Liked Personalization by Paper and Non-Mechanical Teaching Machines (Teaching Machines)

In the introduction to Teaching Machines and Programmed Learning: A Source Book (1960), a collection of articles penned by some of the best known theorists and practitioners in the field (including both Skinner and Pressey), A. A. Lumsdaine lists these as the three key properties of “teaching machines”:

First, continuous active student response is required, providing explicit practice and testing of each step of what is to be learned.

Second, a basis is provided for informing the student with minimal delay whether each response he makes is correct, leading him directly or indirectly to correction of his errors.

Third, the student proceeds on an individual basis at his own rate – faster students romping through an instructional sequence very rapidly, slower students being tutored as slowly as necessary, with indefinite patience to meet their special needs.

The devices thus represent a way of providing a pre-programmed study-practice combination which simulates, in partially or fully automated fashion, the functions of a private tutor in recitation and practice, with immediate correction of errors and feedback to the student.

Liked B. F. Skinner: The Most Important Theorist of the 21st Century (Hack Education)

These are “technologies of behavior” that we can trace back to Skinner – perhaps not directly, but certainly indirectly due to Skinner’s continual engagement with the popular press. His fame and his notoriety. Behavioral management – and specifically through operant conditioning – remains a staple of child rearing and pet training. It is at the core of one of the most popular ed-tech apps currently on the market, ClassDojo. Behaviorism also underscores the idea that how we behave and data about how we behave when we click can give programmers insight into how to alter their software and into what we’re thinking.

Bookmarked Machine Teaching, Machine Learning, and the History of the Future of Public Education (Hack Education)

I think there’s a lot to say about machine learning and the push for “personalization” in education. And the historian in me cannot help but add that folks have trying to “personalize” education using machines for about a century now. The folks building these machines have, for a very long time, believed that collecting the student data generated while using the machines will help them improve their “programmed instruction” – this decades before Mark Zuckerberg was born.

I think we can talk about the labor issues – how this continues to shift expertise and decision making in the classroom, for starters, but also how students’ data and students’ work is being utilized for commercial purposes. I think we can talk about privacy and security issues – how sloppily we know that these companies, and unfortunately our schools as well, handle student and teacher information.

But I’ll pick two reasons that we should be much more critical about education technologies.

In some prepared remarks, delivered on a panel titled “Outsourcing the Classroom to Ed Tech & Machine-learning: Why Parents & Teachers Should Resist” at the Network for Public Education conference in Indianapolis, Audrey Watters highlights two major points of concern. Firstly, (ed)tech is a black box providing little understanding of how to works. While secondly, AI is biased. Machine learning is better considered as machine predictions.

Anytime you hear someone say “personalization” or “AI” or “algorithmic,” I urge you to replace that phrase with “prediction.”

Liked The History of the Future of High School by Audrey Watters,Kitron Neuschatz,Lia Kantrowitz (Vice)

Masking the real history of high school in America also helps the DeVoses of the world obscure legitimate problems the education system has always faced—problems that have been deliberately created and maintained. Funding inequality and racial segregation are rarely the focus of these sorts of stories about an ever-unchanging educational system. The dominant narrative instead tends to point to teachers or curricula, or even bells and early start times, as the reason schools are “broken” and that students aren’t being adequately prepared for the future.

Bookmarked Why History Matters (Hack Education)

No doubt, the pedagogical practices associated with the blackboard have shifted over the course of the past two hundred years. Now it’s more likely to be a device used by a teacher (a female teacher, a shift facilitated by Horace Mann’s normal schools) and not the student. Increasingly, I suppose, it’s a whiteboard, perhaps one with a touchscreen computer attached. But it is still worth thinking about the blackboard as a disciplinary technology – one that molds and constrains what happens in the classroom, one that (ostensibly) makes visible the mind and the character of the person at the board, whether that’s a student or a teacher.

In this talk to design students from Georgetown University, Audrey Watters unpacks a history of educational technology often overlooked. Too often when we talk about EdTech we rush to talk about the computer. The problem with this is that it overlooks so many developments and decisions that led to that point. To explain her point, she discusses the origin of the blackboard. What I found interesting were the pedagogical practices associated with its beginnings. A reminder of how technology is a system. I think that too often we choose narrative and convenience over complexity within such conversations.
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There is something that doesn’t sit right with me with all this supposed ‘charity’. I think Audrey Watters’ captures it best when she says, “there is no accountability in billionaires’ educational philanthropy”
Liked HEWN, No. 282 (HEWN)

My mum remembers (age 10 or so) eating six Tunnock’s teacakes and feeling quite ill on the bus from the train station at Lairg. She caught a trout on that trip, she says, too small to keep or eat, but she refused to throw it back and kept it in the wash basin in her room.

