Tag: Audrey Watters

Our nature is such that the common duties of human relationships occupy a great part of the course of our life

Michel de Montaigne, one of my favourite writers, had a very good friend, a ‘soulmate’ in the form of Étienne de la Boétie. He seems to have been quite the character, and an early influence for anarchist thought, before dying of the plague in 1563 at the age of 32.

His main work is translated into English as The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude where he suggests that the reason we get tyrants and other oppressors is because we, the people, allow them to have power over us. It all seems very relevant to our times, despite being written around 450 years ago!

We live in a time of what Patrick Stokes in New Philosopher calls ‘false media balance’. It’s worth quoting at length, I think:

The problem is that very often the controversy in question is over whether there even is a controversy to begin with. Some people think the world is flat: does that mean the shape of the world is a controversial topic? If you think the mere fact of disagreement means there’s a controversy there, then pretty much any topic you care to mention will turn out to be controversial if you look hard enough. But in a more substantial sense, there’s no real controversy here at all. The scientific journals aren’t full of heated arguments over the shape of the planet. The university geography departments aren’t divided into warring camps of flattists and spherists. There is no serious flat-earth research program in the geology literature.

So far, so obvious. But think about certain other scientific ‘controversies’ where competing arguments do get media time, such as climate change, or the safety and efficacy of vaccination. On the one side you have the overwhelming weight of expert opinion; on the other side amateur, bad-faith pseudoscience. In the substantial sense there aren’t even ‘two sides’ here after all.

Yet that’s not what we see; we just see two talking heads, offering competing views. The very fact both ‘heads’ were invited to speak suggests someone, somewhere has decided they are worth listening to. In other words, the very format implicitly drags every viewpoint to the same level and treats them as serious candidates for being true. That’s fine, you might reply: sapere aude! Smart and savvy viewers will see the bad arguments or shoddy claims for what they are, right? Except there’s some evidence that precisely the opposite happens. The message that actually sticks with viewers is not “the bad or pseudoscientific arguments are nonsense”, but rather that “there’s a real controversy here”.

There’s a name for this levelling phenomenon: false balance. The naïve view of balance versus bias contains no room for ‘true’ versus ‘false’ balance. Introducing a truth-value means we are not simply talking about neutrality anymore – which, as we’ve seen, nobody can or should achieve fully anyway. False balance occurs when we let in views that haven’t earned their place, or treat non-credible views as deserving the same seat at the table.

To avoid false balance, the media needs to make important and context-sensitive discriminations about what is a credible voice and what isn’t. They need balance as a verb, rather than a noun. To balance is an act, one that requires ongoing effort and constant readjustment. The risk, after all, is falling – perhaps right off the edge of the world.

Patrick Stokes

For many people, we receive a good proportion of our news via social networks. This means that, instead of being filtered by the mainstream media (who are doing a pretty bad job), the news it’s filtered by all of us, who are extremely partisan. We share things that validate our political, economic, moral, and social beliefs, and rail against those who state the opposite.

While we can wring our hands about the free speech aspect of this, it’s important to note the point that’s being made by the xkcd cartoon that accompanies today’s article: we don’t have to listen to other people if we don’t want to.

In a great post from 2015, Audrey Watters explains how she uses some auto-blocking apps to make her continued existence on Twitter tolerable. Again, it’s worth quoting at length:

I currently block around 3800 accounts on Twitter.

By using these automated blocking tools – particularly blocking accounts with few followers – I know that I’ve blocked a few folks in error. Teachers new to Twitter are probably the most obvious example. Of course, if someone feels as though I’ve accidentally blocked them, they can still contact me through other means. (And sometimes they do. And sometimes I unblock.)

But I’m not going to give up this little bit of safety and sanity I’ve found thanks to these collaborative blocking tools for fear of upsetting a handful of people who have mistakenly ended up being blocked by me. I’m sorry. I’m just not.

And I’m not in the least bit worried that, by blocking accounts, I’m somehow trapping myself in a “filter bubble.” I don’t need to be exposed to harassment and violence to know that harassment and violence are rampant. I don’t need to be exposed to racism and misogyny to know that racism and misogyny exist. I see that shit, I live that shit already daily, whether I block accounts on social media or not.

