Reaction 10: Questions of behaviorism and identity in ed-tech

Reading this week:

Bailey, J., Carter, S. C., Schneider, C., & Vander Ark, T. (2012). Data Backpacks: Digital learning now!.

U.S. Department of Education. (2012). Enhancing Teaching and Learning Through Educational Data Mining and Learning Analytics: An Issue Brief.

Hill, P. T. (n.d.). Finance in the Digital-Learning Era. Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning: A Working Paper Series from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

What problems are we trying to solve?

  • “The current way student records and transcripts are managed is insufficient to meet the evolving needs of teachers, students, and parents” (Bailey et al.).
  • “Our system doesn’t fund schools, and certainly doesn’t fund students” (Hill).
  • Policymakers and administrators need to understand “how analytics and data mining have been—and can be—applied for educational improvement” (Data Mining and Learning Analytics).

What vision of education are we working towards?

  • “Each student’s account would, in a sense, constitute a ‘backpack’ of funding that the student would carry with her to any eligible school or instructional programs in which she enrolls. The contents of the backpack would be flexible dollars, not coupons whose use is restricted to a particular course or service” (Hill).
  • “The most important [adantage] is individualization and rapid adaptation to what a student is learning, leading to the possibility of more rapid and consistent student growth” (Bailey et al.).
  • “Making visible students’ learning and assessment activities opens up the possibility for students to develop skills in monitoring their own learning and to see directly how their effort improves their success” (Data Mining and Learning Analytics).
  • “A study contrasting the performance of students randomly assigned to the OLI statistics course with those in conventional classroom instruction found that the former achieved better learning outcomes in half the time (Lovett, Meyer, and Thille 2008)” (Data Mining and Learning Analytics).

What limitations might there be or what questions should we ask?

  • Who are the designers of the platforms and how are their biases in them? This is not a new question for educational materials, but still one worth considering.
  • “What children learn would then depend on the quality of their parents’ choices” (Hill). How would kids fare whose parents were not able, for various reasons, to keep up with choices?
  • Programs could be prevented from use “only after some children had been demonstrably hurt by them” (Hill).
  • “All such investments are meant to benefit children but they also benefit private parties—the teachers who use new skills to make higher salaries, the vendors who sell professional devel-opment services, etc.” (Bailey et al.).
  • “Unlike educational data mining, learning analytics generally does not emphasize reducing learning into components but instead seeks to understand entire systems and to support human decision making” (Data Mining and Learning Analytics).

How might the changes in personalization, finance, and data foster a participatory culture of learning?

I recently watched and blogged about Audrey Watters’ keynote from the C-Alt conference, titled Ed-Tech, Frankenstein’s Monsters, and Teacher Machines. She talked about how ed-tech is full of behaviorist technologies, citing notifications, nudges, gamification, which is built in to many of the platforms written about in this week’s readings. She tells the story of Alan Turing asking if a computer could think, but that he really meant asking whether a computer could exhibit behaviors that could fool a human into thinking it was human “enough.” I see learning more from a constructivist point of view, where students build their knowledge on what they already know, as we read about in “How People Learn.” Are behaviorism and constructivism at odds in a learning ecosystem or could they coexist for building different skills? I see a participatory culture as being fundamentally constructivist, where learners’ own interests and experiences drive affiliations and personal expressions. Does a system based on behavioralism preclude authentic participation?

The idea of authenticity also brought me to questions of identity. This infographic compares “team transparency,” led by Mark Zuckerberg, and “team anonymity,” led by Christopher “Moot” Poole, founder of 4chan. How does having your identity (or a notion of a fixed identity) as a learner tracked from birth affect a person’s own identity formation? How does the platform reward or require a certain identity? (Kimmons, 2014) In working with middle schoolers, I saw the importance of kids trying on different identities as a way to understand their world. A learner profile that follows them year to year and school to school may smooth learning opportunties but it may also lock kids into always being “that kid.” Furthermore, if we have take a post-modern understanding of identity as one that is never fixed but is created in relation to others and situations, what impact (good or bad) will this big data mediated, educational enviroment mean? How will the designers be training certain identities? How will this impact divergent thinking? Will these redesigns mean more creative thinkers? These are geniune questions, not meant to be particularly optimistic or pessimistic, though I think people will see them in one way or the other based on their own inclinations.

Kimmons, R. (2014). Social Networking Sites, Literacy, and the Authentic Identity Problem. TechTrends, 58(2), 93–98.

Networked Scholars Course: Week 3 Reflection

Notes from Networked Scholars course this week. My thoughts at the end…

Zeynep Tufekci‘s article, Social Media is a Conversation, Not a Press Release: How @nytkeller and @emmagkeller flunk understanding @adamslisa:

  • How should it have been written? In one word: When trying to understand social media presence, dear journalists, don’t “peruse.” Engage. Because that’s how the medium works.
  • To understand these basic points Lisa Adams made, repeatedly, over the years, you’d have to be engaging her feed, and not just reading snippets of it and projecting it onto one’s own anxieties or issues.
  • If anything, social media has helped move us to a world in which people are no longer passive, silent subjects of journalists (or academics or other gatekeepers of public discourse). We can no longer speak of people at them, without them talking back of their own experience, and articulating their own narrative in their own terms. And how to deal with that reality, not whether cancer patients should tweet that much, is the real ethical question before us.

Sherry Turkle‘s TED talk about Alone Together:

  • We want to be in spaces together, but we only want to pay attention to the bits that interest us. I definitely see this is graduate school classes. In texting, we get to edit, delete, and retouch our voice, but real relationships are awkward and messy. A little later, “I share there for I am.” The more we connect the more isolated we are because we do not cultivate solitude. We need to teach our children to be alone.

