Archive

Posts Tagged ‘technology’

MIT Media Lab Joi Ito’s Imaginative Idea: Replace the Factory Model with the Four P’s of Lifelong Kindergarten

September 10, 2018 Leave a comment

The Eduction Tyranny of the Neurotypicals“, an article from Wired magazine by MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito, describes the adverse effects of the factory school model on “neuroatypicals” on the autism spectrum and suggests and alternative paradigm for schooling that might benefit ALL students: Lifelong Kindergarten. What is a “neurotypical”?

“Neurotypical” is a term used by the autism community to describe what society refers to as “normal.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 59 children, and one in 34 boys, are on the autism spectrum—in other words, neuroatypical. That’s 3 percent of the male population. If you add ADHD—attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—and dyslexia, roughly one out of four people are not “neurotypicals.”

Ito suggests that the factory model in place in public education since the 1920s favors the “neurotypicals” and works against any child who is “neuroatypical”, an observation that is difficult to refute. Worse, the factory model in place is outmoded and failing to prepare the kinds of learners our current culture and economy require:

Our schools in particular have failed… neurodiverse students, in part because they’ve been designed to prepare our children for typical jobs in a mass-production-based white- and blue-collar environment created by the Industrial Revolution. Students acquire a standardized skillset and an obedient, organized, and reliable nature that served society well in the past—but not so much today. I suspect that the quarter of the population who are diagnosed as somehow non-neurotypical struggle with the structure and the method of modern education, and many others probably do as well.

I often say that education is what others do to you and learning is what you do for yourself. But I think that even the broad notion of education may be outdated, and we need a completely new approach to empower learning: We need to revamp our notion of “education” and shake loose the ordered and linear metrics of the society of the past, when we were focused on scale and the mass production of stuff.Accepting and respecting neurodiversity is the key to surviving the transformation driven by the internet and AI, which is shattering the Newtonian predictability of the past and replacing it with a Heisenbergian world of complexity and uncertainty.

Ito describes several examples of how children on the autistic spectrum overcame their atypical learning patterns to achieve success, and transitions to a solution with this paragraph:

Unfortunately, most schools struggle to integrate atypical learners, even though it’s increasingly clear that interest-driven learning, project-based learning, and undirected learning seem better suited for the greater diversity of neural types we now know exist.

Ito offers “unschooling” as one alternative that would benefit ALL students, but accurately sees it as being perceived by many as  “…much too unstructured and (verging) on irresponsibility”. He offers instead a form of formal schooling that blends technology with loosely guided instruction that offers some structure without impinging on the freedom to learn that the factory model imposes on children or sorting and selecting students based on their neurotypical thinking:

In addition to equipping kids for basic literacy and civic engagement, industrial age schools were primarily focused on preparing kids to work in factories or perform repetitive white-collar jobs. It may have made sense to try to convert kids into (smart) robotlike individuals who could solve problems on standardized tests alone with no smartphone or the internet and just a No. 2 pencil. Sifting out non-neurotypical types or trying to remediate them with drugs or institutionalization may have seemed important for our industrial competitiveness. Also, the tools for instruction were also limited by the technology of the times. In a world where real robots are taking over many of those tasks, perhaps we need to embrace neurodiversity and encourage collaborative learning through passion, play, and projects, in other words, to start teaching kids to learn in ways that machines can’t.We can also use modern technology for connected learning that supports diverse interests and abilities and is integrated into our lives and communities of interest.

Ito concludes with a description of Lifelong Kindergarten that sounds very appealing to me, someone who admittedly learned more from scanning encyclopedias on Saturday mornings and roaming in the woods than I learned in elementary school classrooms:

At the Media Lab, we have a research group called Lifelong Kindergarten, and the head of the group, Mitchel Resnick, recently wrote a book by the same name. The book is about the group’s research on creative learning and the four Ps—Passion, Peers, Projects, and Play. The group believes, as I do, that we learn best when we are pursuing our passion and working with others in a project-based environment with a playful approach.My memory of school was “no cheating,” “do your own work,” “focus on the textbook, not on your hobbies or your projects,” and “there’s time to play at recess, be serious and study or you’ll be shamed”—exactly the opposite of the four Ps.

