Writing in Education and Plain Text Flow

As a hacker and writer, I spend a lot of time in text editors. Almost everything I write starts in my favorite text editor. A text editor is my thinking space. It is a place for moving around blocks and tinkering with parts. It is a place to explore my mind and write it the way I want it to read. Iteration and ideation happen in my editor. My notes are not just a record of my thinking process, they are my thinking process. Text editors are extensions of mind that facilitate thinking.

All of this happens in beautiful, wonderful plain text.

I love that with plain text the focus is on the words, not the formatting. I love that it’s portable and can be used anywhere and everywhere, in any piece of software that edits or displays words. I love how easy it is to create beautifully formatted documents when needed. Most of all, I love how fast it is. I simply work more efficiently since switching to plain text.

Source: Removing the Word shackles: getting started with plain text

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Writing this post in fullscreen mode in the Ulysses app, a plain text editor for macOS and iOS

At my company, we say “communication is oxygen”. Most of that oxygen is writing. So far this week, we’ve written 99,786 Slack messages, 1,749 P2 posts, and 5,070 P2 comments using our three level communication flow.

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We iterate, we communicate, we make people happy.
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793 Slack channels, 441 P2 blogs, 4,628 Zoom video chats

In the age of distributed collaboration, we are constantly writing. Equip students with the writing tools and flow popular with hackers, writers, scientists, and screenwritersplain text & Markdown. Let’s infect education with the love of plain text. It’s portable, durable, flexible, ubiquitous, and humane. It is indie ed-tech that is not captive to an ed-tech business model or the whim of shareholders.

With blogs, plain text editors, and team chat, we have a wide selection of often free tools that enable the cultivation of authentic writing for authentic audiences. Instead of ELA rubrics that kill the joy of writing with remediation and formulaic prescriptions, students can write about what they care about and share that writing collaboratively with real audiences. Relax control over the writing process. Encourage revision and tinkering without the red ink of assessment. Don’t define and model students into the stilted, joyless unreadability typical of rubric writing. Get out of the way, let kids write, and write alongside them. Let them write not for grades, but to share their lived experience, share their passions, and affect their worlds.

Keyboards, spellcheckers, and assistive tech encourage writing and editing. Let students fill their toolbelts and start writing without shackles.

Below are selections on writing in education, writing for authentic audiences, writing for empathy, writing for English language learners, and writing as a means of accommodating neurodiveristy. At the end are selections on plain text and markdown flow. Plain text + Markdown is my favorite flow, but the important part is writing, collaboration, and connecting with audiences, no matter the tools.

Writing in Education

“I’ve had a fair number of kids that were traditionally disengaged— The most common complaint: ‘I don’t like to write, so I don’t like school.’ When I said, ‘Well, you can type it. You don’t have to write; you can type. And you can use the spell checker, and you can look up words.’ All of the sudden they say, ‘Oh, OK. I’ll do that.’”

“If you’re not a good writer, sitting and writing on a piece of paper is hard. But when they have a computer that can help with spelling, and with grammar, and they can go online and look up words and the pronunciation, and they can hear how it’s said, and they can write it down correctly. Now they feel good about themselves because they’re not getting a paper back with a thousand red marks all over it, correcting grammar and spelling that they don’t necessarily understand in the first place.”

High school students are often reluctant writers, especially when assigned to produce work that is uninteresting and unrelated to their personal lives. However, writing is a vital part of the help desk. Apprentices, both on and off the Communication Team, regularly craft articles for the support blog. My team offers starter ideas, but the apprentices select most topics based on their interests and the support needs of their peers. In this setting, writing feels less stilted, less pedantic, and more authentic. Writing for a real-world audience is vastly different from a traditional school writing assignment where a single teacher is a sole spectator.

Reisinger, Charlie (2016-09-29). The Open Schoolhouse: Building a Technology Program to Transform Learning and Empower Students. Kindle Edition.

Literacy in North America has historically been focused on reading, not writing; consumption, not production.

while many parents worked hard to ensure their children were regular readers, they rarely pushed them to become regular writers.

We are now a global culture of avid writers.

As Brandt notes, reading and writing have become blended: “People read in order to generate writing; we read from the posture of the writer; we write to other people who write.” Or as Francesca Coppa, a professor who studies the enormous fan fiction community, explains to me, “It’s like the Bloomsbury Group in the early twentieth century, where everybody is a writer and everybody is an audience. They were all writers who were reading each other’s stuff, and then writing about that, too.”

So how is all this writing changing our cognitive behavior?

• • • For one, it can help clarify our thinking. Professional writers have long described the way that the act of writing forces them to distill their vague notions into clear ideas. By putting half-formed thoughts on the page, we externalize them and are able to evaluate them much more objectively. This is why writers often find that it’s only when they start writing that they figure out what they want to say.

Poets famously report this sensation. “I do not sit down at my desk to put into verse something that is already clear in my mind,” Cecil Day-Lewis wrote of his poetic compositions. “If it were clear in my mind, I should have no incentive or need to write about it. . . . We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.”

Culturally, we revere the Rodin ideal— the belief that genius breakthroughs come from our gray matter alone. The physicist Richard Feynman once got into an argument about this with the historian Charles Weiner. Feynman understood the extended mind; he knew that writing his equations and ideas on paper was crucial to his thought. But when Weiner looked over a pile of Feynman’s notebooks, he called them a wonderful “record of his day-to-day work.” No, no, Feynman replied testily. They weren’t a record of his thinking process. They were his thinking process.

Before the Internet came along, most people rarely wrote anything at all for pleasure or intellectual satisfaction after graduating from high school or college.

The explosion of online writing has a second aspect that is even more important than the first, though: it’s almost always done for an audience.

When you write something online— whether it’s a one-sentence status update, a comment on someone’s photo, or a thousand-word post— you’re doing it with the expectation that someone might read it, even if you’re doing it anonymously. Audiences clarify the mind even more.

Blogging forces you to write down your arguments and assumptions. This is the single biggest reason to do it, and I think it alone makes it worth it. You have a lot of opinions. I’m sure some of them you hold strongly.

When you move from your head to “paper,” a lot of the hand-waveyness goes away and you are left to really defend your position to yourself.

But studies have found that particularly when it comes to analytic or critical thought, the effort of communicating to someone else forces you to think more precisely, make deeper connections, and learn more.

When asked to write for a real audience of students in another country, students write essays that are substantially longer and have better organization and content than when they’re writing for their teacher. When asked to contribute to a wiki— a space that’s highly public and where the audience can respond by deleting or changing your words— college students snap to attention, writing more formally and including more sources to back up their work.

“Often they’re handing in these short essays without any citations, but with Wikipedia they suddenly were staying up to two a.m. honing and rewriting the entries and carefully sourcing everything,” she tells me. The reason, the students explained to her, was that their audience— the Wikipedia community— was quite gimlet eyed and critical.

Once thinking is public, connections take over.

Source: Thompson, Clive (2013-09-12). Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better (p. 50). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

We asked our building leadership teams, and we asked those Principals and Assistant Principals to ask their teachers, to experience a bit of “writing for empathy.” Medical educators have discovered that when doctors write from the point of view of their patients, empathy increases and the quality of care increases. We thought it might be worth seeing if this applied to our educators as well.

So we began, and told them not to be limited by structure – choose any writing mode you’d like – or grammar or spelling or where or how to write – on the floor, standing up, on paper, on phone, on computer – to just find the emotional path and write.

We so often stop our students from writing… we tell them that everything from how they sit to how they spell is more important than communication… and we thus raise children who hate writing.

This became powerful. People not only chose every and any place to write, every and any device to write on, they chose modes from poetry to an email exchange between high school students in class, from narrative to internal monologue to dialogue in the corridor. From tweet and text to song.

It is remarkable what happens when you stop telling people how to write and start encouraging them to write.

“Our kindergartners and first graders are natural writers,” one principal said, “and then we tell them to stop and worry about handwriting and spelling and punctuation, and they never really write again.”

And then we asked these leaders to share with another, and it became magical. The excitement of reading to each other, of listening, of wondering. People leaned into each other, with genuine smiles – smiles of recognition – and heard. The room was filled with the kind of excitement that – yeah – is mighty rare at Principal Meetings, that is – sadly – often rare in Language Arts classes.

Source: SpeEdChange: Writing for Empathy

First, students need to be writing constantly. Learning to write well, like any other skill, takes many, many hours of practice. Second, students need to write for a real audience and to receive regular, structured feedback from their audiences. Other than looking at the grade on the front of the paper, students are usually totally indifferent to the teacher’s opinions of their work. But when they are writing for or presenting to an authentic audience, which has been asked to assess the work being presented— whether it is their peers or someone outside of school— they work much harder to polish their work, and they seek and pay attention to feedback. Writing for a real audience, and writing about things they know and care about, are central to students’ development of an authentic voice in their work.

The problem with the way writing is currently taught, then, is the same problem that we have described throughout this book. Teachers spend an inordinate amount of time teaching the mechanics of writing— parts of speech, grammar, spelling, punctuation— without giving students any reason whatsoever to want to write, because that’s the way we have done it since 1893. And in the last ten years teachers have spent less and less time assigning and grading students’ writing because they must prepare students for meaningless tests that tell us absolutely nothing about the competencies that matter most.

What little writing that gets done in high schools today is almost always practicing short answers to test prompts and memorizing the mechanics of the standard five-paragraph essay, and nothing else. We are told that the new Common Core tests will require more writing, but it will only be more of the same kind of writing.

Computational resources are now affecting aspects of English classes in significant ways. Students type or dictate essays and benefit from embedded spelling and grammar tools. Granted, autocorrect software has a mind of its own. But when it’s almost impossible to write a word like receive, the days of memorizing rhymes like “i before e, except after c, or when sounded like a, as in neighbor and weigh” are over.

In many ways, the story of dyslexics— in school and life— is the story of U.S. education. Driven by standardized tests, schools focus on low-level capabilities (e.g., memorizing the proper spelling of words). High-potential kids (e.g., dyslexics, smart creative types, rebels) get “down-graded” and left behind. Advances in automation shine light on the fact that these low-level tasks (e.g., spelling receive correctly) are incidental to, not essential to, a person’s life prospects.

Source: Wagner, Tony; Dintersmith, Ted (2015-08-18). Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era. Scribner. Kindle Edition.

He was a slow typist. A painfully slow typist. And yet, his typing was about three times as fast as his handwriting, and, in the end there was a perfectly completed job application.

Source: SpeEdChange: Toolbelt Theory for Everyone

 I wrote this book to help you remedy problems that many young writers face when they confront empty screens and pages. These writers experience frustration and even defeat as they strain against contrived procedures with intangible tools. Over time, these tensions propagate a quiet trauma: Children begin to believe that they can’t write, and then they stop trying. How many adults might be able to advocate for themselves or for justice in their communities if negative early experiences with writing hadn’t silenced them? Many children and adults will tell you that writing is beyond their grasp. They can’t wrap their hands around their ideas, and since they learn best by tinkering with things physically, writing remains literally out of their reach. Maybe the problem isn’t the writer. Maybe it’s the way we’re defining and teaching writing.