“People who make the most of their lives on the screen, come to it in a spirit of self-reflection.”

  • Develop a self-aware relationship with our devices and others: make room for solitude.

Audrey Watters‘ keynote for C-Alt conference, Ed-Tech, Frankenstein’s Monsters, and Teacher Machines: Continue reading “Networked Scholars Course: Week 3 Reflection”

Reaction Paper #2: How People Learn & New Media

Readings for this week include the first chapter of How People Learn, by Bransford et al. 1999, and Living and Learning with New Media, by Ito et al. 2008.

(I’m just including my last paragraph, which I think was the most interesting.)

A lot of schools and teachers are threatened by this generation of seemingly empowered, engaged, technology-savvy youth with their “resilient set of questions about adult authority.” (Ito et al. 2008) Further, “our values and norms in education, literacy, and public participation are being challenged by a shifting landscape of media and communications in which youth are central actors. Although complaints about ‘kids these days’ have a familiar ring to them, the contemporary version is somewhat unusual in how strongly it equates generational identity with technology identity, an equation that is reinforced by telecommunications and digital media corporations that hope to capitalize on this close identification.” (Ito et al. 2008) I want to address this very last part: the corporations. All these interfaces, platforms, and services are run by corporations, whose goal is to make money. This capitalistic ethos is built into the web, our children’s playground, and the companies make money when you to come back. They provide dopamine hits by alerts of connections to friends, by the functions of affirmations (“Pokes” or “Likes”), and by presenting solvable problems (such as in games), which is far from true about dilemmas in the teenage world. They provide quantifiable measures of popularity or desirability, which might at first seem like a reflection of content, but it’s not a far leap to being a measure of worth: the most followers, friends, shares, or comments. All this engenders FOMO (fear of missing out) and drama, such as “unfollow me and I’ll unfollow you.” This, naturally, affects actual identity formation and the conception of what it means to be successful in life. I’m not a technological determinist, clinical psychologist, nor anti-capitalist, but as the interfaces becoming increasingly seemless and as a greater percentage of our learning and life is extended on these platforms, I get a little skittish. Like many generations before me, my guiding hope is in education.

Opinions in this last paragraph were influenced by It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked teens, by danah boyd, and by a critique written of the book by Michael Simon, reprinted with permission on ISTE’s Indenpendent School Educator Network’s blog.

Personal vs. Professional

In the world of social media, the line gets gray…

At the Klingenstein Summer Institute, they asked us to write down “questions we are living.” I love the idea of living a question because conceptualizing a question this way allows space to explore it through everyday experiences and think about it without seeking one answer. For example, at the time, I wrote:

  • What is good enough?
  • Who inspires me? Do I inspire my students?
  • How can I make the greatest impact? Is it in schools? Is it in policy? Education law? Direct leadership?

A question that I am living right now is,

Where is the line between personal and professional?”

This is called “Single Identity Transparency,” where our online presence is the same as our offline self. There are legitimate reasons for being who you are and their are legitimate reasons for being anonymous. (Changing your name to be on Facebook underage is NOT one of them…)

Here are a couple (12) infographics about the internet and identity.

Usernames & accounts. I tweet with the handle @pdxkali. When I created this username, I didn’t think too hard about whether this would be a personal or professional account. I have kept it because too much content is associated with this account now that I wouldn’t want to lose, but I wish now that I was @julierobison because it is a professional account. I don’t do a whole lot of personal tweeting, though I occasionally share something about being a new mom.

In contrast, a few people that I follow on twitter for their educational comments put personal content like pictures from vacation or check-ins at events that I don’t really care about. Their twitter feed is primarily personal. (I should probably unfollow them and just subscribe to their blogs…)

A couple of my colleagues decided to make two usernames, one for personal and one for professional, but I was mentioning the wrong one in my tweets or they wouldn’t be paying attention to both feeds.

I have always kept separate work and personal email addresses, because if I leave a job, I don’t want any accounts tied to an email address I no longer have access to.

When I started blogging, I initially created the and was blogging as the middle school tech coordinator. When I started to write more personal posts, like this one, I wanted it associated with me, not with my position.

Devices. We have been piloting iPad minis right now, and a colleague who already owns one, asked if he could borrow one for school use. Realistically, though, carrying around another device is just going to confuse things and wouldn’t he rather just have everything in one place? iOS devices are increasingly designed to be personal and group management of them is difficult. So should schools buy iOS devices for employees and have them use their personal accounts?

I carry around my iPhone all day at work. Sometimes I answer personal text messages, but the tech department often goes between email, text, or calls to reach each other. It’s beneficial to the school for me to use this device for my job, but I pay for it. On trips, we often use our phones for finding directions or emailing parents or taking pictures.

Boarding schools. As a dorm parent, I live where I work. I can see into classrooms out my front door. Kids see me on the weekends after a workout or at dinner feeding my 7 month old mashed peas. Clearly, I have accepted a blurrier line than most!

Final thoughts:

  • I feel comfortable with my current blend of professional and personal, though sometimes if feels like the workday never ends. (And at boarding schools, you are never really off duty until vacation!) I love my job and spend a lot of time outside of M-F 8-4pm thinking about education and teaching anyway.
  • People who are not connected to me via social media (professionally or personally) don’t know me as well.
  • Perhaps blending personal and professional allows us to see each other as more human? Maybe in workplaces where this happens there is greater social cohesion?
  • This whole idea of separate identities is very industrial-age with the idea that you go to a specific place for a specific length of time to do work.