I Told You So

I Told You So
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In 2012, in a Wired article on "The Stanford Education Experiment [that] Could Change Higher Education Forever," Sebastian Thrun – then still a Stanford professor and a Google engineer – pronounced that, in fifty years time, there would only be ten universities left in the world and that his online education company Udacity would be one of them.

Hahahaha. No. I said, it would not.

This week, Udacity, which has raised over $230 million in venture capital in the last decade, was quietly sold to the consulting company Accenture for an undisclosed sum. Oh sure, folks still called the company a "unicorn" because it had raised so much money. But Udacity has been a steaming pile of horse shit since the outset.

And I said so. Indeed, shortly after Thrun's bold predictions about his company and the future of education, he himself had to admit that his startup actually offered a "lousy product." There were multiple pivots, all in the hopes of discovering, as he put it to some gullible reporter, the "magic formula" for teaching and learning. Investors, including Marc Andreessen, kept throwing money at him, despite the failures. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I bring this up today – in this newsletter that I admittedly started to avoid writing about education technology – for a couple of reasons. I mean, obviously, because as the subject line of this email says, I told you so. I told you so. I told you so. I told you so. I've received a number of inquiries recently to speak to groups about education technology, and honestly, I'm not sure what I'd say to a group of teachers or scholars or university IT administrators other than "I told you so." Maybe "pull your shit together. This stuff is bad politically. It's not even that exciting technologically. Come on." That's five sentences. Hardly a keynote.)

But maybe you all need to be reminded? Indeed, the Bloomberg article announcing the Udacity acquisition opens by asking "Remember education technology?" Reading this, I had to laugh out loud to stop from crying. Not because, as it asserts a paragraph or so into the story, that Udacity was an "industry pioneer" waaaay back in 2012 (are you fucking kidding me?! Stop it); but because that's even a question. "Remember education technology"?! Seriously?! We have utterly memory-holed the fact that we spent all of 2020 thru 2021 online, doing Zoom School, up to our necks in education technology, drowning in the industry's abundance of "lousy products."

We've forgotten.

And I guess we've forgotten too, what with all this talk lately about artificial intelligence and education being the "hot new thing" poised to utterly revolutionize everything about school, that the academic discipline of Thrun, along with his fellow Stanford professors (and Coursera founders) Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, was artificial intelligence. Their background in machine learning was supposed to give them some wicked insights into how humans learned. Or at least into how Silicon Valley could automate the hell out of the educational process (and save money and bust unions – pretty much the goal of most digital technologies lately and likely what Marc Andreessen meant when he crowed that software was eating the world).

As I argued in my book Teaching Machines the entire history of education technology, from the first decades of the twentieth century, has been bound up in this quest to automate education. And much of the early history of artificial intelligence too, ever since folks cleverly rebranded it from "cybernetics," was deeply intertwined with the building of various chatbots and robot tutors. So if you're out there today trying to convince people that AI in education is something brand new, you're either a liar or a fool – or maybe both.

Oh, but Audrey. This time, it's different.

And so here we are, with folks like Sal Khan from Khan Academy acting as though they're breaking new ground with chatbots and robot tutors – acting as though they're outsiders and upstarts even though their version of ed-tech, their vision of a highly surveilled and engineered classroom, has been the dominant model for teaching and learning since at least "The Year of the MOOC."

Remember the year of the MOOC? Yeah. I didn't think so.

Anyway, with that off my chest, here's a quick round-up of what industry – technology and tech-adjacent – wants to do to our bodies, not just our brains: via Outside: "The Latest Cycling Controversy Involves This Crazy Helmet." Also in cycling (helmet) news, "Why Bicycle Deaths in New York City Are at a 24-Year High." STAT reports that the "FDA clears first over-the-counter continuous glucose monitor." The Guardian on chat bots as therapists. (Not mentioned: one of the very first chatbots, back in the mid-1960s, was a Rogerian psychotherapist. But yeah. History. Why bother, I guess. Everything is so new. So exciting.)

Elsewhere in sports and the business of sports (technology): Jake Paul will fight Mike Tyson in a boxing match live-streamed on Netflix. I deeply appreciate Sarah Lavender Smith's thoughts on Lululemon's recent endurance event for women, Further. Apparently RFK Jr is considering choosing Aaron Rodgers as his running mate. The Jets jokes just write themselves, don't they.

And finally, a local donut controversy.

I'm supposed to run a (virtual) half marathon this weekend – it's likely going to be a run/walk situation – and then on Sunday, I'll be at the hydration station at Mile 11 on the NYC Half Marathon course. I'll update you on Monday on how this whole no-watch running thing is going.

Thanks for reading Second Breakfast. Consider becoming a paid subscriber, if only to help convince me that I should not accept any paid speaking gigs in ed-tech. (I don't need any convincing as much as I need an income.)