Are schools on the cusp of change? Will all jobs be transformed by 2030? And what is change anyway?


In the recent Google Education on Air conference, Jan Owens discovered that the biggest lesson learnt looking ahead to 2030 is that every job will be transformed. It would be easy to just add this as another Countrafabulist predictions. However, it raises wider questions associated with transformation and our role within it all.

During a discussion on the Modern Learners podcast, Bruce Dixon discussed the notion of ‘the end of school as we know it’. He shared an exercise where teachers are given three options to choose from in regards to the current state of education:

  • We are seeing the end of school as we know it
  • We are not seeing the end of school as we know it
  • We should be seeing the end of school as we know it

To me this touches on Audrey Watters’ discussion of the invented history associated with the Prussian origins of (American) education. In time we manage to bend the past into a linear narrative. One where all roads lead to innovation.

And so too we’ve invented a history of “the factory model of education” in order to justify an “upgrade” – to new software and hardware that will do much of the same thing schools have done for generations now, just (supposedly) more efficiently, with control moved out of the hands of labor (teachers) and into the hands of a new class of engineers, out of the realm of the government and into the realm of the market.
The Invented History of ‘The Factory Model of Education’

If I had to choose one response it would be that we are seeing the end of school as we know it. However, I also feel that this is that wrong question. Whether we like it or not, the world changes each and every day. For example, smartphones have had an impact on schools whether we allow them in the classroom or not.

Another way of looking at change is using Raymond Williams’ historical model where he differentiates between emergence, dominant, residual.

We can find terms which recognize not only ‘stages’ and ‘variations’ but the internal dynamic relations of any actual process. We have certainly still to speak of the ‘dominant’ and the ‘effective’, and in these senses of the hegemonic. But we find that we have also to speak, and indeed with further differentiation of each, of the ‘residual’ and the ’emergent’, which in any real process, and at any moment in the process, are significant both in themselves and in what they reveal of the characteristics of the ‘dominant’.

There is a constant flow of meanings, values, practices and relationships, where even if a certain aspect were to remain ‘dominant’, it cannot inoculate itself from new influences.

As I discussed previously, much is learnt as things are pushed to breaking point. The question is not whether we are seeing the end of school as we know it, but how do we want school (and society) to change for tomorrow? Gert Biesta uses a quote from Jacques Derrida which makes this point clear,

To live, by definition, is not something one learns.

Our focus therefore should be what education do we want and collectively work towards that.

So what about you? What is your choice? Is this the end of school as we know it? As always comments welcome, even better when they are from your own space.


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About Privacy
“About Privacy” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

In a recent episode of the Contrafabulists podcast, Audrey Watters explored the question, what does your smart phone say about you? She then proceeded to unpack the data and describe four things that your phone is probably saying about you:

  • Your Thoughts and Perspective: Maybe it is posts in your social media feeds or texts that you have highlighted in an eBook or via social bookmarking.
  • Networks You Are Link To: The obvious connections associated with a phone are through the contacts. However, further connections also come through various social media accounts we often have attached.
  • Your Purchases: This could come in the form of an eBay and Amazon account or via receipts sent to your email.
  • Where You Have Been: Whether it be via the various mapping and transport applications or via the meta-data attached to things such as photographs.

Watters’ purpose is to highlight the potential of one device and what impact it might have on privacy and data when handed over to the wrong people or organisation.

I wonder if we get lulled into thinking that we have nothing to hide? There are two issues with this. One that in an environment of identity pseudo-science you do not always know how data will be interpreted. This is something that Watters and Kin Lane discuss in some detail. The second concern is that we rarely remember or are aware of everything stored or captured in our phone. Clive Thompson captures this in his book Smarter Than You Think when he demonstrates that our memory cannot always be trusted.

The other argument made is around phone security. The problem with thinking that your phone is secure is that, with so much data held in the cloud, you are only as secure as the network which you are connected with. With this in mind, Watters suggests thinking about security is actually about supporting the wider community and protecting those who may be vulnerable. For although you can protect your own devices, you often have little control over everyone else’s or which country decides to challenge questions around jurisdiction or change the law.

