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If you follow learning analytics closely, you may be aware that there are two learning analytics standards—Caliper and xAPI—that appear competitive with each other at a casual glance. A webinar hosted by the Apereo Foundation between Anthony White, who is deeply involved with Caliper in the IMS working group on behalf of the University of Michigan, and Aaron Silvers, who works on xAPI through the Data Interoperability Standards Consortium (DISC), had an hour-long conversation about how the two standards relate to each other.
The Apereo news page where I found the video gives a disclaimer about the views of the presenters being solely their own, which sounds like a standard thing but leapt out at me as being a little odd in this context. I’ve heard second-hand rumblings that the growth of these two standards has re-envigorated the periodic diplomatic negotiations between the two standards bodies about how they should be working together (some of which is actually confirmed in the video), so I suspect that more than the usual care is being taken to make the conversation officially unofficial. Still, it’s really helpful to hear two practitioners who are familiar with the respective specifications talk about the details, if you’re into that sort of thing.
The post Recommended Viewing: Learning Analytics Webinar on Caliper and xAPI appeared first on e-Literate.
There was a Presidential debate this week. Thankfully, it was the last one. There’s also a global wine shortage, and I’m like, no shit. We are drinking so heavily to make it through this election.
News broke over the weekend that billionaire investor Peter Thiel is making a million-plus dollar donation to the Trump campaign. Thiel spoke at the Republican Convention, but this is his first financial commitment to the campaign, one that comes on the heels of news that Trump has been accused by ten (or more?) women of groping and sexual assault.
I wrote “an explainer” of sorts on Thiel and his politics, and I listed the education companies that he’s invested in. Mostly surveillance posing as “personalization” startups. To be honest, think Thiel and his ed-tech politics have more in common with the rest of Silicon Valley than those that feign outrage at his support of Trump. Y Combinator (I list its education investments here) has refused to sever ties with Thiel. He’s a partner there. So has Facebook. He’s on the board of directors. Some organizations have cut ties with Y Combinator over this – Project Include, for starters, which works to address Silicon Valley’s lack of diversity.
“Horrified by Trump, Silicon Valley Leaders Debate Cutting Ties to Peter Thiel” by Sarah Jeong. The operative word is “debate.” More on how the rest of the tech sector is treating Thiel now, according to The New York Times at least. “Mark Zuckerberg breaks his silence on Peter Thiel” says CNN. The Guardian’s Julia Carrie Wong summarizes the comments: “Zuckerberg: white male Facebook board member’s Trump support provides ‘diversity’.” Also via Wong: “Peter Thiel once wrote a book calling date rape ‘belated regret’.”
Thrilling that these are the folks bankrolling ed-tech, no? Have any ed-tech companies, particularly those funded by Thiel or Zuckerberg or Y Combinator, spoken out about this?
Donald Trump is crowdsourcing suggestions for his cabinet. You can fill out a form online to offer some names. One position that isn’t up for suggestion: Secretary of Education.
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “A Closer Look at Income-Based Repayment, the Centerpiece of Donald Trump’s Unexpected Higher-Ed Speech.”
Via the USA Today: “Kids pick Clinton over Trump in nationwide mock election.”
More on the fallout from the Trump campaign at Liberty University in the “meanwhile on campus” section below.Education Politics
In non-Presidential election news that also reflects pretty poorly on Silicon Valley: “Billionaire tech investors back ballot initiative to purge homeless people from San Francisco.” The investors in question: Michael Moritz from Sequoia Capital and SV Angel’s Ron Conway. You can always find out which education companies these folks have funded through my research at funding.hackeducation.com.
Via the AP: “Most US Syrian arrivals are kids, now enrolling in school.”
From the organization’s press release: the NAACP “ratified a resolution Saturday adopted by delegates at its 2016 107th National Convention calling for a moratorium on charter school expansion and for the strengthening of oversight in governance and practice.” Education reformers lost their minds, shed many white tears. “Charter backers can stop the NAACP moratorium – by meeting these four demands” by Adrienne Dixson and Andre Perry.
From the Shanker Institute’s Matthew Di Carlo: “A Few Reactions To The Final Teacher Preparation Accountability Regulations.”
Via The New York Times: “‘Brexit’ May Hurt Britain Where It Thrives: Science and Research.”
British Columbia’s education minister has fired the Vancouver school board.
Via The Washington Post: “ These states are spending less on education now than before the Great Recession.” tl;dr: all states except Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Alaska, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa, Illinois, North Dakota.
The Los Angeles Board of Education decided to reject the renewal of five charter schools’ charters at its meeting this week. More via The LA Times.
Via The New York Times: “The New Jersey State Senate on Thursday unanimously approved a bill requiring the state’s student loan agency to forgive the debts of borrowers who die or become permanently disabled.”
“U.S. Department of Education Releases Guidance on Supporting Early Learning through the Every Student Succeeds Act,” per the press release.Education in the Courts
The defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone for its 2014 story “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA” has begun. Nicole Eramo, a former dean of students, is suing the magazine for $7.9 million. More via NPR.
Via Reuters: “An Illinois judge recommended the denial of an injunction to bar transgender high school students from using the restrooms and locker rooms of their choice, saying the Constitution does not protect students against having to share those areas with transgender classmates.”
Via the AP: “Several families filed a class-action lawsuit Tuesday against the state of Michigan and the Flint school district, saying more needs to be done to help students whose academic performance and behavior have worsened because of the city’s lead-tainted water.”
A blind mother of three has filed a lawsuit claiming that the Atlanta Public Schools has failed to make reasonable accommodations, refusing to provide bus service for the children.
