is – Aspie Under Your Radar

Theory of mind is related to the behaviorism found in schools. Both theory of mind and behaviorism attenuate empathy. They get in the way of the simple and profound realization that Kids Think. So too do autistic people. Presuming competence is a hippocratic oath for education and parenting.

The take home point for this post is going to be that all kids think. All the time. Kids try to figure out stuff – often things they are developmentally incapable of understanding. Problem behaviors happen because they cannot understand something or they are unable to process some incoming stimulus. The sooner we realize that little Down Syndrome boy, the nonverbal autistic girl, the boy with cerebral palsy or Angelman Syndrome in a wheelchair are sitting there thinking, the better off we are all going to be.

Source: Kids Think: Behaviorism Will Fail Until It Accepts This Fact – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?

Instead of propagating theory of mind and behaviorism, confront the double empathy problem.

My review of To Siri collects tweets and reviews from others in the #ActuallyAutistic community. Read for a dose of perspective.

Soft Skills, Psychological Safety, and the Humanities

The results of Google’s Project Oxygen keep rippling through education and tech communities.

Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

Source: The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students – The Washington Post

We must restore the arts and humanities to their rightful places in education. Without them, we get the ethical morass that Silicon Valley has become. Without them, our teams are less inclusive and effective. Without them, we make harmful products and “disrupt” systems we do not understand.

For more on Project Oxygen, see my previous pieces on Psychological Safety.