Too often such discussions become questions of what we have to hide. Doug Belshaw says that privacy is why we put curtains on our windows. While Edward Snowden suggests that,

Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.

In the end, it becomes about personal choice and control, reclaiming your web presence is a part of this. I may choose to be open, but that is in fact a privileged choice that I am able to make. Not everyone is in the same situation.

For further ideas, Andy Greensberg shares some ideas about protecting your digital privacy, locking down your device and keeping passwords secret. While Doug Belshaw and Dai Barnes discuss the topic in Episode 75 of the TIDE Podcast. Watters also unpacks many of these ideas further in her presentation on EdTech in the Time of Trump.

So what about you? What strategies do you use to manage your smart phone and mobile data? As always, comments welcome. It takes a village.


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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

In a post titled ‘Men Explain Technology To Me’, Audrey Watters unpacks the statistics and challenges that face women working in edtech. Whether it be the predominance of white males running the internet, an inherent culture of ‘mansplaining’, the culture of violence and abuse or the sheer numbers of women actually not working within the big edtech companies, Watter’s paints a picture of oppression.

Although gender and oppression is nothing new, it is the extremities of Watter’s account which brings the issue to the fore. In addition, Watter’s emphasises that these challenges are in no ways just an ‘edtech’ issue. Here is a few examples which help elaborate this:

The question I was left with was how do I respond? In particular to the wider inequities at play within education. Too often we read things online or hear things at a conference and, for whatever reason, fail to properly follow up.

My initial step was to reflect on my own habits. I started with my 200 odd blogs in my RSS Feed. After downloading the OPML file, I put them into a spreadsheet and proceeded to categorise them.


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

In addition, Tom Woodward pointed me to an app that analyses your Twitter:


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

The story told by both is that I am as much a part of the problem. However, it also made me wonder about the biases that were within such applications. I then started exploring what could be done to change this situation. Some possibilities include:  

  • Supporting Female Educators: The first idea I thought of doing was calling out the great work done by women. Whether it be follow Friday (#FF) or any other means of sharing. This is an area that I have been called out on before for not doing enough. There are plenty of examples listicles, such as Peter DeWitt’s 18 Women All K-12 Educators Should Know, Naomi Barnes’ Women in Science, Sue Crowley’s 100 Female Education Authors or David Wees’ Female Educational Theorists. Problem I have with this approach is that lists quickly become about who is not included as much as who is.
  • Developing Safer Technology: One of the issues that Watters raises in her post is the structure of the technology and its influence on our interactions. One suggestion she makes is reimagining commenting. Building on the IndieWeb movement, Watters suggests that comments should be housed on a ‘domain of our own’ and then linked to the source post. Another technical solution is the blocking of known serial harassers on platforms such as Twitter using something like the BlockBot.
  • Equitable Diet: What is shared online is not always equal. An answer to rebalancing my biases when it comes to blogs, articles and books is to more actively read female writers. This has included putting out the call on Twitter for new blogs to add to Feedly. I also consciously seek out female authors, especially when I do not have a particular focus.
  • Equitable Representation: Inequity is often perpetuated at conferences and professional development sessions when one male after another gets up to present. It is therefore heartening to attend conferences like Digicon where it would seem that there is a conscious decision to have an equal amount of men and women when it comes to keynotes. Beyond this, I think that it is important to encourage women to present when and where applicable, especially when it is only confidence holding them back.
  • Be More Mindful: The most important thing though is actually being aware that there is an imbalance at all. This is as much to recognise the bias at play, not to somehow magically stand outside of it. A part of this is being informed where possible.

With this all said and done, it feels naive to talk about solutions as if it is so clear cut. I fear being tokenistic, something Maha Bali makes point of in her post on marginality. I also worry about only focusing on one form of inequality, when as Watters points out, there are many, especially when it comes to edtech. I wonder if the real solution is actually being silent? Or in our lives actions and experiences? Maybe this post is simply adding to the problem and is itself a case of mansplaining? It is for this reason that this post has taken considerable time to write.

