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Last week, The New York Times wrote about a new simulation program, funded by the Department of Homeland Security, that aims to teach teachers how to respond to an active shooter on school grounds – a simulation “that includes realistic details like gunfire, shattered glass and the screams of children,” one in which teachers can play the role of school staff, law enforcement, or the shooter her- or himself.
It was not the first article on the program known as EDGE, the Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment. There were a flurry of stories on the shooting simulation software at the beginning of the year – Gizmodo, Engadget, Rolling Stone, The Verge – several of which seemed to build on an AP story filed in the closing days of 2016.
From what I can tell, the story of the shooting simulation was not covered by any education publications – only by a handful of technology ones. This raises a number of interesting questions about coverage and about definitions. What counts as an education story? School shootings certainly do. But what counts as “ed-tech”?
“Why can’t you be more positive about ed-tech, Audrey” https://t.co/kMMdx1unsU— Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) January 3, 2018
I tweeted something rather flippant about the story back in January when Gizmodo posted a video about the simulation, and I received an admonishment from one ed-tech evangelist that the software “has nothing to do with ed-tech.” I replied that metal detectors are ed-tech, that windows are ed-tech, and that one should consider how these technologies are distributed among various school buildings and communities. The individual sneered that my definition was uselessly broad, that this would mean that locks on school doors are ed-tech.
Well, locks on school doors are ed-tech.
When most ed-tech evangelists, like my interlocutor on Twitter, talk about ed-tech, they don’t mean “technologies used in education.” They don’t even always mean “computers in education” – or not all computers, at least. While they readily refer to the use of computers used for instructional purposes, computers used for administrative purposes are less likely to be touted, particularly with the recent focus on “personalization” or “learning outcomes,” particularly when education-related computations occur outside a school or district (as in the case of private student loan companies, for example).
Perhaps due to education publications’ funding by education reform organizations and by venture capitalists, the coverage of “education technology” in much education media tends to coincide with these investors’ policies and portfolios. The definition of “ed-tech” is therefore incredibly narrow, often focused on products rather than practices. And that skews the ways in which we talk about “ed-tech” – how we might consider its politics and its purposes, how we might think about its origins and its implications.
In her 1989 CBC Massey Lectures, the physicist Ursula Franklin offered a different definition of technology, one that I use in my own thinking and writing:
Technology is not the sum of the artifacts, of the wheels and gears, of the rails and electronic transmitters. Technology is a system. It entails far more than its individual material components. Technology involves organization, procedures, symbols, new words, equations, and, most of all, a mindset.
If we recognize technology as practices, we can more readily see the connections to social relations, Franklin argued. We can then think about technology not just in terms of the introduction of a particular tool, but in terms of how technology might support or shift pre-existing values. Cultural values. Political values. Institutional values.
To claim that a school shooting simulation isn’t “ed-tech” is remarkably unhelpful. It serves to bolster the ideological claims that technology is always bound up in “progress.” And importantly, this refusal to include certain technologies in “ed-tech” circumscribes much of the analysis one might undertake about systems, structures, histories.
What is the history of military teaching machines, for example? What role has the military played in developing education technology (particularly training simulations) that have made their way into classrooms? How might the military’s values – overtly and subtly – permeate ed-tech? How do those coincide and how do they conflict with the values of the public school system?
And what is the history of weapons used at school and of the machines used to detect and deter school violence? “Since the attack on Columbine High School in 1999, mitigating the damage of on-campus shootings has been an increasingly urgent priority,” The New York Times writes in that article about school shooting simulation software. “More than two-thirds of public schools nationwide practiced their response to a shooting in the 2013–14 academic year, according to the Department of Education; 10 years earlier, fewer than half of schools did so.”
But of course, Columbine was hardly the first school shooting. And the practices (and products) adopted to “mitigate the damage” have a very different history in affluent, suburban schools than they have in high poverty, urban schools where metal detectors, for example, were introduced almost twenty years earlier.
New York City. Boston. New Orleans. Washington DC. Detroit. These cities all experimented with metal detectors and mandatory searches of (some) students (in some schools) in the early 1980s. The adoption of these practices was a response, according to school officials, to fears of youth violence and weapons incidents in and around schools (but overwhelmingly the latter). Along with the introduction of drug-sniffing dogs, students increasingly found themselves exposed to surveillance and searches at school, the legality of the latter upheld in a number of Supreme Court decisions that decade.