Many writers need to move, and they need their writing to move as well. They need to write while out of their seats and on their feet, spreading their ideas across whiteboards and tables, lifting pieces up with their hands, cutting them apart, randomizing them, and tacking them into new and completely unpredictable forms. These writers need access to diverse tools and resources— far more than paper, laptops, and iPads. They build their stories using blocks and boards. They blend plot lines using sticky notes and grids. It’s not enough for these writers to study mentor texts. They need to tear them apart— physically. They need to use their hands to play with text in order to become adept.

Making writing requires dynamic spaces, collaborative cultures, specialized tools, and a commitment to using our words to make a meaningful difference for others.

To teach effectively, we must pay attention to how individuals write and respond to what we observe rather than allowing our personal passions, expertise, and assumptions to drive instruction.

Give writers the permission they need to explore writing using diverse tools and processes. Help them discover how they write. Making is an invitation, not an expectation.

Given similar tools and conditions, I’ve noticed that most adept writers will happily tinker with their writing in the same way people tinker inside maker spaces.

Too many have been taught that everything they need to know will be defined and modeled for them.

Source: Make Writing: 5 Teaching Strategies That Turn Writer’s Workshop Into a Maker Space

We spent thousands dollars, thousands of hours on trying to fix one trait, frankly, perhaps the most irrelevant trait in the world in the 21st century, and that is spelling. God bless spellchecker.

The energy gone into fixing spelling, to worrying about spelling, it’s staggering.

All week we invested time, money, and relationship capital on fixing that irrelevant trait.

We’re not doing the spelling test today. We’re ditching school and going to the zoo.

Source: The Gift: LD/ADHD Reframed

Ultimately our diagnoses and the subsequent attempts at intervention allowed people to blame us, two powerless kids, for our failure instead of turning a critical eye toward the environment. It took us fifteen years of personal and academic struggle to stop blaming ourselves, to stop believing that we are inherently defective like “they” thought, and to come to realize how profound an effect the environment had on our inability to succeed. Only as time went on did simple interventions like the ability to get up out of our seats, the use of a spell checker, and progressive ideas like project-based learning and other modifications to the learning environment allow the pathology to slip into irrelevance and enable us to be successful. Our hard wiring is a simple cognitive difference. We all have them. But an oppressive educational environment that blames children for their failures caused us to grow up with the stigma of pathology.

Source: Mooney, Jonathan; Cole, David (2014-07-01). Learning Outside The Lines: Two Ivy League Students With Learning Disabilities And Adhd Give You The Tools F. Touchstone. Kindle Edition.

He starts by asking students to “think about writing a paper around a question that they really want to find an answer to.” Elliott teaches that first step in constructing a semester-long paper is “gathering information about a question you are passionate about.” He adds: “I usually do the research and writing right along with them. They see that I’m doing the same thing they are doing. That’s an old schoolteacher tool — one of the best I’ve run across for sharing power with students.”

Source: The Power of Digital Writing and Connected Learning – DML Central

We are not usually so obvious in our stated biases, but every day in schools I see students punished for their voices, punished for their culturally ingrained reading styles, punished for refusing to over-simplify, because we teach reading and writing in the same way the English like to teach tea drinking.

And so I wonder, (a) where does my communication fit into your school? your Common Core? your library? your classroom? and (b) where does that democracy of voice fit in? How do we embrace that and not squash it?

The world is a place of constant reinvention. If we all follow the rules, the paths, nothing changes. There is a reason the books of the colonials so often fill the Booker Prize shortlists, there is a reason Irish fiction and poetry are prized so much more highly than that of the English or Americans.The rules have never fully taken root away from “the Queen’s English,” and the paths begin in very different places, and it is the uncommon, not the common, which has extraordinary value.

Source: SpeEdChange: Why do we read? Why do we write?

Likely the sole act of sitting in a classroom writing an assignment for a teacher is not going to inspire a unique and developed voice for any student. It lacks meaning and urgency. If they don’t understand the purpose, the writing will mirror the effort.

With today’s society shifting to technology, writing and publishing has become immediate and public. Students don’t have to only write for an audience of one. From their phones they can write whole blog posts to share with an authentic global audience whenever they want from wherever they want. Our job now needs to be to hone their unique voices and inspire deep levels of reflection on their terms, not ours.

There are many platforms that are free and easy to use and made age appropriate for all levels of students. Whether using a Google account with Blogger or starting with Edmodo or Edublogger, teachers can use the right platform to help students express thoughts publicly.

Publishing is no longer just for scholars and established authors. We can all be authors and encouraging a public space to develop the subtle intricacies of writing makes even the novice writer empowered.

If our end goal is to get students writing more, then we need to allow for some of that writing to be less structured. The mere act of thinking and communicating in writing, often, improves the way we think, even if the writing isn’t terribly good at first. More importantly, writing becomes a habit of mind, one that students enjoy doing as they manipulate their blogs and real people share feedback and comments about their thoughts. It’s less about the correctness and more about connection.

Teachers can model good blogging behaviors by writing their own blogs and using them as a tool to share with students. The more authentic we can be in what we teach, the more likely students will be to hear us. Create a space that is truly yours to share ideas, reflections, experiences and then experience the power of an audience to validate them all. Blogging connects us in a way writing in a classroom never can and that’s why we need to be using it.

Source: For Students, Blogging Doesn’t Feel Like Work – Work in Progress – Education Week Teacher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Writing for English Language Learners

Blogging is a way to document, reflect, and share pedagogical strategies and teaching tools used in the classroom. With the benefits of blogging as a reflective teaching tool, why not use this tool with our students in the classroom? Teachers are integrating blogging as a communicative storytelling mode for students to share stories, thoughts, ideas, responses, discussions, and many other types of communication in the classroom.

Blogging is limitless in terms of structure. As a result, a blog can be an image or video with a thought-provoking caption. It can be a beautiful quote with thoughts strung to it. It can also be a digital story that moves the reader to think, reflect, and feel. A study conducted by Advanced Placement and The National Writing Project found that three-quarters of teachers believe the use of Internet and digital tools has an “overall positive impact” on students’ research habits and communication skills (Purcell et al. 2012). Another study on the impact of digital tools on students’ writing also found that “96% agree that digital technologies ‘allow students to share their work with a wider and more varied audience’” (Purcell, Buchanan, and Friedrich 2013). Clearly, exposing students to different modes of technologies can play a huge factor in developing and shaping their thoughts and ideas. By providing the opportunity for students to communicate in a framework of multiliteracies, we can even begin to see improvement in their research, writing, and critical thinking skills (Purcell, Buchanan, and Friedrich 2013). Blogging needs to be seen as a “formal” mode of writing because it provides an opportunity for students to engage in reading and writing and in turn to strengthen communication skills. Digital writing for English language learners (ELL) can provide students the platform, space, and opportunity for social, cultural, and communicative support.

Digital writing—including blogging, microblogging, writing on social media platforms, and tweeting—also allows students to gain access and control of their own learning. Students who communicate their learning online can see the wide opportunities that are available to them, and in turn, they start to value those opportunities. Research suggests that allowing students to write digitally empowers them by providing them a choice.

Blogging helps students to see that the language is a tool to communicate with other people in social settings. It can also help them to recognize that their writing is a form of interaction in the digital world. This realization will help them in the long run when building their professional learning portfolio online. By using blogging as a communicative tool, students are embracing digital communication, which in turn opens different pathways and opportunities for them.

How often do we tell students not to use I or me in writing? We tend to steer them clear of first-person pronouns in writing for many reasons: It takes away from the strength of their arguments, it makes a statement subject, it does not sound professional, and many other reasons. However, when it comes to blogging and English language learners, encourage them to use the I pronoun. This will help them with the flow of their ideas. For example, many students feel comfortable starting a sentence with “I think” or “I believe” or “In my opinion.” It is perfectly fine for them to do that because blogging is a self-reflective mode of writing.

Communicative practices have a real-life purpose, and as a result, when assigning blogs, make sure that they have a purpose and a connection to communication practices that we do in the real world.

Social and cultural support for English language learners can come in many forms, and digital writing can help with this. Blogging, specifically, opens pathways for students to learn about one another’s social and cultural norms, and more importantly, students end up connecting with one another. The big question remains: How do we leverage blogging as a tool to connect the teacher and students socially and culturally? As previously stated, blogging helps students to develop an understanding and appreciation of each other’s social and cultural practices. It also helps to break down barriers between different cultural beliefs, and even more so, it helps to shatter stereotypes that we often have about different societies and cultures.

When students blog about their learning, they also inherently discuss their takes on the lesson and what went on in the classroom that day. This helps the teacher to see and identify areas to help students meet their individual learning needs. More importantly, this feedback is vital to improve the teacher’s pedagogy. By seeing how students benefited or didn’t benefit from the lesson, the teacher can implement changes in her teaching style and methodology in the next lesson, ensuring that each student’s learning needs are being met with personalized pedagogy. Blogging can bridge the communication gap between the teacher and students. Many students, especially English language learners, have a hard time sharing their learning progress or lesson reflection with the teacher. Blogging can also merge face-to-face communication with digital communication. If a student is not comfortable having a face-to-face conversation because of a lack of confidence in his or her oral skills, shyness, or cultural barriers, then the teacher can encourage him or her to write a blog post to reflect on how the lesson went.

This standard supports digital writing for English language learners, as collaboration is also one of the key practices that helps English language learners to learn better. Ferlazzo (2016) states that “collaborative writing has been found to be particularly helpful (PDF) to English-language learners (ELLs) in lowering anxiety and increasing self-confidence and motivation.”

“Blogging is immensely valuable for ELLs. While we can expect it to produce significant writing gains, blogging also helps learners grow their listening, reading and speaking skills when incorporated with other activities. Blogging involves a great deal of reflective thought, enabling students to develop thinking skills in English. Furthermore, blogging gives them a voice, validating and celebrating their place in this world. The most rewarding aspect of blogging, however, is when students read their older posts and are able to see their growth.”—Anabel Gonzalez, who has been teaching since 1996.

Source: Digital Writing for English Language Learners

 

 

 

 

 

Backchannels and Neurodiversity

Ditch That Textbook provides examples of how to use blogs and team chat in the classroom. Chapter 3, Use Technology to Defeat Insecurity, offers good insight into the neurodiversity friendliness of backchannels, something familiar to tech workers. Written communication is a great equalizer and an important part of our culture.

A backchannel is a separate, often text-based, discussion students engage in while they’re receiving information via a lecture, a movie, a television show, or a PowerPoint presentation. Students use a digital device to participate in a behind-the-scenes chat so as not to disturb others trying to listen.

Backchannels provide the perfect outlet for students who have something to say but refuse to open up in class discussions. When everyone participates in the conversation, no one feels singled out. As a result, inhibitions about sharing decrease and the courage to speak up increases. Plus, when everyone types at once, the teacher spends less time calling on students one by one.

Source: Ditch That Textbook Ditch That Textbook: Free Your Teaching and Revolutionize Your Classroom

 I personally believe that the backchannel is the greatest unharnessed resource that we as educators have available to us. It does not threaten me nor bother me that you learned as much if not more from the backchannel the other night — in fact, it makes me feel great that I facilitated the connection.

Source: Cool Cat Teacher Blog: Backchannels and Microblogging Streams

And that’s not even touching on the ways this kind of technology supports the shy user, the user with speech issues, the user having trouble with the English Language, the user who’d rather be able to think through and even edit a statement or question before asking it.