More on lawsuits in the for-profit higher ed section and the sports section below.Testing, Testing…
Via Education Week: “The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a major designer of common-core tests for states, is looking for a new fiscal agent after the University of California, Los Angeles, said it will no longer do that work.”
Via The Atlantic: “How the LSAT Destroys Socioeconomic Diversity.”
Via NPR: “Educators Went To Jail For Cheating. What Happened To The Students?”
The Atlantic profiles Robert Rorison, who has been proctoring the SAT for 53 years.
“A Defense of the Multiple-Choice Exam” by Barbara Katz Rothman in The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Its value may be limited, but there is no better way to test whether students have read the material.” Talking to them, I guess, is not an option.Online Education (The Once and Future “MOOC”)
Via Fortune (Reuters, really): “Why This Education Publisher Is Betting on Online Degrees.” The publisher in question: Pearson. In other Pearson news, via The Digital Reader: “ Pearson Shares Slump Following Poor Earnings Report.”
Via Class Central: “XuetangX: A Look at China’s First and Biggest MOOC Platform.”
Via Education Dive: “Virtual charters threaten finances in Pennsylvania public schools.”Coding Bootcamps (The Once and Future “For-Profit Higher Ed”)
Via Inc: “The Strange and Sudden Disappearance of a Coding Bootcamp Founder.” The bootcamp: Devschool. The founder has disappeared with some $100,000 in tuition, students say.
This is an old article on Medium but it’s worth reposting in light of this story: “The Dirty Little Secrets About The Worst Coding Bootcamps Out There. 9 out of 10 programs are outright scams.”
Devschool did have four stars on Course Report, a Yelp-like review site for coding bootcamps. (Keep that in mind when you see Course Report’s data touted, cheerleading the coding bootcamp trend.)
Thinkful (a company backed by Peter Thiel) is reaching out to Devschool students with this offer: “Send us your bill and we’ll apply half of it to our bootcamp.”
You can now read all the applications of the coding bootcamps and “alternative education companies” that are part of the US Department of Education’s EQUIP experiment, and as such eligible for federal financial aid.
Via The New York Times: “A Whistle Was Blown on ITT; 17 Years Later, It Collapsed.”
Via the San Antonio Express News: “Career Point College closing doors in San Antonio over federal violation.”
Via Politico: “The massive and financially troubled Education Management Corporation confirmed to POLITICO Wednesday that it is laying off 130 more Art Institutes employees. This is just the latest round of cuts at the cash-strapped for-profit college chain, which has been the target of multiple attorneys general investigations.”
Via The Wall Street Journal: “For-profit education company Apollo Education Group Inc. swung to a quarterly profit even as revenue continued its yearslong decline driven by lower enrollment.”
Via Education Dive: “For-profit colleges big spenders in federal lobbying.”
Via The Miami Herald: “Ernesto Perez, the owner of the now-shuttered Dade Medical College, has been slapped with new criminal charges – this time for improperly closing the for-profit school one year ago.”
Inside Higher Ed reports that a federal appeals court will allow a lawsuit to move forward against Heritage College.Meanwhile on Campus
Liberty University has blocked a column from appearing in its student newspaper that was critical of Donald Trump. Inside Higher Ed has the story – and the censored article.
Via the Ledger-Enquirer: “A 13-year-old student who said he was ‘thrown to the floor’ multiple times by a teacher at Edgewood Student Services Center on Sept. 12 is expected to have his leg amputated today as a result of the alleged incident, according to his attorney.”
Nike co-founder Phil Knight will give $500 million to the University of Oregon for something not related to sports.
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “To Improve Student Success, a University Confronts the Email Deluge.” The university in question: Michigan State University. Thankfully, Slack is not suggested here as an alternative.
Via Reuters: “How a Chinese company bought access to admissions officers at top U.S. colleges.” The company in question: Dipont Education Management Group. The colleges include Vanderbilt, Wellesley, and UVA.
Via NPR: “Students Clash With Police In South Africa Protests.”
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “After months of controversy surrounding Baylor University's handling of sexual-violence cases, the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights said on Wednesday that it had opened a Title IX investigation there.”
“Another campus sacrifices the queen: IPFW to cut programs, majors, departments” by Bryan Alexander. That’s Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne for those unfamiliar with the acronym. And the “queen sacrifices,” for those who don’t know that terminology, is what Alexander calls it when a college sacrifices its most powerful resource – its faculty – in order to stem financial problems. Alexander also looks at the fallout of the queen sacrifice Chicago State University made last year.
This is an interesting look at the screen-heavy architecture in “classrooms of the future,” featuring UVA professor Siva Vaidhyanathan’s classroom.This Week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Trump Said He Would ‘End’ Political Correctness on Campuses. Could a President Do That?”
Remember, the answer to these headlines is always “No.”Accreditation and Certification
“Forget Accreditation. Bring On the College Audit,” says The Chronicle of Higher Education. Bonus points for the image of the Ernst & Young auditor behind this idea, posing with Ben & Jerry of ice cream fame.
The Competency-Based Education Network has released a draft of quality standards for competency-based education.Go, School Sports Team!
Via Inside Higher Ed: “New report finds big-time college football players at wealthiest programs graduate at rates lower than their nonathlete male peers. For black players, the gap is even bigger.”
“Sports and Laying Siege to Racism in Seattle” by The Nation’s Dave Zirin.
Via Colorlines: “Texas HS Football Team Faces Season Cancellation for Kneeling Protests.”