There were concerns at the outset about the effectiveness of metal detectors – not simply whether or not they reliably caught students bringing weapons to campus but whether their introduction changed school culture. “We’d be concerned about the impact psychologically on the climate of the schools,” Robert Rubel, the director of the National Alliance for Safe Schools told The Detroit Free Press in 1985 when the Detroit Public Schools introduced unannounced weapons sweeps using handheld metal detectors.
Indeed, many other school districts that experimented with metal detectors admitted that they found them to be counterproductive. If nothing else, the screening process posed a logistical challenge, with students complaining they had to wait in line so long that they were often late to class. But some districts stuck with metal detectors nonetheless, often as part of a broader police presence in schools. As Carla Shedd writes in Unequal City, the Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Public Safety boasted in 2013 that it supported a range of these types of technologies: “8,000+ cameras, 500+ alarm systems, 150+ X-ray machines, 300+ metal detectors, 400+ door entry systems, and 35 bus trackers.”
Shedd argues that
Contemporary urban youth are exposed to police contact more frequently and at earlier ages than their predecessors. Schools – and for those who live in public housing, even some homes – have begun to resemble correctional facilities. Metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and other mechanisms designed to monitor and control inhabitants are now standard equipment in American urban schools. Youth who must navigate these spaces are inevitably at high risk of police contact, which may lead to frustration, disengagement, and delinquency.
“Standard equipment in American urban schools.” Education technologies, even.
What happens if we refuse to talk about these as “ed-tech”, if we refuse to address the practices of surveillance and control as well as products of surveillance and control? If nothing else, this refusal stops us from having the necessary conversations about why some schools might get simulations that train teachers how to respond to a potential shooting, and some schools get metal detectors that interpolate all students as potential shooters.
Each week, I gather a wide variety of links to education and education technology articles. All this feeds the review I write each December on the stories we are told about the future of education.(National) Education Politics
The State of the Union is a right mess. President Trump gave the annual speech to Congress on Tuesday night. (Thankfully, I had class and didn’t have to listen.) Some of the education-related moments: “Less Community, More Vocational,” as Inside Higher Ed put it. “What Trump Didn’t Say About Education,” according to The Atlantic.
More on the Department of Education and for-profit higher ed in the for-profit higher ed section below. And more on the Department of Education and its plans for financial aid in “the business of financial aid” section below.
From the press release: “U.S. Department of Education Launches New English Learner Data Story.” “Data story” is a fancy way of saying “website.”
There’s news about Department of Education hires in the HR section below.
Via The New York Times: “Republicans Stuff Education Bill With Conservative Social Agenda.”
Religious colleges would be able to bar openly same-sex relationships without fear of repercussions.
Religious student groups could block people who do not share their faith from becoming members.
Controversial speakers would have more leverage when they want to appear at colleges.
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Top Official at Justice Dept. Says More Colleges Should Punish Hecklers.” Because “free speech” matters, right up until someone laughs at a Keebler Elf during his Senate confirmation hearing.
Via the Broadcast Law Blog: “Time for the FCC to Review Children’s Television Educational Programming Obligations of Broadcasters? Commissioner O’Rielly Thinks So.”(State and Local) Education Politics
Newark has control once again of its public school system, which the state took away from the city 22 years ago.
Via BocaNews: “Parents throughout South Palm Beach County are using iReady on behalf of their children, possibly skewing scores – and usefulness – of the $6-Million diagnostic computer system.” iReady is owned by Curriculum Associates.
Discovery Creemos Academy – formerly known as the Bradley Academy of Excellence – a charter school in Goodyear, Arizona, has abruptly closed its doors.
Via Chalkbeat: “Rocketship becomes latest charter network to pull the plug on Tennessee’s Achievement School District.”
Via NPR: “In D.C., 34 Percent Of Graduates Received A Diploma Against District Policy.”
Via The Atlantic: “The Libraries Bringing Small-Town News Back to Life.”Immigration and Education
Via NPR: “Nearly 9,000 DACA Teachers Face An Uncertain Future.”Education in the Courts
Via The Phoenix New Times: “The Battle Isn’t Over Between ASU Professor and Cop Who Arrested Her in 2014.”“Free College”
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “In West Virginia, Free Community College Would Come With a Drug Test.”The Business of Financial Aid
Via Buzzfeed: “Betsy DeVos Wants To Put Your Student Loan Money On A Bank Card.” All the better to surveil you with, my dear.
