Wait, Why Did He Pick That?
Wait, why did he pick that?
My newsletter is called OLDaily, which is short for 'Online Learning Daily', a title I ripped off from 'Arts & Letters Daily', which started publishing just a bit before mine. Readers know by now, after almost 20 years, that I cover a wide swath of territory, maybe learning to the question in the title. The official explanation can be found in the newsletter's About page, but I want to look a bit more closely at it.
I was hesitant to pick an HBR article after agreeing with someone in an interview recently that most of the articles are pretty bad. In many ways this one is no exception, but it did give me an opportunity to talk about the language of KPIs, value, and benefits. This is stuff I learned in management training at NRC and a lot of it is a mystery to people who haven't had the experience. Yet so much of our work in online learning is still proposal-driven, and the people who win these proposals are the people who can speak management-speak. So I'm leveling out the playing field a bit. Also, having this terminology established in OLDaily helps me be able to talk about and explain the more practical day-to-day decisions being made in OLDaily - for example, an article I'm following up with today talks about setting goals for AI programs, and the terminology introduced yesterday can be directly applied today. So it's in.
This item caught my eye because of the illustrations, and it's a nice quick survey of data interaction design patterns. These are directly relevant to anyone actually building learning technology today, and perhaps even more so to someone who is learning about it and needs the vocabulary that might not be covered in their ed tech textbook (a lot of my links fit this purpose - I'm not trying to establish a common language or anything like that, but where conventions exist, I try to highlight them). Short post; I didn't have a lot to say about them, but I wanted to note their existence.
I think it's important for people working in learning technology to stay current on popular culture, at least to the extent that it intersects with online learning and new media, which KPop arguably does, and TikTok definitely does. It's also important as well to understand some of the machinations happening around the forced sale of TikTok, which I believe (contrary to the way it is played in the press) has a lot more to do with stan activism (and the way they embarrassed Trump) than it does national security.
This feeds into a common sub-theme in OLDaily, and that is that traditional commercial media presents us with a very skewed and distorted picture of the world (or, at least, that part of the world with which I am directly familiar). I don't like being part of the more general trend toward undermining our faith in core institutions, but it's hard when our core institutions behave so badly.
This item came to me via a comment on Twitter (though I would have found it eventually in my RSS feeds). I was initially hesitant to pass it along because Jon Dron writes in paragraphs sized better for printed text than the fast-moving pace of online media, but I read it though because I had touched on a similar theme in 2004 (specifically, the whole Hanushek and Woessman model used by OECD to link quality of education to GDP). Not only was there a nice link between this and the HBS article (which I noted parenthetically), Dron's article is some of his best work, and I really meant it when I say that not a word was wasted - the efficiency of the article was something to behold. So of course I had to pass it along to readers, and was satisfied to summarize the main thread of the article without much comment (though I note here in passing that traditional commercial media fawns all over the OECD model with nary a speck of recognition that it's all made up by economists who have been terribly wrong in the past).
I have to pick the things I criticize with care. There's so much to criticize, but usually there's no value to doing so. So when I criticize something, it's either because I think the article as a whole is useful, but with a correction, or because there's something about it that's particularly egregious and at the same time illustrative of a trend relevant to online learning. This article fits into the latter category. The issues of race and equity have recently become more salient in online learning commentary, reflecting wider social trends, and this is a good thing. But the 'x is racist' article has become a misused trope, and essentially a way to sound engaged with the issue even when not actually engaged with the issue. That's what's happening here.
I mentioned above that terminology is important. That applies here as well. Discussions of race, equity, prejudice and related issues have their own terminology, and the way these terms are used distinguishes those who are familiar with the issues and those who are not. I would have passed over this article but for their use of the word 'freshmen'. That led me to dig deeper, revealing another common trope - the news article that cites research but which makes a totally different point than the research (particularly a problem here because the two authors are also two of the authors (the last two, mind) of the research report). All of this was sufficiently relevant, and sufficiently problematic, to warrant a post.