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The University of Louisville committed four major National Collegiate Athletic Association violations when a former men's basketball assistant paid an escort service to provide strip shows and sex for recruits and other players, the NCAA stated in a notice of allegations sent to the university Thursday.”
Via the AP: “Penn State ex-coach who blew the whistle on Jerry Sandusky is suing the school for defamation.”From the HR Department
Delicious headline from Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy: “Harvard Dining Hall Strike Enters Its Third Week, With Meat In The Banana Pudding.”
The Chicago Sun Times’ Lauren Fitzpatrick on the contract negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and the city: “Chicago could become first city to bargain cap on charter schools.”
In other Chicago news: “UNO teachers, charter network avert strike.”
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “U. of Wisconsin Spent $24 Million on Faculty Retention After Perceived Threats to Tenure.”
Via Fusion: “These teachers say they were fired for teaching about social justice.”Upgrades and Downgrades
AltSchool (a company in Peter Thiel’s portfolio) issued a press release about its business model – a learning management system branded as Emilio Reggio, OMG. #nope. The Hechinger Report, Edsurge, Fast Company, and Wired were dutiful stenographers.
Via New York Magazine: “Laurene Powell Jobs’s $100 Million Mission to Disrupt American High School.”
Via Edutechnica: “5 Reasons Why Consolidation of the LMS Market Isn’t Necessarily a Bad Thing.”
Online lending company SoFi (one of the companies in Peter Thiel’s portfolio) runs invitation-only cocktail parties, according to this NYT profile on the company. Student loans and singles parties. Excellent work, education technology industry.
Via Campus Technology: “Online Learning Consortium, Tyton Partners Launch Courseware in Context.”
Via Edsurge: “Educators, Tech Industry Leaders Collaborate to Develop K–12 Computer Science Framework.” The collaborators in question: “The project is led by a committee that includes Code.org, Cyber Innovation Center, National Math and Science Initiative, Association for Computing Machinery and Computer Science Teachers Association. The work is also supported by companies including Apple, Google and Expedia, as well as education organizations including the CollegeBoard, Teach For America and STEMx.”
“University of Michigan Turns Courses Into Games,” says Edsurge. Through an LMS. Sounds super fun.
Via Techcrunch: “Amazon ramps up AWS Educate with free e-learning and job ads.” You can earn a micro-credential. Whee.
Google has released an update to its Course Builder software.
“PBS debuts its own tablet for kids, the Playtime Pad,” Techcrunch reports.
“Universities have turned over hundreds of patents to patent trolls,” says Yarden Katz.Funding and Acquisitions (The Business of Ed-Tech)
Edlio, which makes an education-focused CMS, has raised $40 million from L Squared Capital Partners.
Spark Schools has raised $9 million from the Omidyar Network. The company runs “blended learning” schools in South Africa. The Omidyar Network is also invested in another for-profit company running schools across Africa: Bridge International Academies.
Student loan provider Indian School Finance Company has raised $6 million from Gray Matters Capital.
VR chemistry set-maker MEL Science has raised $2.5 million from Sistema Venture Capital.
CourseStorm has raised $760,000 from Maine Venture Fund for its online course registration software.
Via Edsurge: “PowerSchool Buys Chalkable, Tops $200 Million in Acquisition Spending.” This is definitely my favorite sentence from the article: “[CEO, Hardeep] Gulati gushed about another Chalkable asset, Learning Earnings, that allows teachers to offer rewards (such as hall passes and lunch) to incentivize positive student behavior.” I love how getting to eat lunch or go pee is seen as a reward. Nice work, ed-tech. You’re definitely not making school even more awful.
Imagine Learning has acquired Think Through Learning.
Jouve has acquired Six Red Marbles.Data, Privacy, and Surveillance
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “The Next Great Hope for Measuring Learning.”
From the NASBE: “School Surveillance: The Consequences for Equity and Privacy.”
The EFF points out “Loopholes and Flaws in the Student Privacy Pledge.” The Future of Privacy Forum responds: “Student Privacy Pledge Loopholes? Nope. We Did Our Homework.” Did you know that the Future of Privacy Forum is financially backed by AT&T, Comcast, Facebook, and Google? Did you know that its run by Jules Polonetsky, who used to run DoubleClick, Google’s ad service? (I did. I did my homework.)
Shocking, I know, but Campus Technology reports that “Yik Yak Users Not So Anonymous After All.”
Via The Houston Chronicle: “Katy ISD warns staff, students after data breach.”
“Facebook’s Child Workforce” – Cathy “Mathbabe” O’Neil on Facebook’s personalized learning software.Data and “Research”
Via NPR: “American Academy Of Pediatrics Lifts ’No Screens Under 2’ Rule.” That’s the story that’s getting the headlines, it seems. Not this one by the same organization: “Researchers Caution About Potential Harms of Parents’ Online Posts about Children.”
Anne Trubek writes in the JSTOR Daily about “Student Writing in the Digital Age,” drawing on a study by Andrea and Karen Lunsford. Among the findings: “Students in first-year composition classes are, on average, writing longer essays (from an average of 162 words in 1917, to 422 words in 1986, to 1,038 words in 2006), using more complex rhetorical techniques, and making no more errors than those committed by freshman in 1917.”
Via The New York Times: “How Much Graduates Earn Drives More College Rankings.”
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Competency-based education programs may be inexpensive to run, but they can also take longer than expected to turn a profit, according to a study released on Tuesday and supported by the Lumina Foundation.” (More in The Chronicle about the Lumina Foundation and the Gates Foundation’s policy focuses. The former says it plans to invest in credential reform, including CBE.) Inside Higher Ed also wrote about the Lumina-funded report.
