Category: Education systems (page 1 of 2)

Intimate data analytics in education

The ever-relevant and compulsively-readable Ben Williamson turns his attention to ‘precision education’ in his latest post. It would seem that now that the phrase ‘personalised learning’ has jumped the proverbial shark, people are doubling down on the rather dangerous assumption that we just need more data to provide better learning experiences.

In some ways, precision education looks a lot like a raft of other personalized learning practices and platform developments that have taken shape over the past few years. Driven by developments in learning analytics and adaptive learning technologies, personalized learning has become the dominant focus of the educational technology industry and the main priority for philanthropic funders such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

[…]

A particularly important aspect of precision education as it is being advocated by others, however, is its scientific basis. Whereas most personalized learning platforms tend to focus on analysing student progress and outcomes, precision education requires much more intimate data to be collected from students. Precision education represents a shift from the collection of assessment-type data about educational outcomes, to the generation of data about the intimate interior details of students’ genetic make-up, their psychological characteristics, and their neural functioning.

As Williamson points out, the collection of ‘intimate data’ is particularly concerning, particularly in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica revelations.

Many people will find the ideas behind precision education seriously concerning. For a start, there appear to be some alarming symmetries between the logics of targeted learning and targeted advertising that have generated heated public and media attention already in 2018. Data protection and privacy are obvious risks when data are collected about people’s private, intimate and interior lives, bodies and brains. The ethical stakes in using genetics, neural information and psychological profiles to target students with differentiated learning inputs are significant.

There’s a very definite worldview which presupposes that we just need to throw more technology at a problem until it goes away. That may be true in some situations, but at what cost? And to what extent is the outcome an artefact of the constraints of the technologies? Hopefully my own kids will be finished school before this kind of nonsense becomes mainstream. I do, however, worry about my grandchildren.

The technical machinery alone required for precision education would be vast. It would have to include neurotechnologies for gathering brain data, such as neuroheadsets for EEG monitoring. It would require new kinds of tests, such as those of personality and noncognitive skills, as well as real-time analytics programs of the kind promoted by personalized-learning enthusiasts. Gathering intimate data might also require genetics testing technologies, and perhaps wearable-enhanced learning devices for capturing real-time data from students’ bodies as proxy psychometric measures of their responses to learning inputs and materials.

Thankfully, Williamson cites the work of academics who are proposing a different way forward. Something that respects the social aspect of learning rather than a reductionist view that focuses on inputs and outputs.

One productive way forward might be to approach precision education from a ‘biosocial’ perspective. As Deborah Youdell  argues, learning may be best understood as the result of ‘social and biological entanglements.’ She advocates collaborative, inter-disciplinary research across social and biological sciences to understand learning processes as the dynamic outcomes of biological, genetic and neural factors combined with socially and culturally embedded interactions and meaning-making processes. A variety of biological and neuroscientific ideas are being developed in education, too, making policy and practice more bio-inspired.

The trouble is, of course, is that it’s not enough for academics to write papers about things. Or even journalists to write newspaper articles. Even with all of the firestorm over Facebook recently, people are still using the platform. If the advocates of ‘precision education’  have their way, I wonder who will actually create something meaningful that opposes their technocratic worldview?

Source: Code Acts in Education

The four things you need to become an intellectual

I came across this, I think, via one of the aggregation sites I skim. It’s a letter in the form of an article by Paul J. Griffiths, who is a Professor of Catholic Theology at Duke Divinity School. In it, he replies to a student who has asked how to become an intellectual.

Griffiths breaks it down into four requirements, and then at the end gives a warning.

The first requirement is that you find something to think about. This may be easy to arrive at, or almost impossibly difficult. It’s something like falling in love. There’s an infinite number of topics you might think about, just as there’s an almost infinite number of people you might fall in love with. But in neither case is the choice made by consulting all possibilities and choosing among them. You can only love what you see, and what you see is given, in large part, by location and chance.