Recommended Reading

  • it’s complicated: the social lives of networked teens Full book in PDF form. This explores how much more intensely younger generations experience being cut off from information flow. If the page gives a 503 error, reload until the PDF shows.
  • How to Teach a Cyborg: The Futile Resistance Against Classroom Tech – The Atlantic “Disabled students often need tech to communicate, take notes, and otherwise access course materials; as a dyslexic man who has trouble forming letters by hand, I learned best when I had access to technology. The issues faced by the disability community, moreover, raise broader questions about the future human-technology interactions as they apply in the classroom. If the disability-rights argument in favor of classroom technology hasn’t persuaded everyone, perhaps the bigger picture will. This is the last generation, pending an apocalypse, in which it’s possible to imagine separating students from their tech.”
  • In Defense of Continuous Exposition by the Teacher – Agile Learning “The research seems pretty clear to me. Lecturing, as defined as “continuous exposition by the teacher,” is, in general, on average, less effective at promoting student learning than active learning instruction.”
  • Ed-Tech in a Time of Trump On Command. Control. and Intelligence. “”A Time of Trump” could be “A Time of Neoliberalism” or “A Time of Libertarianism” or “A Time of Algorithmic Discrimination” or “A Time of Economic Precarity.” All of this is – from President Trump to the so-called “new economy” – has been fueled to some extent by digital technologies; and that fuel, despite what I think many who work in and around education technology have long believed – have long hoped – is not necessarily (heck, even remotely) progressive.” / “We must rebuild institutions that value humans’ minds and lives and integrity and safety. And that means, in its current incarnation at least, in this current climate, ed-tech has very very little to offer us.”
  • Mental Disorder or Neurodiversity? – The New Atlantis “That each human being is biologically unique is, in fact, the norm. These biological differences are, in turn, inextricably intertwined with the different ways we have of seeing and being in the world.” / “Eliminating this rich biological and psychological diversity in the ostensible interests of ameliorating or preventing suffering would in the end diminish our humanity.” / “The proponents of neurodiversity argue that there are positive aspects to having brains that function differently; many, therefore, prefer that we see these differences simply as differences rather than disorders. Why, they ask, should what makes them them need to be classified as a disability?”
  • Education Technology and the New Behaviorism “Of course, when all these narratives about “social emotional learning” get picked up by education technologists and education entrepreneurs, they don’t just turn policy mandates or even into TED Talks. They turn into products.” / “”social-emotional learning is the product of a fast policy network of ‘psy’ entrepreneurs, global policy advice, media advocacy, philanthropy, think tanks, tech R&D and venture capital investment.”
  • ‘The Ed-Tech Mafia’ “I am really interested in helping educators understand the powerful networks that operate in education and education technology. Because we must think more critically about the vision and the model and the story of the future that we’re being sold.” / “it’s important too for us to recognize how much influence the technology sector – I use “Silicon Valley” as a shorthand for that – has over education. Over the products that get built. Over the companies that get funded. Over the policies that get developed, and the laws that get passed. Over the ideas that get talked about. Over our imagination.”
  • Fast psycho-policy & the datafication of social-emotional learning | code acts in education “In sum, social-emotional learning is the product of a fast policy network of ‘psy’ entrepreneurs, global policy advice, media advocacy, philanthropy, think tanks, tech R&D and venture capital investment.” / “In other words, says Talmage, ‘investors are using kids’ psychological profiles to gamble on the results of social programs, while using technology to generate a compliant, productive workforce.’”
  • Design Thinking is Kind of Like Syphilis — It’s Contagious and Rots Your Brains “In the end, Design Thinking’s not about design. It’s not about the liberal arts. It’s not about innovation in any meaningful sense. It’s certainly not about “social innovation” if that means significant social change. It’s about COMMERCIALIZATION. It’s about making all education a shallow form of business education.” / “Design Thinkers dream lubricated dreams of “social innovation” free of politics and struggle.” / “The even deeper problem, however, is that Design Thinking gives students a terrible picture of technological and social change.”
  • From inboxing to thought showers: how business bullshit took over | News | The Guardian “The aim would not just be bullshit-spotting. It would also be a way of reminding people that each of our institutions has its own language and rich set of traditions which are being undermined by the spread of the empty management-speak. It would try to remind people of the power which speech and ideas can have when they are not suffocated with bullshit. By cleaning out the bullshit, it might become possible to have much better functioning organisations and institutions and richer and fulfilling lives.” The Leader in Me is full of business bullshit.
  • The Business of ‘Ed-Tech Trends’ “Imagine that, instead of fawning over future-oriented “trends” or the future promise of products – be they virtual reality or “personalized learning” or “flexible seating” or what have you, that education technology actually centered itself on ethical practices – on an ethics of care. And imagine if education’s investors, philanthropists, and practitioners alike committed to addressing, say, economic inequality and racial segregation instead of simply committing to buying more tech.”
  • The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students – The Washington Post “Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.”
  • Kids Think: Behaviorism Will Fail Until It Accepts This Fact – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet? “The take home point for this post is going to be that all kids think. All the time. Kids try to figure out stuff – often things they are developmentally incapable of understanding. Problem behaviors happen because they cannot understand something or they are unable to process some incoming stimulus. The sooner we realize that little Down Syndrome boy, the nonverbal autistic girl, the boy with cerebral palsy or Angelman Syndrome in a wheelchair are sitting there thinking, the better off we are all going to be.” / “Empowering kids works. Seems to me that sometimes handing over power is the only thing that does work with the truly tough kids.”
  • Show Me the Money! Neoliberalism at Work in Education “Education policy, education reform are no longer simply a battleground of ideas, they are a financial sector, increasingly infused by & driven by the logic of profit. As practitioners, researchers, activists we need to understand & engage with that logic & its mechanisms. We need to read the business pages, company reports & public service contracts. We need to understand the stock market, business strategy & company accounts – we need to follow the money.”
  • The Nearly Impossible: Teaching Writing in a Culture of Grades, Averages | radical eyes for equity “the traditional culture of grades and averaging makes the teaching of writing nearly impossible, especially for beginning teachers.” / “As long as students are allowed to play the averaging game (completing assignments rendered irrelevant as long as the math produces a passing grade in the end), authentic learning and holistic outcomes are moot.” / “One aspect of the negative impact of grades and averaging is that students receive a powerful and consistent message across all their teachers and courses that playing the average game is not only all right, but what education is.” / “teachers of writing must create a culture in which drafting is embraced as an essential part of writing—not that drafting is some sort of option or busy work assigned by the teacher.”
  • Charter school leaders are complicit with segregation, and it’s hurting their movement “Make no mistake, segregated schools of the past and present are a result of horrible policy choices that most people are willing to accept. There is a reason that after more than 20 years, the research is mixed on charter schools. Schools in black and brown communities were built on broken foundations — i.e., segregation. By not addressing segregation, reformers are turning off the stove when the house is going up in flames.”
  • For students with disabilities, quality of education can depend on zip code ‘“People keep saying education shouldn’t depend on your zip code. It’s thrown around a lot in terms of kids in poverty, but it’s also true for kids with disabilities. It shouldn’t depend on your zip code,”’
  • When Testing Takes Over | Harvard Graduate School of Education “The pressure to raise test scores has become so strong that testing often degrades instruction rather than improving it. Many parents have encountered this — large amounts of teaching time lost to test prep that is boring, or worse.”
  • How recess can make students better job candidates “Research shows that unstructured play helps children with their social skills or academic skills, and all of those 21st century skills that employers are looking for, like collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity. All those things come out on the playground.”
  • Yes, There Were People of Color in Pre-Modern Europe – Pacific Standard “It’s so interesting that by sitting in disability resources office processing textbooks, you learn about the priorities of professors all across the university, and what they do and don’t teach.”
  • Why America Keeps Criminalizing Autistic Children – Pacific Standard “There’s no easy fix. The long-term solutions involve decriminalizing disability, decriminalizing non-white childhood, decriminalizing our schools. But there are things that any educator could choose to do tomorrow: Stop arresting disabled kids. Stop using physical force unless there’s a clear threat. Prioritize de-escalation. Use meltdowns to identify triggers and try to remove them. Until that happens, parents will just have to rely on pro bono lawyers, government officials, crowd-funding, and desperate attempts to find a school where their child can learn and be safe.”
  • No more zeros in K12 education | District Administration Magazine ‘Ultimately, such disputes go to the heart of the fundamental question underlying grading reform: What are grades for? Are they meant to communicate learning progress or to rank students for employers and colleges? “Fundamentally, we don’t believe that our purpose is to sort students,” says Emilie Hard, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning services in the 20,000-student Issaquah School District, southeast of Seattle. “Our whole purpose in public education is to get every student to the finish line.”’