Via Education Dive: “Is CBE the future of higher education? Study says too early to tell.” (If the headline had just been the question, I could have listed this under the Betteridge subheader above.)
Education Week has released a new report on “personalized learning.” A few of the articles: “‘Red Flags’ to Look for When Evaluating Personalized Learning Products.” “Personalized Learning: What Does the Research Say?” “Checking Up on Personalized Learning Pioneers.” Rousseau could not be reached for comment.
From the Florida Virtual Campus, the “2016 Student Textbook and Course Materials Survey.”
Via McGraw Hill Education: “Digital Study Trends: Student Habits.” You have to hand over some personal information to access the results of the survey, which certainly echoes a trend in how digital companies treat students’ data.
Via NPR: “The High School Graduation Rate Reaches A Record High – Again.”
“Parents Bullish on Ed Tech, Skeptical About Its Implementation, Survey Says,” says Education Week, writing up a survey taken by the Gates Foundation funded Learning Assembly.
Via Edsurge: “Trouble With the Curve: Estimating the Size and Growth Rates of K–12 Markets.”
Via Pacific Standard: “Suspending Students Is Costing America Tens of Billions of Dollars.”
Via Edsurge: “The Top Skills Employers Need in 2016, According to LinkedIn.”
The shocking information in this story about LinkedIn’s diversity report isn’t that the company has made minimal gains in hiring women and people of color. It’s that Pat Wadors, LinkedIn’s senior VP of global talent uses the word “mulatto” to describe someone in her family.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “A new study released by the Brookings Institution finds disparities in student debt levels for black and white borrowers grow after graduation, a trend partly attributable to higher enrollment rates for black students in graduate programs, especially at for-profit institutions. That jump in enrollment is linked to higher federal borrowing rates introduced in 2006 and the weak job market – especially for black college grads – after the 2008 recession.”
Via Edsurge: “Average Student Loan Debt Surpasses $30K.” (Let’s talk a bit why median works better than mean for reporting on student loans.)
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “One-Third of Low-Income Student Borrowers Who Rehabbed Loans Could Default Again.”
83% of colleges pay to promote posts or to advertise on Facebook, according to a study by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
Via Education Week: “Career-Readiness Will Require Training, and Re-Training, Beyond High School, Study Finds.”
Google has released two research reports on computer science education: “Diversity Gaps in Computer Science: Exploring the Underrepresentation of Girls, Blacks and Hispanics” and “Trends in the State of Computer Science in U.S. K–12 Schools.” Among the findings: Black and Hispanic students are 1.5 and 1.7 times more likely to be very interested in learning about computer science than their white peers. But they have less access to computer science in school.
According to the press release, the venture capital firm Learn Capital and VIPKID, one of its portfolio companies, are spending $10 million to launch “the world’s first research institute focusing on children's English online education.” I guess universities aren’t churning out “the right kind of research” for investors, or something.
“Best Practices for Conducting Risky Research and Protecting Yourself from Online Harassment” by Alice Marwick, Lindsay Blackwell, and Katherine Lo. I’m sad this has to exist, but I am also happy it does.RIP
William Bowen, long-time president of Princeton and popularizer of the concept of Baumol’s cost disease (along with William Baumol, of course) has died. The New York Times obituary.
RIP Venida Browder, mother of Kalief, her teenage son who was kept mostly in solitary confinement on Riker’s Island for three years for a crime – stealing a backpack – he said he did not commit and was never convicted of committing. Kalief killed himself last year.
Icon credits: The Noun Project
Edu Labs To Increase Latin American Moodle Stronghold By Becoming The First Colombian Certified Partner
This talk was presented today at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, as part of the Domain of One's Own" initiative that the school is launching. The complete slide deck is here.
I’m often asked to give a title for a talk months in advance, certainly weeks before I’ve ever actually planned what I’m going to say or written a word. So when I finally turn to do so, I frequently find that I’m confounded – what did I want to say? What did I mean to say? What will I say?
Something about attending to the digital, reclaiming the Web, it looks like…
When I’m spinning around, grasping for ideas, grasping at how to structure a talk, I read books. Yeah. I know. Weird. Books. Those old things. But ideas are developed more slowly and thoroughly in books. That’s something that’s desperately lacking in the steady stream of information flow online. There’s something about the pace of print – in reading and in writing. Deliberate. Deliberation. There’s something too about the pace of a keynote (and a sermon and a lecture) that I think draws on print. This type of speaking is perhaps, with a nod to Walter Ong, a “printed orality.”
And in particular, I like to turn to the Oxford English Dictionary. To be honest, I turn to it quite often – keynote or not. I find etymology – the history of words’ origins, their changing meanings – to be quite useful in situating my own language, my own ideas, and to ground these ideas not just in whatever what’s on my mind at the moment, but in their historical origins. I find the OED to be quite useful in thinking about the history of technologies, particularly communication technologies. And perhaps it seems silly or redundant or obvious to say this: but communication technologies do predate computing technologies. Our communication practices might change – might – because of new computing technologies. But new practices tend not to be invented utterly whole cloth. The legacies of language and culture persist.
“Attending to the digital,” the title of this talk, is not meant to signal entirely new forms of reading or writing; the digital does not signal entirely new forms of attention.
But I want to pause there and explore some of the meanings of that word “attention,” in part because we seem to be in the middle of a moral panic of sorts about attention, particularly about the detrimental effects some contend that technology has on attention.