There’s a tension here, isn’t there? Given the almost infinite multiplicity of things it’s possible to spend life thinking about and concentrating upon, how does one choose between them? Griffiths mentions the role of location and chance, but I’d also through in tendencies. If you notice yourself liking a particular style of art, captivated by a certain style of writing, or enthralled by a way of approaching the world, this may be a clue that you should investigate it further.

The second requirement is time: You need a life in which you can spend a minimum of three uninterrupted hours every day, excepting sabbaths and occasional vacations, on your intellectual work. Those hours need to be free from distractions: no telephone calls, no email, no texts, no visits. Just you. Just thinking and whatever serves as a direct aid to and support of thinking (reading, writing, experiment, etc.). Nothing else. You need this because intellectual work is, typically, cumulative and has momentum. It doesn’t leap from one eureka moment to the next, even though there may be such moments in your life if you’re fortunate. No, it builds slowly from one day to the next, one month to the next. Whatever it is you’re thinking about will demand of you that you think about it a lot and for a long time, and you won’t be able to do that if you’re distracted from moment to moment, or if you allow long gaps between one session of work and the next. Undistracted time is the space in which intellectual work is done: It’s the space for that work in the same way that the factory floor is the space for the assembly line.

This chimes with a quotation from Mark Manson I referenced yesterday, in which he talks about the joy you feel and meaning you experience when you’ve spent decades dedicated to one thing in particular. You have to carve out time for that, whether through your occupation, or through putting aside leisure time to pursue it.

The third requirement is training. Once you know what you want to think about, you need to learn whatever skills are necessary for good thinking about it, and whatever body of knowledge is requisite for such thinking. These days we tend to think of this as requiring university studies.

[…]

The most essential skill is surprisingly hard to come by. That skill is attention. Intellectuals always think about something, and that means they need to know how to attend to what they’re thinking about. Attention can be thought of as a long, slow, surprised gaze at whatever it is.

[…]

The long, slow, surprised gaze requires cultivation. We’re quickly and easily habituated, with the result that once we’ve seen something a few times it comes to seem unsurprising, and if it’s neither threatening nor useful it rapidly becomes invisible. There are many reasons for this (the necessities of survival; the fact of the Fall), but whatever a full account of those might be (“full account” being itself a matter for thinking about), their result is that we can’t easily attend.

This section was difficult to quote as it weaves in specific details from the original student’s letter, but the gist is that people assume that universities are good places for intellectual pursuits. Griffiths responds that this may or may not be the case, and, in fact, is less likely to be true as the 21st century progresses.

Instead, we need to cultivate attention, which he describes as being almost like a muscle. Griffiths suggests “intentionally engaging in repetitive activity” such as “practicing a musical instrument, attending Mass daily, meditating on the rhythms of your breath, taking the same walk every day (Kant in Königsberg)” to “foster attentiveness”.

[The] fourth requirement is interlocutors. You can’t develop the needed skills or appropriate the needed body of knowledge without them. You can’t do it by yourself. Solitude and loneliness, yes, very well; but that solitude must grow out of and continually be nourished by conversation with others who’ve thought and are thinking about what you’re thinking about. Those are your interlocutors. They may be dead, in which case they’ll be available to you in their postmortem traces: written texts, recordings, reports by others, and so on. Or they may be living, in which case you may benefit from face-to-face interactions, whether public or private. But in either case, you need them. You can neither decide what to think about nor learn to think about it well without getting the right training, and the best training is to be had by apprenticeship: Observe the work—or the traces of the work—of those who’ve done what you’d like to do; try to discriminate good instances of such work from less good; and then be formed by imitation.

I talked in my thesis about the impossibility of being ‘literate’ unless you’ve got a community in which to engage in literate practices. The same is true of intellectual activity: you can’t be an intellectual in a vacuum.

As a society, we worship at the altar of the lone genius but, in fact, that idea is fundamentally flawed. Progress and breakthroughs come through discussion and collaboration, not sitting in a darkened room by yourself with a wet tea-towel over your head, thinking very hard.