As we rate schools based on standardized test scores we are clearly NOT rating them based on their ability to “learn in ways that machines can’t“. And as schools focus on children doing their own work and focussing on textbooks and worksheets that prepare them to do well on standardized achievement tests we are denying them the opportunity to direct their own learning and discover for themselves that there is a joy in learning.

Moreover, the notion of Lifelong Kindergarten appeals to me because it is evident that the ideas put forth by Robert Fulghum in his best selling book from the 1980s never took hold. In All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten Mr. Fulgham offered a short list of lessons he learned as a five year old that are worth repeating in today’s toxic world: 

1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put thngs back where you found them.
5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
9. Flush.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Stryrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first workd you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

I might add one more item to Mr. Fulghum’s list based on my experience:

16a. Remember what your father taught you: LISTEN to everyone. They all have something to teach you.

Instead of grading schools based on standardized tests as we’ve done for the past 17 years we might have a better world if we graded them based on the lessons Mr. Fulghum suggested.

 

Advertisements

If You “Run-Schools-Like-a-Business” Privatization is the Ultimate Result… and Democracy Loses Out

August 18, 2018 Comments off

In one of her posts yesterday, Diane Ravitch bemoaned the fact that the Democrats For Education Reform (DFER) was in fact comprised of hedge funders who were Republicans as well as Democrats. After reading her critique of DFER, it struck me that she missed DFER’s over-arching message, which ISN’T that schools should be privatized: it’s that schools should operate like a business.

As a retired school superintendent I can attest to the fact that many newly elected school board members and in some instances a majority of taxpayers share this sentiment. On most school boards the experienced school board members would patiently explain to their newly elected “run-schools-like-business” colleagues that public schools, unlike businesses, are operated democratically and decisions that a school board makes need to be done openly and democratically. And unlike a business, which can determine their “success” based on the bottom line, schools lack a clear metric for success.

This is why the “run-schools-like-a-business” reformers love standardized tests: test scores provide them with a seemingly precise metric that serves as a proxy for “profit”. In this way the “run-schools-like-a-business” crowd can make a cold determination on which schools are “successful” and which are “failing”. Many Democrats, wanting to show that they can run government with the same kind of cold efficiency as CEOs can run a corporation, buy into the “run-schools-like-a-business” ethos. That’s why there is bi-partisan support for test-driven “reforms” like NCLB and why a “liberal president” spent billions on testing and test-based “merit pay” instead of on programs that would help children or help states equalize funding disparities.

DFER is very comfortable with privatization because that is the ultimate consequence of “running-schools-like-a-business”… and until voters realize that businesses are not democratic we may see our all our public services operated by the private sector. And instead of getting a human voice on the phone when your child encounters a problem in school, expect to get a menu urging you to go to a web page and engage in a chat with someone who will likely be housed offshore following a prescribed problem solving algorithm.

 

A 1970 Humanities and Technology Major Reacts to Russ Douthat’s Column on the Death of Humanities

August 8, 2018 Comments off

Russ Douthat’s NYTimes column today, “Oh, the Humanities“, did not afford a comment opportunity… so I am using this post to capture my reaction to the column, which I found to be generally thoughtful and— because I agreed with it’s take on the underlying causes for the demise of humanities as a discipline– accurate.

Using a 1946 poem by W.H. Auden as the framework for his analysis of the decline in the number of Humanities majors in almost every college, Douthat concludes that “Apollonians”, that is technocrats, have won out over the “sons of Hermes”, the artists and musicians. Why is this so? Dothan concludes that in addition to adopting ultra-radical positions on political issues, in an effort to make their discipline seem more analytic (i.e. technical), the humanities professors adopted “a pseudoscientific mantle” that seemed to add “rigor and precision” to their work. Here’s the paragraph that captures his thinking:

In an Apollonian culture, eager for “Useful Knowledge” and technical mastery and increasingly indifferent to memory and allergic to tradition, the poet and the novelist and the theologian struggle to find an official justification for their arts. And both the turn toward radical politics and the turn toward high theory are attempts by humanists in the academy to supply that justification — to rebrand the humanities as the seat of social justice and a font of political reform, or to assume a pseudoscientific mantle that lets academics claim to be interrogating literature with the rigor and precision of a lab tech doing dissection.