The family has told the stories from these vacations in Scotland for years — the knitted bathing suit and my uncle’s near-death experience (age 3) on the railway turntable in Rosemarkie. But as we drove through hills and over bridges, my mum and uncle squinted and hesitated and had to admit several times that perhaps the “what” and the “where” were different than what they recalled. (There was never a railway station in Rosemarkie, the villagers told us.)

Liked The Horizon Never Moves (A Horizon Report History)

EDUCAUSE is out today with the latest Horizon Report for Higher Education. This is, of course, a report that almost wasn’t as NMC, the original publisher of this project, abruptly closed its doors late last year. I had hoped that the whole thing would go away, but nothing ever dies in ed-tech. It just gets renamed – rebranded as “innovative” – and stays in circulation forever. Zombie ed-tech. Always on the horizon.

Liked HEWN, No. 281 (

One of the teachers in that NYT article, incidentally, penned a story arguing that the future of the classroom should look something like a Starbucks. (The future of education is big brands, the education reformers and education investors keep repeating.) Again, it’s one of those allusions that I think is supposed to be inspirational but I find just utterly terrifying. Is this classroom the Starbucks where the white lady manager calls the cops on young Black men who make her uncomfortable?

Bookmarked Robot Predictions (Audrey Watters)

It’s been almost six years since I rode in one of Google’s self-driving cars. I think about all the data that Google has amassed since then – all the mapping data and geolocation data and sensor data and historical data and traffic data and all the machine learning that their machines are supposedly doing with that. Why, it’s almost as if the problems of navigating the world with AI are much, much harder than engineers imagined.

I really like Audrey Watters’ point about investing in public transport:

Personally, I’d prefer to see greater investment in public transportation than in cars, and I’d rather hear stories that predict that sort of future.

Interestingly, that might be a more logical space for automation, especially trains.

Bookmarked Obituaries (Teaching Machines)

The obituary is a strange genre. (I say this having written two.) An obituary typically contains the basic facts of the deceased’s life: where and when they were born; when and sometimes how they died; where they went to school; the names of wives and husbands and children and the names of any other “surviving family members.” An obituary, whether written by a family member or by someone at the newspaper, attempts to narrate a life – who was this person; what did they do; what were they like?

Audrey Watters reflects on the stories told in the form of obituaries. This reminds me of Austin Kleon’s

  • Show Your Work
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    Obituaries aren’t really about death; they’re about life. “The sum of every obituary is how heroic people are, and how noble,” writes artist Maira Kalman. Reading about people who are dead now and did things with their lives makes me want to get up and do something decent with mine. Thinking about death every morning makes me want to live.

    Liked HEWN, No. 279 by Audrey Watters (TinyLetter)

    I am so fed up with Twitter. I have been for years now, no doubt. But it’s hard, as a self-employed writer, to ditch the site altogether. I use it to promote my work. (I’ll post a link to this newsletter there as soon as I hit “publish.”) And I find news and other writers’ stories there too – things that I wouldn’t necessarily stumble upon, thanks in no small part to the demise of RSS. Nevertheless, due to changes this week to Twitter’s API – changes that mean my desktop Twitter client of choice, Tweetbot, no longer really works – it is unlikely I’ll be on the site much for the foreseeable future.

    Bookmarked Home Work (Audrey Watters)

    I think Americans’ homes are designed for that – they’re designed in ways that encourage you to fill up the closets and garages and spare bedrooms with stuff. There are catalogs upon catalogs with products and websites upon websites with ideas of how to buy things and build things that transform rooms to your liking.

    This is an insightful look into home spaces and the way we use it.

    We have worked at home (and with great frequency, it feels, worked on the road) for about a decade now. And the typical home or apartment – no matter its size or location – isn’t really designed for that.

    Liked "The Audrey Test": Or, What Should Every Techie Know About Education? (Hack Education)

    If I were to really formalize such an “Audrey test,” I think it would also have to involve what you know, what you think about education, about teaching, about learning, about politics and theory and practice — its history, its present, its future.

    Via Maha Bali
    Bookmarked HEWN, No. 273 by Audrey Watters (HEWN)

    Pedagogies and environments (and the objects in these environments) are interconnected. Necessarily so. As we stumble towards the hottest global temperatures on record, perhaps we need to look up from our own “personalized” self-streams and think about global, sustainable gardens.

    In part Watters’ reference Mike Caulfield’s notion of the garden and the stream. It is also interesting to consider it in light of the argument that space does not matter.