Feeds and Gardens

This post was originally published on Kathleen Fitzpatrick https://kfitz.info/feeds-and-gardens/ on July 23rd 2018.

My last post, Connections, gathered a fair bit of response — enough that you can see a good example of Webmentions in action below it. There’s a little back-and-forth discussion there that mostly took place on Twitter, as well as a lot of likes and mentions that came from there as well. One important question … Continue reading Feeds and Gardens →


Marking Time: 5 Years at Reclaim Hosting

This post was originally published on bavatuesdays https://bavatuesdays.com/marking-time-5-years-at-reclaim-hosting/ on July 24th 2018.

It’s hard to believe, but yesterday was the fifth of what Tim and I are officially acknowledging as Reclaim Hosting‘s birthday. I always thought it was the 28th of July, but as I’ll talk about here soon, my memory is … Continue reading →

Want To Write Just One Thing Down? Try Edit

This post was originally published on ProfHackerProfHacker – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education http://www.chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/want-to-write-just-one-thing-down-try-edit/65607 on June 14th 2018.

The desire to capture something quickly on one’s phone is a pretty common one. As I mentioned back in April, one of my favorite iOS apps is Drafts 5, which somehow combines both great quickness with a relatively easy-to-learn automation scheme. It’s terrific.
Yet, as great as Drafts is, it lends itself to a proliferation of little scraps of notes, potentially turning it into Yet Another Inbox that needs to be managed/weeded/curated/shunned in fear. That’s because just about every time you launc… Continue reading

The 101 Most Useful Websites on the Internet

This post was originally published on Digital Inspiration Technology Blog https://www.labnol.org/internet/101-useful-websites/18078/ on June 4th 2018.

The 101 Most Useful Websites on the Internet is a frequently updated list of lesser-known but wonderful websites and cool web apps that will make smarter.The post The 101 Most Useful Websites on the Internet appeared first on Digital Inspiration.

Social Media Jujutsu

This post was originally published on Bionic Teaching http://bionicteaching.com/social-media-jujutsu/ on April 17th 2018.

Jujutsu1 is a martial art focused on using your opponent’s momentum against them– clever redirection of force rather than trying to meet it directly. This seems like it might be an option for some of today’s social media woes where people are trying to continue to take advantage of the good aspects of these tools/communities while opposing some of their attempts at manipulation. There are major alternatives like Brontosaurus Mastodon but many people aren’t going to make that jump.2 So consider this post more of a way you might mitigate harm while continuing using tools meant to bend your mind and warp your perceptions. Twitter Numbers One way these interfaces play games with your mind is by showing all kinds of numbers. You’ve got a score card for likes, retweets, followers etc. It becomes a shortcut. Is this tweet funny? 453 people fav’d it. Should I fav it too or is this just a bandwagon thing now? How good was my tweet? Did enough people retweet it? That extends even to following people. How many followers do they have? Are they worth following? It can make you skip really looking at the content. One path out of Twitter’s attempt to manipulate you via numbers is Benjamin Grosser’s Twitter Demetricator. It’s a browser plugin3 that removes all those numbers replacing them […]

My Internet. One Course at a Time.

This post was originally published on Cole Camplese https://www.colecamplese.com/2018/02/my-internet-one-course-at-a-time/ on February 28th 2018.

I sit in my spare time these days searching my mind for sites to visit. I hit The Verge, NYT, and maybe a couple of other places that are familiar to me regularly. I still spend more time every morning browsing my RSS feeds via Feedly then I do resolving any random URLs. I only … Continue reading My Internet. One Course at a Time.

What if the United States decided to cancel all student debt?

This post was originally published on Bryan Alexander https://bryanalexander.org/future-of-education/what-if-the-united-states-decided-to-cancel-all-student-debt/ on February 13th 2018.

What would happen if the United States decided to cancel all student debt? A Bard College economics research team (Scott Fullwiler, Stephanie Kelton, Catherine Ruetschlin, and Marshall Steinbaum) decided to explore what such a bold near-term future could look like … Continue reading →

PLATO and the History of Education Technology (That Wasn’t)

This post was originally published on Hack Education http://hackeducation.com/2018/01/25/plato on January 25th 2018. Republished here via Zapier.