Source: SpeEdChange: Bringing the “Back Channel” Forward

Written communication is the great social equalizer.

Remember this if you start to fear your Autistic child is spending too much time interacting with others online and not enough time interacting with others face-to-face.  Online communication is a valid accommodation for the social disability that comes with being Autistic.  We need online interaction and this meta-study demonstrates exactly why that is the case.

I couldn’t help wondering, since the study showed the durability of first impressions and the positive response to the written words of Autistics, with all visual and auditory cues removed, could we mitigate childhood bullying in any way by having a class of students meet first online, in text, and form their first impressions of one another in that format before ever meeting face-to-face?

Getting online was revolutionary and may have saved my life.

But when I got online, no one could see (or smell) that about me. All they could see was my words and ideas, and that was what people judged me by. For the first time in my life, I was not found lacking. I made friends of all ages. I was respected and liked. The difference between offline and online communication could not have been more dramatic.

Source: THINKING PERSON’S GUIDE TO AUTISM: Autism and the Burden of Social Reciprocity

Plain Text and Markdown

A big part of the problem is that we’re often using the wrong default tool to create our words. When ready to write, the majority of computer users will open a word processor like Microsoft Word or Apple’s Pages rather than a text editor like Notepad on Windows or Text Edit on the Mac. We do this even if we’re simply drafting an email or jotting down notes to ourselves. The problem actually lies in the name. A word processor, while capable of being used for the creation of words, is actually optimized for formatting text in order to be printed or read. Whereas a text editor is more focused the creation and editing of your words.

Source: A Plain Text Primer

Where a graphical Word processor might boast that “what you see is what you get,” a text editor can boast “what you see is what is there.” Nothing is hidden.

For this reason, plain text documents are much more stable and sustainable through the process of composition and revision than word processor documents. That doesn’t mean there’s something inherently wrong with word processors. What it does mean is that word processors are the right tools for the job when the job is formatting and processing complex documents, and not necessarily the right tools for the job when the job is writing.

The basic idea behind a plain-text workflow is that you do your composing with a text editor in a sustainable, universal format, and then, only when your text is ready to send somewhere–say, to a journal for publication–do you worry about formatting.

Text editors are tiny pieces of software compared to word processors, so they start instantaneously, load documents almost instantly, and run like lightning even on old hardware. Nothing gets between you and your words.

Source: Writing in Plain Text: A Tutorial for the Non-Techy Writer | surfingedges

Plain text writing (and marking up text elements for later formatting) is simple. If you’ve been socialized in Word (like me), you may disagree at first. But I believe that if you try plain text writing, you’re likely to change your mind and come to enjoy its purity and simplicity. As for myself, I think now that text processors are actually cumbersome, and many writers just got so used to this fact that they don’t question it anymore.

So writing plain text means to separate writing from formatting for the sake of productivity. The essential structural elements of a text are marked up while writing: You can write headings of various levels, add emphasis, add lists and more. What you can’t do: Tweak margins, or choose your first order headings to be 24 pt, and red-colored. All the layout tasks that have nothing to do with the content you’re trying to compose. Take care of layout later. This first instance should be about writing, and writing only.

If you want to publish your text more than once, but in different formats, plain text is very effective – thanks to the use of markup, you can easily convert it. Ulysses, as an example, can use one and the same text to create a formatted PDF, an e-book or standard HTML – with just a few clicks.

Source: Why Plain Text Will Boost Your Productivity as a Writer | Ulysses Blog

Once you start working with plain text documents, you realize the power of their infinite portability and compatibility. You can edit them anywhere, on just about any device, and never break anything. It’s addicting.

The popular Markdown syntax is valuable for text editing because it allows you to add formatting while maintaining this portability and compatibility. You might think that formatting text by typing special characters is nerdy and distracting. Nerdy maybe, but in practice it’s quite the opposite of distracting. Markdown keeps your hands on the keys. It keeps you typing. Screenwriters know the value of this. It’s the butt in the chair that gets the words on the page.

Source: Fountain FAQ – Fountain | A markup language for screenwriting.

Unlike cumbersome word processing applications, text written in Markdown can be easily shared between computers, mobile phones, and people. It’s quickly becoming the writing standard for academics, scientists, writers, and many more. Websites like GitHub and reddit use Markdown to style their comments.

Formatting text in Markdown has a very gentle learning curve. It doesn’t do anything fancy like change the font size, color, or type. All you have control over is the display of the text-stuff like making things bold, creating headers, and organizing lists.

If you have ten minutes, you can learn Markdown!

Source: Markdown Tutorial | Lesson 1

Plain text doesn’t change. Fifty years from now, you’ll still be able to open a plain text file. Until we all have squiggly tentacles on our faces and communicate telepathically, plain text will be a thing.

What about conversion software? Let’s say a tiny black hole swallows up every Markdown converter on the planet. You still have nice, clean plain text.

Source: Why I Use Markdown, & You Should Too – Portent

With Markdown, you don’t entrust your writing to 50,000 corporate shareholders, the companies they control and whatever features they “sunset” or add.

You control your destiny because, yes, you guessed it: It’s plain text.

Source: Why I Use Markdown, & You Should Too – Portent

Walk into a room of coders and ask what the best tools of their trade are—keyboards, text editing software, etc,—and you’re bound to start a war.

But in a world where programmers are fanatically divided, advocating fiercely for their favorite window managers and text editors, there’s one thing many engineers agree on. It’s called Solarized, and for four years, it’s reigned supreme as the color scheme of choice for many coders and the text they have to stare at all day.

After all, coders have, well, rather extreme thoughts about things like color schemes and text editors.

“This is close to people’s hearts,” Yale Spector, a senior developer for WeWork, told the Observer. “People take this shit real seriously.”

At this point, you’re probably asking yourself, “Why, why do these people care so much about the most minute details?” It’s because coders, who are also just very particular in nature, have no other tools of their trade but their computer and their mind.

“Text editors are where we live, where we spend so many hours in our day,” Mr. Spector said. “It’s so personal to us, it’s our home. When you get a house, you spend time making it comfortable, because you’re going to be there a long time.”

And, as Mr. Brocken puts it, it’s not just hot rodding—or tricking out your equipment for the sake of ostentatiousness. No, this is about building the perfect tool.

Developers may be overly opinionated, but they are also, by virtue of their work, obsessed with efficiency. For programmers who are building programs and designs right from their imagination, every additional advantage in their work environment is one less barrier between their mind and the machine.

“It may looks ridiculous to the outside observer, but it’s about eliminating that invisible barrier between you and the tool that you’re using,” Mr. Schoonover said. “It’s the carpenter making his own work bench.”

Source: Meet the Man Behind ‘Solarized,’ the Most Important Color Scheme in Computer History

Briefly, plain text is a great format to use because (1) it can be read by any computer or device; (2) it’s future proof, since computers will always be able to read it; (3) it can be synced to all your devices; (4) it can be converted to virtually any format.

Source: Markdown: The Syntax You (Probably) Already Know – ProfHacker – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Plain text is ubiquitous. It works on every operating system, and on every mobile device, regardless of who makes it. A wide variety of apps can read it. You’ll never run into file compatibility errors. You can take what you write from one app to another without a thought.

This matters because the tech industry likes to remind us that nothing lasts forever. We see apps shut down all the time. They add in a subscription fee. They lock that one feature you want behind a paywall. It’s annoying, and if you’re invested in an app, whether it’s a notes app or a to-do app, you’re often forced to pay out the nose for a bunch of features you don’t want. Plain text doesn’t suffer this problem because it’s universally readable across platforms, not to mention a bedrock of well, computing as we know it.

Likewise, plain text will never change. Where an app might get updated with new features and a new user interface, plain text is pretty much always plain text. I will never open up an app to find a new design that I hate, or a new user experience I have to learn. Text editors may change, but there’ll always be another, and they’ll never all go subscription-only. This is really important to me. I use plain text every single day for simple tasks. I don’t need anything getting in the way of me capturing text as quickly as possible.

Source: I Still Use Plain Text for Everything, and I Love It

I love that with plain text the focus is on the words, not the formatting. I love that it’s portable and can be used anywhere and everywhere, in any piece of software that edits or displays words. I love how easy it is to create beautifully formatted documents when needed. Most of all, I love how fast it is. I simply work more efficiently since switching to plain text.

Source: Removing the Word shackles: getting started with plain text

Authors and writers of all stripes can learn a lot about creating and managing words from computer programmers, beginning with an appreciation for the simple, durable efficiencies of plain text. Anybody running Unix, Linux, or BSD already knows all about text, because it’s the third prong of the Unix Tools Philosophy:

  1. Write programs that do one thing and do it well;
  2. Write programs that work together;
  3. Write programs to handle text streams, because that is a universal interface.

The geeks who made Unix nearly 40 years ago made plain text the universal interface because they believed in economy, simplicity, and reliability.

If Unix is the geek Gilgamesh epic, it’s a tale told in plain text.

Source: Plain Text For Authors & Writers – Richard Dooling

Since its introduction in 2004, Markdown has enjoyed remarkable success. Markdown works for users for three key reasons. First, the markup instructions (in text) look similar to the markup that they represent; therefore, the cognitive burden to learn the syntax is low. Second, the primary arbiter of the syntax’s success is running code. The tool that converts the Markdown to a presentable format, and not a series of formal pronouncements by a standards body, is the basis for whether syntactic elements matter. Third, Markdown has become something of an Internet meme, in that Markdown gets received, reinterpreted, and reworked as additional communities encounter it. There are communities that are using Markdown for scholarly writing, for screenplays, and even for mathematical formulae. Clearly, a screenwriter has no use for specialized Markdown syntax for mathematicians; likewise, mathematicians do not need to identify characters or props in common ways. The overall gist is that all of these communities can take the common elements of Markdown (which are rooted in the common elements of HTML circa 2004) and build on them in ways that best fit their needs.”

Source: RFC 7764 – Guidance on Markdown: Design Philosophies, Stability Strategies, and Select Registrations

Find Your Flow

I like and advocate plain text, but choose the tools that fit your flow. Many of my favorite authors use word processors.

Others prefer Scrivener.

George R.R. Martin famously uses WordStar 4.0 on DOS.

The important part is writing. Find your flow.

The deficit model is a business model, and ed-tech is a monster.

The deficit model is a business model. The assessment and ed-tech industries will not easily let it go. This business model prevents public education from changing. It turns charter schools into hyper-capitalist deficit model shrines enthralled with data collected for and viewed through their business model—losing sight of humanity and kids. Inclusive pedagogy based on personal strengths, agency, collaboration, passion, play, projects, and self-directed learning is a lot cheaper, which is a threat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ed-tech is built on the deficit model, compliance culture, and greed. Extend our vision beyond deficit ideology toward a school culture built on the social model—where communication is oxygen and inclusion is the normal.

I’m an autistic engineer working in the intersection of tech and publishing. Along with people from all over the world, I contributed to the creation of a global open source community and one of the first distributed companies. We’re iterating the future of work and collaboration and making it inclusive.

Communication is oxygen, inclusion is the new normal, and the social model for minds and bodies are how we aspire to run our companies and communities. They’re how we design and build software for and with humans. We’re continuously learning and iterating. We’re continuously actualizing the aspiration and sharing what we learn with other creative communities as we all contribute to the shared, open heart of the internet—the heart to which companies offer their intellectual crown jewels as open source.