Via The Washington Post: “Use of financial aid continues to grow, though fewer students are borrowing for college.”The “New” For-Profit Higher Ed
“The U.S. Department of Education on Monday distributed proposals for rewriting the gainful-employment rule, which the Trump administration halted last summer,” Inside Higher Ed reports. “The department’s do-over on the vocational education rule, which applies to for-profit college programs and to nondegree programs at nonprofit colleges, continues with a negotiated rule-making session next week.” The proposal would expand the gainful employment rule to all schools that receive federal aid, but it would remove any penalties for schools that fail to meet acceptable levels.
An op-ed in The Washington Post: “On ITT and the Education Department, no more excuses.”
More on bootcamps in the job training section below.Online Education (and the Once and Future “MOOC”)
It’s baaaaack: “Return of the MOOC,” The City Journal tells us.
Via The Jordan Times: “Edraak.org launches new platform for school learners, teachers.”
“The problem with online charter schools,” according to Vox.
There’s some (sorta) MOOC-related news in the venture funding section below.Meanwhile on Campus…
The Baffler on Turning Point USA and its harassment campaigns.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Scholars Defend Stanford Professor Receiving Threats.”
Via The Triton: “White Supremacist UCSD Student Disrupts Lecture.”
“Columbia Plans to Commit Unfair Labor Practice in Hopes of Denying Graduate Student Workers Their Labor Rights,” says Remaking the University. (Disclosure: I currently have a fellowship at the Columbia J School.) More on Columbia University’s dastardly move in Inside Higher Ed. Happy 50th anniversary of 1968, Columbia administrators!
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Hypothetical ‘Shark Tank’ Session Sets Off Real Worries at U. of Baltimore.”
Via the Lansing State Journal: “Some faculty leaders at Michigan State University are threatening to seek the resignations of the entire MSU Board of Trustees if it follows through with a reported plan to appoint John Engler interim president.”
Via the AP: “Two students were shot and wounded, one critically, inside a Los Angeles middle school classroom Thursday morning and police arrested a female student believed to be 12 years old, authorities said.”
“MIT students are being scared straight with episodes of ‘Black Mirror’,” says The Outline. Funny that the Media Lab turns to fiction. Student could read about the actual history of MIT, if they want to think about the ethical implications of their work, and its ties to the military industrial complex.
Via The New York Times: “Yale’s Most Popular Class Ever: Happiness.”
“‘Happiness 101’ Courses Are a Necessary Stop-Gap for the Campus Mental Health Crisis,” says Slate. Ah yes, this old canard: “positive psychology” in lieu of addressing underlying structural issues.
Via NPR: “Student Journalists Launch Website After They Say School Censored Their Paper.”
Via Buzzfeed: “This Student Newspaper Let A Nazi Sympathizer Write For Them.”
(To be clear, these are two different student newspapers.)Accreditations and Certifications and Competencies
Via The New York Times: “University of Pennsylvania Takes Away Steve Wynn’s Honors. And Bill Cosby’s, Too.”
Via Bitcoin Magazine: “Pilot Project Verifies Academic Credentials on the Bitcoin Blockchain.” Phew! Good thing Bill Cosby’s degree wasn’t on the blockchain as there’d be no adjusting it, amirite? The pilot, by the way, is at University College London’s Centre for Blockchain Technologies.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The Higher Learning Commission has placed Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago on probation, citing financial troubles that threaten to undermine its educational programs.”Memos from HR
Stanford researcher Candace Thille is heading to Amazon. The “pioneer in the science of learning,” as Inside Higher Ed puts it, will help the technology company with its internal training program.
Via Politico: “Families for Excellent Schools CEO fired after investigation into ‘inappropriate behavior’.” That’s Jeremiah Kittredge, who’s run one of the best funded pro-charter advocacy groups in the company.
Inside Higher Ed on “Phase 2 for Boot Camps.”
Via Techcrunch: “Google expands Howard West to a full-year program to train more black engineers.”Contests and Awards
Well, well, well. I was wondering when #metoo would come to education technology. The Verge reports that “GDC rescinds award for Atari founder after criticisms of sexually inappropriate behavior.” That’s Nolan Bushnell.This Week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines
“Hey Alexa, Can You Help Kids Learn More?” asks Michael Horn in Education Next. (The “voice-activated classroom” would discriminate against some people with disabilities and against people who do not speak English, but hey.)
