📓 Neartopias

Reflecting on the extremes of utopian and dystopian imaginings, Mike Caulfield calls for another possibility, Neartopias:

Neartopias are not utopias. They have problems. They have to have problems because problems are what drive plots. And on another level problems are just interesting in a way that non-problems are not. They also aren’t post-scarcity Star Treks, or visions of a perfect 6030 A.D. They are “near”-utopias both in the sense that they lack perfection and in that they seem near-enough to be achievable.

Neartopias also have blindspots. Each neartopia pulls from cultural assumptions that will be eventually — like all things — be revealed as problematic. The Golden Age of sci-fi produced some neartopias, for instance, but had a relationship with technological progress and industry, for example, that was — well, let’s say underdeveloped.source

📓 Ideology

Ideology is often used as a criticism, however, as Greg Thompson explains, saying something is ‘ideological’ misses the point:

I read it, everything we believe is already ideological because we are necessarily social (for example, through language). Saying this, however, does not imply that any position held is necessarily right or wrong, rather that within the ontological and epistemological assumptions of any belief system ideology invariable precedes consciousness. For this reason, I don’t mind being called ideological (of course I am) or suggesting that others are ideological (of course they are).source

Bernard Bull adds his own take on ideology:

I’ve come across this countless times in education, with any number of stakeholders declaring that the problem with education is ideology. If only we focused on scientific and evidence-based practice, then education would be in great shape. Only that statement represents an ideologysource

French Marxist Louis Althusser argued in his paper Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses that there is no beyond or outside within which we can exist. Instead, we are always already interpellated, called into existence.

Thus ideology hails or interpellates individuals as subjects. As ideology is eternal, I must now suppress the temporal form in which I have presented the functioning of ideology, and say: ideology has always-already interpellated individuals as subjects, which amounts to making it clear that individuals are always-already interpellated by ideology as subjects, which necessarily leads us to one last proposition: individuals are always-already subjects. Hence individuals are ‘abstract’ with respect to the subjects which they always already are. This proposition might seem paradoxical. source

Adding to this, Althusser highlights that there is no point outside of ideology:

What thus seems to take place outside ideology (to be precise, in the street), in reality takes place in ideology. What really takes place in ideology seems therefore to take place outside it. That is why those who are in ideology believe themselves by definition outside ideology: one of the effects of ideology is the practical
denial of the ideological character of ideology by ideology: ideology never says, “I am ideological.” Source

Coming from a different perspective, Michael Foucault discusses the challenges of identity in Archaeology of Knowledge where he states:

Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order. At least spare us their morality when we write.

📓 Signals

In a reflection on engaging with the #IndieWeb, Ian O’Byrne unpacks the signals that we share online, both seen and unseen:

In a digital space, we also create and share signals. For most people, these signals are very distinct. They include tweets or posts that you share on social networks. They also include your reactions (likes, favorites, love, haha, wow, angry, sad).

Many more of your signals are unseen, or at least unseen to you. These signals include metadata, or “data about data” that tracks you as you move across the web. This metadata could be descriptive, structural, or administrative. A good way to think about this is the card catalog system in a library. You have the actual book, but then you also have information in a system about the title, abstract, author and keywords (descriptive). The card catalog system will also include information about how many pages and chapters are included in the table of contents (structural). The library will also save information about whether the book is checked out, who last checked it out, and where is it located on the stacks if it is still available (administrative).

Discussing the act of sharing online, Donelle Batty poses some questions to consider to help reflect on our own signals:

So are you in control of the story of you? Before you even start sharing life events, your opinion and the ever loved cat video, you need to consider the social spaces you are in, what settings (and personal boundaries) you are putting in place to determine who sees your content and thoughts. You see social media is a great tool for connecting with people. It is through connecting with others (be it random or deliberate) that we gain insights into peoples lives, insights that we may not have had access to before. When we gain an insight into someones life is it what we expect? Is it something that makes you feel uncomfortable or comfortable? Does it change the way you interact with them? Let’s now flip the question and ask what might the perception be of you by those who follow, friend or connect with you?

📓 Demagoguery

Reflecting on the state of democracy, Branko Milanovic looks back at the work of those like Max Weber and the concept of demagoguery:

These old-school writers were also very astute about the political science of demagoguery, which Weber defined as manipulation of the electorate through proffering of unrealistic promises. He thought the rise of demagogues was specific to Western political culture; it was a potentially dangerous side effect of democracy. Demagoguery appeared, according to Weber, first in the Mediterranean city-states and then spread to Western parliamentary systems through the role of party leaders.source

Wikipedia defines a demagogue as:

A leader in a democracy who gains popularity by exploiting prejudice and ignorance among the common people, whipping up the passions of the crowd and shutting down reasoned deliberation Demagogues overturn established customs of political conduct, or promise or threaten to do so.source

📓 Educational Metaphors

In a post exploring a vision for education, Bernard Bull provides a metaphor of the ‘field’:

Education is neither art nor science. It is a field that encompasses both, not to mention ideas and practices that do not necessarily fit neatly into the category of art or science. The word “field” might be a useful metaphor. We talk about fields of study. What do we mean by this? The word “field” derives from the Old English “feld”, or cultivated land (in contrast to woodlands). There is a thoughtful, even systematic cultivation of select crops in a field, compared to the randomness of the woodlands. What you plant, how you grow it, and how you cultivate it depends upon the context. There are affordances and limitations to those decisions, informed by sometimes competing and conflicting values. This is why I’ve long argued for the value of a diverse education ecosystem. Or, if it helps, picture a massive community-based garden, with different people and individuals planting and cultivating alongside one another. Some opt for a beautiful selection of flowers. Others go for a wide array of vegetables. Some choose raised beds while others stick with old-school rows. There will we some shared rules for those who play and plant in this field, but there is room for variety.