Learn and iterate with us. Education needs to join in. What we’ve learned building creative, inclusive, psychologically safe communities and workplaces for adult creatives applies also to kids. Teachers and tech workers should be collaborating. Instead of buying cronyware from ed-tech corporations—contributing into the pockets of those destroying public education—use the tools and techniques of the rank and file tech workers building open communities. Tech has many malignancies (see Uber and most of Silicon Valley), but behind the scenes are many workers making collaboration, teams, technology, and the world more inclusive, ethical, and humane. Skip what ed-tech sells. Use what communities and tech workers use. Let’s collaborate. Let’s go indie. Let’s bring together the best of public education, unschooling, and hacker cultures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The LMS is our major record label. Prepackaged software. A prepackaged sound.

Pre-packaged sound. Pre-packaged courses. Pre-packaged students.

If we don’t like ‘the system’ of ed-tech, we should create one of our own.

“Indie ed-tech” offers a model whereby students, faculty, staff, and independent scholars alike can use the “real-world” tools of the Web — not simply those built for and sanctioned by and then siloed off by schools or departments — through initiatives like Davidson Domains, enabling them to be part of online communities of scholars, artists, scientists, citizens.

Source: ‘I Love My Label’: Resisting the Pre-Packaged Sound in Ed-Tech

Start with communication. Use tech not for remediation, surveillance, and assessment, but to empower voice and facilitate collaboration. Unbridle the voices of  teachers and students. Let them collaborate. Let them engage with the digital commons. Connect them with their tribes and affinity groups. This is how systemic change happens, with voices collaborating, with teams self-organizing. Without communication and agency to collaborate, we will remain in the deficit model script—assessed into despondency and squandering mis-prioritized resources.

The self-advocacy of voice doesn’t change much without the agency to implement.

When people talk about giving students a voice, what they’re really doing — whether they realize or not (and to their credit, I suspect they don’t) —  is finding a band-aid solution to a big problem that really needs surgery. “Student voice” is cushy and comfortable because it doesn’t actually require serious, deep-rooted change. We do need to give students something, but it’s not a voice.

I know, because I’m a student. I’m in my final year at university. I also know because four years ago, in my junior year of high school, I designed an alternative school, one that was run by students, and I implemented it as a school-within-a-school at my public high school in Western Massachusetts. As you can imagine, it was a hard sell. Convincing an entire faculty and an elected school board to allow a student led school to run for a whole semester took a lot of legwork. But, in the end, they approved it, and what happened next was pretty cool.

Source: Students don’t need a ‘voice.’ Here’s what they really need. – The Washington Post

Communicate, collaborate, iterate, and launch. Communicate is first—from it the others cascade. With our voices collaborating in cultures of agency, we can fight the ed-tech and deficit model monsters.

There are monsters because there is a lack of care and an absence of justice in the work we do in education and education technology.

Source: The Curse of the Monsters of Education Technology

There is no path toward educational justice that contains convenient detours around direct confrontations with injustice.”  Social model inclusion in our schools and institutions requires confrontation with the deficit model and with structural racism, sexism, ableism, and childism.

I enjoy Audrey Watters’ annual reviews of the year in ed-tech. I recommend all ten parts of the 2016 ed-tech review. They offer important insights into the monsters we face.

  1. Wishful Thinking
  2. The Politics of Education Technology
  3. The Business of Education Technology
  4. ”Free” and “Open”
  5. For-Profit Higher Education
  6. The “New Economy”
  7. Credentialing
  8. Data Insecurity
  9. Personalization
  10. Inequality

These ten parts provide a structural, systemic view of ed-tech. I excerpt from parts 1, 2, and 3 below. Read these excerpts, read the entire review, read Communication is Oxygen, and think about how we can give rise to voice and agency with a collaboration infrastructure and open-by-default culture that avoids snake oil and cargo cult shrinkwrap.

 

 

 

 

 

Expertise in an Age of Post-Truth

And here we are. A loss of faith in governments, governance, globalization, pluralism, polling, pundits, public institutions, private institutions, markets, science, research, journalism, democracy, each other.

“If the experts as a whole are discredited,” Hayes cautions, “we are faced with an inexhaustible supply of quackery.”

Education technology faces an inexhaustible supply of quackery.

Education Technology and (Decades and Decades of) Quackery

Education technology has faced an inexhaustible supply of quackery for quite some time – those selling snake oil, magic pills, and enchanted talismans and promising disruption, efficiency, and higher test scores. The quackery in 2016 wasn’t new, in other words, but it was notable. It is certainly connected to the discrediting of “expertise,” whether that’s teachers-as-experts or researchers-as-experts. (Students, of course, have rarely been recognized as experts – unless they fit the model of “roaming autodidacts” that society so readily lauds.)

What do we believe about education? About learning? How do we know, and who knows “knowing” in a world where expertise is debunked?

There’s little evidence of how these products or practices will improve teaching or learning. But there’s a ton of snake oil. And a lot of wishful thinking.

Education Technology and (Decades and Decades of) Wishful Thinking

The promise of education technology, like it or not, is mostly wishful thinking. Proponents of ed-tech insist that ed-tech is necessary; that without ed-tech, schools are outmoded and irrelevant; that “the future” demands it. But as I argued in a talk I gave at VCU in November, “the best way to predict the future is to issue a press release.” That is, the steady drumbeat of marketing surrounding the necessity of education technology largely serves to further ideologies of neoliberalism, individualism, late-stage capitalism, outsourcing, surveillance, speed, and commodity fetishism.

Grief and Loss and Education Technology

Perhaps it’s time to ask why – why this is the ritual and the story that education continues to turn to? It has, after all, for at least one hundred years: the promise of teaching machines. What is the loss that we are suffering? What are we grieving? Why are we in this fog of educational make-believe? Why are we so wrapped up in the magical thinking and wishful thinking of education technology? What do we hope the practices of ed-tech will deliver, will relieve? What are we hoping to preserve? What are we hoping to absolve? What might we afraid to admit has died? Why is wishful thinking, in and through and with education technology, a balm for so many of us?

At what point should we just let go…

Source: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2016: Wishful Thinking

The Politics of Education Technology

The business of education technology overlaps with the politics of ed-tech. The politics overlap with privacy. Privacy overlaps with “personalization,” and surveillance overlaps with data collection and analytics and algorithmic decision-making. Coding bootcamps are related to for-profit higher ed, which is connected to credentialing which is connected to accreditation, which is connected to politics. Challenges to accreditation and certification and the steady drumbeat of “everyone should learn to code” are connected to politics as well as to the business of ed-tech.

Then there’s the question: what counts as “ed-tech”? One of the flaws, I think, of much of the reporting on education technology is that it treats “ed-tech” as a product without a politics and without a practice. It also treats “ed-tech” primarily as a product built by engineers, not for example, constructed through the practices of educators or students themselves – problems with education are, in this framework, engineering problems. This reporting treats “ed-tech” as a product built in and by Silicon Valley, not as something built in and by public institutions around the world. It treats “ed-tech” as the result of markets and industry and “innovation,” and not as the result of policy or history. The reporting often isolates education technology from other developments in the computer technology sector and tends to isolate education technology from education politics and policies more broadly (unless, of course, those policies dovetail with the political interests of ed-tech and ed-reform, which they often do).

There is No Technology Industry (There is Only Ideology)

There is no ‘technology industry’,” technology writer and entrepreneur Anil Dash wrote in August.

Put simply, every industry and every sector of society is powered by technology today, and being transformed by the choices made by technologists. Marc Andreessen famously said that “software is eating the world,” but it’s far more accurate to say that the neoliberal values of software tycoons are eating the world.

Every industry uses computers, software, and internet services. If that’s what “technology” means, then every company is in the technology business – a useless distinction. But it’s more likely that “technology” has become so overused, and so carelessly associated with Silicon Valley-style computer software and hardware startups, that the term has lost all meaning. Perhaps finance has exacerbated the problem by insisting on the generic industrial term “technology” as a synonym for computing.

…There are companies that are firmly planted in the computing sector. Microsoft and Apple are two. Intel is another – it makes computer parts for other computer makers. But it’s also time to recognize that some companies – Alphabet, Amazon, and Facebook among them – aren’t primarily in the computing business anyway. And that’s no slight, either. The most interesting thing about companies like Alphabet, Amazon, and Facebook is that they are not (computing) technology companies. Instead, they are using computing infrastructure to build new – and enormous – businesses in other sectors. If anything, that’s a fair take on what “technology” might mean as a generic term: manipulating one set of basic materials to realize goals that exceed those materials.

When I write – here and elsewhere – about the politics of education technology, I am interested in these very things: organizations, practices, relationships, ideologies. The politics of education technology shape and are shaped by, as Franklin argues, our ideas of power. And as Bogost and Dash both caution, it’s a mistake to fetishize the tech as product – in ed-tech and elsewhere – especially at the expense of scrutinizing technology in its ubiquity and as ideology.

“Tech” and the Presidential Election

Facebook will appear again and again in this year-end series. Facebook and wishful thinking. Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s education investments. Facebook and personalization. Facebook and algorithmic discrimination. It is one of the most powerful (and frightening) companies – and it has its eyes on “disrupting” education.

President-Elect Donald J. Trump

This isn’t simply a matter of subverting the value of education as a public good. It’s about attacking education as a vehicle for social justice. Some speculate that Trump might dismantle the Office for Civil Rights, for starters, which enforces the compliance for Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, and other federal civil rights laws.

The Obama Administration (in Its Final Year) and Education

I’ll write about the Obama Administration and for-profit higher ed in a subsequent post in this series. (And don’t think for a minute I won’t talk about Trump University in all its gruesome details.) I’ll also cover the various efforts to address college affordability in another post, in part through issuing a “scorecard” to help prospective college students decide which school to attend. And in another post, I will look at the administration’s efforts to promote STEM and CS education via the Computer Science For All initiative launched in January; in yet another I’ll look at its efforts to encourage schools use open educational resources via the GoOpen initiative which it launched last year. I also plan to talk about the administration’s support for charter schools (and how charter school chains act as test-beds for software companies, as well as how their missions dovetail with a push for “personalization”). I’ll talk more elsewhere about how testing, about how testing has and hasn’t changed (and might and not changed) – under Obama and thanks to the “opt-out” movement and because of the re-authorization of ESEA (now known as the “Every Student Succeeds Act” rather than “No Child Left Behind”).

See? It’s all interconnected.

Accessibility and Technology (and the Role of Governments and Corporations)

Access to the Internet – at home and at school – has, obviously, been key to education technology initiatives. Bandwidth is necessary, and schools still struggle to provide it, particularly in rural areas.

Certainly access to the Internet for the purposes of education isn’t just about access at school.

In February, CoSN, the Consortium for School Networking, called broadband access outside of school a “civil right” for students.

Education Technology and Political Corruption

The word “kleptocracy” is already being used to describe the incoming administration. And I guess we’ll have to wait-and-see how technology companies and education technology companies will try to benefit from an era of backroom deals and deregulation.

Or, we could look at a couple of dealings – pre-Trump – that occurred this year to see how some in ed-tech operate.