My blocking trolls doesn’t damage civic discourse; indeed, it helps me be able to be a part of it. Despite all the talk about the Internet and democratization of ideas and voices, the architecture of many of the technologies we use is designed to amplify certain ideas and voices and silence others, protect certain voices, expose others to violence. My blocking trolls doesn’t silence anybody. But it does help me have the stamina to maintain my voice.

People need not feel bad about blocking, worry that it’s impolitic or impolite. It’s already hard work to be online. Often, it’s emotional work. (And it’s work we do for free, I might add.) People – particularly people of color, women, marginalized groups – shouldn’t have to take on the extra work of dealing with abusers and harassers and trolls. Block. Block. Block. Save your energy for other battles, ones that you choose to engage in.

Audrey Watters

Blocking on the individual level is one thing, but what about whole instances running social networking software blocking other instances with which they’re technically interoperable?

There’s some really interesting conversations happening on the Fediverse at the moment. A ‘free speech’ social network called Gab, which was was forced to shut down as a centralised service will be soon relaunching as a fork of Mastodon.

In practice, this means that Gab can’t easily be easily shut down, and there’s many people on Mastodon, Pleroma, Misskey, and other social networks that make up the Fediverse, who are concerned about that. Those who have found a home on the Fediverse are disproportionately likely to have met with trolling, bullying, and abuse on centralised services such as Twitter.

Any service like Gab that’s technically compatible with popular Fediverse services such as Mastodon can, by default, piggyback on the latter’s existing ecosystem of apps. Some of these apps have decided to fight back. For example Tusky has taken a stand, as can be seen by this update from its main developer:

Before I go off to celebrate Midsummer by being in bed sick (Swedish woes), I want to share a small update.

Tusky will keep blocking servers which actively promote fascism. This in particular means Gab.

We will get our next release out just in time for the 4th of July.

Don’t even try to debate us about Free Speech. This is our speech, exercising #ANTIFA views. And we will keep doing it

We will post a bigger update at a later time about what this all really means.

@Tusky@mastodon.social

Some may wonder why, exactly, there’s such a problem here. After all, can’t individual users do what Audrey Watters is doing with Twitter, and block people on the individual level — either automatically, or manually?

The problem is that, due to practices such as sealioning, certain communities ‘sniff blood’ and then pile on:

Sealioning (also spelled sea-lioning and sea lioning) is a type of trolling or harassment which consists of pursuing people with persistent requests for evidence or repeated questions, while maintaining a pretense of civility. It may take the form of “incessant, bad-faith invitations to engage in debate”.

Wikipedia

So it feels like we’re entering a time with the balkanisation of the internet because of geo-politics (the so-called Splinternet), but also a retreat into online social interactions that are more… bounded.

It’s going to be interesting to see where the next 18 months takes us, I think. I can definitely see a decline in centralised social networks, especially among certain demographics. If I’m correct, and these people end up on federated social networks, then it’s up to those of already there to set not only the technical standards, but the moral standards, too.


Also check out:

  • The secret rules of the internet (The Verge) — “The moderators of these platforms — perched uneasily at the intersection of corporate profits, social responsibility, and human rights — have a powerful impact on free speech, government dissent, the shaping of social norms, user safety, and the meaning of privacy. What flagged content should be removed? Who decides what stays and why? What constitutes newsworthiness? Threat? Harm? When should law enforcement be involved?”
  • The New Wilderness (Idle Words) — “Ambient privacy is not a property of people, or of their data, but of the world around us. Just like you can’t drop out of the oil economy by refusing to drive a car, you can’t opt out of the surveillance economy by forswearing technology (and for many people, that choice is not an option). While there may be worthy reasons to take your life off the grid, the infrastructure will go up around you whether you use it or not.”
  • IQ rates are dropping in many developed countries and that doesn’t bode well for humanity (Think) — “Details vary from study to study and from place to place given the available data. IQ shortfalls in Norway and Denmark appear in longstanding tests of military conscripts, whereas information about France is based on a smaller sample and a different test. But the broad pattern has become clearer: Beginning around the turn of the 21st century, many of the most economically advanced nations began experiencing some kind of decline in IQ.”

Header image via xkcd

Is edtech even a thing any more?

Until recently, Craig Taylor included the following in his Twitter bio:

Dreaming of a day when we can drop the e from elearning and the m from mobile learning & just crack on.

