Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Media Literacy: The Road Not Taken in Public Education Where Standardized Tests and Safety Took Precedence Over Critical Thinking and Creativity

April 4, 2021 Leave a comment

After a mob overpowered police and entered the Capitol on January 6, 2021, a hue and cry went up and fingers were pointed in many directions. Inevitably, one of the fingers pointed at the lack of civics education in public schools. But the problem with that finger pointing is that no one took the futurists in education seriously and no one took the forward-thinking liberal arts educators seriously…. because they saw January 6 coming in the 1980s and especially in the early 2000s when it became abundantly clear that students were getting more information online than they were getting in books.

To help me research a forthcoming op ed piece, I just downloaded a timeline prepared by Frank Baker, who developed the media literacy clearinghouse in 1998, and the very time I recall my recently hired Technology Coordinator typing the word “Google” behind a cursor to show me how a newly devised “search engine” was going to transform research. 

Here’s my over-arching premise: in the late 1990s and early 2000s public education found itself at a crossroads: it could, in the words of Marshall McLuhan, move forward looking at the rearview mirror or it could look ahead and drive based on the road ahead. The rearview mirror called for the use of ever-refined standardized tests to determine what knowledge students attained and how they could use it OR they could embrace the way learning was happening in real time— via the internet— and devise a curriculum using the principles identified by the National Leadership Conference on Media Literacy, a group who in 2003 offered the following basic principles for critical analysis of media messages:

• Media messages are constructed.
• Messages are representations of reality with embedded values and points of view.
• Each form of media uses a unique set of rules to construct messages.
• Individuals interpret media messages and create their own meaning based on personal experience.                       • Media are driven by profit within economic and political contexts.

Needless to say, had national leaders chosen to emphasize those five principles over test preparation, chosen investments in technology instruction and the acquisition of personal technology over SROs and cameras in schools, we might have had a different way of thinking about the world in 2021.

“Hey Alexa! Give Me Some Two-Digit Multiplication Problems to Work On!”

February 24, 2021 Comments off

I have been fascinated by the concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for decades. I can recall reading a book in the 1980s about efforts at Carnegie Mellon to develop a robot that could walk across a part of the campus that was heavily travelled by students and had several obstacles like water fountains, trees, etc. The book underscored how much of learned human behavior like avoiding on oncoming pedestrian or landscape feature requires an incredible succession of mathematical calculations.

But AI has come a LONG way since the 1980s… and GPS technology and the miniaturization of computers that has transpired since then make AI ubiquitous, as this NYTimes article by Craig Smith illustrates. The pervasiveness of AI has several legal, ethical, and practical consequences. Whether the benefits of AI outweigh the potential for harm is imponderable… but a debate on this issue NOW would be helpful— especially given the downside of AI should it be used for ill.

The Times article does a good job of explaining what AI is and how it has come to permeate our lives. “Smart” appliances, the identification of books and movies (and articles) we might like by a media outlet, pop-up ads on social media, and videos YouTube recommends for us are all the result of AI. My iPhone now opens by recognizing my face and my computer screen comes to life when I touch it just so. All of these features feed our need for instant gratification and convenience, but they also provide a trove of personal data that Apple can sell to third party vendors. They also lead to the possibility of a world where everything I write, every reaction I offer on social media, every comment I make on line, every email I send could be accessed.

The darkest dystopian world would be one where a totalitarian government is in place and they have access to and complete control over the web. In such a non-liberal government, those whose views do not conform with the party in power could be denied access to the web or (ahem) “persuaded” to cease from putting “seditious” information online. A country like China controls news sources in such a fashion and totalitarian leaders around the globe are identifying insurgents and resistors by monitoring online communication. In such a non-liberal country schools would use AI to identify the children who are “gifted and talented” and segregate them at an early age from their peers, who will receive schooling to limit their ability to think independently. Orwell’s imagined world where three totalitarian governments rule the globe, define history, and decide what information the masses need is plausible if AI is used for the purpose of a small group controlling everyone.

