Bias in Reporting = Bias in Thinking = Bias in Reporting

One of the reputable news sources I go to with regularity is The Conversation.  I recommend it.

Today there is a post regarding research done on the reporting of mass shootings, and specifically on the characterization of the person doing the killing*.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a stark difference in how White American killers are portrayed, vs. Latinos or African Americans.  (BTW fewer than 1% of the cases studied from 2013 -2015 featured female killers).

shooting profile

The above chart is featured in this report, and I encourage the readers to read it, and then commit, or re-commit, to the practice of telling new and different stories (to ourselves) about people for whom we may hold bias – the poor, the racially different from us, the ethnically or religiously different, etc.

I find this to be a useful practice:  I tell myself a different, interesting, perhaps compassionate story about the person I see that normally I would brush off, or otherwise rapidly categorize in some way.  So when I see the young and hoodied person of color looking shiftless on the sidewalk, I remember my own youth.  I remember being shy.  I remember seeking to hide in my clothing.  I remember following fashion trends (to my close friends, that comment will make them laugh out loud).

And then I seek to look him in the eye, and smile.

Good luck 🙂

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A Brave and Startling Truth

exoplanets

My hope is that, as we continue to discover more and more about our place in the galaxy and universe, that this outward expansion of inquiry will be accompanied by an equally-deep introspection into who we are as people, and how we will be with one another, and with our natural world that sustains us.

A Brave and Startling Truth

Maya Angelou, 1995maya-angelou_D1TR3

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse

When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world

When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

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Killing Time

https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6427459251555438593

Thinking about this over coffee as well. I fear we may be falling further into a reductionist mode of thinking that killing perpetrators is an appropriate answer to violent crime. Jeffrey Fagan, professor of Law and Public Health at Columbia University points out (in 2006) the lack of validity or reliability of evidence that would support such thinking:

“There is no reliable, scientifically sound evidence that pits execution against a robust set of competing explanations to identify whether it can exert a deterrent effect that is uniquely and sufficiently powerful to overwhelm these consistent and recurring epidemic patterns. These flaws and omissions in a body of scientific evidence render it unreliable as a basis for law or policy that generate life-and-death decisions. To accept it uncritically invites errors that have the most severe human costs.” (https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/FaganDeterrence.pdf)

I happen to know an expert witness MD (in anesthesiology) from a prominent US hospital that regularly is called upon to comment on the mis-administration of one form of capital punishment, lethal injections. I would much rather see our government and institutions focused on the root causes of why and how such violence happens, and then to propose and create mechanisms for mitigating those causes.

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Game of Clones?

oregon-trail

Oregon Trail – circa 1990

Having attended a serious games conference last week, I’m going to list my likes, concerns and suggestions for the folks working in the industry, and those who are seeking to buy games for learning.  Overall, I fear a game of clones is afoot.

The industry:  What I mean by this is the array of companies that are catering to the needs of educational, corporate, military, healthcare, non-profits and others, seeking to design and deliver game-based experiences that advance relevant learning for included stakeholder groups.

What?!  (Jargon meter pegs to 10…)

Okay:

Game-based experiences:  These can be board games, mobile games, desktop computer games, or headset (VR) games that serve as a part or whole of a learning-related design.

Relevant learning:  The game helps players uncover, challenge, and integrate new knowledge that is helpful to them in their context.

Stakeholder groups:  This would include employees, customers, partner institutions, or members of the general public, who all have some part to play in the value chain of the company or institution in question.

LIKES:  There are are a number of good things that are evident in the sessions and through examples of the work that various providers are creating:

  • Integrating design thinking:  There is some awareness building of doing a better job of ’empathizing’ with eventual users of the game / service / product in question.  While this can slow the process down, sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.
  • Mixing realities:  There are some excellent examples of games created that cause people to visit and/or interact with real spaces, people and objects.  I think this is a productive trend as it has the potential to bring learners into exercising curiosity practically – in other words, there is the possibility of integrating the real world into the game play scenario for faster transfer of learning into practical application.  Whenever we can make people curious about the content and matters at hand, that’s a good thing.
  • Incorporating stories:  We all intuitively know the power of a good story, and there is good reason to believe that well designed stories will promote longer-term memory.  Plus the story gives meaningful context and provides a great structure for an episodic approach to the game.  Think of Oregon Trail.
  • Increasing sophistication:  There is some indication of a general increase, to my mind, of sophistication in thinking about the role of games, design dimensions of the game experience, and the mapping of that experience to a larger flow of learning.  This is a good thing.