Interestingly, and importantly, Griffiths points out to the student to whom he’s replying that the life of an intellectual might seem attractive, but that it’s a long, hard road.

And lastly: Don’t do any of the things I’ve recommended unless it seems to you that you must. The world doesn’t need many intellectuals. Most people have neither the talent nor the taste for intellectual work, and most that is admirable and good about human life (love, self-sacrifice, justice, passion, martyrdom, hope) has little or nothing to do with what intellectuals do. Intellectual skill, and even intellectual greatness, is as likely to be accompanied by moral vice as moral virtue. And the world—certainly the American world—has little interest in and few rewards for intellectuals. The life of an intellectual is lonely, hard, and usually penurious; don’t undertake it if you hope for better than that. Don’t undertake it if you think the intellectual vocation the most important there is: It isn’t. Don’t undertake it if you have the least tincture in you of contempt or pity for those without intellectual talents: You shouldn’t. Don’t undertake it if you think it will make you a better person: It won’t. Undertake it if, and only if, nothing else seems possible.

A long read, but a rewarding one.

Source: First Things

Teaching kids about computers and coding

Not only is Hacker News a great place to find the latest news about tech-related stuff, it’s also got some interesting ‘Ask HN’ threads sourcing recommendations from the community.

This particular one starts with a user posing the question:

Ask HN: How do you teach you kids about computers and coding?

Please share what tools & approaches you use – it may Scratch, Python, any kids specific like Linux distros, Raspberry Pi or recent products like Lego Boost… Or your experiences with them.. thanks.

Like sites such as Reddit and Stack Overflow, responses are voted up based on their usefulness. The most-upvoted response was this one:

My daughter is almost 5 and she picked up Scratch Jr in ten minutes. I am writing my suggestions mostly from the context of a younger child.

I approached it this way, I bought a book on Scratch Jr so I could get up to speed on it. I walked her through a few of the basics, and then I just let her take over after that.

One other programming related activity we have done is the Learning Resources Code & Go Robot Mouse Activity. She has a lot of fun with this as you have a small mouse you program with simple directions to navigate a maze to find the cheese. It uses a set of cards to help then grasp the steps needed. I switch to not using the cards after a while. We now just step the mouse through the maze manually adding steps as we go.

One other activity to consider is the robot turtles board game. This teaches some basic logic concepts needed in programming.

For an older child, I did help my nephew to learn programming in Python when he was a freshman in high school. I took the approach of having him type in games from the free Python book. I have always though this was a good approach for older kids to get the familiar with the syntax.

Something else I would consider would be a robot that can be programmer with Scratch. While I have not done this yet, I think for kid seeing the physical results of programming via a robot is a powerful way to capture interest.

But I think my favourite response is this one:

What age range are we talking about? For most kids aged 6-12 writing code is too abstract to start with. For my kids, I started making really simple projects with a Makey Makey. After that, I taught them the basics with Scratch, since there are tons of fun tutorials for kids. Right now, I’m building a Raspberry Pi-powered robot with my 10yo (basically it’s a poor man’s Lego Mindstorm).

The key is fun. The focus is much more on ‘building something together’ than ‘I’ll learn you how to code’. I’m pretty sure that if I were to press them into learning how to code it will only put them off. Sometimes we go for weeks without building on the robot, and all of the sudden she will ask me to work on it with her again.

My son is sailing through his Computer Science classes at school because of some webmaking and ‘coding’ stuff we did when he was younger. He’s seldom interested, however, if I want to break out the Raspberry Pi and have a play.

At the end of the day, it’s meeting them where they’re at. If they show an interest, run with it!

Source: Hacker News

The horror of the Bett Show

I’ve been to the Bett Show (formely known as BETT, which is how the author refers to it in this article) in many different guises. I’ve been as a classroom teacher, school senior leader, researcher in Higher Education, when I was working in different roles at Mozilla, as a consultant, and now in my role at Moodle.