Selected Tweets

Twitter Threads

Click/tap though to read the full threads.

Twitter Moments

These collect my favorite tweets on education and ed-tech and the forces acting upon them. Twitter truncated some of these moments, alas. It doesn’t like big lists. I’ll have to break them up into parts for January.

Quotes

Selections from the Recommended Reading list:

Talk of “emotion” has also been the focus of several education reform narratives for the last few years – calls for students to develop “grit” and “growth mindsets” and the like. (So much easier than addressing structural inequality.)

Of course, when all these narratives about “social emotional learning” get picked up by education technologists and education entrepreneurs, they don’t just turn policy mandates or even into TED Talks. They turn into products.

“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” – Eric Hoffer

(I’m keeping track of all these predictions. It isn’t simply that folks get it right or get it wrong. It’s that the repetition of these stories, particularly when framed as inevitabilities, shapes our preparations for the future. The repetition shapes our imaginations about the future.)

It’s incredibly dangerous too, as Stirling University’s Ben Williamson cautions, as the kind of control that these devices promise should raise all sorts of questions about students’ civil rights and “cognitive liberties.” Williamson argues,

The elements shared across many of these stories: the monitoring and measuring of students. Monitoring and measuring studentsdata, that is, and then managing their emotions, sure, but more likely, their behavior.

As Ben Williamson observes “social-emotional learning is the product of a fast policy network of ‘psy’ entrepreneurs, global policy advice, media advocacy, philanthropy, think tanks, tech R&D and venture capital investment. Together, this loose alliance of actors has produced shared vocabularies, aspirations, and practical techniques of measurement of the ‘behavioural indicators’ of classroom conduct that correlate to psychologically-defined categories of character, mindset, grit, and other personal qualities of social-emotional learning.” These indicators encourage behaviors that are measurable and manageable, Williamson contends, but SEL also encourages characteristics like malleability and compliance – and all that fits nicely with the “skills” that a corporate vision of education would demand from students and future workers.

In that Baffler article, I make the argument that behavior management apps like ClassDojo’s are the latest manifestation of behaviorism, a psychological theory that has underpinned much of the development of education technology.

Skinner was unsuccessful in convincing schools in the 1950s and 1960s that they should buy his teaching machines, and some people argue that his work has fallen completely out of favor, only invoked when deriding something as a “Skinner’s Box.” But I think there’s been a resurgence in behaviorism. It’s epicenter isn’t Harvard, where Skinner taught. It’s Stanford. It’s Silicon Valley. And this new behaviorism is fundamental to how many new digital technologies are being built.

It’s called “behavior design” today (because at Stanford, you put the word “design” in everything to make it sound beautiful not totally rotten).

New technologies are purposefully engineered to demand our attention, to “hijack our minds.” They’re designed to elicit certain responses and to shape and alter our behaviors. Ostensibly all these nudges are supposed to make us better people – that’s the shiniest version of the story promoted in books like Nudge and Thinking about Thinking. But much of this is really about getting us to click on ads, to respond to notifications, to open apps, to stay on Web pages, to scroll, to share – actions and “metrics” that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors value.

There’s a darker side still to this as I argued in the first article in this very, very long series: this kind of behavior management has become embedded in our new information architecture. It’s “fake news,” sure. But it’s also disinformation plus big data plus psychological profiling and behavior modification. The Silicon Valley “nudge” is a corporatenudge. But as these technologies are increasingly part of media, scholarship, and schooling, it’s a civics nudge too.

Those darling little ClassDojo monsters are a lot less cute when you see them as part of a new regime of educational data science, experimentation, and “psycho-informatics.”

The manipulation of users’ social and emotional experiences should not be minimized or dismissed. And for educators, it’s important to recognize that interest in social and emotional experience and behavioral design is not just something that happens on the Facebook platform (or with other consumer-facing technologies).

They believe that they have our best interests at heart, and they will guide us – algorithmically, of course – to “good” academics and “good” thoughts and “good” feelings and “good” behavior, defining and designing, of course, what “good” looks like.

