Explaining the Why of Your Ed-tech Choices

What does personalized learning mean at your school?

But what exactly does “personalized learning” mean across these varied products and contexts? And more broadly speaking, which labels and claims employed by companies can be trusted? How do the products schools are being offered differ from what teachers are already doing in their classrooms? Is personalized learning being oversold?

They’re all questions that get more complicated by the year for district officials trying to settle on personalized learning strategies and figure out which products will help them meet their goals.

“It’s become such a generic term. It’s aspirin,” said Daniel Gohl, the chief academic officer of Florida’s Broward County Schools, the sixth-largest district in the country. “Slapping on the label ‘personalized’ does not mean that [a product] helps me systematically move student achievement.”

Source: Are Companies Overselling Personalized Learning? — Education Week

I don’t really know what my school district means by personalized learning. It’s nebulous and never really explained. I don’t know the why.

Some years ago, therefore, I hatched the idea of supporting such educators by convening a brain trust of leading theorists, researchers, and practitioners to create – and then disseminate – concise defenses of various features of progressive education. I imagined a set of handouts, each consisting of a single (double-sided) sheet that responded to a common question. The idea was to lay out the case briskly, making liberal use of bullet points and offering a short bibliography at the end for anyone who wanted more information.

One of these “Why Sheets,” for example, might explain a teacher’s decision to create a curriculum based on kids’ questions. Or for setting aside time each day for a class meeting. It might defend helping students to understand mathematical principles rather than just memorizing facts and algorithms. Or it might lay out the case for avoiding worksheets, or tests, or homework, or traditional bribe-and-threat classroom management strategies.

Eventually I started thinking about creating additional Why Sheets to help administrators defend enlightened schoolwide policies: why we don’t track students; why we push back against standardized testing and never brag about high scores; why we have multiage classrooms; why we’ve replaced report cards with student-led parent conferences; why we use a problem-solving approach to discipline in place of suspensions and detentions; why our commitment to building community has led us to avoid awards assemblies, spelling bees, and other rituals that pit kids against one another.

In short, any practice that’s constructive yet still controversial would be fair game for one of these punchy handouts. The idea was to help educators explain why they do what they do – and, equally important, why they deliberately avoid doing some things. The sheets would be made available free of charge, uncopyrighted, and accompanied by an invitation to distribute them promiscuously.

The Why Axis – Alfie Kohn

Kohn presents these why sheets as a way to provide support for progressive teachers trying new things, something I’ve suggested at school a time or two.

Some years ago, therefore, I hatched the idea of supporting such educators by convening a brain trust of leading theorists, researchers, and practitioners to create – and then disseminate – concise defenses of various features of progressive education. I imagined a set of handouts, each consisting of a single (double-sided) sheet that responded to a common question. The idea was to lay out the case briskly, making liberal use of bullet points and offering a short bibliography at the end for anyone who wanted more information.

I don’t consider the mainstream ed-tech notions of personalized learning progressive, but I still want to know the why. I want to know the why of choosing behaviorism and data collection. I want to know the why of choosing, for example, platooning vs. looping. I want to know the why of many things I see in ed.

My professional culture is heavy on writing.

For organizations, the single biggest difference between remote and physical teams is the greater dependence on writing to establish the permanence and portability of organizational culture, norms and habits. Writing is different than speaking because it forces concision, deliberation, and structure, and this impacts how politics plays out in remote teams.

Writing changes the politics of meetings. Every Friday, Zapieremployees send out a bulletin with: (1) things I said I’d do this week and their results, (2) other issues that came up, (3) things I’m doing next week. Everyone spends the first 10 minutes of the meeting in silence reading everyone’s updates.

Remote teams practice this context setting out of necessity, but it also provides positive auxiliary benefits of “hearing” from everyone around the table, and not letting meetings default to the loudest or most senior in the room. This practice can be adopted by companies with physical workplaces as well (in fact, Zapier CEO Wade Foster borrowed this from Amazon), but it takes discipline and leadership to change behavior, particularly when it is much easier for everyone to just show up like they’re used to.

Writing changes the politics of information sharing and transparency.

Source: Distributed teams are rewriting the rules of office(less) politics | TechCrunch

Communication is oxygen. At my company, we build our communication culture on blogging. We create FAQs and Field Guides and Master Posts for everything. Writing and transparency are important parts of managing change and creating alignment.

Administrators are educators. Educate by writing in the open. Educate by publishing why sheets. Borrow from what works in distributed work: a culture of writing and transparency. Do some of the heavy lifting for teachers who have to defend district decisions to parents. Write. Write on the open web so that teachers can reference why sheets when communicating with parents. Default to open.

Whither the Blogroll: The RSS Revival, Feedbase, Dynamic OPML Subcriptions, and a Following Page

I recall removing the Links Manager from WordPress back in 2012 amidst snickers about how old school and old fashioned blogrolls were in the age of social media.

Now, folks are bringing it back as part of the RSS revival.

I like the idea of graduating the old sidebar blogroll to a Following page. I started experimenting in that direction. I’m playing with feedbase.io, currently. Here’s my feedbase blogroll—heavy on education, neurodiversity, the social model of disability, and tech ethics.

I’m watching the space with interest. I see both educators and tech workers talking about the possibilities of subscribing to dynamic blogrolls.

