Current Readings on Critical Education and Ed Tech

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Just wanting to share a few thought-provoking sources that I have been reading lately. I view these sources are related in that they take a critical look at issues and trends in Higher Education. In the more library-centric world, it’s been interesting to watch the #CritLib (Critical Library) discussion on Twitter really gain momentum and mature this past year, tough it seems to me that related critical discussions around education, ed tech and higher ed have yet to gain the same kind of momentum. Maybe we need a good hashtag around this. Or maybe there is one I have just overlooked?

Nonetheless, there are lots of interesting, individual articles, blogs, presentations, tweets, and whatnot that take a critical look at education. These three highlights have caught my attention recently and have led to productive reflection. I’m looking forward to following up with their sources and uncovering more critical thinking on education, higher ed, and ed tech.


The Compulsion for Data

This article is part of Audrey Watters’ Hack Education report on Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2015, which includes many other crucial, thought pieces to chew on. These pieces will make you reconsider how and why you and others on your campus are using many popular educational technologies.

This particular article speaks to me because I’m finding myself actively engaged in data on several fronts. I’ve been working on improving our library’s data collection at the research desk, during instruction sessions and for year end reporting. Additionally, I’ve been getting involved in a new MSU collaboration between the Library and IT called Data Infrastructure and Scholarly Communication (DISC). Plus, my colleague Sara Mannheimer and I have recently developed a sequence of data literacy lessons for undergraduates. So data has been on my mind and it’s a refreshing wake-up call to consider Watters’ points that critically investigate and challenge the dominant paradigm of data collection, interpretation and use in education.


The Digital Labor of Digital Learning

In this article Neil Selwyn, Education Faculty at Monash University in Melbourne, identifies five trends in digital education work that we need to critically question. Basically Selwyn proposes judging educational technology in terms of the labor of teachers and students. Selwyn pin-points clear areas where digital technologies make education labor more difficult and complex. Lots of great things to think about here in relation to my personal work practices and managing expectations of myself and my colleagues. Similiar to Watters, this article raises critical questions around personalized learning, plagiarism detection, and early intervention tools. Also raises the important question of who benefits from efficiency in education and risks of exploitation.


Student Evaluations of Teaching (Mostly) Do Not Measure Teaching Effectiveness

This article published in ScienceOpen Research by Anne Boring, Kellie Ottoboni, Philip Stark takes a critical and thoroughly statistical look at the reliability and bias of student evaluations of teaching. Full disclosure, I’ve mostly just skimmed this at this point, however the main claims it makes are clear and merit attention.

I can still remember filling out these kind of evaluations, and despite my best intentions to provide useful feedback, there were many times when I questioned my ability to do so. From my memory, a significant part of the difficulty is due to the timing at the end of course and the complicated emotions, thoughts and pressures on students at that time.

There are many variables and this is surely a complex thing to study, but for me the big take-aways are that these evaluations are not the end all, be all and should be used with caution when making rulings on teacher effectiveness and that we must be attuned to, and account for gender and race bias in these evaluations. Something that must be kept in mind for anyone involved in reviewing others and themselves. These student evaluations must be viewed as just one part of the puzzle of teaching effectiveness.

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