Yes, Epipens count as “ed-tech.” And yes, this is how the politics of the business of ed-tech works. If anything, the privatization and profiteering that Trump’s election portends is just a difference of speed and degree.

Ed-tech, Civil Rights, and Academic Freedom

Who stands in the way of education’s horrors?

Well, students for starters.

Education technology has become inextricable from education reform in recent years – from efforts to improve test scores and bust unions and built charter schools to those that reframe the civic responsibility of education as an individual, “personalized” product.

Who benefits? Who benefits when public education is dismantled and “disrupted”? And who benefits when entrepreneurs and investors get to define “equity”? Who do their policies and who do their rhetoric really serve?

At the end of 2016, the most pressing question is not, as a recent Edsurge headline asked, “Who Thinks Tech Makes Learning More Fun?” Let me suggest some better ones: what role does education technology play in spreading hate and harassment? What role does education technology play in undermining equity and democracy? Can education technology play any role in resistance?

Source: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2016: The Politics of Education Technology

What Do Venture Capitalists Want?

Some of these areas that are popular for investment do coincide with the popular narratives about “the future of education” – “everyone should learn to code,” for example. But some of them, like the explosion in startups offering private student loans, suggest something is happening quite contrary to the narratives of “free and open,” not to mention to a tradition of publicly funded education or the policies of federal financial aid.

Glaring in its absence from this list: “personalization,” one of the most trumpeted technology “solutions” this year. … Even without funding data to underscore its importance, “personalization” can’t be dismissed.

The word is a crystallization of ed-tech ideology: through technology, teaching will become radically individualized as learners’ lessons are reduced to the smallest possible piece of content, then presented to them algorithmically. Moreover, per this ideology, without the aid of algorithms and “personalization” technology, human educators and traditional institutions have historically failed to meet the needs of individuals as individuals. The responsibility for education therefore must shift to technology, away from the institution, to the individual, away from the public or civic.

The ideological and financial shift from public to private is exemplified by venture philanthropy – that is, venture capital investments framed as charity.

Wealthy individuals often assume that philanthropic donations should be received in gratitude, Reich said, because it’s better for the public than purchasing another house or another boat. “That’s just false to me,” he said. “It’s an exercise of power aimed at the public, and in a democratic society, power deserves attention and scrutiny, not gratitude.”

The Elephants in the Ed-Tech Room

For the last five or six years, education technology has been largely talked about in terms of “startups,” something that helps position the industry as an outsider and an underdog. Of course, most of ed-tech is neither. It’s built and sold by giant corporations.

These are the companies that sell the textbooks; these are the companies that sell the tests.

In response to all these ongoing problems with testing, the Obama Administration said in April it would “take action” in order to “ensure fewer and better tests for students.” “Taking action,” in this case, meant releasing some case studies and posting a notice on the Federal Register about how a competitive grant program could provide a more “innovative” way to build assessments.

Everything’s a business opportunity.

But this notion of an “OS War” shouldn’t be too quickly dismissed. “Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google Are Fighting a War for the Classroom,” Edutechnica wrote in June, with a look at how many colleges have adopted their competing “pseudo-LMSes.” The “war” extends beyond the productivity suite of tech tools and it extends beyond operating system in the classroom. It’s about building brand allegiance with students and/as workers, and it’s about building data profiles to sell ads and other products.

The LMS, of course, needn’t be a permanent line item in schools’ budgets. And its supposed primacy might actually overlook that there’s a great deal of “shadow” technology utilized by instructors who eschew the official LMS for something they find better suited to their classroom needs and goals.

The Procurement Problem

The learning management system is a piece of “enterprise” software after all. That is, it’s built and bought to satisfy the needs of the institution rather than the needs of individual. Purchasing an LMS – or more correctly, signing a contract to license an LMS – requires its own enterprise-level bureaucracy.

There’s a lot that’s wrong with the process, no doubt. For starters, the hefty RFP requirements almost by design tilt purchasing decisions towards big companies and incumbent players. The folks who make the decisions about what to buy typically aren’t the people who are using the products in the classroom.

There’s not a lot of transparency in the procurement process; nor is it easy to find out afterwards which products schools bought or use – although that’s not something you hear companies moan about, funnily enough. You’re just supposed to trust them when they brag they’re used in 90% of schools. (USC professor Morgan Polikoff’s research on textbook adoption, for example, has made this painfully clear. He’s sent FOIA requests to school districts, and in many cases they have been unwilling or unable to share their textbook data. And when they do, the data is often a mess.)

But by and large, procurement issues are a problem identified by companies that companies decide they will “fix” in turn: “Try Before You Buy,” Edsurge reported in June. “Clever’s ‘Co-Pilot’ Aims to Help Schools Pilot and Purchase.” Indeed, an increasingly popular service offered by ed-tech companies and ed-tech investors is “research” into how to buy ed-tech and into which ed-tech products are best, which “work” (whatever that means).

(These companies almost all share the same investors too. And the beat goes on.)

One of the ways in which ed-tech startups have found success in getting their products widely adopted is to sell to charter schools, particularly charter school chains. (Again, they often share the same investors.) Charter school chains, in turn, have started to license their products and franchise their models to others. As such, it’s difficult to separate “the business of education technology” from “the business of charter schools” – and why it’s difficult, as I noted in the previous article in this series, “the politics of education technology” from “the politics of education reform.”

Disrupting the Culture of Public Education

I’ve argued elsewhere that education technology serves as a “Trojan horse” of sorts, carrying with it into public institutions the practices, politics, and a culture of private business and the ideology of Silicon Valley. This is evident in the ways in which you hear many investors and entrepreneurs talk about what needs to happen to schools – that they need to become more efficient; they need to be more like “lean startups” and redesign themselves as a “minimum viable product”; they need to “unbundle,” “unbundle,” “unbundle”; they need to rename job titles and rethink job roles – “learning engineers” or “entrepreneurs-in-residence,” for example; they need to turn to markets, not politics or publics, for solutions.

If you’re looking for a quick read – one that’s hilariously awful – about the culture of startups in order to convince yourself this is the last thing we should bring to public education, I recommend Dan Lyon’s book Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble, published this spring.

What VC Spells for Sesame Street

In February, Sesame Workshop, the maker of Sesame Street, announced it was launching a venture capital arm in order to invest in startups because everything is terrible. It’s first startup investment – a tutoring app. It also invested $53 million in a VC fund run by Reach Capital, formerly NewSchools Venture Fund.

Sesame Workshop has also partnered with IBM, to extract data from preschoolers in the name of “research” into the “personalization” of early childhood education.

Of course, what drives the programming on Sesame Street now isn’t education research; it’s market research. It isn’t “equity” as in social justice; it’s “equity” as in the financial stake a VC takes in a company.

And that’s what “the business of education technology” gets us.

Source: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2016: The Business of Education Technology

Marketing the Mindsets

Intertwined with the push for “personalization” in education are arguments for embracing a “growth mindset.” The phrase, coined by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, appears frequently alongside talk of “personalized learning” as students are encouraged to see their skills and competencies as flexible rather than fixed. (Adaptive teaching software. Adaptive students.)

The marketing of mindsets was everywhere this year: “How to Develop Mindsets for Compassion and Caring in Students.” “Building A Tinkering Mindset In Young Students Through Making.” “6 Must-Haves for Developing a Maker Mindset.” The college president mindset. Help wanted: must have an entrepreneurial mindset. The project-based learning mindset. (There’s also Gorilla Mindset, a book written by alt-right meme-maker Mike Cernovich, just to show how terrible the concept can get.)

“Mindset” joins “grit” as a concept that’s quickly jumped from the psychology department to (TED Talk to) product. Indeed, Angela Duckworth, who popularized the latter (and had a new book out this year on grit), now offers an app to measure “character growth.” “Don’t Grade Schools on Grit,” she wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times. But there are now calls that students should be tested – and in turn, of course, schools graded – on “social emotional skills.”

Promising to measure and develop these skills are, of course, ed-tech companies. Pearson even has a product called GRIT™. But it’s probably ClassDojo, a behavior tracking app, that’s been most effective in marketing itself as a “mindset” product, even partnering with Carol Dweck’s research center at Stanford.

Ben Williamson argues that ClassDojo exemplifies the particularly Silicon Valley bent of “mindset” management:

The emphasis … is on fixing people, rather than fixing social structures. It prioritizes the design of interventions that seek to modify behaviours to make people perform as optimally as possible according to new behavioural and psychological norms. Within this mix, new technologies of psychological measurement and behaviour management such as ClassDojo have a significant role to play in schools that are under pressure to demonstrate their performance according to such norms.

In doing so, ClassDojo – and other initiatives and products – are enmeshed both in the technocratic project of making people innovative and entrepreneurial, and in the controversial governmental agenda of psychological measurement. ClassDojo is situated in this context as a vehicle for promoting the kind of growth mindsets and character qualities that are seen as desirable behavioural norms by Silicon Valley and government alike.

ClassDojo is, Williamson argues, “prototypical of how education is being reshaped in a ‘platform society.’”

Personalization in a Platform Society

Far from being neutral platforms for everyone, social media have changed the conditions and rules of social interaction.” In this new social order – “the platform society” – “social, economic and interpersonal traffic is largely channeled by an (overwhelmingly corporate) global online infrastructure that is driven by algorithms and fueled by data.”

We readily recognize Facebook and Twitter as these sorts of platforms; but I’d argue that they’re more pervasive and more insidious, particularly in education. There, platforms include the learning management systems and student information systems, which fundamentally define how teachers and students and administrators interact. They define how we conceive of “learning”. They define what “counts” and what’s important.

They do so, in part, through this promise of “personalization.” Platforms insist that, through data mining and analytics, they offer an improvement over existing practices, existing institutions, existing social and political mechanisms. This has profound implications for public education in a democratic society. More accurately perhaps, the “platform society” offers merely an entrenchment of surveillance capitalism, and education technologies, along with the ideology of “personalization”, work to normalize and rationalize that.

Source: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2016: Education Technology and the Ideology of “Personalization”

 

 

 

 

The Gift: LD/ADHD Reframed

This talk by Jonathan Mooney is social model music. I include it in my primer on the social model for minds and bodies. Mooney provides necessary insight into neurodivergent learners. Every minute is worth your time. I’ve pulled quotes from the talk below, as well as a handful of quotes from the introduction to his book Learning Outside The Lines: Two Ivy League Students With Learning Disabilities And ADHD Give You The Tools For Academic Success and Educational Revolution.

Mooney’s perspective offers many takeaways. Two critical ones for me are these rules of thumb.

  • agent > patient
  • identity > diagnosis

Challenge our definition of where disability lies.

We’ve built an entire edifice of intervention that’s about fixing people.

It’s not their minds or bodies that truly disable them. It’s how environment reacts to those differences. That’s where disability lies. Folks don’t have disability, they experience disability in environments that aren’t accessible and inclusive.

We should spend more time talking about how we change the environment that surrounds people and not the people themselves.

I did not overcome dyslexia. I overcame dysteachia. I overcame environments that weren’t built for my brain.

It’s that narrow definition of intelligence, behavior, and motivation that is really my disability. Not dyslexia, not ADHD.

In many learning environments we think good kids sit still. The good kid is the compliant kid.