According to the OED, “attention” – derived from the Latin “attendere,” to attend – means “The action, fact, or state of attending or giving heed; earnest direction of the mind, consideration, or regard; especially in the phrase to pay or give attention. The mental power or faculty of attending; especially with attract, call, draw, arrest, fix, etc.” “Attention” is a noun, but it refers to an action and/or a state of being. Attention is a mental activity. An earnest activity – which I particularly like. Attention is a military activity. It refers to how we stand and how we see and how we think.
According to the OED, the word’s first usage in English came in 1374 by Chaucer, translating The Consolation of Philosophy, a sixth century tome, from Latin; and then “attention” was not used again until the 16th century. In Shakespeare’s Richard II:
O, but they say the tongues of dying men
Enforce attention like deep harmony:
Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain.
The word “attention” is a common word, with fairly steady usage in literature throughout the last hundred or so years, its meaning fairly consistent – to consider, to heed. That is, until the early twentieth century when we started talking about “attention seekers” and “attention getters” and “attention grabbers” – phrases that reflected a changes in media and advertising. The development of the field of psychology around the same time also introduced the concept of the “attention span.” Another new phrase originated in the 1960s, at first via articles in educational psychology journals: “attention deficit.”
We’re doing “attention” wrong now, we’re told. We seek it too much; we hold it too little. There’s a deficit, a lack, a pathology even. But doing “attention” wrong how, I’d ask (well before I’d ask about doing it wrong why). After all, if you look through these definitions and usages, you can see that the noun is accompanied by all sorts of verbs. We pay attention. We give attention. Attract attention. Draw attention. Call attention. Fix attention. At which noun-verb combination are we failing? Surely not all of them. What and how are we not attending, not attending to? What and how are we not seeing? What role do technologies play in what we see, what we attend to, what we forget, what we ignore?
Let me pause here and reassure you: this is not going to be a talk that functions as a screed against “digital distractions.” These have become incredibly formulaic. You know the arguments by now: new technologies – most recently the culprit is the cellphone – are making us un- or anti-social. They are shortening our attention spans. They are nudging us to pay attention to all the wrong things – checking Twitter, for example, at the dinner table or texting while driving. We can’t sit still. We don’t have empathy. We don’t look at people, engage with people. Yet we can’t handle solitude. We can’t handle the despair of the human condition. “And that’s why I don’t want to get a cellphone for my kids,” says Louis C. K., whose comedy routine is frequently referenced in essays on “digital distractions.” You can almost predict when these articles and arguments are going to invoke his bit with Conan O’Brien, when they turn to argue that somehow digital technologies foreclose meaningful contemplation, foreclose our experiences of existential angst.
And then there are the responses, the counter-arguments to “digital distraction” that are often just as predictable. These often point dismissively to what’s almost a caricature of the work of MIT science studies professor Sherry Turkle, sneering at her claims that in Alone Together – that “we expect more from technology and less from each other.” Technologies makes us more social, these arguments insist. Technologies broaden our understanding and expand our capacity for empathy. We have never paid attention to one another in certain settings, these articles claim. And cue the requisite black-and-white photo of a train car full of men commuting to work, immersed in the solitude of their newspapers.
I find neither of these types of essays, neither of these arguments very satisfying.
In part, I find that those who want to dismiss such a thing as “digital distraction” tend to minimize the very real impact that new technologies do have on what we see, what we pay attention to. It’s right there in that phrase – “pay attention.” Attention has costs. It is a resource – one involving time and energy, a resource of which we only have a limited amount. Attention has become a commodity, with different companies and technologies bidding for a piece of it. As Matthew Crawford wrote in a New York Times op-ed last year,
…We’ve auctioned off more and more of our public space to private commercial interests, with their constant demands on us to look at the products on display or simply absorb some bit of corporate messaging. Lately, our self-appointed disrupters have opened up a new frontier of capitalism, complete with its own frontier ethic: to boldly dig up and monetize every bit of private head space by appropriating our collective attention. In the process, we’ve sacrificed silence – the condition of not being addressed.
This is “the attention economy,” we are told, where our attention is thoroughly monetized, where everything we do and think and are urged to do and urged to think reduced to a financial transaction. And it’s not just about our attention, of course; it’s about our data. It’s about a manufacturing of distractions – many, many distractions – so we are always clicking but rarely contemplative.
This crisis of attention we face today is often linked to an overabundance of information. But this is hardly a new or unprecedented circumstance. This is not the only time in history in which we’ve experienced “information overload.” This is not the first time we have struggled with “too much information.” The capacity of humans’ biological memory has always lagged behind the amount of information humans have created. Always. We have created a variety of technologies to help us manage information and memory – writing most obviously, but also codices, indices, tables of contents, libraries.
“In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes,” cognitive psychologist and computer scientist Herbert Simon wrote in 1971. “What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” 1971.
So it’s not accurate – not remotely accurate – to say that our current (over) abundance of information began with computers or was caused by the Internet. “Distraction” cannot simply be a result of the digital, even if digital technology companies seem perfectly adept to encourage and exploit that distraction.
Essays that both stoke and assuage fears about “digital distraction” tend towards the ahistorical because their assertions almost always focus on the digital, on new technologies as the cause. And again, this is why resources like the OED can be so valuable. As I said at the start of this talk, at the turn of the 20th century – well before the smartphone – the English language already reflected anxieties about attention, particularly about those who deliberately seek attention, those who seek notoriety, those who disrupt the social order. (Women.)