Source: Education Technology and the New Behaviorism

We’re told an awful lot of stories about what “good teaching” looks like and what “bad teaching” looks like and how technology will purportedly enhance the former and replace the latter.

it’s important too for us to recognize how much influence the technology sector – I use “Silicon Valley” as a shorthand for that – has over education. Over the products that get built. Over the companies that get funded. Over the policies that get developed, and the laws that get passed. Over the ideas that get talked about. Over our imagination.

Stories about and stories by Elon Musk are very much stories about the future of public space, public science, public knowledge, and as such, public education.

One example of this is the push for “everyone to learn to code.” Where did this story come from? Who tells it? Why do we believe it?

Another storyline I am paying attention to – we should all pay attention too – involves “personalization,” a concept shared by tech and ed-tech alike.

Is there an “ed-tech mafia”? And what do they want? What do they believe?

Edsurge’s investors include the very same investors in many of the products it covers. Edsurge’s investors are people who are very committed – politically, financially – to telling certain kinds of stories about the future.

we are talking about billionaires who have influence in reshaping public space and public infrastructure in ways that are profoundly anti-democratic. If nothing else, there’s not really research that supports their beliefs or their technologies.

There are really powerful forces – powerful stories and powerful storytellers – at play here. I would say that for far too long now, many people who work in education technology have seen themselves as underdogs in some sort of digital versus analog battle for the future of education. But that’s not really an accurate way to describe the setting for this particular story any longer, indeed if it ever was.

I am really interested in helping educators understand the powerful networks that operate in education and education technology. Because we must think more critically about the vision and the model and the story of the future that we’re being sold.

Source: ‘The Ed-Tech Mafia’

In sum, social-emotional learning is the product of a fast policy network of ‘psy’ entrepreneurs, global policy advice, media advocacy, philanthropy, think tanks, tech R&D and venture capital investment. Together, this loose alliance of actors has produced shared vocabularies, aspirations, and practical techniques of measurement of the ‘behavioural indicators’ of classroom conduct that correlate to psychologically-defined categories of character, mindset, grit, and other personal qualities of social-emotional learning. As Agnieszka Bates has argued, psychological advocates of SEL have conceptualized character as malleable and measurable, and defined the character skills that are most valuable to the labour market. As such, she describes SEL as a psycho-economic fusion of economic goals and psychological discourse in a corporatized education system. Specific algorithms and metrics have already been devised by prominent psycho-economic centres of expertise to measure the economic value of social-emotional learning.

In other words, says Talmage, ‘investors are using kids’ psychological profiles to gamble on the results of social programs, while using technology to generate a compliant, productive workforce.’

In these ways, social-emotional learning exemplifies the emergence of what has been termed psycho-policy and psychological governance in relation to public policy more widely-that is, the application of psychological expertise, interventions and explanations to public policy problems, specifically the application of practical techniques and ‘know-how’ for quantifying and then ‘nudging’ individuals to perform the ‘correct’ behaviours and affects. If character is malleable, it can be moulded and made to fit political and economic models.

At the core of its rewards system is the psychological assumption that observable behavioural indicators transmitted from the embodied conduct of students in classrooms can be correlated with character skills and other aspects of SEL. By rewarding students who perform the correct behavioural indicators of SEL and character, ClassDojo is also designed to actively promote specific kinds of preferred behaviours. As one of ClassDojo’s founders has noted, it collects ‘millions of behaviour observations every day’ to enable ‘real-time information from the classroom,’ while one of its research partners says, ‘We want teachers to think about the kind of norms they want to set in the classroom, so growth mindset is integrated in it.’

The results is that ClassDojo has become an ‘infrastructuralizing platform’ for the measurement of behavioural indicators of social-emotional skills-and for nudging and compelling students to perform the ‘correct’ behavioural indicators that correlate with the affects of ‘good students’ in ‘happier classrooms’

In so doing, ClassDojo treats students as embodied behavioural indicators whose affects are rendered traceable through psychological categories of character, mindset and grit; it treats teachers as data entry clerks responsible for amassing ClassDojo’s global database, attracting their own social networks as new users, and as consumers at the online store; treats school leaders as data demanders, who require staff to enter the feedback points in order to generate school-wide behavioural trend insights; and treats parents as data consumers, who receive the data visualizations and report cards. ClassDojo also treats classrooms as little data markets where psycho-economically defined ‘valuable’ character skills and the performance of ‘correct’ behavioural indicators can be incentivized, nudged and exchanged for rewards. All the while, ClassDojo is thriving on the network effects of these activities to generate value for the company and its investors-driving up its user graph, its reach, and the value of its global datasets on student behaviour.

In contrast to the existing infrastructure of test-based performance measurement, ClassDojo is a platform for translating psychological theories into the habits of classrooms, teachers and students, which is also nested in an expanding global infrastructure dedicated to the measurement and management of the social and emotional lives of young people. This global policy infrastructure stretches across and beyond the borders of state education systems, and includes international policy influencers, think tanks, independent institutions, venture capital investors, software startups, and even impact investment market experts. In these ways, if policy trends shift toward the performance measurement of schools, teachers and students based on data recorded about the behavioural indicators of social-emotional learning, then ClassDojo will itself become integrated into existing metric practices of school evaluation, judgment and ranking.