Coming back to technology, Greg Thompson talks about how technology has the power to make us. The question that I wonder is what sort of ‘us’ is it making. As always, comments welcome.


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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I purchased Audrey Watters’ Claim Your Domain a few months ago, but a part of me felt that I already knew what it was about. Having read Watters’ compiled lectures, I was aware of the argument for a domain of one’s own. Subsequently, I left it on the shelf. Thinking a bit more deeply about blogging lately, I decided to jump in. And I was glad.

As you would expect, Watters touches on the mechanics of a domain of one’s own, however this is only a small part of the book. The real focus is what it actually means to exist in a digital world and why we need to take more control of our presence. At the heart of this all is the question of data and the implication this has for agency and identity. That is, an understanding that goes beyond mere numbers to include a deeper appreciation of the world we are in.

The book itself is divided into three sections: the learner’s digital domain, why claim your domain and controlling our own technologies. Throughout it explores such questions as what constitutes data today, who controls it and in what ways do learning management systems apply a template that dictates the way we exist? Although it closes with a reflection on portfolios, Watters’ vision is much more radical. Advocating for something more than just student voice, but rather student action.

Some may complain that Audrey Watters is sometimes more critical than constructive, this book though does provide some solace. Not because it provides a mystical elixir that once applied will fix all of ills in education (although she does include some useful resources in the appendix), but rather for providing a clear set of questions to support leaders and learners alike in growing and developing their own solutions from the ground on up.


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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

In a recent post, Will Richardson made the point that most parents have no idea what happens in school. This assertion was based on the seemingly meaningless numbers and grades that parents are feed through the rise of learning portals. Although I can understand where Richardson is coming from, I do not think that every school is the same. I know of some schools that share key learning tasks with annotations using various applications, some provide feedback to students and with that parents via the portals, some set in place digital learning portfolios curated by students and others provide monthly updates about attitudes and applications. What interests me in all of this is not necessarily what constitutes learning and achievement or what is exactly shared, but the impact of the move into the digital realm on parents.

As I have written before, there is a growing trend to use different commercial applications to connect and collaborate with the wider community. Whether it be Facebook Pages, Google Sites, Edmodo, Seesaw or Evernote, these spaces are chosen for a number of reasons, including their cost, the ease of use and it is where people are. I am reminded though of the edict that is often bandied around that if something is free then you are the product. Now I know that it is not always that simple, but I am left wondering about what data is collected by such platforms, either obvious in the forms of names, emails and phone numbers, as well as the incidental in the form of IP addresses and devices used.

Often the discussion around data and online privacy is focused on students and their safety. Whether it be posting images online or providing personal information which can be used as a point of identification. The reason claimed for this caution is protection from online predators, adults posing as children in spaces like Club Penguin. (Interestingly, danah boyd points out in It’s Complicated that more often than not, cases of online predators often involve those who already have a connection offline and shown susceptibility to such problems.) The problem though is not necessarily these extreme examples, but rather big data and the endless collection of data. In part, this is the intent behind the COPPA laws, which a designed to protect children from being marketed to. A few random data points may not mean much to you and I, but when they are fodder for algorithms they can mean so much more. As Audrey Watters explains,

Algorithms are not neutral, although they are frequently invoked as such. They reflect the values and interests of their engineers, although it’s hard to scrutinize what exactly these values and interests entail as the inputs and calculations that feed algorithms are almost always “black boxed.”

Therefore when we have investment from various venture capital funds, this is why we need to be mindful. It is for this reasons that there is so much conjecture around Google Apps in school.

The problem though is that this conjecture about data and algorithms goes far beyond students, it encapsulates the parents as well. Although sites may be private, this does not make them exempt from data collection. Even the fact that you might be a parent is another point of information. In addition to this, they influence habits. Here I am reminded of Marshall McLuhan’s tetrad:

  • What does the medium enhance or amplify?
  • What does the medium make obsolete?
  • What does the medium retrieve that had been made obsolescent earlier?
  • What does the medium “flip into” when pushed to the extreme?