The column resonated with me as one who majored in “Humanities and Technology”, a B.S. degree my alma mater Drexel Institute of Technology “invented” in the late 1960s in order to become Drexel University. At that time, the Humanities teachers emphasized the power of poetry and the importance of clear writing and consciously rejected any efforts to inject “a pseudoscientific mantle” that added “rigor and precision” to their work. Those of us who gravitated to this new major were drawn to it because we rejected the ideas that underpinned the emerging technocracy and wanted to see a more just and equitable world.

Douthat concludes his column asserting that all will be well and humanities will be restored to the “sons of Hermes” instead of the “children of Apollo”:

(A) hopeful road map to humanism’s recovery might include: First, a return of serious academic interest in the possible (I would say likely) truth of religious claims. Second, a regained sense of history as a repository of wisdom and example rather than just a litany of crimes and wrongthink. Finally, a cultural recoil from the tyranny of the digital and the virtual and the Very Online, today’s version of the technocratic, technological, potentially totalitarian Machine that Jacobs’s Christian humanists opposed.

I, for one, think it will be restored more rapidly if, like my professors in the late 1960s, the humanities professors focus on the beauty of the arts and avoid injecting “a pseudoscientific mantle” that added “rigor and precision” to their work.

Larry Cuban Explains Why Efficiency is the Enemy in Measuring Learning

August 1, 2018 Comments off

Diane Ravitch wrote a post yesterday with a link to a post written by Larry Cuban describing the new “Cult of Efficiency” that reformers embrace when they measure school performance. Both posts implicitly decry the potential for technology and testing to enhance classroom teaching and student learning, a denunciation that is ultimately based on the premise that the ultimate metric for teaching effectiveness will be norm-referenced state tests. Mr. Cuban, for example, writes:

What exists now is a re-emergence of the efficiency-minded “administrative progressives” from a century ago who now, as modern-day entrepreneurs and practical reformers, using the vocabulary of pedagogical Progressives want public schools to be more market-like where supply and demand reign, and more realistic in preparing students for a competitive workplace.

These reformers are of two types. Some want individual students to master the content and skills found in district and state curriculum standards in less time than usual while spending the least amount of money to achieve mastery. Examples would be current versions of competency-based learning aligned to, say, Common Core standards or programs such as Teach To One.

Other entrepreneurs and technology advocates see schools as places to create whole  human beings capable of entering and succeeding in a world far different than their parents faced. To these reformers, efficient ways that reduce waste while integrating student interests and passions into daily activities with the help of teachers. Students make decisions about what to learn and take as long as they can to demonstrate mastery while meeting curriculum standards and posting high scores on state tests.

I would argue that there is a third kind of efficiency-minded “administrative progressive”: one who values the use of business practices in overseeing the business functions of school districts while rejecting the notion that those practices can be used in the classroom, particularly if state tests are the only metric used to determine “success”.

Any school leader who rejects the need for efficiency in non-instructional areas like transportation, maintenance, purchasing, and food services is squandering resources that could be used for instruction.

On the other hand, any school leader who embraces the use of state standardized tests as the sole and ultimate metric for student learning is simultaneously embracing the notion the all students of a certain age learn at the same rate, a notion that is preposterous. State tests are normative and, as such, assume that learning time is a constant and individual student learning is variable.

Efficiency is the enemy to improvement of schools when it is based on normative test scores that are linked to age-based cohorts. But efficiency-mindedness has the possibility of improving instruction when it is driven by formative test scores that are untethered to the construct of “grade levels” and driven by a wider array of metrics that attempt to capture elusive but important aspects of schooling like “student well-being”. A district that values only test scores will relentlessly drill students on test preparation and deny opportunities for physical and arts education. A district that seeks to improve the well-being of students will form partnerships with social services, health care providers, and care-givers before and after school and offer an expansive array of programs outside of content that can be readily measured by standardized tests.

 

Universal Broadband Required to Improve and Equalize Opportunity in Vermont

July 23, 2018 Comments off

The following is testimony I provided to a meeting convened by the Green Mountain Economic Development Commission that involved ISP providers, Governor Scott, and government officials from the State of Vermont who are interested in workforce preparation.  

In December 2013, the Vermont State Board of Education unanimously approved the Education Quality Standards, an updated set of rules designed to ensure that “…all Vermont children will be afforded educational opportunities that are substantially equal in quality…”.

