Teacher/Coach as Algorithm

This BS. Again.

Last week, I was a guest on Neil Selwyn's Education Technology Society podcast. "Wait," I hear you say, "I thought you were done with ed-tech?!" And I am! But as Selwyn deftly points out in our conversation, there is a helluva lot of overlap between education- and fitness technologies, not simply because many of the same companies are manufacturing the hardware and software for both.

Optimization. Data-fication. Behavior modification. These are the values and practices — the ideology — of the technology industry writ large, regardless of the field in which the gadgets are put to use. Sometimes, as with education, these values can come into conflict with conventional ideas and methods — say, a shift in seeing education as a public good and collective experience to one that's a hyper-individualized endeavor.

Image credits...

What's always fascinated me, however, was that for all the talk of "personalization," what's actually offered in much of the software — something I trace back to the teaching machines of the early twentieth century in my book — is merely a re-presentation of standardization, just with some flexibility of the order in which or the pace with which one moves through the prescribed course of study. Ed-tech tools take "the curriculum" — the content students are supposed to (are required to) learn — and then promise “personalization” by taking the massive amounts of data they've extracted from students — individually and collectively — to present the curriculum in ways that purport to be catered to each student's individual knowledge and skills. This is School of One. This is Dreambox. This is the Khan Academy "playlist." This is Skinner's teaching machine. Etc etc etc.