For example, the use of Facebook Pages enhances documentation, can make communication via school diary obsolete, it retrieves a notion of learning through observation as opposed to tests and at its extremes normalises the use of digital spaces as a record and reflection of learning.

Another question that has been playing on my mind associated with the matter of data and the impact of openly sharing spaces has on teacher and student agency and identity. Maybe it is sharing information on a platform such as Twitter or Instagram. What restrictions and limitations are at play through seemingly being open. Does the feeling that we are publishing to the world both bring out our best, while also limiting what we share? While coming back to Richardson’s argument, I wonder if teachers are always clear about the expectations of such spaces, especially when they are continually changing. Also on the flip side, what are the expectations in regards to voices outside of the classroom and interaction within such spaces?

I am not saying that we should ban the use of such platforms, but with the introduction of digital technologies curriculum, it only seems logical that we should start where we are and unpack the biases at play. So what about you? What spaces do you use to communicate with parents and what expectations do such spaces bring.


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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

My daughter recently started at a new school. One of the things that stood out to me was the use of Facebook for classroom communication. Every class is setup with a private page, where information is shared. To me this fits perfectly with the argument that we need to go where the people are and it seems these days a lot of people spend their time in Facebook. Already being there means that little effort needs to be applied to getting things going, whether this be signing up or instructions as to how to use it. The problem though is that just because people are already there does that mean that it is the best space for the task?

I remember when I was told of the changes to online permissions by the Victorian State Government. A part of a push to be more mindful of student data. My first thought was that the legal department were crashing the party. My mind was taken back to the supposed halycon days when a blanket permission slip would cover all sorts of online frivolity, with endless amounts of Web 2.0 programs and applications. However, times have changed. Doug Belshaw describes this as the move to the Post-Snowden Era. It is a scepticisim epitomised by Cory Doctorow in Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, when he says:

Without a thorough understanding of our computers’ workings, and without independent verification of their security, it’s impossible to trust our machines.

It is for this reason that we can no longer just use what may work best (as if we ever should have), but what is in fact the most appropriate on all levels.

Maybe the problem is where the data is housed, maybe it is about who is in control of content, maybe it is about the decisions of edtech company. There are so many things to consider. Some of these ethical questions include:

Does the service/app require an account to be created? If so, why?

Does the service let you delete content? This should apply not only to finished work, but also the elements of that work. For example, if you upload photographs to make a slideshow, does it let you delete those photographs later?

Does the service easily let you delete your account? Does it include an ‘Account Deletion button’ in a menu? (Check out JustDelete Me for a guide to deleting some services. The site also has a Fake Identity Generator to help you get started with a dummy account)

Does the service require you to login with a ‘real name’, or can you just use a private handle instead? If it does require a real name, why?

Does the service easily let you export the work you create in standard formats? (e.g. TXT, PDF, DOC, MP4, MP3, MOV, XLS, CSV, JSON,HTML etc) Can you save the work to your device and take it with you when you close an account?

Do you have full control over sharing/unsharing and publishing of work online?

Does the service only ask for necessary permissions? For example, many browser extensions ask for permission to access your data on all websites, or mobile apps ask for your location. Some of these permissions are necessary for the service to work, but if a service seems to be asking for a lot of unnecessary permissions, then it may be best to avoid it.

Does the service have a clear, easy to read and transparent privacy policy? Is there a link to the Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy on the homepage? If it’s hard to find, hard to read, or non-existent, then think long and hard about why that is.

Does the service treat user data and content in an ethical manner? Do users have control over they license they apply to their work? Is the work easily embeddable on other sites? Will the company sell the work (or even worse, details about a user’s identity) to other services and advertisers?

How does this service make money? What is the business model? Online tools are expensive to build and maintain, so if there isn’t a clear model for how that service will make money, then it may be that data is being sold to advertisers, or the service will eventually move to a paid model or be sold or closed.