I go because it’s free, and because it’s a good place to meet up with people I see rarely. While I’ve changed and grown up, the Bett Show is still much the same. As Junaid Mubeen, the author of this article, notes:
 

The BETT show is emblematic of much that EdTech gets wrong. No show captures the hype of educational technology quite like the world’s largest education trade show. This week marked my fifth visit to BETT at London’s Excel arena. True to form, my two days at the show left me feeling overwhelmed with the number of products now available in the EdTech market, yet utterly underwhelmed with the educational value on offer.

It’s laughable, it really is. I saw all sorts of tat while I was there. I heard that a decent sized stand can set you back around a million pounds.

One senses from these shows that exhibitors are floating from one fad to the next, desperately hoping to attach their technological innovations to education. In this sense, the EdTech world is hopelessly predictable; expect blockchain applications to emerge in not-too-distant future BETT shows.

But of course. I felt particularly sorry this year for educators I know who were effectively sales reps for the companies they’ve gone to work for. I spent about five hours there, wandering, talking, and catching up with people. I can only imagine the horror of being stuck there for four days straight.

I like the questions Mubeen comes up with. However, the edtech companies are playing a different game. While there’s some interested in pedagogical development, for most of them it’s just another vertical market.

In the meantime, there are four simple questions every self-professed education innovator should demand of themselves:

  • What is your pedagogy? At the very least, can you list your educational goals?
  • What does it mean for your solution to work and how will this be measured in a way that is meaningful and reliable?
  • How are your users supported to achieve their educational goals after the point of sale?
  • How do your solutions interact with other offerings in the marketplace?

Somewhat naïvely, the author says that he looks forward to the day when exhibitors are selected “not on their wallet size but on their ability to address these foundational questions”. As there’s a for-profit company behind Bett, I think he’d better not hold his breath.

Source: Junaid Mubeen

Can you measure social and emotional skills?

Ben Williamson shines a light on the organisation behind the PISA testing regime moving into the realm of social and emotional skills:

The OECD itself has adopted ‘social and emotional skills,’ or ‘socio-emotional skills,’ in its own publications and projects. This choice is not just a minor issue of nomenclature. It also references how the OECD has established itself as an authoritative global organization focused specifically on cross-cutting, learnable skills and competencies with international, cross-cultural applicability and measurability rather than on country-specific subject achievement or locally-grounded policy agendas.

I really can’t stand this kind of stuff. Using proxies for the thing instead of trying to engender a more holistic form of education. It’s reductionist and instrumentalist.

This project exemplifies a form of stealth assessment whereby students are being assessed on criteria they know nothing about, and which rely on micro-analytics of their gestures across interfaces and keyboards. It appears likely that SSES, too, will involve correlating such process metadata with the OECD’s own SELS constructs to produce stealth assessments for quantifying student skills.

If you create data, people will use that data to judge students and rank them. Of course they will.

However, over time SSES could experience function creep. PISA testing has itself evolved considerably and gradually been taken up in more and more countries over different iterations of the test. The new PISA-based Test for Schools was produced in response to demand from schools. Organizations like CASEL are already lobbying hard for social-emotional learning to be used as an accountability measure in US education—and has produced a State-Scan Scorecard to assess each of the 50 states on SEL goals and standards. Even if the OECD resists ranking and comparing countries by SELS, national governments and the media are likely to interpret the data comparatively anyway.

This is not a positive development.

Source: Code Acts in Education

Education is about the journey, not the destination

I’m a big fan of Cathy Davidson, and look forward to reading her new book. In this article, she explains that we’ve unleashed an ‘educational monster’ by forcing students to be memorisers rather than content creators:

Increasingly, we are shrinking educational opportunities for our youth worldwide, robbing them of the creativity of the arts, the critical thinking of the humanities and social sciences, and reducing all knowledge to test scores, despite repeated workforce studies stressing the importance of deep learning. The trend is to use standardised tests as the entrance to university and therefore to a middle-class future, even though we have ample research, extending back to the Hermann Ebbinghaus memory experiments of the 1880s, about the evanescence of knowledge crammed for the purpose of test-taking.

