Deep internet-related thought of the day

Facebook and social media are undermining a wide range of literary skills but they are building others such as, I would argue, certain kinds of contextual understanding.  I definitely feel that my ability to interpret a series of interspersed elliptical comments, and their relationships to each other has been enhanced dramatically over the past few years, from reading comment threads on Facebook.

I can imagine that one day, when social media is itself superseded as a common form of conversation (by, say, remote brain control), that there will be many pundits ruing the deterioration of the types of literary skills that I referenced above.  In other words, future generations may come to appreciate social media for the literary skills it promotes, rather than feeling despair at those it undermines.

The Future of Education

I’ve noted elsewhere some exciting developments in online education (most interestingly, this year, the opening of MITx, which is worth checking out).  This recent article about educational badges available online helps me to formulate, a bit more, a thought that has been gelling in my mind: If lower information-sharing costs help to make distributed systems more realizable in financescientific research (see here, too), hardware design and development, etc., etc., then why not in education?

A key quotation:

Employers might prefer a world of badges to the current system. After all, traditional college diplomas look elegant when hung on the wall, but they contain very little detail about what the recipient learned. Students using Mozilla’s proposed badge system might display dozens or even hundreds of merit badges on their online résumés detailing what they studied. And students could start showing off the badges as they earn them, rather than waiting four years to earn a diploma.

The current university system’s great asset is that it concentrates people in a learning environment.  But it also, as the quotation above implies, limits visibility to the student’s actual learning, limits student flexibility with regard to learning goals, defers recognition of achievement for several years, and does not lend itself easily to synchronous immersion in the professional world.  I’m interested to hear other’s thoughts on the viability of the model suggested in the article.

Privacy, Data, and Performance

In a fascinating legal decision that may have repercussions for how government employs large databases to measure performance, a New York state court ruled that “the New York City Education Department must include teachers’ names in the performance-data reports it provides to news outlets to fulfill open-records requests.

Will this decision have a chilling effect on the publication of government data about agency performance?  Or will employment in the government simply come to mean that one’s work records are increasingly open to public scrutiny?

Educational Data Mining

A recent Education Week article on “educational data mining” (EDM) highlights several key resources and insights.

To wit:

  • “the first international conference on the subject [was] held in 2008 and the first academic journal [was] launched a year later.”
  • the article reports on a study that demonstrated how aggregating large amounts of student data helped researchers make better evaluations about whether students were guessing while doing their work
  • several other centers focused on the field are referenced

A key quote: “Analysis of massive databases isn’t new to fields like finance and physics, but it has started to gain traction in education only recently.”  The expansion of large scale data mining into the human services field is just beginning to explode and will have great consequences for how we conceive of education.

Data Quality Campaign: Cool Maps on Ed Data Systems

The DQC is, in their words, “a national, collaborative effort to encourage and support state policymakers to improve the availability and use of high-quality education data to improve student achievement.”

You can check out (on their homepage) the maps they use to chart state progress on their “10 Essential Elements” and “10 State Actions” for data quality improvement.  I’m intrigued, personally, by the relative strength of the Southern states.

Texas Two-Step: A Pair of Trends that Undermine the Textbook Influence of the Lonestar State (Pt. II)

A friend forwarded me an article about the Texas textbook market that validates some of the observations/predictions I made in March.  Specifically, it highlights trends that could be undermining Texas’ influence on the textbook market (while also questioning the validity of the theory to begin with).


1) Texas’ actions re: curricular content could be giving rise to opposition in other states.

“The debates in Texas only heighten the sensitivity” in states and districts elsewhere to review those materials more closely before signing off, Mr. Diskey [executive director of the school division of the Association of American Publishers] added.

2) Texas is participating in breaking up its own influence by responding to incentives to provide for digital instructional materials.

In any case, amid concerns about the high cost of printed textbooks and the rapidity with which they become outdated, the Texas market for instructional materials is poised for a potential sea change. The recent legislation is expected to provide districts with new sources of digital textbooks and other electronic classroom materials.

“Now we have all of these new ways of acquiring instructional materials in addition to the traditional process,” said Anita G. Givens, an associate commissioner at the Texas Education Agency.

For instance, the state education commissioner was given authority to approve a list of digital textbooks that districts may buy with state textbook aid, providing them with new options beyond the materials adopted by the state board. Also, districts for the first time will be able to use a portion of that aid to pay for hardware, such as laptop computers, to access digital content.

“That is a big shift,” Ms. Givens said, “because one of the cost drivers in terms of whether electronic [material] makes sense is whether [schools] have the infrastructure and the access points.”

A friend today summed up the new economy: “It’s about information and networks.”  Changes in how instructional content is delivered remain one of the best symbols of this evolution.