I don't like doing product update reports because they happen so frequently and are so well covered by others (often in the form of repurposed press releases). This article is an exception because it talks about Google Groups, which has been historically important, has ties to Google Meet and Gmail, which are of current importance, especially during the pandemic, and is yet another installment in Google's long-running efforts to create community (most of which have failed laughably). And it's actually true that I spent an hour or more first thing in the morning digging into the new Google Groups (which at first glance I mistook for Google Groups classic, because the design is so 2010). And I found it's all based on Google lock-in - making people use Google identities (not just email addresses used for invitations - I tested that) to even see the groups. Plus how awkward it was to invite people. So I though a post was warranted to give people fair warning.
In general (and I didn't mention this in the post) this is a part of the general trend toward creating user and content silos on the internet, and moving away from the open internet. Facebook is really transparent and clumsy in their efforts to do this, while Google is sneaky and iterative, but no less dangerous. To see the trend you have to look at a score of little things - accelerated mobile pages (AMP), videoconferencing (like Shindig) that works only on Chrome, the ongoing degradation of RSS, etc. It's not only that these pose a danger to the internet, but also that the response to them is a driver toward the distributed web. This post is only one of hundreds over the years documenting this.
This post I wrote on the weekend for inclusion in Monday's newsletter (I do this fairly frequently, because some weekdays get pretty busy and I don't have time for a full issue - which is why you sometimes see one- or two-article issues, which I prefer to avoid). That's why it's the second item from Inside Higher Ed on the same day (I usually pick just one item from a single source, though journal issues are a common exception). This post is included to counter the prevailing narrative that "you can't build community on the internet", something I've known for 30 years to be false, but which is repeated over and over by people (usually as a defense of traditional university campuses).
It's worth noting that the posts in OLDaily are presented in reverse chronological order (just like the blogs of old) - the most recent post is listed first. So my train of thinking over the day actually goes from the bottom to the top of the newsletter.
This was just a short article (I prefer to link to articles with more substance, so it's rare for me to pass along a six paragraph item) but it caught my attention because of the way it talked about valuing people who have degrees more than others (as opposed to the usual way of talking about valuing the university degree or education itself). It's a core element of my own philosophy that all people are equally valuable (if we are to use the terminology of 'value' at all, which is really problematic when talking about people (see also the article from HBS)). So anyhow, I wanted to tease out the different threads in the article, which may or may not have been intended by the author (it's hard to tell in such a short article).
Online learning has changed a lot over the last 20 years. It's gone from something people are hacking together in their back offices or living rooms to large complex interactive systems managed by multinational corporations. But it's still about technology, it's still about people, and it's still about language and media. These ideas all matter to contemporary educational technologists as much today as they did back in the early days.
In OLDaily, I blend what I hope is enough background to help a novice get caught up along with enough attention to current issues and technology to be relevant to those who have been in the field from the beginning. I highlight new technology and new services that inform the future (or confirm or correct the predictions of the past). But I never forget that I am talking about learning first and foremost, which (contrary to so many pundits) does not begin with teaching and pedagogy, but rather begins with the person doing the learning. How they talk, what they think, what they do, what tools they use - all these are relevant to a discussion of online learning, and all of these inform my editorial decisions.
p.s. but aren't educational technologists all a bunch of middle age white men? What about diversity and inclusion?
I am going to be biased toward professionals in learning technology because that's the nature of the field. And some days, it's going to be all white men. But most days, it's not. Online learning is a global phenomenon, and while I'm limited to English content, I include material from around the world, from people of all genders, colours, cultures and faiths. I make a point of including diverse voices. I make a particular effort to ensure that images are inclusive and representative of this diversity, and to ensure that less well represented voices can be heard in these pages, not just businesses and journalists and university professors. For me, diversity includes not only the categories mentioned above, but also social and economic status, alternative lifestyles, and different political opinions (for example, I'm opposed to the politics of people like Paul Kirschner, Dan Willingham, Joanne Jacobs, etc., but I still cover them).