Young folks like me are given the identity of being bad.

“What is your problem?” If I had a nickel for every time I heard that word in my life.

I was given this identity that I was a problem because of a norm in the environment that good kids sit still.

Difficult children make interesting adults.

We’ve built learning environments based on the myth that appropriate and valuable human behavior is about compliance.

We have conflated reading with intelligence.

We’ve left so many brains out.

We shouldn’t be asking ourselves, “how smart am I?” We should be asking, “how am I smart?”

I had overcome not ADHD, but I had overcome the feeling of being the defective person morally because I didn’t comply to the myth that good kids are compliant.

Intrinsic motivators are drivers like autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

We’ve built most of our learning environments with sticks and carrots.

We’ve negated the power of choice and the power of letting folks craft an education that is grounded in their aspirations, their vision for themselves.

How do we build learning environments that embrace intrinsic motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose?

An essential component of my journey was an identity transformation from being a patient to being an agent.

You don’t need somebody to fix you. You need somebody to fight for you, and with you, because what’s happening to you is an injustice.

It ain’t right for somebody to be marginalized for a difference.

I need to cultivate a rights based paradigm, a diversity framework, and I need to become an advocate against what is a form of discrimination and marginalization. That’s an important transformation in agency.

You gotta fight against this, you gotta be an advocate, you gotta have a voice in your education.

Consistently cultivate the language of high expectations.

Y’all know the file, right? This has been the thing that had been following me since I started special education. Those things are thick and deep. KGB got nothing on special ed.

That’s agency. That’s somebody who refuses to negate somebody’s humanity because of a label.

We spend so much time talking about the problem, we lose the person.

We spend so much time captured in this language of deficit that we lower expectations.

We’ve built this whole infrastructure about fixing folks, about turning people into passive recipients of treatment and service, of turning people into patients. But being a patient is the most disempowered place a human being can be.

We need to cultivate a sense of agency in people which is the opposite of patient hood.

The most meaningful interventions, the most meaningful people in my life were people who cultivated a sense of agency.

Real intellectuals, they don’t care how you get there, they just want you to get there.

He was gonna hold me to the highest expectations, but he was gonna give me multiple ways to meet those expectations. And that is what an agency education is all about.

How well I know something is more important than how fast I know something. We are not trying to educate a generation of Jeopardy contestants.

Accommodate, and change the environment.

Multiple ways to reach those expectations with a flexibility in the classroom that was inclusive of learning diversity.

Switch from a deficit paradigm to an asset-based strength paradigm.

When all we do is fix people, the message we give to them is that they are broken. Nobody lives a meaningful life feeling broken.

It’s essential that we cultivate that capability framework, that asset based framework.

The moment that I could switch from what’s wrong with me to what’s right with me was a significant part of my journey.

Most of my education was all about what I couldn’t do.

We spent thousands dollars, thousands of hours on trying to fix one trait, frankly, perhaps the most irrelevant trait in the world in the 21st century, and that is spelling. God bless spellchecker.

The energy gone into fixing spelling, to worrying about spelling, it’s staggering.

All week we invested time, money, and relationship capital on fixing that irrelevant trait.

We’re not doing the spelling test today. We’re ditching school and going to the zoo.

The reporter asked me, “Jonathan, give my an inspiring message about how you got to Brown University for young people.” And I said, “ditch school.” Because what we and my mom did every Friday was we spent time getting good at something. We spent time developing strength. She literally called it the “get good at something day.” We spent time being interested in the world. We spent time figuring out where my capacities were, talking about how to make my way in the world with my capacities, not my deficits, but my assets. That was a radical shift in my life.

There is research is piling up every day that shows that school, including higher education, is trying to create generalists for a world of specialists.

More than ever the world rewards specialist knowledge.

School is the only place where we ask human beings to be good at all things.

We need to challenge how we’re forcing everyone to be the same in our educational models with this ideal notion of a generalist approach to being successful. The most successful human beings aren’t good at everything, they’re good at one or two things and they scale those strengths. How do they mitigate those weaknesses? They mitigate those weaknesses the way we all do, with teams, technology, and support.

I married my spellchecker. It’s called strategic mating.

We build supportive networks, we use technology, and we build a life not about what’s wrong with us, we build a life around what’s right with us.

We have built learning environments, our culture, our communities, around the myth of normal and average. That myth of normal and average has bombarded all people with a pervasive imperative that to be okay as a human being, to be acceptable as a human, you have to strive for this mythical norm, this mythical average, which by definition does not exist.

We didn’t have the word normal in the English language until the 1860s. Normal is a product linguistically of the industrial revolution , of standardizing production, of moving in a place that’s forcing people to fit that standardized mold. Normal is a statistical concept, not a fact in the world.

Challenging that myth of normal is a philosophical imperative because we are doubling down normal.

We have a medical community that’s found a sickness for every single human difference. DSM keeps growing every single year with new ways to be defective, with new ways to be lessened.

The myth of normal is what’s broken, and the identity that, if you don’t fit it, that you are less than, that’s what’s broken. We need to reframe what we problematize, not bodies, not difference, but this pervasive imperative to be normal.

All progress, all evolution, is driven by deviations from the norms.

All evolution and progress is driven by mutations and deviations. If we lose that, if we eradicate that, we have lost our strength as a community, as a society.

Disability industrial complex is all about what people can’t do. We spend most of our time trying to fix what they can’t do. When all we do is fix people the message we give to them is that they are broken.

We have created a system that has you submit yourself, or your child, to patient hood to access the right to learn differently. The right to learn differently should be a universal human right that’s not mediated by a diagnosis.

Source: Jonathan Mooney: “The Gift: LD/ADHD Reframed” – YouTube

Learning Outside the Lines

For centuries, the word stupid, combined with various intensifiers like bad, lazy, willful, or weak has been used to create a moral “diagnosis.” That moral diagnosis has ruined millions of lives.

Our life struggles had more to do with freeing ourselves from the institution of education than transcending our own personal weakness.

It is a loss and a crime when creativity, alternative learning skills, and an individualized education take a back seat to rote memorization, standardized testing, and the misconception that all people learn the same way.

Education is one of the most beautiful and liberating things we can pursue in our lives, but too often it is approached as a restrictive, punitive, linear, and moralistic act.

Throughout our lives, we had looked to the idea of succeeding in school to define our worth and our intelligence. In childhood, we were told we were defective goods, and to be better we had to be other than what we were.

Ultimately our diagnoses and the subsequent attempts at intervention allowed people to blame us, two powerless kids, for our failure instead of turning a critical eye toward the environment. It took us fifteen years of personal and academic struggle to stop blaming ourselves, to stop believing that we are inherently defective like “they” thought, and to come to realize how profound an effect the environment had on our inability to succeed. Only as time went on did simple interventions like the ability to get up out of our seats, the use of a spell checker, and progressive ideas like project-based learning and other modifications to the learning environment allow the pathology to slip into irrelevance and enable us to be successful. Our hard wiring is a simple cognitive difference. We all have them. But an oppressive educational environment that blames children for their failures caused us to grow up with the stigma of pathology.

Behavior becomes a social indicator of morality, marking which kids are good kids and which kids are bad, and the highest value is one of conformity, passivity, and obedience.

The underlying notion is that all kids develop at the same time in a linear, sequential manner, and if some kids cannot read early, they are not intelligent. This environment gave us an identity at a time when our personality was malleable, an identity that revolved around the teacher, the authority figure in the room. We did not question the rules and the identity handed to us. We were taught that sitting still and getting gold stars on our math homework were more important than art and ideas, and much more important than what kind of people we were and how we treated other kids.

Mooney, Jonathan; Cole, David (2014-07-01). Learning Outside The Lines: Two Ivy League Students With Learning Disabilities And Adhd Give You The Tools F. Touchstone. Kindle Edition.

The Effects of Authority, Compliance, and Pathologizing Students

Two pieces on authority in education and a piece on side effects in education caught my eye on social media this week. The first is a Bruce Levine piece from 2012 on Why Anti-Authoritarians are Diagnosed as Mentally Ill that resonates with this social model self-advocate. Neurodivergent and disabled folks are medicalized, pathologized, and written off at school. Levine’s narrative complements Jonathan Mooney’s Learning Outside The Lines and Alan Schwarz’s ADHD Nation.

Having steered the higher-education terrain for a decade of my life, I know that degrees and credentials are primarily badges of compliance. Those with extended schooling have lived for many years in a world where one routinely conforms to the demands of authorities.

So authoritarians financially marginalize those who buck the system, they criminalize anti-authoritarianism, they psychopathologize anti-authoritarians, and they market drugs for their “cure.”

Second is a piece by Seth Godin on how school conditions us to accept working under authority rather than working with each other. Education has a deficit of collaboration.

We build school around the idea of powerful teachers, coaches and authority figures telling us what to do.

In our connected, networked world, communication is oxygen and collaboration–not deference to authority–is our way forward.

The third is great longform by Yong Zhao on side effects in education.

But side effects exist the same way in education as in medicine. For many reasons, studying and reporting side effects simultaneously as has been mandated for medical products is not common in education.

It is difficult for an educational system that wishes to cultivate a homogenous workforce to also expect a diverse population of individuals who are creative and entrepreneurial. Research has also shown that test scores and knowledge acquisition can come at the expense of curiosity and confidence.

What are the effects and side effects of the deficit model, compliance culture, and willful unawareness of structural problems and social injustice? They exact a huge toll on the marginalized and the different. Put a warning label on our systems.

Pathologizing Anti-Authoritarians

In my career as a psychologist, I have talked with hundreds of people previously diagnosed by other professionals with oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, anxiety disorder and other psychiatric illnesses, and I am struck by (1) how many of those diagnosed are essentially anti-authoritarians, and (2) how those professionals who have diagnosed them are not.

Anti-authoritarians question whether an authority is a legitimate one before taking that authority seriously. Evaluating the legitimacy of authorities includes assessing whether or not authorities actually know what they are talking about, are honest, and care about those people who are respecting their authority. And when anti-authoritarians assess an authority to be illegitimate, they challenge and resist that authority-sometimes aggressively and sometimes passive-aggressively, sometimes wisely and sometimes not.

Some activists lament how few anti-authoritarians there appear to be in the United States. One reason could be that many natural anti-authoritarians are now psychopathologized and medicated before they achieve political consciousness of society’s most oppressive authorities.

The selection and socialization of mental health professionals tends to breed out many anti-authoritarians. Having steered the higher-education terrain for a decade of my life, I know that degrees and credentials are primarily badges of compliance. Those with extended schooling have lived for many years in a world where one routinely conforms to the demands of authorities. Thus for many MDs and PhDs, people different from them who reject this attentional and behavioral compliance appear to be from another world-a diagnosable one.

I have found that most psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals are not only extraordinarily compliant with authorities but also unaware of the magnitude of their obedience. And it also has become clear to me that the anti-authoritarianism of their patients creates enormous anxiety for these professionals, and their anxiety fuels diagnoses and treatments.

Do we really want to diagnose and medicate everyone with “deficits in rule-governed behavior”?

So authoritarians financially marginalize those who buck the system, they criminalize anti-authoritarianism, they psychopathologize anti-authoritarians, and they market drugs for their “cure.”