Source: Fast psycho-policy & the datafication of social-emotional learning | code acts in education

Business bullshit can and should be challenged. This is a task each of us can take up by refusing to use empty management-speak. We can stop ourselves from being one more conduit in its circulation. Instead of just rolling our eyes and checking our emails, we should demand something more meaningful.

Clearly, our own individual efforts are not enough. Putting management-speak in its place is going to require a collective effort. What we need is an anti-bullshit movement. It would be made up of people from all walks of life who are dedicated to rooting out empty language. It would question management twaddle in government, in popular culture, in the private sector, in education and in our private lives.

The aim would not just be bullshit-spotting. It would also be a way of reminding people that each of our institutions has its own language and rich set of traditions which are being undermined by the spread of the empty management-speak. It would try to remind people of the power which speech and ideas can have when they are not suffocated with bullshit. By cleaning out the bullshit, it might become possible to have much better functioning organisations and institutions and richer and fulfilling lives.

Source: From inboxing to thought showers: how business bullshit took over | News | The Guardian

Disabled students often need tech to communicate, take notes, and otherwise access course materials; as a dyslexic man who has trouble forming letters by hand, I learned best when I had access to technology. The issues faced by the disability community, moreover, raise broader questions about the future human-technology interactions as they apply in the classroom. If the disability-rights argument in favor of classroom technology hasn’t persuaded everyone, perhaps the bigger picture will. This is the last generation, pending an apocalypse, in which it’s possible to imagine separating students from their tech. It’s a moment to begin seriously thinking about the pedagogy of teaching a cyborg.

If the simple banning of devices from classrooms isn’t possible, then what? One option is to assert rigorous control over all information flow-a practice that could be described as panopticon pedagogy. As the education writer Audrey Watters has shown, ed-tech companies are all-in on surveillance, eagerly promoting models that capture every website, click, and time spent working. But students would inevitably find workarounds-using cellphone hotspots, for instance. More critically, controlling data use in class runs counter to optimal pedagogy.

In this era of easy access to an unfathomable amount of data, teachers must train their students to wrestle that information into utility, to sort and analyze, query, and then produce well-reasoned analysis and arguments. It will be impossible to achieve these goals by routinely demanding that students shut down all their systems and listen to a teacher speak, isolated from the broader networks. Teachers can help kids learn how to fight distraction by modeling informed exposition (i.e. lectures); teaching note-taking; and building norms based on choice, mutual respect, and good communication. That’s not an easy task, which is why it’s important to instill these values in children from a young age, throughout the whole edifice of education.

Source: How to Teach a Cyborg – The Atlantic

Donald Bligh, in his 2000 book What’s the Use of Lectures?, describes the lecture as “more or less continuous expositions by a speaker who wants the audience to learn something.” Bligh goes on to summarize the research literature: Lectures are as good as other methods at transmitting information, but lectures are generally not effective at promoting thought, changing attitudes, inspiring interest, or teaching skills.

In their 2014 meta-analysis of 228 studies comparing lectures to active learning instruction in STEM contexts, Scott Freeman and colleagues use Bligh’s language, defining traditional lecturing as “continuous exposition by the teacher.” Their meta-analysis showed that active learning instruction led to lower failure rates and greater student learning (as measured by exam grades) than traditional lecturing.

The research seems pretty clear to me. Lecturing, as defined as “continuous exposition by the teacher,” is, in general, on average, less effective at promoting student learning than active learning instruction.

The research is clear that “continuous exposition by the teacher” is less effective than active learning, but when many college instructors hear the word “lecture,” they don’t think “continuous exposition by the teacher.” They think of the kinds of “lectures” that Alex Small describes, ones in which students are regularly engaged in, well, active learning.

Let’s be clear: According to the research, if your understanding of “lecture” involves engaging students in discussion and interaction during class, then you should keep lecturing. It’s “continuous exposition by the teacher” that’s the problem. My only advice would be to consider whether all of your students are learning actively, or just some. It’s easy to engage a few, harder to engage all.

Alex Small appears to see himself as someone who lectures, with a variety of student interactions mixed in. Me, I see myself as someone who practices active learning instruction, with the occasional “times for telling” (Schwartz & Bransford, 1998). Yes, I lecture, too. Just not continuously. A well-timed explanation can be very effective at promoting student learning, and, as Alex Small points out, students need to see expert thinking modeled from time to time.