Last week, I noticed that Stephen Downes, in reply to Scott Leslie on Mastodon, had mentioned that he didn’t even think that ‘e-learning’ or ‘edtech’ was really a thing any more, so perhaps Craig dropping that from his bio was symptomatic of a wider shift?

I’m not sure anyone has any status in online learning any more. I’m wondering, maybe it’s not even a discipline any more. There’s learning analytics and open pedagogy and experience design, etc., but I’m not sure there’s a cohesive community looking at what we used to call ed tech or e-learning.

His comments were part of a thread, so I decided not to take it out of context. However, Stephen has subsequently written his own post about it, so it’s obviously something on his mind.

Reflecting on what he covers in OLDaily, he notes that, while everything definitely falls within something broadly called ‘educational technology’, there’s very few people working at that meta level — unlike, say, ten years ago:

[I]n 2019 there’s no community that encompasses all of these things. Indeed, each one of these topics has not only blossomed its own community, but each one of these communities is at least as complex as the entire field of education technology was some twenty years ago. It’s not simply that change is exponential or that change is moving more and more rapidly, it’s that change is combinatorial – with each generation, the piece that was previously simple gets more and more complex.

I think Stephen’s got what Venkatesh Rao might deem an ‘elder blog’:

The concept is derived from the idea of an elder game in gaming culture — a game where most players have completed a full playthrough and are focusing on second-order play.

In other words, Stephen has spent a long time exploring and mapping the emerging territory. What’s happening now, it could be argued, is that new infrastructure is emerging, but using the same territory.

So, to continue the metaphor, a new community springs up around a new bridge or tunnel, but it’s not so different from what went before. It’s more convenient, maybe, and perhaps increases capacity, but it’s not really changing the overall landscape.

So what is the value of OLDaily? I don’t know. In one sense, it’s the same value it always had – it’s a place for me to chronicle all those developments in my field, so I have a record of them, and am more likely to remember them. And I think it’s a way – as it always has been – for people who do look at the larger picture to stay literate. Not literate in the sense of “I could build an educational system from scratch” but literate in the sense of “I’ve heard that term before, and I know it refers to this part of the field.”

I find Stephen’s work invaluable. Along with the likes of Audrey Watters and Martin Weller, we need wise voices guiding us — whether or not we decide to call what we’re doing ‘edtech’.

Source: OLDaily

Is the unbundling and rebundling of Higher Education actually a bad thing?

Until I received my doctorate and joined the Mozilla Foundation in 2012, I’d spent fully 27 years in formal education. Either as a student, a teacher, or a researcher, I was invested in the Way Things Currently Are®.

Over the past six years, I’ve come to realise that a lot of the scaremongering about education is exactly that — fears about what might happen, based on not a lot of evidence. Look around; there are lot of doom-mongers about.

It was surprising, therefore, to read a remarkably balanced article in EDUCAUSE Review. Laura Czerniewicz, Director of the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT), at the University of Cape Town, looks at the current state of play around the ‘unbundling’ and ‘rebundling’ of Higher Education.

Very simply, I’m using the term unbundling to mean the process of disaggregating educational provision into its component parts, very often with external actors. And I’m using the term rebundling to mean the reaggregation of those parts into new components and models. Both are happening in different parts of college and university education, and in different parts of the degree path, in every dimension and aspect—creating an extraordinarily complicated environment in an educational sector that is already in a state of disequilibrium.

Unbundling doesn’t simply happen. Aspects of the higher education experience disaggregate and fragment, and then they get re-created—rebundled—in different forms. And it’s the re-creating that is especially of interest.

Although it’s largely true that the increasing marketisation is a stimulus for the unbundling of Higher Education, I’m of the opinion that what we’re seeing has been accelerated primarily because of the internet. The end of capitalism wouldn’t necessarily remove the drive towards this unbundling and rebundling. In fact, I wonder what it would look like if it were solely non-profits, charities, and co-operatives doing this?

Czerniewicz identifies seven main aspects of Higher Education that are being unbundled:

  1. Curriculum
  2. Resources
  3. Flexible pathways
  4. Academic expertise
  5. Opportunities
    • Support
    • Credentials
    • Networks
  6. Graduateness (i.e. ‘the status of being a graduate’)
  7. Experience
    • Mode (e.g. online, blended)
    • Place

As a white male with a terminal degree sitting outside academia, I guess I have a great deal of privilege to check. That being said, I do (as ever) have some opinions about all of this.