Source: Why Anti-Authoritarians are Diagnosed as Mentally Ill

Author and clinical psychologist Bruce Levine sits down with Open Paradigm to discuss society’s relationship to drugs, psychiatry’s increasing credibility issue, and the cultural response to incidents of mass violence.

With > Over

For thousands of years, we’ve built our culture to teach people to not only tolerate a powerful overlord, but in a vacuum, to seek one out. We build school around the idea of powerful teachers, coaches and authority figures telling us what to do. We go to the placement office to seek a job, instead of starting our own thing, because we’ve been taught that this is the way it works, it’s reliable, it’s safer.

And so we’re pushed to begin with under, not with.

The connection economy begins to undermine this dynamic. But it’s frightening. It’s frightening to have your own media channel, your own platform, your own ability to craft a community and 1,000 true fans. So instead, we seek out someone to tell us what to do, to trade this for that.

I think it’s becoming clear that power doesn’t scale like it used to. Too many unders and not enough withs.

But, each of us can change our perspective, as soon as we’re ready.

Find your with.

Source: Seth’s Blog: Over/with

Side Effects in Education

Educational research has typically focused exclusively on the benefits, intended effects of products, programs, policies, and practices, as if there were no adverse side effects. But side effects exist the same way in education as in medicine. For many reasons, studying and reporting side effects simultaneously as has been mandated for medical products is not common in education.

In this article just published in the Journal of Educational Change, I discuss why education must learn the important lesson of studying and reporting side effects from medical research. Side effects in education occur for a number of reasons.

First, time is a constant. When you spend time on one task, you cannot spend the same amount on another. When a child is given extra instruction in reading, he/she cannot spend the same time on arts or music. When a school focuses only on two or three subjects, its students would not have the time to learn something else. When a school system only focuses on a few subjects such as reading and math, students won’t have time to do other and perhaps more important things.

Second, recourses are limited. When it is put into one activity, it cannot be spent on other. When school resources are devoted to the common core, other subjects become peripheral. When schools are forced to only focus on raising test scores, activities that may promote students’ long-term growth are sidelined.

Third, some educational outcomes are inherently contradictory. It is difficult for an educational system that wishes to cultivate a homogenous workforce to also expect a diverse population of individuals who are creative and entrepreneurial. Research has also shown that test scores and knowledge acquisition can come at the expense of curiosity and confidence.

Fourth, the same products may work differently for different individuals, in different contexts. Some people are allergic to penicillin. Some drugs have negative consequences when taken with alcohol. Likewise, some practices, such as direct instruction may work better for knowledge transmission, but not for long term exploration. Charter schools may favor those who have a choice (can make a choice) at the costs of those who are not able to take advantage of it.

Source: Education in the Age of Globalization » Blog Archive » What Works Can Hurt: Side Effects in Education

Canned Emotional Skills and School Pride

These programs often include conformist type activities to promote school pride. Gifted kids often struggle with authoritarianism and can have behavioral issues due to mis-fitting educational experiences. If they feel teachers or the system isn’t understanding or working with their needs, they are going to struggle with school pride.

Source: Danger in a Can: Why Canned Social-Emotional Skill Programs in Schools Can Harm Gifted Students More Than Help Them – SENG

Presume Competence: A Hippocratic Oath for Education

“To not presume competence is to assume that some individuals cannot learn, develop, or participate in the world. Presuming competence is nothing less than a Hippocratic oath for educators.”

Never assume that the ability to speak equals intelligence. There are plenty of autistic people who have trouble speaking but who have glorious creative worlds inside them seeking avenues of expression. Never assume that an autistic person who can’t speak isn’t listening closely to every word you say, or isn’t feeling the emotional impact of your words. I’ve interviewed many autistic people who said they could hear and understand everything around them while people called them “idiots” or described them as “out of it” to their faces. Ultimately, presuming competence is the ability to imagine that the person in front of you is just as human as you are, even if they seem to be very impaired. If you understand that the autistic students in your class are just as complex and nuanced and intensely emotional and hopeful as you are, you’ll do everything in your power to help them lead happier and more engaged lives.

Source: A Q&A about autism with Steve Silberman, author of NeuroTribes

Presume competence. Begin any new learning adventure from a point of aspiration rather than deficit. Children know when you don’t believe in them and it affects their progress. Instead, assume they’re capable; they’ll usually surprise you. If you’re concerned, start small and build toward a goal.

Source: A parent’s advice to a teacher of autistic kids

Presume competence means – assume your child is aware and able to understand even though they may not show this to you in a way that you are able to recognize or understand.

To presume competence means to assume your child or the other person does and can understand when they are being spoken of and to.

Presume competence means talk to your child or the other person as you would a same age non-Autistic child or person.

Presumptions of competence means treating the other person with respect and as an equal without pity or infantilization.

It does not mean that we will carry expectations that if not met will cause us to admonish, scold or assume the person is being manipulative or just needs to “try harder”.

To presume competence does not mean we assume there is a “neurotypical” person “trapped” or “imprisoned” under an Autistic “shell”.

Presuming competence is not an act of kindness.

Presuming competence is not something we do because we are a “good” person.

We do not get to pat ourselves on the back because we have presumed competence. If we believe we deserve a pat on the back and/or acknowledgement, then we are not presuming competence, we are more likely being condescending.

Source: “Presume Competence” – What Does That Mean Exactly? | Emma’s Hope Book

What you will need is the awareness and patience to embrace people with autism as different, not less; the willingness to presume that people with autism are competent – even if evidence may be not be available at first; and the understanding that behavior is not random, but is instead motivated by necessity, frustration, sensory differences, or the need to communicate a request or thought.

People with autism may experience the world in ways that are unfamiliar to us, but they need us to remember that what we see on the outside may not be an accurate reflection of what exists within. The ability to communicate or regulate social interaction should not be confused with the ability to think or the capacity to love. Rather than labeling individuals as “low functioning” or “high functioning,” we should recognize that people with autism vary in their ability to demonstrate competence. Our responsibility is then to presume, find, and strengthen that competence.

Just because a child may not be able to speak doesn’t mean that he has nothing to say. Just because a person may be overwhelmed in social situations doesn’t mean that she doesn’t long for friendship. Just because someone has difficulty initiating movement doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to participate.

Researchers in applied psychology often use the term “child efficacy” to describe the belief that a child is capable of learning and improving. Likewise, the term “self-efficacy” is used to describe our own beliefs that we as parents or teachers are capable of helping a child to improve. It’s critical not only to recognize that a child can learn, understand, and improve, but that we have the ability to help.

The beliefs that parents and teachers have about their own abilities have an important effect on later outcomes for children with autism and other challenges. Greater parent efficacy results in more positive interactions with children, decreased coercive discipline, improved classroom behavior, reduced behavior problems, lower family stress, reduced parental vulnerability to stress and depression, and increased satisfaction with family life. These outcomes have been reported even after controlling for a wide variety of other factors.

Our beliefs that we are capable of helping are more than just happy feelings – they affect the amount of time we engage with people with autism, the quality of our teaching efforts, how frequently we offer them learning opportunities, and how patient we are in resolving difficulties. In a longitudinal study of children with disabilities and behavior problems, parental optimism/pessimism was the single best predictor of which children would have more severe problems years later.

Source: Presume Competence: A guide to successful, evidence-based principles for supporting and engaging individuals with autism

As a result of long-standing mythical and erroneous perceptions, when we encounter a person with a disability, positive presumptions and attitudes may be instantly replaced by negative stereotypes and prejudice (yes, we pre- judge), and the person with a disability is Presumed Incompetent. The guilt-by-association mentality may also kick in, so the person’s parents may also be Presumed Incompetent. (I was once told that my family was dysfunctional, our daughter was dysfunctional, and my husband and I were dysfunctional because of our son’s disability!)

Traditionally, we’ve Presumed Incompetence and forced a person with a disability to prove she’s competent before allowing her to be in a general ed classroom, participate in community activities, be employed in a real job, live in the home of her choice, etc. It’s easy to see that our actions put people with disabilities in a no-win situation: because we presume they’re incompetent, we don’t give them opportunities to demonstrate their competence, and this, in turn, is taken as “proof ” that they are, indeed, incompetent. The vicious cycle of the self-fullling prophecy is realized.

Source: Presume Competence

And here is a skeptical counterpoint. Don’t use “Presume Competence” or any other phrase as a substitute for thinking critically and responding to data. Don’t wrap discredited methods in “Presume Competence”. Growth Mindset has some good qualities, but the implementation is usually busywork for deficit model bikeshedders. Mind the implementation.

“Presume competence” appears to be the rallying cry for full inclusion advocates, but also is used to defend pseudoscientific and invalidated interventions like facilitated communication and rapid prompting method. The notion seems largely supported by professionals aligned with a postmodern epistemology and may have been a strategic tactic by proponents like Douglas Biklen. Is “presuming competence” different from “presuming capable” and, regardless of the position, should we refrain from skepticism of people like Carly Fleischmann, Ido Kedar, and Sue Rubin to implicitly endorse the notion, or suspend belief until compelling evidence to substantiate their communicative competence is presented?

Source: Is “presume competence” a propaganda phrase for fully inclusive education? – ResearchGate

Presuming competence is not idealism. Idealism ignores that there are challenges or barriers to overcome. The very definition is that the ideals are often “unrealistic.

Presuming competence is a philosophical difference. It’s a belief in socializing students for courage instead of compliance.

It is more than an ideology because when you start from the mindset that someone is capable and can grow, your actions start to reflect that. There are concrete, evidence-based ways that you can presume competence.

Presuming competence is more than believing that a child is competent of thoughts, ideas, and learning. It is also the practice of making sure people – ALL people – have the right to talk about what THEY want, even if it’s not the topic we planned.

Presuming competence isn’t about belief in students in the absence of evidence. It is a belief in their right to access the communication to demonstrate their abilities as humans. You’ll never gather evidence without providing opportunity. So when you’re marking down minuses on data sheets, ask yourself, “Is it possible that there isn’t an adequate way for them to show me that they know this?” When you do that, and acknowledge that there are a range of variables between a plus and a minus, you start to problem solve for your student(s) instead of testing them.

Presuming competence is giving students the opportunity to learn literacy, math, science, and history regardless of their disability.

It is providing the chance to build relationships. It’s exposing students with CCN to leisure activities and allowing them to decide if it’s something they enjoy.

Presuming competence gives children a chance to explore and make mistakes without penalty. It gives them time to learn with support rather than testing or criticism.  When you presume competence, you give the child a safe place to fail and the ability to learn from those small failures and try again. It’s how we grow. That growth and the confidence students gain from overcoming challenges gives them the courage to keep moving forward and develop skills to demonstrate their competence.

Source: Presuming Competence in Practice

Privacy and Passwords

K12 classrooms-and most families-have bad password practices. Passwords for Google Classroom accounts are often derived from usernames. That password is then reused when signing up for other online accounts. This violates three of the most important rules of protecting online privacy and identity. From Krebs on Security:

  • Do not use your network username as your password.
  • Avoid using the same password at multiple Web sites.
  • Never use the password you’ve picked for your email account at any online site: If you do, and an e-commerce site you are registered at gets hacked, there’s a good chance someone will be reading your e-mail soon.

xkcd explains the dangers of password reuse.