Four years later, in November 2017, the State Board unanimously adopted the International Standards for Technology Education (ISTE), which outline “…what all Vermont students should know and be able to do with respect to information technology.”Upon their adoption, State Board of Education Chair Krista Huling said: “These standards also strengthen Vermont’s commitment to citizenship in the digital age at a time when civic engagement at all levels are key to strengthening our democracy.”

As one who has consulted in school districts in eastern Vermont ranging from Canaan to Halifax, I applaud the high-minded ideals set forth in both the Education Quality Standards and the ISTE standards. Based on my experience working with rural districts in Essex, Orleans, Orange, and Windham Counties, achieving those goals will require a marked increase in the availability of high speed internet in schools. Moreover, knowing the financial challenges placed on Vermont school districts, such an increase can only happen with a targeted increase in technology funding from sources outside of district budgets. The FCC’s bandwidth goals for 2017-18 is to have at least I Mbps per student in every school in our country. This speed is required to ensure a media rich environment for students in the schools, an environment that will enable them to do browsing, on-line testing, video collaboration, and streaming of remote instruction like Khan Academy.

In order for technology to fulfill its ultimate promise, these FCC goals for schoolsshould also apply to allresidents. If we expect students to complete homework that involves internet research, to receive asynchronous remote instruction at home, or to work on projects with classmates when they are outside of school, they need to have high speed internet access at home. If we expect teachers to be capable of using all of the technology tools available today outside of school, they need to have high speed internet at home. Most importantly, if we expect that “…all Vermont children will be afforded educational opportunities that are substantially equal in quality” we cannot continue to limit high speed internet access to many of our students. As a map prepared by Broadbandnow illustrates (see https://broadbandnow.com/Vermont), a substantial minority of residents in Vermont do not have access to the kind of internet services needed in order to experience the “media rich” environment the FCC hopes to achieve in this current school year. These marked disparities in high speed internet services available to students will widen the achievement gap between students who reside in communities with broadband and those students residing in communities where no high speed internet is available.

Today, I expect that you will hear direct testimony on how disparities in internet access affect students, teachers, and parents across Vermont. I also expect that you will hear ideas from ISP providers on the steps the State can take to help accelerate the provision of high speed internet access across the state. For the sake of rural and low-income students across the state, I urge you to take the actions recommended in this session.

Artificial Intelligence, Robots, Mental Health and Well Being, and the Limits of Efficiency

July 6, 2018 Comments off

As a Buddhist practitioner, a retired educator who witnessed the expansion of technology in public education, and a blogger who has “efficiency is the enemy” as a tag, I was drawn to a Medium interview by Brian Walsh titled “The Chinese Buddhist Billionaire Who Wants to Fix Your Brain“. This billionaire in question is Chen Tianqiao who founded the online gaming company Shanda in 1999 and cashed in a decade later in large measure because he had a cancer scare, multiple panic attacks, and a sense that his life had no meaning.

The article opens with a response to a question that offers a brief biographical sketch of Mr. Tianqiao, which also includes an overview of his perspective of Buddhism.

Mr. Walsh follows with a series of questions that yield some thought-provoking insights. His response to one of the questions posed by Mr. Walsh was particularly compelling:

Right now we teach machines only one value statement: efficiency. The machine optimizes the efficient. The machine always knows how to quickly find the best way. But if the machine ruled the world, it must say, “Kill all the old men and sick people because of their weight on resources,” right? So we have to teach the machines fairness and compassion. But how do we do that when we don’t know how to define them?

Later Mr. Walsh explores Mr. Tianqiao’s ideas on the relationship between technology and our general well being… and Mr. Tianqiao’s perspective is that technology is outpacing humanity’s adaptability and that, in turn, is leading to an increase in mental health problems.. including suicides.

You have a phone in your hand that can connect you to anyone. You can get a thing done in one minute that 10 or 20 years ago would have taken you a month. This is the pace we live at now. But I believe people have a limitation on their capacity for connection. You don’t know how to handle these relationships. The speed of information. There’s so much information flooding into your brain, and your brain has to judge yes or no, because more and more people, with the help of a blast from technology, they also have a voice. There are so many different views flooding in your brain, and you have to judge what you like, what you want.

I say you run too fast. I cannot chase you. I just want you to stop. I want to stop you, right? This is technology. But we cannot just stop.