As Czerniewicz points out, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with unbundling and rebundling. It’s potentially a form of creative destruction, followed by some Hegelian synthesis.

But I’d like to conclude on a hopeful note. Unbundling and rebundling can be part of the solution and can offer opportunities for reasonable and affordable access and education for all. Unbundling and rebundling are opening spaces, relationships, and opportunities that did not exist even five years ago. These processes can be harnessed and utilized for the good. We need to critically engage with these issues to ensure that the new possibilities of provision for teaching and learning can be fully exploited for democratic ends for all.

Goodness knows that, as a sector, Higher Education can do a much better job of the three main things I’d say we’d want of universities in 2018:

  • Developing well-rounded citizens ready to participate fully in democratic society.
  • Sending granular signals to the job market about the talents and competencies of individuals.
  • Enabling extremely flexible provision for those in work, or who want to take different learning pathways.

That’s not even to mention universities as places of academic freedom and resistance to forms of oppression (including the State).

I think the main reason I’m interested in all of this is mainly through the lens of new forms of credentialing. Czerniewicz writes:

Certification is an equity issue. For most people, getting verifiable accreditation and certification right is at the heart of why they are invested in higher education. Credentials may prove to be the real equalizers in the world of work, but they do raise critical questions about the function and the reputation of the higher education institution. They also raise questions about value, stigma, and legitimacy. A key question is, how can new forms of credentials increase access both to formal education and to working opportunities?

I agree. So the main reason I got involved in Open Badges was that I saw the inequity as a teacher. I want, by the time our eldest child reaches the age where he’s got the choice to go to university (2025), to be able to make an informed choice not to go — and still be OK. Credentialing is an arms race that I’ve done alright at, but which I don’t really want him to be involved in escalating.

So, to conclude, I’m actually all for the unbundling and rebundling of education. As Audrey Watters has commented many times before, it all depends who is doing the rebundling. Is it solely for a profit motive? Is it improving things for the individual? For society? Who gains? Who loses?

Ultimately, this isn’t something that be particularly ‘controlled’, only observed and critiqued. No-one is secretly controlling how this is playing out worldwide. That’s not to say, though, that we shouldn’t call out and resist the worst excesses (I’m looking at you, Facebook). There’s plenty of pedagogical process we can make as this all unfolds.

Source: Educause

Charity is no substitute for justice

The always-brilliant Audrey Watters eviscerates the latest project from a white, male billionaire to ‘fix education’. Citing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ plan to open a series of “Montessori-inspired preschools in underserved communities” where “the child will be the customer”, Audrey comments:

The assurance that “the child will be the customer” underscores the belief – shared by many in and out of education reform and education technology – that education is simply a transaction: an individual’s decision-making in a “marketplace of ideas.” (There is no community, no public responsibility, no larger civic impulse for early childhood education here. It’s all about privateschools offering private, individual benefits.)

As I’ve said on many occasions, everyone wakes up with cool ideas to change the world. The difference is that you or I would have to run it through many, many filters to get the funding to implement it. Those filters , hopefully, kill 99% of batshit-crazy ideas. Billionaires, in the other hand, can just speak and fund things into existence, no matter how damaging and I’ll thought-out the ideas behind them happen to be.

[Teaching] is a field in which a third of employeesalready qualify for government assistance. And now Jeff Bezos, a man whose own workers also rely on these same low-income programs, wants to step in – not as a taxpayer, oh no, but as a philanthropist. Honestly, he could have a more positive impact here by just giving those workers a raise. (Or, you know, by paying taxes.)

This is the thing. We can do more and better together than we can do apart. The ideas of the many, honed over years, lead to better outcomes than the few thinking alone.

For all the flaws in the public school system, it’s important to remember: there is no accountability in billionaires’ educational philanthropy.

And, as W. B. Yeats famously never said, charity is no substitute for justice.

Whatever your moral and political views, accountability is something that cuts across the divide. I should imagine there are some reading this who send their kids to private schools and don’t particularly see the problem with this. Isn’t it just another example of competition within ‘the market’?

The trouble with that kind of thinking, at least from my perspective, is twofold. First, it assumes that education is a private instead of a public good. Second, that it’s OK to withhold money from society and then use that to subsidise the education of the already-privileged.

Source: Hack Education

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