As ever with Cathy’s writing, it’s a good and well-researched read. I’m not sure about framing it in terms of ‘outcomes-based’ education, however, as judging people by outcomes in the workplace is generally seen as a good thing. Perhaps emphasise that the journey is more important than the destination? That’s why granular badges within a portfolio are a great alternative to letter grades and high-stakes testing.

Source: The Guardian

The Horizon stops here

Audrey Watters is delightfully blunt about the New Media Consortium, known for their regular ‘Horizon reports’, shutting down:

While I am sad for all the NMC employees who lost their jobs, I confess: I will not mourn an end to the Horizon Report project. (If we are lucky enough, that is, that it actually goes away.) I do not think the Horizon Report is an insightful or useful tool. Sorry. I recognize some people really love to read it. But perhaps part of the problem that education technology faces right now – as an industry, as a profession, what have you – is that many of its leaders believe that the Horizon Report is precisely that. Useful. Insightful.

Source: Hack Education

Put a number next to someone’s name and there will be pressure for it to increase

In her review of Daniel Koretz’s new book on testing in schools, Diane Ravitch reminds us of Campbell’s law:

In 1979, the psychologist Donald Campbell proposed an axiom. “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making,” he wrote, “the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

Ravitch applies this to high-stakes testing in school, using a story from Soviet Russia to bring the point home:

The classic (and probably apocryphal) illustrations of Campbell’s law come from the Soviet Union. When workers were told that they must produce as many nails as possible, they produced vast quantities of tiny and useless nails. When told they would be evaluated by the weight of the nails, they produced enormous and useless nails. The lesson of Campbell’s law: Do not attach high stakes to evaluations, or both the measure and the outcome will become fraudulent.

High stakes testing in schools is pernicious, Ravitch writes:

The children from elite homes are convinced by their test scores that they deserve their high status; their scores demonstrate their superiority. And children of the poor learn early on that they rank poorly; their test scores confirm their lowly status.

Source: New Republic

Does it take Trump to make badges go mainstream?

Perversely, it might take something like the Trump administration to make Open Badges work at scale. Why? Because Republicans don’t trust Higher Education:

Is support for higher ed fragmenting along political lines? It is if you believe the recent Pew poll showing Republicans’ distrust of higher ed is growing relative to Democrats (on a nearly 2-to-1 margin) is not fake news… In any case, look for Trump’s Department of Education to push on the trend toward more “practical” vocational learning and not just apprenticeships. Higher Ed Act proposals this year may push to open up federal financial aid beyond the credit-hour.

Things, of course, are different in the US to the rest of the world. In Europe I think we’ve always had a different, and more positive, relationship to vocational education.

Source: Education Design Lab

Nobody likes a goody two-shoes

This is an incredible entry in the School of Life’s Book of Life:

The sickness of the good child is that they have no experience of other people being able to tolerate their badness. They have missed out a vital privilege accorded to the healthy child; that of being able to display envious, greedy, egomaniacal sides and yet be tolerated and loved nevertheless.

I know, and have know, plenty of people who are amazing exam-takers and are fantastic at doing what society expects of them. Unfortunately, that’s not a great preparation for when life throws you curveballs.

At work, the good adult has problems too. As a child, they follow the rules; never make trouble and take care not to annoy anyone. But following the rules won’t get you very far in adult life. Almost everything that’s interesting, worth doing or important will meet with a degree of opposition. A brilliant idea will always disappoint certain people – and yet very much be worth holding on to. The good child is condemned to career mediocrity and sterile people-pleasing.

As a parent of two strong-willed and feisty children, there’s plenty to ponder here.

Source: The Book of Life