But here’s a Utopian spin on that “dark” scenario. What if nations around the world agreed that global warming was an urgent problem that defied marketplace controls and used AI to monitor everyone’s use of carbon? What if nations around the world decided that the AI social media algorithms that promote discord were wrong and banned them entirely? What if schools around the world decided that their children should be given the chance to learn at a rate that makes sense to them and have the opportunity to deeply pursue those topics that interest them the most?

We are at an important crossroads in terms of managing information. The debates on “what to do with social media” and the displacement of workers by technology are debates about AI as are the debates on the extent to which we want to embrace “personalization” in schools. Those debates should begin with the end in mind. Here are some questions that underlie the debates on AI:

  • Do we believe that ALL information should be made available to ALL citizens or is some information so toxic it should be banned altogether? If we DO want to ban some information, who decides what is banned? The government? A “council” appointed by the media? The marketplace?
  • Do we believe that clearly false information should be banned from circulation online or do we trust the end-users to sort out fact from fiction? If we DO want to ban false information, who decides what is banned?
  • Do we want divergent free-thinking independent life-long learners in the future or do we want citizens who unquestioningly believe what “authorities” tell them? If we want the former, are our schools preparing students for that future… or are they preparing them for the dystopian future?
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Efficiency is the Hallmark of Virtual Academies… But COVID is Showing America the Difference Between Efficiency and Effectiveness

February 21, 2021 Comments off

Efficiency is defined as by Wikipedia as follows:

Efficiency is the (often measurable) ability to avoid wasting materials, energy, efforts, money, and time in doing something or in producing a desired result. In a more general sense, it is the ability to do things well, successfully, and without waste.

The same source defines EFFECTIVENESS as:

Effectiveness is the capability of producing a desired result or the ability to produce desired output. When something is deemed effective, it means it has an intended or expected outcome, or produces a deep, vivid impression.

We’ve learned over the years that our current model of education is both inefficient and ineffective, assuming the “expected outcome” of funded education is a universal cohort students who are ready for work, ready for college, or ready for both. Many observers of our current model see it as a failure because it is not subject to “market forces”, believing that such forces will yield both efficiency and effectiveness. While there is no evidence whatsoever that this happens in the REAL marketplace, there is a massive amount of evidence that the marketplace CAN drive down costs by substituting lower wage employees for higher wage ones by outsourcing labor or diminishing the power of employee groups OR introducing technology. Those who value the marketplace model place a premium on EFFICIENCY over EFFECTIVENESS…. and far and away the most EFFICIENT means of educating children is replace sentient teachers with algorithmic models.

As readers of this blog know, I’ve often used the phrase “efficiency is the enemy” in blog posts to decry the practice of REPLACING live teaching with some form of computer instruction. At the same time, I am a big fan of flipped instruction, Khan Academy mini-lectures that explain complicated issues in clear language, and even entire units in Khan Academy where subjects like math lend themselves to algorithmic learning— learning that can replace the rote drills that teachers often oversee in large groups. When technology AUGMENTS learning in the form, it is, I believe, unarguably GOOD.

But when technology is the primary (if not exclusive) form of instruction, it is unarguably BAD.

All of this is a lead up to this Diane Ravitch post from last weekend that describes the boots-on-the-ground experience of a newly minted K12 teacher in California, an experience that included this observation:

Though it seems nauseatingly naive in retrospect, I had hoped and at one time believed that “free and fair education for all” could and logically should include our nation’s public schools having efficient access to the technologies and mass deployment systems for online education which our tax dollars have paid for.

Instead, I now realize that an otherwise logical process of voting tax payers receiving the public education they deserve has been perhaps irrevocably hijacked and perverted by the “double-speak” of “school choice” proponents and the contemporary scourge of insatiably greedy corporations.

The private for-profit enterprise K12 is notoriously efficient: they deliver a McDonald’s education at the price of a sit down restaurant. They do so by employing newly minted teachers instead of those with experience and assigning the teachers large numbers of students. It’s VERY inexpensive to deliver this instruction… and when K12 provides this at the same rate states pay for traditional schooling the taxes don’t need to go up to get the same results as before and the K12 shareholders are VERY happy.

After living through the past year, it should be abundantly clear to voters and taxpayers that online schooling is insufficient and ineffective even if it IS efficient in terms of cost. If that lesson hasn’t been learned, maybe it’s time for the voters to get some remedial education.