With the demise of the Ultranet, such questions have become more pertinent as schools search for the next digital solution.

In her post, Beyond the LMS, Audrey Watters recounts her experiences with Blackboard Collaborate and the problems she faced. After initially developing content in an open space provided by the institution, she was ‘encouraged’ to publish everything through the learning management system. From quizzes to resources to syllabi to discussion forums.  The problem she faced was that her and her students continually lost access to the content and communications once the subject was finished as the only way to access the content was through the site.

One example of an LMS that has been embraced by many schools of late is Compass. Like Watters’ experience with Blackboard, Compass too poses many similar questions. Although you maybe able to access past content, it is never made easy. One of the biggest curses is the amount of clicks to get anywhere. In addition to this, there is little avenue for students to communicate and collaborate. It is neither a campfire nor watering hole. Although as a platform it provides many of the same functionalities offered by the Ultranet, one absence is the possibility for meaningful student action. Whereas the Ultranet provided a space for play and creation, this is the one aspect that seems missing.  Maybe such spaces are walled to protect students. Maybe they are really about improving communication between home and school? Maybe they are about control and management? However, are we really supporting students if we are limiting their possibility for voice and choice through such spaces.

One solution to this is to publish your work, whether staff or student, at one canonical address and link elsewhere. This elsewhere could be Compass, Edmodo, Facebook or Google Classroom. Blogs offer the most obvious solution for such as a space. Whether it be as a portfolio, a social media stream, social bookmarking, class blog, project or subject space, they offer so many different possibilities. While a site like Edublogs may involve some effort in regards to another site to login to or to manage. It offers a lot more possibility and flexibility in the long run. Blogging still matters.

Although developing a canonical address in Edublogs may not go to the point of setting students up with a domain of their own, as Audrey Watters proposes, it does at least provide the possibility to take their data and do with it what they would like. Something Alan Levine describes as co-claiming. This is something that can be overlooked in the choice of spaces.

So what about you, how do you support students, while also considering some of the ethical questions? How do you push back against what is easiest, to consider what might be best? As always, comments welcome.


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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Recently, I was challenged with the question about what data could be used to support the improvement of learning and teaching using technology. Beyond the discussion of classroom observations, surveys and planners, I spoke about monitoring usage. However, I added a point of caution to this. Many of the applications, especially those that are web-based, offer a form of analytics. The problem with this though is that although it covers what technology is being used, it does not allows account for the how or why. This was a particular problem with the Ultranet. Each meeting we would be delivered the latest statistics with encouragement for students to simply login in. I am a massive advocate for the use of technology, but used blindly for the sack of it, I wonder at times if this is counter-productive.

I was reminded of this a few days ago by Sherry Turkle’s article, ‘Stop Google. Let’s Talk“. Taken from her latest book, Reclaiming Conversation, Turkle continues the discussion she started in Together Alone.

In the article, she describes a world where through our incessant use of social media, we have actually lost the art of conversation. This has not only had an impact on our ability to listen, but to actually empathise with others. The first step, she suggests, is reclaiming our solitude. A part of this is moving from multi-tasking to uni-tasking, where we dedicate ourselves to one thing at a time, rather than spreading ourselves thin.

Coming at the question of data from a different angle, Audrey Watter’s makes the point that it is never neutral. It has its biases and blind spots:

Education data often highlights the ways in which we view students as objects not as subjects of their own learning. I’ll repeat my refrain: education data is not neutral. Opening education data does not necessarily benefit students or schools or communities; it does not benefit all students, all schools, all communities equally.

This is a message that is carried throughout Watters’ book, The Monsters of Educational Technology. A collection of essays which explore various facets of technology, but most importantly the many assumptions we make about the benefits and gains.

In the end, data does not always tell a story in itself. It is interpretative. It does not account for the nuance of personal experience. It does not always touch on how we use it. It does not always tell the full story about learning. To truly engage with the enabling power of technology, it is here that we need to start the conversation, with the question of why.

How about you, how do you use technology? What are the ways you critique this? As always, I would love to know. Feel free to comment below.


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