I do wonder how much anxieties about a disrupted social order are at the core of our anxieties about attention and distraction, our anxieties about technological change. I don’t say this dismissively. Nor do I want to suggest that all disrupting and re-ordering is necessarily progressive. We too often confuse technological advancement with political progress or with socio-economic justice – they aren’t the same thing.
But technological changes do alter and reflect the social and economic and political order.
Amusing Ourselves to Death by media theorist Neil Postman is often described as a polemic against the corrosive effects of television, and perhaps for that reason some might be quick to dismiss the relevance of its insights to a “digital world.” But the communication technologies that have been developed alongside and since television are not, again, a new language. They are built on the language of TV. As Postman writes,
On television, discourse is conducted largely through visual imagery, which is to say that television gives us a conversation in images, not words. The emergence of the image-manager in the political arena and the concomitant decline of the speech writer attest to the fact that television demands a different kind of content from other media. You cannot do political philosophy on television. Its form works against the content.
“You cannot do political philosophy on television” – that’s a prescient and damning statement now that one of the major political party Presidential candidates today, in a Presidential campaign that some are calling the most corrosive to American democracy, is a reality TV star. Writing about television some thirty years ago, Neil Postman gets so much right about attention, about attention to public knowledge, attention to the public discourse.
This public piece is important, I want to reiterate. This isn’t simply about attention or distraction on an individual level – whether or not your teen or your partner or your student is looking at you or looking at a screen – this is about public attention and public distraction. This is about public discourse – democracy really. What we pay attention to, shapes us. Collectively.
You would be mistaken to think that, because it predates the World Wide Web and mobile phones, Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death has no insights to offer us about technology today. After all the book isn’t simply about television. It’s about electronic communications, something that Postman traces through the developments of photography and telegraphy.
“The telegraph made a three-pronged attack on typography’s definition of discourse,” Postman writes, “introducing on a large scale irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence. These demons of discourse were aroused by the fact that telegraphy gave a form of legitimacy to the idea of context-free information; that is, to the idea that the value of information need not be tied to any function it might serve in social and political decision-making and action, but may attach merely to its novelty, interest, and curiosity. The telegraph made information into a commodity, a ‘thing’ that could be bought and sold irrespective of its uses or meaning.”
Irrelevance. Impotence. Incoherence. Information as a commodity, and attention as a commodity.
Surrounded by these informational conditions, what are we giving and paying attention to? What do we see? What do we contemplate?
There’s another common trope when writing about the dangers of “digital distraction” – the admonition to unplug, go offline, disconnect. Of course, this has been commodified too, with expensive “digital detox” retreats and the like that promise to help you become more mindful (so that you can return to your job, reinvigorated, of course). The problem with this framework – I loathe the use of that word “detox” – is that it pathologizes, making the problem of technology usage, attention and distraction, an individual one rather than a systemic one.
So I’m going to refer to another book here, and not to finger-wag about “digital distraction” – hell, this particular book was published in 1974 – or to set up some false dichotomy between humans in Nature and humans with computers. But I recently reread Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by nature writer Annie Dillard in preparation for this talk because it is fundamentally, I believe, a book about attention. The book – a latter day Walden of sorts as it’s often described – chronicles a year of exploration and observation and contemplation around Tinker Creek, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
So what does it mean to attend to the world around us – immediately around us? A sustained and compassionate and curious attention? Annie Dillard writes about this beautifully:
It’s all a matter of keeping my eyes open. Nature is like one of those line drawings of a tree that are puzzles for children: Can you find hidden in the leaves a duck, a house, a boy, a bucket, a zebra, and a boot? Specialists can find the most incredibly well-hidden things.
…If I can’t see these minutiae, I still try to keep my eyes open. I’m always on the lookout for antlion traps in sandy soil, monarch pupae near milkweed, skipper larvae in locust leaves. These things are utterly common, and I’ve not seen one. I bang on hollow trees near water, but so far no flying squirrels have appeared. In flat country I watch every sunset in hopes of seeing the green ray. The green ray is a seldom-seen streak of light that rises from the sun like a spurting fountain at the moment of sunset; it throbs into the sky for two seconds and disappears. One more reason to keep my eyes open. A photography professor at the University of Florida just happened to see a bird die in midflight; it jerked, died, dropped, and smashed on the ground. I squint at the wind because I read Stewart Edward White: ‘I have always maintained that if you looked closely enough you could see the wind – the dim, hardly-made-out, fine débris fleeing high in the air.’ White was an excellent observer, and devoted an entire chapter of The Mountains to the subject of seeing deer: ‘As soon as you can forget the naturally obvious and construct an artificial obvious, then you too will see deer.’
But the artificial obvious is hard to see.
The artificial obvious. The naturally obvious. How much of what we are compelled to pay attention to with various digital technologies is precisely the latter? How much of this natural obviousness is manufactured and elevated to a level of immediate and unnatural importance. You get a push notification on your phone to tell you Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint in her exclusive Paris hotel room. What are we supposed to do with that information? How do we learn to see differently and not just react to what’s “obvious” about these sorts of stories?
The idea of the “news of the day,” according to Neil Postman, is a result of the telegraph, “which made it possible to move decontextualized information over vast spaces at incredible speed.” Information, telegraphed, is stripped of its context and of its relevance, and because of the distance – literal, metaphorical – those consuming the information are stripped of their ability to act in response. The telegraph, says Postman,
brought into being a world of broken time and broken attention, to use Lewis Mumford’s phrase. The principal strength of the telegraph was its capacity to move information, not collect it, explain it or analyze it. In this respect, telegraphy was the exact opposite of typography. Books, for example, are an excellent container for the accumulation, quiet scrutiny and organized analysis of information and ideas. It takes time to write a book, and to read one; time to discuss its contents and to make judgments about their merit, including the form of their presentation. A book is an attempt to make thought permanent and to contribute to the great conversation conducted by authors of the past. Therefore, civilized people everywhere consider the burning of a book a vile form of anti-intellectualism. But the telegraph demands that we burn its contents. The value of telegraphy is undermined by applying the tests of permanence, continuity or coherence. The telegraph is suited only to the flashing of messages, each to be quickly replaced by a more up-to-date message. Facts push other facts into and then out of consciousness at speeds that neither permit nor require evaluation.