Source: In Defense of Continuous Exposition by the Teacher – Agile Learning

“A Time of Trump” could be “A Time of Neoliberalism” or “A Time of Libertarianism” or “A Time of Algorithmic Discrimination” or “A Time of Economic Precarity.” All of this is – from President Trump to the so-called “new economy” – has been fueled to some extent by digital technologies; and that fuel, despite what I think many who work in and around education technology have long believed – have long hoped – is not necessarily (heck, even remotely) progressive.

But computing technologies undeniably carry with them the legacy of their military origins. Command. Control. Communication. Intelligence.

“Feminist cyborg stories have the task of recoding communication and intelligence to subvert command and control.” I want those of us working in and with education technologies to ask if that is the task we’ve actually undertaken. Are our technologies or our stories about technologies feminist? If so, when? If so, how? Do our technologies or our stories work in the interest of justice and equity? Or, rather, have we adopted technologies for teaching and learning that are much more aligned with that military mission of command and control? The mission of the military. The mission of the church. The mission of the university.

But I hope that you also think about the culture of school. What sort of institutions will we have in a time of Trump? Ones that value open inquiry and academic freedom? I swear to you this: more data will not protect you. Not in this world of “alternate facts,” to be sure. Our relationships to one another, however, just might. We must rebuild institutions that value humans’ minds and lives and integrity and safety. And that means, in its current incarnation at least, in this current climate, ed-tech has very very little to offer us.

Source: Ed-Tech in a Time of Trump

Today, some psychologists, journalists, and advocates explore and celebrate mental differences under the rubric of neurodiversity. The term encompasses those with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism, schizophrenia, depression, dyslexia, and other disorders affecting the mind and brain. People living with these conditions have written books, founded websites, and started groups to explain and praise the personal worlds of those with different neurological “wiring.” The proponents of neurodiversity argue that there are positive aspects to having brains that function differently; many, therefore, prefer that we see these differences simply as differences rather than disorders. Why, they ask, should what makes them them need to be classified as a disability?

The disadvantages of autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and depression are very real, and are what lead them to be considered disorders. But what those clamoring for cures often neglect, and what the term “neurodiversity” seeks to recognize, is that these disorders often also bring unusual abilities. For example, people with Asperger’s syndrome (AS), a high-functioning type of autism, have an uncanny capacity to see details. They score higher than non-autistics on block-design tests, in which children are asked to use colored blocks to match a pattern given to them. They have better abilities to identify shapes, and are more likely to have prodigious talents, such as perfect pitch and highly accurate memories.

In considering the question of how to deal with the diversity of neurological conditions, we would do well to remember H. G. Wells’s story, where “normal” is a fluid term. Nunez thinks of the blind as abnormal, but so do they of him. That each human being is biologically unique is, in fact, the norm. These biological differences are, in turn, inextricably intertwined with the different ways we have of seeing and being in the world. Eliminating this rich biological and psychological diversity in the ostensible interests of ameliorating or preventing suffering would in the end diminish our humanity. It would make us less visibly like the country of the blind, but more like them in their prejudice. Rather than working to create another set of public labels, the real value of the neurodiversity movement may be in helping us to recognize that we each face challenges and opportunities – and that a decent society is one in which we are each able to strive to make the best of what we are given.

Source: Mental Disorder or Neurodiversity? – The New Atlantis

If you’re confused, don’t worry. You’re not alone. That confusion is a common reaction to a “movement” that’s little more than floating balloons of jargon, full of hot air. The deeper you dig into Design Thinking, the vaguer it becomes.

The Empathize Mode of Design Thinking is roughly as ethnographic as a marketing focus group or a crew of sleazoid consultants trying to feel out and up their clients’ desires.

And they assert that Design Thinking should be a central part of what students learn, so that graduates come to approach social reality through the model of design consulting. In other words, we should view all of society as if we are in the design consulting business.

The version above is full of Silicon Valley buzzwords and jargon (“fail fast”), but it’s missing what Jen calls “Crit,” the kinds of critical thinking and peer criticism that designers do all the time and that forms the foundation of design and architecture education. Crit is essential at every stage, insists Jen.

Jen also points out that Design Thinking reduces design to a single tool: the 3M Post-It note.

A Google Image search for “Design Thinking Post-Its” will get you photos of individuals spraying their ideations all over every nearby body and surface.

Jen puts forward a definition of Design Thinking today: “Design Thinking packages a designer’s way of working for a non-design audience by way of codifying design’s processes into a prescriptive, step-by-step approach to creative problem solving - claiming that it can be applied by anyone to any problem.” Design Thinking is a product - a Stanford/IDEO commodity.

She points out that the words that have become associated with Design Thinking are a variety of business bullshit that have little to do with actual design.

The marketing of design thinking is completely bullshit.

As others put it to me, Design Thinking gives students an unrealistic idea of design and the work that goes into creating positive change. Upending that old dictum “knowledge is power,” Design Thinkers giver their students power without knowledge, “creative confidence” without actual capabilities.