📓 Technology is a System

Responding to yet another school shooting, Audrey Watters pushes back on those who argue that guns are not ‘ed-tech’. Instead she argues that what we define as ‘technology’ is the problem. She provides a quote from Ursula Franklin’s 1989 CBC Massey Lectures that captures this thinking:

Technology is not the sum of the artefacts, of the wheels and gears, of the rails and electronic transmitters. Technology is a system. It entails far more than its individual material components. Technology involves organization, procedures, symbols, new words, equations, and, most of all, a mindset.

Watters explains that this includes many elements within schools and should not be merely reduced to ‘computers’. In a second post, she explains that:

“Hardening schools” is an education technology endeavor, whether or not we take seriously anyone’s suggestions about giving teachers guns. For now, “hardening schools” explicitly calls for hardware like those items listed by Governor Scott: metal detectors and bulletproof windows, as well as surveillance cameras and various sensors that can detect gunfire. It also implies software – social media monitoring and predictive analytics tools, for example, that claim they can identify students “at risk” of violence or political extremism.

Coming at this problem from a different perspective, Genevieve Bell responded to questions of data and ‘neutrality’ in the Q&A associated with her Boyer Lectures. Given the example of the supposed innocence of a train timetable, she explained how Amazon use variables such as timetables to continually adjust the price of goods.

Complexity and the Collapse of Western Civilisation

Rachel Nuwer makes some predictions about the collapse of Western Civilisation. One of the points that she makes is the challenge of ‘complexity’:

According to Joseph Tainter, a professor of environment and society at Utah State University and author of The Collapse of Complex Societies, one of the most important lessons from Rome’s fall is that complexity has a cost. As stated in the laws of thermodynamics, it takes energy to maintain any system in a complex, ordered state – and human society is no exception. By the 3rd Century, Rome was increasingly adding new things – an army double the size, a cavalry, subdivided provinces that each needed their own bureaucracies, courts and defences – just to maintain its status quo and keep from sliding backwards. Eventually, it could no longer afford to prop up those heightened complexities. It was fiscal weakness, not war, that did the Empire in. source

Privacy vs Security

Ian O’Byrne provides a comparison between privacy and security:

Privacy is often defined as the right of an individual to keep his/her individual information from being disclosed. This is typically achieved through policies and procedures. Privacy encompasses controlling who is authorized to access your information; and under what conditions information may be accessed, used and/or disclosed to a third party.Security is defined as the mechanism in place to protect the privacy of information. This includes the ability to control access to information, as well as to safeguard information from unauthorized disclosure, alteration, loss or destruction. Security is typically accomplished through operational and technical controls. source

Doug Belshaw visually represents this to get the point home:

Mike Caulfield discusses the future of privacy and suggests that there is work that needs to be done in regards to participatory culture:

I’m sure that the powers that be in Silicon Valley believe in “the end of privacy”, just like they believe in technocratic meritocracy. The most attractive thing for any programmer to believe is that new technologies will render the messiness of social relations obsolete. But this idea, that privacy is antiquated, will lead to institutional and organizational collapse on a massive scale, which is why a transparency organization like Wikileaks is the favorite tool of dictators.source

Technological Trust

Tim Wu reflects on the rise of Bitcoin and wonders about the wider implications for society. He suggests that it may herald a move away from trust in sovereign entities to a trust in code:

Yet as Bitcoin continues to grow, there’s reason to think something deeper and more important is going on. Bitcoin’s rise may reflect, for better or worse, a monumental transfer of social trust: away from human institutions backed by government and to systems reliant on well-tested computer code. It is a trend that transcends finance: In our fear of human error, we are putting an increasingly deep faith in technology. source

The concern that this raises is that it implies that ‘code’ is somehow pure and unbiased. Audrey Watters’ work around the Blockchain paints a different picture, while Cathy O’Neil’s book Weapons of Mass Destruction highlights many concerns too.


[[Silicon Valley Seasteads]]
[[Technology is never neutral]]

Questions for NAPLAN

In response to a presentations from Ray Adams (ACER), Sara Ruto (PAL), Anil Kanjee (Tshwane University of Technology), Sue Thompson (ACER), Hans Wagemaker (ex-IEA), Sam Sellar (MMU), and Barry McGaw (ex-ACARA), Greg Thompson asks the following questions:

If NAPLAN is impactful, and I think on this we agree, why is it only ever impactful in positive ways such as in the anecdote that you shared? Why aren’t we equally interested in the negative impacts including trying to understand all of those schools that have gone backwards?Given the objective of this event, I am wondering which qualitative researchers you have read on the effects of NAPLAN that informed your attempts to make the assessments better through designing responses to the unintended consequences of the assessment?Results across Australia have flatlined since 2010*, how do you justify that NAPLAN has been a success in its own terms?I’m always concerned when people mischaracterise the unattended consequences of tests as being ‘teaching to the test’. It would be better to see a hierarchy of unintended consequences ranging from:making decisions about people’s livelihoods such as whether to renew contracts for teachers based on NAPLAN resultsmaking decisions about who to enroll in a school or a particular program based on NAPLAN resultsa narrowed curriculum focus where some subjects are largely ignored, or worse, not taught at all so that schools can focus on NAPLAN prepteaching to the test which may or may not be a problem depending upon how closely the test aligns with curriculum etcThe problem with the branched design for online tests is not whether students will like it or not, it is a) whether schools have the computational capacity to run the tests, extending to whether or not BYOD schools advantage/disadvantage some students depending upon the type of device they use, problems of internet connection in rural and remote schools, bandwidth in large school etc. I am interested how you characterise this as a success?** source

[[Questions for Data]]