The computer scientist Bret Victor gave a keynote back in 2013 that I return to again and again. (See? Keynotes need not be a waste of time and energy!) In “The Future of Programming,” he offers a history of programming – or more accurately, a history of programming developments that were never widely adopted. That is to say, not the future of programming.
The conceit of Victor’s talk: he delivers it as if it’s 1973, using an overhead projector in lieu of PowerPoint slides, and the future he repeatedly points to is our present-day. With hindsight, we know that the computer languages and frameworks he talks about haven’t been embraced, that this future hasn’t come to pass. But as Victor repeats again and again, it would be such a shame if the inventions he recounts were ignored; it would be a shame if in forty years, we were still coding in procedures in text files in a sequential programming model, for example. “That would suggest we didn’t learn anything from this really fertile period in computer science. So that would kind of be a tragedy. Even more of a tragedy than these ideas not being used would be if these ideas were forgotten.” But the biggest tragedy, says Victor, would be if people forgot that you could have new ideas and different ideas about programming in the first place, if a new generation was never introduced to these old ideas and therefore believed there is only one model of programming, one accepted and acceptable way of thinking about and thinking with computers. That these new generations “grow up with dogma.”
Victor mentions an incredibly important piece of education technology history in passing in his talk: PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations), built on the ILLIAC I at the University of Illinois. PLATO, which operated out of the university’s Computer-based Education Research Laboratory (CERL) from 1960 to 1993, does represent in some ways a path that education technology (and computing technology more broadly) did not take. But if and when when its innovations were adopted (and, yes, many of them were), PLATO remained largely uncredited for its contributions.
PLATO serves in Victor’s talk as an example, along with Douglas Englebart’s NLS, of the development in the 1960s of interactive, real-time computing. In forty years time, Victor tells his imagined 1970s audience, our user interfaces will never have any delay or lag because of Moore’s Law and because “these guys have proven how important it is to have an immediately responsive UI” – a quip that anyone who’s spent time waiting for operating systems or software programs to respond can understand and chuckle remorsefully about.
This idea that computers could even attempt to offer immediate feedback – typing a letter on a keyboard and immediately seeing it rendered on a screen – was certainly new in the 1960s, as processing was slow, memory was minute, and data had to move from an input device back to a central computer and then back again to some sort of display. But the “fast round trip” between terminal and mainframe was hardly the only innovation associated with PLATO, as Brian Dear chronicles in his book The Friendly Orange Glow. That very glow was another one – the flat-panel plasma touchscreen invented by the PLATO team in 1967. There were many other advances too: the creation of time-sharing, discussion boards, instant messaging, a learning management system or sorts, and multi-user game-play, to name just a few.
The subtitle of Dear’s book – “The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture” – speaks directly to his larger project: making sure the pioneering contributions of PLATO are not forgotten.
If and when PLATO is remembered (in education technology circles at least), it is as an early example of computer-assisted instruction – and often, it’s denigrated as such. Perhaps that should be no surprise – education technology is fiercely dogmatic. And it was already fiercely dogmatic by the 1960s, when PLATO was first under development. The field had, in the decades prior, developed a certain set of precepts and convictions – even if, as Victor contends in his talk at least, computing at the time had (mostly) not.
Dear begins his book where many histories of education technology do: with the story of how Harvard psychology professor B. F. Skinner had, in the late 1950s, visited his daughter’s fourth grade classroom, been struck by its in efficiencies, and argued that teaching machines would ameliorate this. The first mechanisms that Skinner built were not computerized; they were boxes with levers and knobs. But they were designed to offer students immediate feedback – positive reinforcement when students gave the correct answer, a key element to Skinner’s behaviorist theories. Skinner largely failed to commercialize his ideas, but his influence on the design of instructional machines was significant nonetheless, as behaviorism had already become a cornerstone of the nascent field of educational psychology and a widely accepted theory as to how people learn.
At its outset, the Computer-based Education Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois did not hire instructional technologists to develop PLATO. The lab was not governed by educational psychologists – behaviorists or otherwise. The programming language that was developed so that “anyone” could create a lesson module on the system — TUTOR — did not demand an allegiance to any particular learning theory. As one education professor told Brian Dear, CERL did not operate “under any kind of psychological banner. They just didn’t seem to be driven by psychological underpinnings. They were driven by a more pragmatic approach: you work with students, you work with content, you work with the technology, you put it together in a way that feels good and it will work. Whether it’s consistent with somebody’s psychology is a quickly irrelevant question.”
But it seems more likely, if we examine the history of PLATO (and perhaps even the histories of education technology and of computing technologies), that this is not really an irrelevant question at all – not in the long run at least. Certainly, the open-ended-ness of the PLATO system, as well as the PLATO culture at UI, fostered the myriad of technological innovations that Dear chronicles in The Friendly Orange Glow. But the influence of psychology on the direction of education technology – and to be clear, this was not just behaviorism, of course, but cognitive psychology – has been profound. It shaped the expectations for what instructional technology should do. It shaped the expectations for what PLATO should be. (I’d add too that psychological theories have been quite influential on the direction of computing technology itself, although I think this has been rather unexamined.)
The Friendly Orange Glow is a history of PLATO – one that has long deserved to be told and that Dear does with meticulous care and detail. (The book was some three decades in the making.) But it’s also a history of why, following Sputnik, the US government came to fund educational computing. Its also – in between the lines, if you will – a history of why the locus of computing and educational computing specifically shifted to places like MIT, Xerox PARC, Stanford. The answer is not “because the technology was better” – not entirely. The answer has to do in part with funding – what changed when these educational computing efforts were no longer backed by federal money and part of Cold War era research but by venture capital. (Spoiler alert: it changes the timeline. It changes the culture. It changes the mission. It changes the technology.) And the answer has everything to do with power and ideology – with dogma.
Bret Victor credits the message and content of his keynote to computer scientist Alan Kay, who once famously said that “the best way to predict the future is to build it.” (Kay, of course, appears several times in The Friendly Orange Glow because of his own contributions to computing, not to mention the competition between CERL and PARC where Kay worked and their very different visions of the future). But to be perfectly frank, the act of building alone is hardly sufficient. The best way to predict the future may instead be to be among those who mythologize what’s built, who tell certain stories, who craft and uphold the dogma about what is built and how it’s used.
To a certain extent, the version of “personal computing” espoused by Kay and by PARC has been triumphant. That is, PLATO’s model – networked terminals that tied back to a central machine – was not. Perhaps it’s worth considering how dogmatic computing has become about “personal” and “personalization” – what its implications might be for the shape of programming and for education technology, sure, but also what it means for the kinds of values and communities that are built without any sort of “friendly glow.”