It’s also an elitist, Great White Hope vision of change that literally asks students to imagine themselves entering a situation to solve other people’s problems. Among other things, this situation often leads to significant mismatch between designers’ visions - even after practicing “empathy” - and users’ actual needs.

Thom Moran, an Assistant Professor of Architecture at the University of Michigan, told me that Design Thinking brought “a whole set of values about what design’s supposed to look like,” including that everything is supposed to be “fun” and “play,” and that the focus is less on what would work.” Moran went on, “The disappointing part for me is that I really do believe that architecture, art, and design should be thought of as being a part of the liberal arts. They provide a unique skill set for looking at and engaging the world, and being critical of it.” Like others I talked to, Moran doesn’t see this kind of critical thinking in the popular form of Design Thinking, which tends to ignore politics, environmental issues, and global economic problems.

Moran holds up the Swiffer - the sweeper-mop with disposable covers designed by an IDEO-clone design consultancy, Continuum - as a good example of what Design Thinking is all about. “It’s design as marketing,” he said. “It’s about looking for and exploiting a market niche. It’s not really about a new and better world. It’s about exquisitely calibrating a product to a market niche that is underexploited.”

One architect said that Design Thinking “really belongs in business schools, where they teach marketing and other forms of moral depravity.”

“That’s what’s most annoying,” Moran went on. “I fundamentally believe in this stuff as a model of education. But it’s business consultants who give TED Talks who are out there selling it. It’s all anti-intellectual. That’s the problem. Architecture and design are profoundly intellectual. But for these people, it’s not a form of critical thought; it’s a form of salesmanship.”

Since the 1990s, innovation-speak has grown into an entire Silicon Valley-centered lexicon of newspeak, including terms like disruption, disruptive innovation, angel investors, thought leaders, entrepreneurship, change agents, startups, incubators, Regional Innovation Hubs, smart this or that, unicorns, STEM education, pivot, lean, and agile as well as dead or dying faddish jargon, like killer app and Big Data.

Innovation-speak also has bunch of paraphernalia: hoodies, white boards, open, flexible building plans, and the Post-It notes that Natasha Jen lampoons.

The whole thing has a minimalist aesthetic that you know is going to age poorly - the shag carpeting of the Second Gilded Age, the green corduroy bellbottoms of Digital Robber Barons.

In The Innovation Delusion, Andy and I examine how innovation-speak has led us to neglect many essential aspects of our culture, including maintenance, our infrastructure, essential cultural traditions, and the ordinary, humdrum, mostly anonymous work that keeps the world going. Moreover, innovation-speak does not necessarily, or even often, lead to actual innovation. By some measures, truly deep technological change that increases economic productivity slowed down around 1970, but the era of high innovation-speak began later. Indeed, post-1970 innovation-speak was likely, in part, a response to wide-spread worries and fears about flagging productivity and economic growth, increasing international competition, and a host of uncertainties. The innovators would come and save us. Only they haven’t.

STEM ostensibly stands for science, technology, engineering, and math, but as the historian Nathaniel Comfort and others have argued, the science here isn’t about knowledge for its own sake or about the beauties of inquiry. STEM is focused on knowledge that can be easily commodified and sold.

But innovation-centric reformers aren’t focused on these financial issues. Rather, they tend to make claims like “education hasn’t changed in 100 years.” They make vague and unsupported assertions, such as that “society is growing increasingly complex and will only be more complex in the future.” (What does this claim even mean? Complex in what way? Increasingly complex with respect to what metric? I have asked many professional historians this question, and they believe this increasing complexity claim is unsupportable.)

This manufactured general perception of “crisis” creates opportunities for change from two directions - from-above and from-below - though in practice these directions often work together hand-in-hand.

Furthermore, because STEM has become dominant model of innovation in universities, other disciplines have had to contort themselves to fit that profile. Artists raised their hands to announce, “Look, we can commodify things too,” and started talking about STEAM. Crucial point: if you add the humanities to this mix, you get SHTEAM. (Say it like Mel Brooks would say it.)

Design Thinking’s roots in consulting are instructive.

Natasha Jen and others complain about how schematic and “linear” Design Thinking’s self-representation, but as a tool for hucksterism, turf-grabbing, and bullshit-peddling, this seeming-systematic is precisely what makes the DTs attractive. Design Thinkers use modernist, science-y terms like “modes” to push the idea that they have some special technique.

When you contemplate writing and many other activities, you realize there is nothing new about Design Thinking. It is commonsense tarted up in mumbo jumbo. For sure, it is commonsense tarted up . . . by design.

The even deeper problem, however, is that Design Thinking gives students a terrible picture of technological and social change.

What’s more, anyone who has studied the history of capitalism knows how important design and style have been to the diffusion and reshaping of products.