(Reminder: according to Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”)Upgrades and Downgrades
Via Techcrunch: “Sphero’s CEO discusses the company’s shift from Star Wars to schools.” The company, which has raised some $107.4 million, laid off 45 employees last week. So time for some friendly PR, I guess.
Via The New York Times: “Turn Off Messenger Kids, Health Experts Plead to Facebook.”
Mindwires Consulting’s Michael Feldstein and Phil Hill are launching a “matchmaking service” called the Empirical Educator Project. Edsurge has some of the details.
Via The New York Times: “School Shooting Simulation Trains Teachers for the Worst.”
Via Campus Technology: “One of the founders and former CEO of online proctoring company ProctorU, Don Kassner, is launching a new venture: MonitorEDU, an online proctoring service powered by technology from ProctorExam. Kassner created Proctor U in 2008 with colleague Jarrod Morgan while serving as president of Andrew Jackson University (now known as New Charter University), and left the company in 2016.” Sounds like there’s some proctoring company drama underlying this story.
Campus Technology also says that Indiana University is expanding its use of Salesforce. It’s just a rewrite of a press release, sure, but I’m noting it here so as to monitor how Salesforce attempts to “platform” education.
Via EdWeek’s Market Brief: “Google for Education Launches Beta for ‘Create Your Own’ Virtual Reality Experience.” And by “experience,” they mean “uploading a 360 degree image to Google and adding some explanatory content.”
How a Montessori classroom of fourth graders is like an International Baccalaureate classroom is a real article – and a good demonstration of how Montessori can be reshaped to fit any agenda. Sponsored by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, of course.
“Why Students Are Still Spending So Much for College Textbooks,” according to The Atlantic.
“Reflections on 20 Years of Open Content: Lessons from Open Source” by David Wiley.
Via Techcrunch: “Pearson is adding LittleBits kits to its STEM curriculum.”
Edsurge on “An Education ‘Intrapreneur’ on the Difficulties Innovating in a Conservative Industry.” That’s former Pearson exec Larry Singer, who now runs Open Up Resources.
Please stop making up cute variations of the word “entrepreneur.” Please stop.
Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. Ugh.Robots and Other Education Science Fiction
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Americans don’t fear artificial intelligence as much as is commonly believed, a new study by Gallup and Northeastern University has found. Officials at Northeastern say that it shows higher education should be more involved in training people for the artificial intelligence world.” More on the survey from The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Elsevier on “The Augmented Researcher: What Does 2018 Hold for AI in Publishing?”
Edsurge predicts the future of ed-tech. Or at least the year in ed-tech.(Venture) Philanthropy and the Business of Education Reform
Via The Washington Post: “Koch network laying groundwork to fundamentally transform America’s education system.”Venture Capital and the Business of Education
Liveedu.TV has raised $10 million in an initial coin offering. Liveedu.TV is a learn-to-code platform. ICOs are… something else indeed.
The digital reading platform Ellabook has raised $6.3 million from Qingsong Fund, QF Capital, and Vtron Investment.
LearnPlatform, the startup formerly known as Learntrials, has raised $3.2 million from New Markets Venture Partners and Emerson Collective. The company, which helps schools evaluate their ed-tech usage, has raised $4 million total.
TeacherGaming has raised $1.6 million from Founders Factory and Makers Fund. The company sold MinecraftEDU to Microsoft in 2016.
Edovo has raised $250,000 from Twilio. The company provides “tablet-based educational content for incarcerated individuals.”
LivingTree has acquired Edbacker.
ASSIST has acquired the online school Advantages School International.
Asteria Education has acquired ECS Learning Systems.
Taskstream, Tk20, and LiveText have merged to launch a new company: Watermark.
The former for-profit higher ed chain Laureate Education – it’s now a “public benefit company” – is selling off a number of its schools, Inside Higher Ed reports.
Coursera co-founder “Andrew Ng officially launches his $175M AI Fund,” says Techcrunch. It isn’t really a fund per se. But that’s okay. MOOCs weren’t really MOOCs either.Data, Surveillance, and Information Security
EdTech Strategies’ Doug Levin has released a new study on the many security and privacy issues with school (and school district and department of education) websites. More coverage in Edsurge and in Boing Boing.
“It’s Time to Make Student Privacy a Priority,” says the EFF.