“A world of broken time and broken attention” – the telegraph, the television, and, of course, the Internet.
Last fall, my friend Mike Caulfield, Director of Blended and Networked Learning at Washington State University Vancouver, gave a brilliant keynote titled “The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral.” He didn’t refer to Postman directly, but in his talk, he made some similar observations about how technologies – “Web 2.0” technologies specifically – shape public discourse in part by privileging this particular brokenness of time and attention. Caulfield argues that we rely on two powerful metaphors to describe contemporary Internet technologies. The Garden. The Stream.
The stream privileges a rapid flow of information; this is “the feed” on Facebook and on Twitter. It is a serialization of information that you can wade in and out of, but the data always rushes by. The stream demands a certain kind of chronology – the presentation of information in reverse chronological order, with the latest updates at the top. Thus, these technologies command we pay attention to the newest information – via push notifications and counters that tell us the number of unread messages, for example.
The garden, Caulfield argues, helps us imagine the Web as a place, as a topological space. It’s deliberately designed. (So is “the stream” of course.) But we can walk through the garden along different paths. We aren’t forced into a stream that rushes by us. We can stroll. We can experience the garden in many different ways. We move through it; the garden does not move but it does change. We choose the pace and the direction we navigate. And we tend to the garden. We pay sustained attention. We deliberately plant. We carefully cultivate. We propagate. We plow. We dig up from the roots. We find the best place – location, water, soil – for growth. We trim back. We weed. We graft. We fertilize. We harvest. We care.
Some of those who imagined and developed the Web once talked about the technology in these terms. (Sometimes we still do.) Vannevar Bush’s Memex, outlined in a 1945 article in The Atlantic, is often the example cited here – he envisioned a personal “memory machine” where you could store and annotate all sorts of texts and images. And I think we like to imagine that that’s what the Web is. But it’s not. It never really was – due to both its infrastructure and intellectual property, for starters. Increasingly, the Web is even less of a garden.
Instead of cultivation and contemplation – growing a garden takes time – we are swept up in the stream. Of course we are, I imagine Neil Postman saying. Here’s Caulfield’s description:
The “conversational web”. A web obsessed with arguing points. A web seen as a tool for self-expression rather than a tool for thought. A web where you weld information and data into your arguments so that it can never be repurposed against you. The web not as a reconfigurable model of understanding but of sealed shut presentations.
This isn’t simply about technologies of distraction. This is about technologies of a fragmented discourse, one that privileges “comments” – never read the comments – versus a deeper, critical commentary. “But comments are a conversation,” some will say, extolling the virtues of “Web 2.0” that encouraged – purportedly at least – a readable, writable web. But as Postman observed of far earlier technologies, namely the telegraph, these had “introduced a kind of public conversation whose form had startling characteristics: Its language was the language of headline – sensational, fragmented, impersonal.”
Sensational, fragmented, impersonal – these are the characteristics that I think we should look at when we talk about distraction and attention. And I think we should contemplate how we can build technologies that foster a deep and sustained attention to ideas, to knowledge, and yes, to public discourse.
“What is television?” Postman asked. “What kinds of conversations does it permit? What are the intellectual tendencies it encourages? What sort of culture does it produce?” What is the Internet, we should ask now. What kinds of conversations does it foster, and what kinds does it foreclose. What are the intellectual tendencies the Internet encourages? What sort of culture does it produce?
As Middlebury rolls out MiddCreate, its initiative that will provide domains to students and staff, I urge you to think carefully about the metaphors and importantly the infrastructure of the Internet and of the Web. What are you going to attend to? How will you use your domain – a word with multiple meanings, referring to place and control and knowledge – to cultivate ideas carefully, thoughtfully, beautifully, collectively? These are questions of design – we can design differently. These are questions of intention. These are questions of attention. These are questions of incredible political significance right now. We need only look at the Presidential campaign, at an embrace of factlessness and conspiracy theories fostered by Facebook, to see the dangers of attending to technology at the expense of attending to democracy.
I want to turn here, to close, to the second part of my title – a phrase I haven’t referred to yet: “reclaiming the Web.” I want to invoke the speaker’s prerogative to change the title of my talk here as I come to its conclusion. I’ve used the word “reclaim” a lot in my work. I done so in part because the word does mean to bring back. Reclamation is to reassert, to protest, to heal, to restore. But again, I don’t really believe the tale that the Web was once something pristine that we must rescue and convert from wasteland. Yes, we need to engage in a reclamation. But it’s not the Web per se that we must rebuild. It’s broader and deeper than that. Broader and deeper than technology. Broader and deeper than “the digital.”
If there’s something to reclaim – or for many voices, to get to claim for the very first time – it is public discourse. It is, I hope, one that rests on a technological commons. I think we start towards that commons by thinking very carefully, by thinking very slowly and deeply, by cultivating very lovingly our spaces and places and own domains.
