On Saturday, Diane Ravitch wrote a post lamenting the expropriation of the term “personalized learning” by the education industry.
It is unfortunate that, once again, a valid descriptor has been appropriated by the education industry. Ted Sizer was an education reformer in the true sense of the word, now Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee are “reformers”. Vermont wrote a law requiring personalized learning plans that would be developed by human beings. Now personalized learning plans are algorithms developed by reformers who see computers as our salvation.
Big Data and Little Children: A Potent Combination for Learning… or Marketing… or Controlling – Part One
Thanks to two links to posts by Robert X. Cringely provided by Naked Capitalist blogger Lambert Strether I now have a better understanding of the history of and potential of Big Data as it applies to public education. The posts are lengthy and detailed, but not so technical I felt overwhelmed… and clearly written enough that I could see some promising… and frightening… links between Big Data and public education and see how my own experiences in public schools linked to the evolution of Big Data.
Part One of Cringely’s synopsis of Big Data provided a history of data collection from the beginning of mankind to 1996. Outlined below are some excerpts from that first post that I found pertinent. The first one describes where we stand today in terms of data being collected about us as citizens… and why that data is being collected:
Wherever you are in the world, computers are watching you and recording data about your activities, primarily noting what you watch, read, look at, or buy. If you hit the street in almost any city, surveillance video can be added to that: where are you, what are you doing, who or what is nearby? Your communications are monitored to some extent and occasionally even recorded. Anything you do on the Internet — from comments to tweets to simple browsing — never goes away. Some of this has to do with national security but most of this technology is simply to get you and me to buy more stuff — to be more efficient consumers. The technology that makes all this gathering and analysis possible was mainly invented in Silicon Valley by many technology startup companies.
Cringely’s post also includes the most concise definition of Moore’s Law I’ve read:
Moore’s Law. As computers were applied to processing data their speed made it possible to delve deeper into those data, discovering more meaning. The high cost of computing at first limited its use to high-value applications like selling airline seats. But the advent of solid state computers in the 1960s began a steady increase in computing power and decrease in computing cost that continues to this day — Moore’s Law. So what cost American Airlines $10 to calculate in 1955 was down to a dime by 1965, to a tenth of a penny by 1975, and to one billionth of a cent today.
This effect of Moore’s Law and — most importantly — the ability to reliably predict where computing cost and capability would be a decade or more in advance, made it possible to apply computing power to cheaper and cheaper activities. This is what turned data processing into Big Data.
Cringely’s history of data collection showed how an alliance between American Airlines and IBM in the 1950s led to the development of main frame computing and that, in turn, evolved into increasingly faster and cheaper means of collecting and processing data, leading to the development of “business intelligence” by software pioneer Oracle:
Oracle… enabled… not just more flexible business applications, but whole new classes of applications including human resources, customer relationship management, and — most especially — something called business intelligence. Business intelligence is looking inside what you know to figure out what you know that’s useful. Business intelligence is one of the key applications of Big Data.
(Amazon founder Jeff) Bezos — a former Wall Street IT guy who was familiar with all the Business Intelligence tools of the time, wanted a system where the next time you logged-in the server would ask “are you still looking for long underwear?” It might even have sitting in your shopping cart the underwear you had considered the last time but decided not to buy. This simple expedient of keeping track of the recent past was the true beginning of Big Data.
This was 1996… where Part One of Cringely’s analysis ends… where public education is just now…. but more on this in Part 3 of these posts….
Here’s a quote from a K-12 Tech Decisions post by John Minor titled “Advances in Drone Technology Will Revolutionize Campus Security”:
The advantages for campus police and security departments using surveillance drones are clear: Drones can easily monitor wide swaths of hard-to-reach and high-risk locations, such as trails and parking lots, while also providing all first responders with real-time situational awareness during campus emergencies. Unlike fixed video surveillance systems, drones can be deployed at a moment’s notice to any location with no installation costs.
We are spending millions on security technology on public school and college campuses while ignoring the deficiencies in wireless access in hundreds of schools serving children raised in poverty. We’re “protecting the safety” of children by monitoring their every movement while they are in school, effectively training them to live under that kind of scrutiny 24/7 when they are adults. What’s wrong with this picture?
In the event you need any more evidence that fear is winning out over common sense, K-12 Technology reports that schools in Amarillo, TX will have “…a presence around campus when somebody can’t be there,” according to Jeff Roller, chief technology officer at ASID. Why? Because they are spending $5,000,000 to upgrade their surveillance system which will now have 2100 cameras instead of 900. And the cameras work on a motion detection system so they won’t be filming empty hallways which will the time of the “…police liaison officer and the technology department” when they review the film. From where I sit, this raises a host of questions:
- Why is Amarillo spending presumably scarce personnel resources to dedicate a police liaison officer and the time of technology staff to look at video footage?
- What kinds of “crimes” are the video cameras detecting that warrant an upgrade?
- What kinds of “crimes” do parents think they are preventing by investing in an upgrade in surveillance cameras?
- What evidence is there that this $5,000,000 investment in technology and the annual spending for a “…police liaison officer and the technology department” staff member is worthwhile?
- What other uses could be made of the $5,000,000 over the life of the bond?
I imagine that the cameras can help administrators and police identify the identities of students who scuffle in the hallway, who taunt other students, who loiter too long in the bathroom, and perhaps sneak a smoke…. but assuming the police are involved in this surveillance, it just might be a factor in the trend to criminalize typical adolescent mischief. And I imagine the cameras appeal to many Amarillo parents who are concerned enough about their children’s protection against armed outside invaders to allow their children to be surveilled throughout the day. And I imagine the taxpayers were supportive of the expenditure because of the same rationale.
So because of irrational fear we are investing billions of dollars across the nation on surveillance, police presence in schools, and technology so that our children can be “protected” from the other… and we’ve been engaged in this madness for a generation of school children… and we wonder why we spend so much on defense, why we are about to nominate a “strong man” to become the leader of one of our political parties, and why our children’s test scores are stuck? The answer is peering at us from every school hallway and more and more lampposts…..