Via Buzzfeed: “Here’s What Happens When Your Mom Or Dad Steals Your Identity.”
Via The Guardian: “Amazon patents wristband that tracks warehouse workers’ movements.” Worth thinking about, I’d say, in light of the Candace Thille news (see above), as well as the announcement that the technology giant is working with Berkshire Hathaway and Chase to form a new healthcare company.
Via The Guardian: “Fitness tracking app Strava gives away location of secret US army bases.” The story is not directly education-related, of course, except for all those ridiculous arguments that we need some sort of “FitBit for education.”
“The Latest Data Privacy Debacle” by Zeynep Tufekci
“FERPA, COPPA and the myths we tell each other” by Jim Siegl.
The GM of a “situational awareness technology company” offers thoughts on “Preventing Problems with Predictive Analytics” in the Getting Smart blog. This article is mostly about fire extinguishers, oddly. Might I suggest, one way you can avoid problems – something not mentioned in the article – is by not using predictive analytics.
I’ve run the numbers on ed-tech funding for the month of January – details available on funding.hackeducation.com.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Roughly three million Americans live more than 25 miles from a broad-access public college and do not have the sort of high-speed internet connection necessary for online college programs, according to a new report from the Urban Institute’s education policy program.”
From Educause: “Higher Education’s Top 10 Strategic Technologies and Trends for 2018.”
Alex Usher reviews George Mason University professor Brian Caplan’s new book The Case Against Education.
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “International Grad Students’ Interest in American Higher Ed Marks First Decline in 14 Years.”
Also via The CHE: “4-Year Colleges That Drew the Highest Percentages of First-Time Students From Out of State, Fall 2016.”
Via Campus Technology: “Personalized Text Messages Boost STEM Student Persistence in Community College Study.”
Edsource on an Aspen Institute study: “Student social, emotional and academic development becoming more intertwined in K–12 classrooms.”
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Nearly three-quarters of ninth graders tracked in a major federal study had received some kind of postsecondary education or training within seven years – and nearly a quarter of them had left their programs without a credential of any sort.”
The Atlantic’s Melinda D. Anderson on “What Kids Are Really Learning About Slavery.” Historian Angus Johnston posted a series of questions on Twitter about the claims made in the Teaching Tolerance report about what students do and do not know about slavery.
Via Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum: “Did new evaluations and weaker tenure make fewer people want to become teachers? A new study says yes.”
And Matt Barnum is my journalist hero this week for poking some holes in the claims made in Bloom’s famous “2 Sigma” study – a study that gets trotted out all the time to justify various education technology projects: “Why ‘personalized learning’ advocates like Mark Zuckerberg keep citing a 1984 study – and why it might not say much about schools today.”
Icon credits: The Noun Project
When I post an article to Hack Education, it’s (typically) something I’ve thought about and researched and written and re-written. But this site also has a number of subdomains where I am working on other research that isn’t necessarily accompanied by well-wrought prose or analysis.
I spent part of the day today, for example, updating the Ed-Tech Funding Project, which lives at funding.hackeducation.com. (Some $336 million was invested in education companies in the month of January and 14 education companies were acquired, in case you were curious.)
Since 2015, I have been tracking in detail which companies are raising venture capital and from who. While, sure, you can find quarterly and annual reports from a variety of investment analysis firms that will give you the numbers, I wanted the details. I wanted to be able to play with the data, not just copy-and-paste someone else’s line graph tracking year-over-year investment patterns and trust that their definition of "education technology" matched my own.
The Ed-Tech Funding Project has details about investments, acquisitions, mergers, IPOs, and spinoffs, as well as “the ed-tech startup dead pool.” I also track who’s received Gates Foundation money and who’s funding Edsurge (and paying for content to appear on that site).
As part of my Spencer Education Fellowship, I am also examining various investment firms – what they invest in as well as who works there – all in at attempt to understand how powerful networks operate in education technology (and education reform) and how the stories we are told about the future of education technology are shaped. If you visit another subdomain – data.hackeducation.com – you can see some of that work-in-progress.
I update the Ed-Tech Funding Project once-a-month. There’s a blog attached to that project, and if you want to subscribe, there is an RSS feed. The project is hosted on GitHub, so the data is readily available to be downloaded, forked, re-used, scrutinized, etc. I am interested in feedback, as I would like to be able to make this data as useful as possible. (To educators.)