Design Thinking isn’t focused on generating these kinds of fundamental technological changes; it’s centered on repackaging existing technologies behind slick interfaces. It’s the annual model change of some consumer electronic, slightly reconfigured in the name of planned obsolescence and unveiled at CES as a “New Revolution” in whatever. It’s iShit.

The picture gets even worse when you compare Design Thinking’s “social innovation” with movements that lead to deep and abiding social change.

Design Thinkers dream lubricated dreams of “social innovation” free of politics and struggle.

In the end, Design Thinking’s not about design. It’s not about the liberal arts. It’s not about innovation in any meaningful sense. It’s certainly not about “social innovation” if that means significant social change. It’s about COMMERCIALIZATION. It’s about making all education a shallow form of business education.

The is-design-thinking-the-new-liberal-arts people want the instrumental reason of commodity-making to reign all.

Now, if you have never been frustrated by bureaucracy, you have not lived. Moreover, when I was young, I often believed my elders were old and in the way. But once you grow up and start getting over yourself, you come to realize that other people have a lot to teach you, even when - especially when - they disagree with you.

Design Thinkers and the UIF teach a thoroughly adolescent conception of culture.

Edmund Burke once wrote, “You had all of these advantages . . . but you chose to act as if you had never been molded into civil society, and had everything to begin anew. You began ill, because you began by despising everything that belonged to you.” The brain-rotting illness of innovation-speak leads us to see everything around us and others as objects that are in our way and to overvalue our own precious uniqueness.

It’s ironic because significant changes in art, technology, science, and all culture starts by building on what has come before, not by throwing it away.

The best and deepest thinking always involves a dialectic between us and those who came before us, feeling our way forward together, forever imperfectly, towards truth. This is also why great teaching is always both a subversive and a conservative act, and why one of the foundational liberal arts is called love of wisdom.

In computer programming, there is an idea called “Chesterton’s Fence,” which is “the principle that reforms should not be made until the reasoning behind the existing state of affairs is understood.” Or as Burke again put it, “We are but too apt to consider things in the state which we find them, without sufficiently adverting to the causes by which they have been produced, and possibly may be upheld.” These principles challenge our impatience and overweening estimation of our own genius.

Spicer writes that the anti-bullshit movement “would also be a way of reminding people that each of our institutions has its own language and rich set of traditions which are being undermined by the spread of the empty management-speak.

anyone who knows anything about the history of psychology will instantly see that “reframe” as a reformulation of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT has been one of the most prominent schools of therapy since at least the 1980s. A core assumption of CBT is that individuals are tortured by “negative thought patterns” or “negative automatic thoughts.” CBT encourages us to “challenge” those often by coming up with mantras that give a more realistic and supportive perspective. We can challenge “I am a fat turd” with “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me.”

This CBT rubric has formed the basis for hundreds, thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of self-help books for the last three decades, but Burnett and Evans make nary a mention of this fact. They just call negative thought patterns “dysfunctional beliefs” and challenges “reframes.”

In a gorgeous example of meta-commentary, what they are pointing out is that Design Thinking is the act of taking ideas that already exist, sexing up them up with a bit of rouge, and putting them in other words.

Source: Design Thinking is Kind of Like Syphilis — It’s Contagious and Rots Your Brains

Imagine that, instead of fawning over future-oriented “trends” or the future promise of products – be they virtual reality or “personalized learning” or “flexible seating” or what have you, that education technology actually centered itself on ethical practices – on an ethics of care. And imagine if education’s investors, philanthropists, and practitioners alike committed to addressing, say, economic inequality and racial segregation instead of simply committing to buying more tech.

Source: The Business of ‘Ed-Tech Trends’

But two recent studies of workplace success contradict the conventional wisdom about “hard skills.” Surprisingly, this research comes from the company most identified with the STEM-only approach: Google.

Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

Source: The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students – The Washington Post

the traditional culture of grades and averaging makes the teaching of writing nearly impossible, especially for beginning teachers.

As long as students are allowed to play the averaging game (completing assignments rendered irrelevant as long as the math produces a passing grade in the end), authentic learning and holistic outcomes are moot.

One aspect of the negative impact of grades and averaging is that students receive a powerful and consistent message across all their teachers and courses that playing the average game is not only all right, but what education is.

teachers of writing must create a culture in which drafting is embraced as an essential part of writing—not that drafting is some sort of option or busy work assigned by the teacher.

I wish more educators would advocate for de-testing and degrading the classroom, for rejecting averaging grades in favor of portfolios, revision, and effective teacher feedback. But day-to-day teaching must focus on the autonomy that teachers have, not what they are denied. Teaching is necessarily a tremendous psychological drain; we need not spend our energy on that over which we have no immediate control.

Source: The Nearly Impossible: Teaching Writing in a Culture of Grades, Averages | radical eyes for equity

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