Friday five: dictatorship, curation and trees that email

The dictatorship of edtech – via HackEducation

The inimitable Audrey Watters takes us on an alarming tour of the current ed-tech scene, the role of centralized administration of the programs, and the insidiousness of computers in classrooms. And you thought they were there to help…

“And so I think it’s time now to recognize that if we want education that is more just and more equitable and more sustainable, that we need to get the ideologies that are hardwired into computers out of the classroom.”

So, the computers aren’t the problem? (Whew…) Right, it’s the network.

“No longer was it up to the individual teacher to have a computer in her classroom. It was up to the district, the Central Office, IT. The sorts of hardware and software that was purchased had to meet those needs – the needs and the desire of the administration, not the needs and the desires of innovative educators, and certainly not the needs and desires of students.”

True, you hear so many teachers complaining about rules imposed by administrators who don’t understand teaching. It’s always been that way, though, right? Was the textbook era any better?

Audrey’s argument has reason, and her prose is powerful. But, she overlooks the alternative. She urges that we “stop this ed-tech machine”, and while part of me shouts “yes! Administration doesn’t understand!”, the part of me that has seen technologies strive to become mainstream in spite of massive resistance based on fear and mistrust of anything new, needs to point out that of course we’re not going to get it right the first time. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep on trying. Technology is not being used effectively, on the whole, in the classroom. But not having it there would do more harm than good. Central control does defeat the purpose of personalization. But regulation of some sort helps with the trust issues, and can protect.

“Google is at the heart of two things that computer-using educators should care deeply and think much more critically about: the collection of massive amounts of our personal data and the control over our access to knowledge.

Neither of these are neutral. Again, these are driven by ideology and by algorithms.”

Yes, we need to understand algorithms better. But, any access is better than no access, and a completely user-defined information access sounds unfortunately, for now anyway, too good to be true. In traditional libraries, who decided what books the library would carry?

“You’ll hear the ed-tech industry gleefully call this “personalization.” More data collection and analysis, they contend, will mean that the software bends to the student. To the contrary, as Seymour pointed out long ago, instead we find the computer programming the child. If we do not unpack the ideology, if the algorithms are all black-boxed, then “personalization” will be discriminatory.”

What I love about this article is that Audrey makes us stop and think. Maybe, in fact probably, we’ll push on with our iPads and online curriculums regardless. But hopefully we are more aware that this is not the utopia we were expecting. More fool us for expecting it.

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They look like seagulls perching on the rocks. Surveillance as art?

(by Jakub Geltner, via Colosssal)

(by Jakub Geltner, via Colossal)

By the artist Jakub Geltner, via Colossal.

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Whatsapp as a news service, via NiemanLab

This is one of those brilliant, slap-on-the-head, “why didn’t I think of that” ideas: WhatsApp as a news service. Now part of the Facebook stable, WhatsApp knows what we’re interested in. Asking us to opt in to the service shouldn’t be too big of a hurdle. And we can then get breaking news without having to even unlock our phone.

whatsapp news

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The photos from the National Geographic Traveller Photo Contest 2015 are jaw-droppingly stunning. If you have some time this weekend, take a look, and prepare to be amazed.

(by Sandra Boles, taken in Ethiopia)

(by Sandra Boles, taken in Ethiopia)

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What does Twitter want to be? via TechCrunch

“Twitter will either die or fully realize its potential as a massive media empire, it doesn’t have other options.”

Just when you thought you understood a service, they go and talk about changing it completely. Lucas Matney explains why Twitter should leverage what they know about our interests (every retweet and favourite is data) to feed us curated information.

“With how Apple is able to put its finger on the pulse of music taste based on a few follows, Twitter should be able to balance my hundreds of connections with global topics and and give me an appealing list of trending topics specific to me…  I want Twitter to adapt to my cultural obsessions. To do this, Twitter is going to have to forego relying on editor-curated content for this purpose and strengthen their content recommendation engines.”

As much as I like Twitter now, I like Lucas’ version even more. Less skimming and scrolling needed. More tapping, more trust.

“Following Apple Music’s models of curated and recommended content could be a key for Twitter’s future success. With it Twitter might be able to soar to new heights and become a truly revolutionary media company.

Or, who knows, maybe Apple could just buy Twitter.”

Bottom line, don’t get comfortable.

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When you give a tree an email address… via The Atlantic

In this wonderful article that starts out surreal (trees with email addresses?) and ends up profound (our relationship with our environment), Adrienne LaFrance points out that technology is enhancing our awareness of our surroundings, and our emotional investment in our neighbourhood.

“Modern tools for communicating, publishing, and networking aren’t just for connecting to other humans, but end up establishing relationships between people and anthropomorphized non-human objects, too.”

The city of Melbourne, Australia assigned emails to the city’s trees as part of a program to make it easier to report problems like broken branches. They found that people started using these emails to communicate with the trees. Sometimes the trees would receive emails from other trees:

tree email

Sometimes the trees would write back:

tree email 2

tree email 3

“The move toward the Internet of Things only encourages the sense that our objects are not actually just things but acquaintances.”

I do, actually, feel very close to my Nespresso machine. I think an open line of communication would deepen our relationship. And be entertaining.

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I’m guessing that you didn’t know that today was National Piña Colada Day (what??? where have you been?). Well, it is, and here’s a refreshing image to start the weekend off properly.

(image via Metro)

(image via Metro)

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