“Password reuse is what really kills you,” says Diana Smetters, a software engineer at Google who works on authentication systems. “There is a very efficient economy for exchanging that information.”

Source: Kill the Password: A String of Characters Won’t Protect You | WIRED

According to security experts, today the industry is dealing with a password reuse crisis. In the past few weeks, account breaches have been reported by LinkedIn, Tumblr, VK.com, Fling and MySpace – bringing the total number of compromised accounts to more than 642 million.

“We know that attackers will go for the weakest link and that is any user who reuses their passwords. It’s a major problem,”

Source: No Simple Fix for Password Reuse

At most schools, student identities are protected by weak passwords trivially derived from usernames and reused everywhere. Once someone gets ahold of your email password, they can reset your passwords elsewhere and pwn your life. When you reuse passwords, a data leak on a forgotten site can be escalated into takeover of your email and your identity.

What to do? The Smart Girl’s Guide to Online Privacy by @violetblue is a great primer on privacy and passwords. Chapter 10, “I Hate Passwords”, is eleven pages of good advice on creating and managing passwords–from which I crib below.

TLDR: Use a password manager and never reuse passwords.

Good passwords

If you decide to use a password manager, these great little apps can generate really strong passwords for you whenever you need one. You can also use password generators on trusted websites, such as LastPass or Norton.

Follow these rules and you’ll get better passwords:

  • Make strong passwords that are at least 12 to 16 characters long.
  • Don’t use pet or family names.
  • Don’t use your address, Social Security number, birth date, or other personal information.
  • Never recycle or reuse a password— not even once.
  • Don’t let Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or any other browser save passwords for you.
  • Use password phrases (usually six or more words long) for the best security.
  • Include capital letters, numbers, and symbols if the app or site allows it.

Source: Smart Girl’s Guide to Online Privacy

But the best passwords are those generated by password managers.

Even better is to use random unmemorable alphanumeric passwords (with symbols, if the site will allow them), and a password manager like Password Safe to create and store them.

Source: Choosing Secure Passwords – Schneier on Security

Password managers

Password managers like LastPass and 1Password save all of your passwords safely in a vault and encrypt everything. That way, you have them all in one place, no one can accidentally discover them, and you can make really complicated passwords, because the manager will keep track of them (and remember them) for you. You use one master password to unlock the password manager, and it saves and encrypts your passwords either locally or on its site. Most of these applications also have crazy-awesome password creators that you can and should use to generate super-strong new passwords with one click— and the password app automatically saves them for you.

Source: Smart Girl’s Guide to Online Privacy

I use 1Password to generate passwords. You can adjust the password recipe to accommodate any site’s password rules. Here’s the recipe I usually use.

That’s 50 characters of random, which makes for a good password. Most sites will accept 50 characters, but there are still plenty out there that balk at passwords over 8, 10, 15, or 20 characters in length. Banks, unfortunately, are known for their short password limitations (and crufty password advice). I start at 50 and work my way down. “Complexity is nice, but length is key.” Go for long passwords.

Update: The NIST recently announced new password rules that recommend sites allow a maximum length of at least 64 characters. 1Password updated its password generator to support a 64 character maximum.

When choosing a password manager, get one that runs on all of the devices you use. I’ve used 1Password for years. It offers iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac clients. It can sync your passwords between devices via iCloud or Dropbox. If you need to share passwords among family or team members, check out 1Password for Families or 1Password for Teams. My family uses 1Password for Families. In addition to personal vaults for everyone, we have a vault shared amongst the whole family for streaming video and audio accounts. My wife and I have a shared vault for bank, medical, insurance, and other household accounts. Having log in information for all joint accounts in a shared vault improves our family’s bus factor.

How passwords are stolen

Massive data breaches are not the only threat. Be wary of shoulder surfing and social engineering.

There are simpler ways to get your password though. One is shoulder surfing, where someone watches over your shoulder as you enter your password on your computer or phone while you’re logging in on the bus or plane or at a café. Social engineering is another way that you can have your passwords stolen. Basically, social engineering involves attempts to con you into telling someone your passwords. The person conning you might call you and pretend that they’re tech support for Gmail, telling you that you have email stuck somewhere and they need your password to log in and free it up. They might know the names of your friends or colleagues, as well as their phone numbers and email addresses— all of which they can find online via social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and people-search sites. Malicious people can also use information they find about you on Facebook and other sites to correctly guess the answers to password-reset questions.

Threat model

Be realistic about your threat model. State-sponsored surveillance and hacking aren’t in the thread model of most families. Protect yourself from the much more real threat of phishing by using a password manager, unique passwords, and two factor authentication.

Sharing passwords

Here’s one thing to know: if a teacher, boss, TSA agent, police officer, or anyone else tells you that you have to give them your password, you shouldn’t do it unless you know it’s against the law not to.

If you share an account with friends or family, do it the smart way. Don’t use a password that you use anywhere else. Treat the shared account like any account that can get attacked, but know that its security is weaker than that of an account that you have total control over because it has a shared password. Don’t connect that shared account to any other accounts; otherwise an attacker could use that connection to get into those accounts.

When sharing passwords with family, consider using a password manager that accommodates shared vaults. Though I haven’t used them, there are also tools for sharing streaming video accounts.

Surveillance, privacy, data ethics, and trust

“In the educational domain we see a lot of normalisation of designing computers so that their users can’t override them. For example, school supplied laptops can be designed so that educators can monitor what their users are doing. If a school board loses control of their own security or they have bad employees, there’s nothing students can do. They are completely helpless because their machines are designed to prevent them from doing anything.”

“We have this path of surveillance that starts with prisoners, then mental patients, refugees, students, benefits claimants, blue collar workers and then white collar workers. That’s the migration path for surveillance and students are really low in the curve. People who work in education are very close to the front lines of the legitimisation of surveillance and designing computers to control their users rather than being controlled by users,” Doctorow says.

Surveillance in education can also interfere with the educational process, he says, because “nobody wants to be seen fumbling. When you are still learning, you don’t want to feel like you are being watched and judged.” Doctorow adds that, due to their lack of power, students have limited options to take control of their learning and the digital tools they use.

“I talk to students, often younger students, who say they don’t worry about surveillance because they know how to block it out; they use a proxy or something else. But, first of all, those students can get in a lot of trouble for it. In America, they could actually be committing a crime and they could go to jail for it. It also doesn’t solve the overall problem; it only solves it for them. So I’ve often said to students that rather than breaking the rules, they document the absurdity of the rules and demand that adults account for it.”

“The censorware companies mostly work in the Middle East in repressive regimes who buy it on a mass scale to try to control the flow of information in their countries. Students should contact journalists, the school board and the parents’ association and ask why they are giving money that was meant to be for their education to war criminals who spy on us.”

Source: “Peak indifference”: Cory Doctorow on surveillance in education | OEB Newsportal

Handing over data, often quite thoughtlessly, has become par for the course – in education and in society more generally. Although privacy experts have urged parents and educators to be more proactive about protecting children’s data and privacy) – while using Pokémon Go and other data-hungry apps – we now live in a culture of surveillance, where data collection and data extraction have become normalized.

Surveillance starts early. “Quantified babies” and “Surveillance Barbie” and such. Rather than actively opting children out of a world of tracking and marketing, parents increasingly opt them in – almost always without their children’s consent.

Many of us have become quite lackadaisical about the data we share. “It doesn’t matter.” “I have nothing to hide.” Schools, operating under longstanding mandates to track and to measure as much as possible, have been more than willing to expand the amount and types of data they’re collecting on students. Fears of FERPA are frequently stoked to stymy certain projects – perhaps unnecessarily in some cases – but schools have not always been cautious about who has access to student data.

Has our confidence that we or our students have “nothing to hide” changed now under President-Elect Trump?

Surveilling students, so we’re told by this sort of ed-tech futurist PR, will help instructors “monitor learning.” It will facilitate feedback. It will improve student health. It will keep students on track for graduation. It will keep schools safe from violence. It will be able to ascertain which student did what during “group work.” It will identify students who are potential political extremists. It will identify students who are suicidal. It will offer researchers a giant trove of data to study. It will “personalize education.” (More on this in the next article in this series.) Tracking biometrics and keystrokes will make education technology more secure. (Spoiler alert: this is simply not true.)

“Big Brother is coming to universities,” The Guardian pronounced in January, although arguably this culture of surveillance has been a part of education for quite some time. But undoubtedly new digital technologies exacerbate this. The monitoring of students is undertaken to identify “problem behaviors” and in turn to provide a revenue source for companies willing to monetize the data they collect about all sorts of student behaviors. “Enabled by Schools, Students Are Under Constant Surveillance by Marketers,” as the National Education Policy Center cautioned in May.

Under surveillance by marketers. Under surveillance by companies. Under surveillance by schools. Under surveillance by police. Under surveillance by governments. Under surveillance by gadgets. Under surveillance when they use school software. Under surveillance when they use social media. And again, it’s all justified with a narrative about “success” and “safety.”

Source: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2016: Education Technology and Data Insecurity

More reading

CHAMPS and the Compliance Classroom

My stomach dropped when I saw CHAMPS at our elementary school. “Eyes front, knees front, closed mouth” leapt off the wall and rose from memory. I was in school in the 70s and 80s. Some teachers were really into table readiness and proper student posture, and some principals thought a paddle made them persuasive. Compliance was the soul of their pedagogy. Those are not fond memories. I was an undiagnosed autistic in a culture without the vocabulary to understand me or help me understand myself. But I understood authoritarians well enough. They are a straightforward grok.

I handled the thoughtless compliance better than many of my peers. I could disappear into myself and hide in almost still silence. The tugging of my hair betrayed my perpetual anxiety and my yearning to scratch my scalp. In the head beneath the scalp I wanted to scratch and the hair I wanted to pull, a young mind churned: Scratching is not conforming; I must not break the envelope and compromise table readiness; that will rouse them. Hide in compliance. Don’t talk; don’t move; align your body on the auditor at the front of the room. The safe places are your head, books, and libraries. The books are waiting on the other side of compliance.

I sometimes close my eyes to better parse the speech coming at me. I swim in sensory overwhelm. I must pick a firehose. Eyes front preserves the illusion of compliance, so I’ll stop listening. I’m not interested anyway. The books are so much more. The books are waiting. The written word is where my soul abides. This place in which I layover is just where my body resides – an eyes front, knees front, raise your hand to piss layover that I secretly indict. I tell no one.

Within the constant overwhelm is a pilot flame of anxiety, burning always. Anxiety and overwhelm, the torrid pas de deux that belies the silent, almost still compliance. Their dance is steam and froth, resonance foam on the sensory ocean I swim beneath the almost stillness – still but for the tugging of my hair. Don’t disallow me that, but some of them will. Fidgeting is a threat.

The memories subside, and I’m again staring at a wall in my son’s school where the words “eyes front, knees front, closed mouth” hover over the teacher’s pulpit. Through 30 odd years those words time travelled. The pedagogy is the same. Compliance still reigns. What we seek to depose with the voice, choice, and agency of project-based learning asserts its durable status quo. It enjoys a sinecure in its pickled culture. Oblivious to neurodiversity, oblivious to the software-eaten world coming for it, it endures in the false safety of trying nothing new. Safety for them, for now, but not for the neurodivergent they still don’t understand.