Image credits: Slide 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18. Works cited: “The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral” by Mike Caulfield. Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. “The Cost of Paying Attention” by Matthew Crawford. “Louis C.K. Hates Cell Phones” on Conan. “Designing Organizations for an Information-Rich World” by Herbert Simon.
Florida Virtual University, Oct 20, 2016
This large (22,000 participants) report (35 page PDF) makes the impact of textbook costs clear: "The findings suggest that the cost of textbooks is negatively impacting student access to required materials (66.6% did not purchase the required textbook) and learning (37.6% earn a poor grade; 19.8% fail a course)." There's no end to the efforts to improve course quality in order to improve outcomes, yet so little effort to address really obvious problems like this.[Link] [Comment]
Audrey Watters on Peter Thiel: "At the core of the companies that Thiel has founded and funded is surveillance. Palantir. Facebook. AltSchool. The regime of data collection and analysis is framed as 'personalization.' But that’ s a cover for compliance and control."[Link] [Comment]
If you haven't been watching it must seem like the entire world has changed. Here's the list of technologies used as described by Brian Kelly: Slack, Lanyard, Whova. The last is completely new to me. Whova (which sponsored the event) "allows your event to go mobile, and supercharges your attendee engagement and networking experience." It provides things like agendas, check-in, maps and links.[Link] [Comment]
I was watching a item on the news this morning tracking Twitter reaction to some televised events and I thought to myself, "why track this if all the traffic is bots?" And that's part of the answer to the question in the title of this article. And as Jane Hart writes, "over the years the dark side of Twitter has emerged – in the form of the trolls – and this is something that has put off new users signing up to Twitter. In fact, now that Twitter is up for sale, we can see that this is one of the things that is deterring potential buyers."[Link] [Comment]
Rangatiratanga is a Maori concept for taking personal and collective control over your own future. It formed the basis for the treaty creating New Zealand's unique society. According to this article, it's also the basis for a school district renewal project restoring Maori education. I wish the article had focused more on how Rangatiratanga was practiced by the district, but the author talks mostly about paying for their educational costs and passing tests.[Link] [Comment]
Dan Barrett’s piece over the weekend in The Chronicle, “The Next Great Hope for Measuring Learning,” deserves a close read. He describes in some detail a ground up effort by faculty and administrators across several institutions to define and measure what it is that students are learning and why it’s important. In doing so, these faculty and administrators are moving beyond looking simply at content mastery and focusing on broader skills of quantitative reasoning, writing and critical thinking. It’s forcing them to develop new approaches to reviewing student work, moving away from the idea of “grading” and toward “scoring” against a rubric that looks more sophisticated learning outcomes.
The effort, directed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) – an active advocate in this space (see Michael’s earlier blog post, “Outcomes-Based Education and the Conservative Radicalism of the AAC&U”), is not without its skeptics, including many participants in the actual project. That said, the approach is being watched closely as a way for higher education to define and measure appropriate criteria that lead to improvements in teaching and learning while simultaneously speaking to accountability issues around which there is so much attention.
Like many promising initiatives in higher education recently highlighted by e-Literate, well thought out, collaboratively developed homegrown solutions usually trump those imposed by third parties working in isolation.
Note: For those without a Chronicle subscription, use this link to get behind the firewall for 24 hours after this post publishes.
The post Recommended Reading: Article in Chronicle on Measuring Learning appeared first on e-Literate.
I’m pleased to announce two additions to e-Literate.
First, we’re creating a new category of short posts called “Recommended Reading.” We have always appreciated the news digests produced by folks like Stephen Downes and Audrey Watters as ways to keep up on important pieces we might have missed. While we don’t intend to publish such digests regularly the way that OLDaily and Hack Education do, we are going to start writing short posts, clearly labeled as “recommended reading,” that point to pieces elsewhere on the internet that might be of interest to you.
Second, helping us out with that effort will be MindWires gang’s newest member, O’Neal Spicer. O’Neal has been working with us as an independent consultant for about a year now and we’re proud to have him on board full-time. You’ll be seeing long-form pieces from him; Phil and I think you’ll be pleased with the perspective that he adds. He’s also going to pitch in with Phil and me to keep the “recommended reading” posts coming on a regular basis.
The post Introducing “Recommended Reading” and O’Neal Spicer appeared first on e-Literate.
Clint Lalonde, Oct 19, 2016
Clint Lalonde highlights a talk by Robin DeRosa on the relation between open education and public education. "In 5 short minutes she connects the various strands of open education (open access, open educational resources, and open pedagogy) to the broader societal mandate of our public institutions, which is to serve the public good." Short (as promised) video arguing we should make a case for public education using the case for open education.
Association for Computing Machinery, Oct 19, 2016
A document called the K– 12 Computer Science Framework (307 page PDF) led by the Association for Computing Machinery, Code.org, Computer Science Teachers Association, and the Cyber Innovation Center. The frameworek "promotes a vision in which all students critically engage in computer science issues; approach problems in innovative ways; and create computational artifacts with a practical, personal, or societal intent." It organizes the discipline into a set of 'core concepts' and 'core practices' (pictured). Interestingly the framework also weaves four major themes through the concepts:
- Equity. Issues of equity, inclusion, and diversity are addressed
- Powerful ideas... can be used to solve real-world problems and connect understanding across multiple disciplines
- Computational thinking practices such as abstraction, modeling, and decomposition
- Breadth of application: physical systems; the collection, storage, and analysis of data; and the impact of computing on society.
I think it would be productive to compare this framework with the various accounts of 'digital literacy' that circulate through the educational community. Via and with commentary from Mark Guzdial and Alfred Thompson.[Link] [Comment]