Author Archives: Shani Tzoref

a mini-rant about link in Watters’ reading

First, thanks to Luke, Kathleen, and Carolyn.
I’m still inclined to to try to do some kind of project paper for this course, and I find Luke’s breakdown of options helpful… but have still not yet managed to tackle. Am working on our course readings first…. and followed Watters’ link to What Faculty Should Know About Adaptive Learning.
I think Feldstein’s article itself is fine, maybe even valuable, but I was really put off by this paragraph:

Here are a few examples of adaptive learning in action:
A student using a physics program answers quiz questions about angular momentum incorrectly, so the program offers supplemental materials and more practice problems on that topic.
A history student answers questions about the War of the Roses correctly the first time, so the program waits an interval of time and then requizzes the student to make sure that she is able to remember the information.
A math student makes a mistake with the specific step of factoring polynomials while attempting to solve a polynomial equation, so the program provides the student with extra hints and supplemental practice problems on that step.
An ESL writing student provides incorrect subject/verb agreement in several places within her essay, so the program provides a lesson on that topic and asks the student to find and correct her mistakes.

This feels to me like a demo for what is wrong with adaptive learning approaches– “customizing” in contrast to authentic “personalizing”. Feldstein plugged in variables of word-pairs in each of his “specific” examples. But they are in fact nearly interchangeable! Take “physics/angular momentum”, “history/War of the Roses”, “math/specific step of factoring polynomials/attempting to solve a polynomial equation” and “ESL writing/ subject/verb agreement/ essay” and move them around within the four examples, and mostly it’ll make no difference. yes, there’s “information” for history, and “practice problems” for physics and math, but much of the language is blandly one-size-fits-all, and those minor tweaks do not change much.
So, I am feeling frustrated by what I perceive as the inescapable pervasiveness of our #algorithmic_dystopia; and feeling frustrated by my cynicism, but preferring it to the alternative of naivete…. and grateful for this space in which to rant.

Contextualizing Contexts: Time, Space, Culture…

I’m not really ready to post my response to this week’s readings, since I’m still processing a lot of new information and perspectives. And I’ve not yet finished reading The Innovative University, partly because I find it’s commercial premise so distressing. But, since I’m running out of time to post this by monday morning…. I’ll try to pin down and extract some of my swirling thoughts. And consider our readings in terms of temporal, spatial, and other categories of contexts.


A number of the readings were self-reflective about Ed. Tech.’s limited self-reflectiveness about its history. This seems to be partly a function of its interdisciplinarity, and the fact that ed. tech is often a secondary, instrumental, discipline for academics engaged in it, and partly a function of a continued sense of novelty, of always being on the verge. [*edit: this explicit in Weller]. I found Watters (on Teaching Machines) and Fletcher to be particularly helpful for contextualizing ed. tech. within the history of developments in visual technology in the 20th century, and Weller and Downes for zooming in to late-20th – 21st century web technology.
This pull-quote from Watters links to our Week 1 topic of “Definitions”:

“It’s difficult to pinpoint “the first” teaching machine. It depends, of course, on how you define such a thing.”

More generally, I appreciate how the authors are attentive to context, and self-reflective about their sensitivities. Thus, Watters description of her planned book: “Teaching Machines, under contract with MIT Press, chronicles the history of this century-old belief that the automation of education is necessary (and is surely coming any day now)”, and the fact that she maintains a blog about it. At the same time, she is efficient about using visual clues and tech conventions to supply context. A snapshot of the timeline illustrates:


My impression is that our readings are primarily focused on the U.S. (though this might be a misimpression, reflecting my own inattention).
Some of the readings touch upon primary and secondary education, but most are about the university, and a bit about possible substitutes or supplements to the conventional US university.
I found Fletcher and McMillan Cottom particularly useful for spatial contextualization, partly figuratively, in their discussion of ecosystems and platforms.
My attempt to think about spatial context is invariably intertwined with the sociology of space, and so, to….


McMillan Cottom’s grappling with demographic realities and pragmatism is encouraging for thinking about adaptation of pedagogy to the real world. ( As above, I am finding Skim Christensen and Eyring depressing and distressing).
I appreciate that many of the readings push back against technological utopianism.
Number 31 in Watters’ list of debacles resonates very strongly for me, The Gentrification of Sesame Street. Because the blend of good and bad, the co-opting of good for bad, can be so subtle sometimes, so challenging. As Wellers says of social media, “What we are now wrestling with is the paradox of social media: the fact that its negatives and its positives exist simultaneously.”

Privacy, metrics, open-source, again the class & economics issues….

a couple of random observations:
I was a bit put off at first by some of Watters’ anger:

“I decided to do something similar: chronicle for you a decade of ed-tech failures and fuck-ups and flawed ideas.

Oh yes, I’m sure you can come up with some rousing successes and some triumphant moments that made you thrilled about the 2010s and that give you hope for “the future of education.” Good for you. But that’s not my job. (And honestly, it’s probably not your job either.)”

I wrote in my notes:
I’m not sure what she’s getting at with “job”, but why not?  Why does everything need to be polemic? I’m all for ditching the alleged objectivity and neutrality of “modern science” including tech, or for seeking fairness in “balance”, but I think that a positive aspect of post-modernism is to permit and enable critical thinkers to move beyond being “for or against”; more precisely, to stand aside from argumentation, to give fair representative well-rounded reports and evaluations as a basis for impassioned advocacy.
But i think i welcome the voice of Cassandra alongside some of the more neutral voices we read.
Part of what disturbs me about Christensen and Eyring is what feels to me to be reductive pandering to our metrics-based society; Harvard as the benchmark; Hermann Hesse summarized as “Nobel Laureate”.


One of the challenges raised for me in this week’s readings is the value of non-obvious contextualization. This reminded me of a reading from last semester’s Intro to DH course, Stephen Ramsay’s The Hermeneutics of Screwing Around; or What You Do with a Million Books.