This was part of the original vision of RSS. That subscription could be simple, one-button-click, and not just exportable, but dynamic. A huge difference in possibilities.#

So the first step is to fill the database with feeds, and give people a way to subscribe and unsubscribe. To accept OPML files as input too. And to publish a list of subscriptions that is dynamic, that other apps will in turn subscribe to. I’m working with the developers of two new RSS reader apps that will hook into this feed database.

Source: Scripting News: A database of feeds

Further reading:

An Option for No Stats

I’m tired of stats. I’m tired of seeing my writing as piles of graphs and numbers. This is a screenshot of the WordPress.com backend for my RV+neurodiversity lifestyle blog, wanderingsmial.blog.

Screenshot of the WordPress.com posts list showing my latest posts. The number of views listed for each post is low, 2s and 3s.
Screenshot of the WordPress.com posts list showing my latest posts. The number of views listed for each post is low, 2s and 3s.

 

The number of views is shown for each post. I rarely mention Wandering Smial publicly. It’s just for me. The numbers shown are tiny and likely always will be.

When I visit the backend, the default screen is stats.

Screenshot of the WordPress.com stats screen for wanderinsmial.blog showing a lot of nothing.
Screenshot of the WordPress.com stats screen for wanderinsmial.blog showing a lot of nothing.

 

Maybe someday I’ll share the site more broadly, but, for now, the audience is me. I don’t want to see stats anywhere in the interface of this blog. I want an option to ignore all stats, to un-surface and de-prioritize them, to opt out of gaming myself.

Twitter followers, podcast download stats, blog post views, the scale, whatever. Life isn’t a video game. Happiness doesn’t have a numerical value attached to it.

Source: Hello, 2018

I love data and I hate stats. Not stats in abstract — statistics are great — but the kind of stats that seem to accompany any web activity. Number of followers, number of readers, number of viewers, etc. I hate them in the way that an addict hates that which she loves the most. My pulse quickens as I refresh the page to see if one more person clicked the link. As my eyes water and hours pass, I have to tear myself away from the numbers, the obsessive calculating that I do, creating averages and other statistical equations for no good reason. I gift my math-craving brain with a different addiction, turning to various games — these days, Yushino — to just get a quick hit of addition. And then I grumble, grumble at the increasing presence of stats to quantify and measure everything that I do.

Source: My name is danah and I’m a stats addict. – The Message – Medium

When using WordPress, it’s easy to get the basic numbers of interest: how many visitors, from which part of the world etc. The next level is Google Analytics… what a plethora of settings and numbers! I stared at them all the time after a new post went up, it was exhausting. I thought about which posts get more visitors, what times are better to publish etc. It’s not directly the problem why I didn’t write more regularly, but it’s a reason why I don’t care about any stats anymore: it’s a distraction. There are no Google Analytics or anything enabled, and if I want analytics back at some point it will be something else.

Source: Why I Failed at Blogging – Think Lagom

I still haven’t looked at stats for Timetable. And I’ve resisted adding follower counts and page view stats to Micro.blog for the same reason. If all that drives you is the number of likes on a tweet, or subscribers to your podcast, it’s easy to get discouraged when the numbers don’t pan out. Or worse, overthink your writing when you know a bunch of people are paying attention.

Everyone has something to say. Write because you love it, or to become a better writer, or to develop an idea. The stats should be an afterthought.

Source: Overthinking stats | Manton Reece

So, getting a post read by “everyone” is harder than ever but reaching hundreds or low thousands of audience has never been easier.

By chasing audience we lose the ability to be ourselves. By writing for everyone we write for no one.

When you write for someone else’s publication your writing becomes disparate and UN-networked. By chasing scale and pageviews you lose identity and the ability to create meaningful, memorable connections within the network.

Source: Small b blogging

When I visit my blog admin, I want the default screen to be my writing, without numbers. Focus reflection on the thoughts and ideas themselves rather than their numerical impressions as mass content.

Small b blogging is learning to write and think with the network. Small b blogging is writing content designed for small deliberate audiences and showing it to them. Small b blogging is deliberately chasing interesting ideas over pageviews and scale. An attempt at genuine connection vs the gloss and polish and mass market of most “content marketing”.

And remember that you are your own audience! Small b blogging is writing things that you link back to and reference time and time again. Ideas that can evolve and grow as your thinking and audience grows.

As Venkatesh says in the calculus of grit – release work often, reference your own thinking & rework the same ideas again and again. That’s the small b blogging model.

Source: Small b blogging

For the vast majority of us practicing educator types, blogging and participating in social spaces is about reflection, plain and simple.  Every time that you sit down behind the keyboard for any reason — whether that’s to join in a Twitterchat, to read bits that appear in your social streams, or to create a new bit on your own blog, you are an active learner.

Articulation of ideas — whether it comes in the short form of a Tweet or the long form of a blog post — requires you to think carefully about what you THINK you know.  Finding the right words to express your core notions about teaching and learning forces you to wrestle with what you actually believe.

Every time we make the argument that audience matters, we forget that reflection matters more.  Our goal shouldn’t be to #becomepopular.  It should be to #becomebetter.  Blogging and sharing in social spaces can help us to do that whether anyone is listening or not.

Source: Audience Doesn’t Matter. | THE TEMPERED RADICAL

CC: @wordpressdotcom, where we’ve talked about changing the default screen from stats to the posts list for years. We find ourselves in an age of disinformation where fatigue with exponential growth and the stats driven disethics of tech and ed-tech is rapidly settling in; perhaps, the time is now.