The article concludes with this question about the future of technology and Mr. Tianqiao’s somewhat pessimistic response response:

Ultimately, do you feel optimistic about the direction we’re going with technology and the brain? Do you think we’ll be able to make ourselves fitter and happier?

I cannot find an answer to this. That’s why I’m a little pessimistic. I think there are so many problems that are generated by technology. What I can do is try to use scientific ways to mitigate the possible consequence of that technology. But if we don’t do that, it could lead to very bad consequences.

When I gave money to an American university [CalTech], the Chinese media criticized me. But I think the current debate or current conflict is not between the people of one country and the people of another. This is our humanity.

In an era of tariff wars, the dissolution of longstanding alliances that stabilized relationships among relatively free countries, and the opportunities for technology moguls to make billions it is east to share Mr. Tianqiao’s pessimism… here’s hoping we can all see the our humanity is at stake as we continue expaning our use of technology.

Technology and Surveillance: A Chilling Combination That COULD Be Undone

June 27, 2018 Comments off

Will Richardson who writes the Modern Learners blog, had a thought provoking post a few days ago titled “EdTech is Driving Me Crazy, Too“. In the post, Mr. Richardson described the ways that education technology could be used to transform the way instruction is delivered to schools, but lamented the ways that education technology is actually being used in schools. He is especially concerned with the use of technology as a surveillance tool:

More often than not, ed tech is something done to the student rather than done in service of the student. And there’s no better example of this than a new tool called “Emote” that preys on our current fears around the socio-emotional state of our students and sets a whole new bar for “helicopter educating” (which, I’m sorry to say, is not the first time that phrase has been uttered.) John Warner in Inside Higher Ed does a great job of teasing out the insidiousness of Emote, an app which makes it easier for the adults to record any time a particular student looks depressed or sad or anxious. As Warner notes:

When a child arrives in school, if they are observed to be angry or upset by a staff member, this is logged into the app. Later, a teacher may see additional evidence, creating another alert. The goal, according to Emote CEO Juilan Golder, is to prevent “escalation.” Student behavior can also be tracked longitudinally. Maybe a student is grumpy or sleepy every Monday, suggesting something is amiss at home. The app will know.

No one will be shocked, either, to hear that the CEO says “There’s more interest than we can handle at this point.”

This example of what technology can do leads to the inevitable question about technology in general: is there a limit to what we want technology to do? Just because technology makes it possible to track a student 24/7 doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Don’t children today deserve a chance to be free from adult supervision? Just because technology makes it possible to track a students attentiveness in completing work doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Don’t children today deserve a chance to daydream? Mr. Richardson posits that education technology devoted to surveillance of all kinds is currently make things worse for students, and when that technology is combined with the narrowed test-driven curriculum it makes public schools toxic. Quoting John Warner again, Mr. Richardson writes:

There is mounting evidence that school is demonstrably bad for students’ mental health. The incidence of anxiety and depression are increasing. Each year, more students report being “actively disengaged” from schools.

Mr. Richardson suggests that instead of developing more apps that track how poorly students are doing relative to our definition of “success” based on test scores, we might provide students with an app to tell us how we’re doing in addressing their needs:

But how many therapists or prescriptions or apps could we get away without if we attacked the mental health issues our kids are experiencing through a different lens, one that starts with the premise that we’re the ones that are broken, not the kids? What if we rewrote the script and put mental health above “achievement” or “success” as measured by grade point averages, the number of AP classes we offer, college acceptances, and other “narrow path” measures?

And if you really want to get crazy, why don’t we create an app for students so they can track every time our “narrow path” narrative makes them anxious or stressed, or every time we deny them the agency to pursue learning that matters to them, or hint at their value as humans by the test scores or GPAs they get, or whenever we deny them fundamental democratic rights, or refuse to act in ways that suggest that we are the problem and not them? We could call it “Ed-mote” or some other silly Silicon Valley play on words, and the software would send DMs to superintendents and principals when an intervention is required, like an immediate two-hour play period for everyone in the school. (We could also, by the way, encourage them to track the many positives about their school experience as well.)

Too bad Mr. Richardson isn’t interested in making a lot of money. I think his idea for such an app would be very helpful in transforming our schools into Summerhill-like institutions instead of the imprisoning institutions they are devolving into thanks to technology.