CONCERNS:

  • Assuming game designers are good at design thinking:  This is a problem that has been brought forward recently; that design thinking is both a process and a discipline that leverages truly creative thinking.  I fear that there may be a broad dehydration of the depth of the process and intolerance of the perceived inefficiencies.  Not everyone is a designer.  Designing well takes time.
  • A lack of critical analysis of the research on learning and transfer of knowledge.  Some game developers are wrapped around the interaction (as they call it), mimicking real-world assembly of objects, for example.  Current technologies do not even come close to approximating the haptic (felt) reality of moving physical pieces.  I think this is faulty thinking – that simply moving a virtual gear onto a spindle with VR controllers will give the learner a full and transferable appreciation of what that entails.
  • Games for good are waning:  I did not see many  (any?) examples of games built to help address core social, economic and environmental issues facing our nation and planet.  Games are uniquely situated (as a methodology) to involve people in these epic battles.   Just ask Jane McGonigal.
  • Money.  Money.  Money.  Some presentations for the K-12 sector were made by private school teachers or companies that cater to specific schools that can afford their products.  While it’s wonderful to see the amazing use of context-aware, mobile, augmented-reality gaming to bring local history and a fictional story together, the entire process was funded by kids whose parents forked out over $30,000 a year (in tuition only).  This is particularly concerning.  I would like to see the very best educational experiences provided to all students.

SUGGESTIONS:

  • Serious Game designers – take the d.school course on Design Thinking, if you haven’t.  Integrate that into your workflow.
  • US Dept of Public Instruction – divert attention away from advancing the charter / private school voucher agenda, and put money into game development for all curricula (not just STEM).
  • Beware of fidelity trap:  there is a strong attraction to creating visually (and aurally) high-fidelity worlds.  There is, however, some good research that indicates that not everything needs to be so.  Just look at Minecraft for a great example of low-fidelity, high-engagement design.  This falls into the realm of ‘just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.’

If we don’t pay attention, we could fall into the trap of creating clones of game-based experiences that emphasize the wrong points of focus, miss the mark on content and interaction, cost too much, and only serve a particular segment of the population.

Let’s create better games for everyone!

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Pre-Fascism in the US

fascism

Featured at the US Holocaust Museum in Washington DC

The warning signs abound: Polarization of society; militarization of the police forces; nationalistic policies;  criminalization of minorities and immigrants;  melding of extremist religious views with political discourse and policy-making; the dismantling of social welfare programs.  The list probably goes on.

Terry Gross conducted a fascinating interview with Gabriel Sherman, a Vanity Fair reporter and author of The Loudest Voice in the Room, a biography of Roger Ailes, former CEO and Chairman of Fox News and Fox Television Stations.

Have a listen here:

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/628997989/628997995

Meanwhile, Fintan O’Toole of the Irish Times characterizes this time in American history as a series of trial-runs of fascism.

This is indeed a time in which deep reflection and questioning is called for – questioning of the news sources we trust, the politicians we have elected, and the values we uphold and how we uphold them.  Ultimately, I believe this is going to have to be answered with compassion paired with strong civil disobedience.

We need compassion to understand those who disagree with us and what their stories are, and we will need to tap into that fine, patriotic history of implementing civil disobedience to disrupt the pre-fascist flow, and to bring forward the voices calling for a return to deeply held values around justice and equality for all.

As O’Toole concludes:

Millions and millions of Europeans and Americans are learning to think the unthinkable. So what if those black people drown in the sea? So what if those brown toddlers are scarred for life? They have already, in their minds, crossed the boundaries of morality. They are, like Macbeth, “yet but young in deed”. But the tests will be refined, the results analysed, the methods perfected, the messages sharpened. And then the deeds can follow.

In the spirit of forming the more perfect union….

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Ecosystem change & Organisational Design [part 1]

Julian Stodd – a great thinker, author and instigator – has a bead on how organizations must reflect the context of the ecosystem in which they operate.   I see this as a logical extension of the invention, dissemination and adoption of internet-based technologies.  Some time ago we saw the shift from consumerism of online content, for example, to democratized production and contribution of the same.  Readers became authors.

Have a read – I think you, like me, will be excited by Julian’s ideas.

via Ecosystem change & Organisational Design [part 1]

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Total Disruption in Learning and Development! (maybe not)

I subscribe to a number of education-related publications, and there is currently a stylistic approach across many of them (and, generically, in the popular media) of relying upon sensationalism and hyperbole to drive heart rates up, in hopes of garnering interest (and of course the related retweets, likes and shares) around whatever the latest amazing technology is.

Lately, the frenzy has been around artificial intelligence (AI) and mixed realities (VR, AR, etc.), with various Paul Reveres signaling the end of the world as we know it.   This almost entirely positive spin rarely addresses the needs of ALL people, however.  National Public Radio reviewed an article by Pearson Education and posited a more circumspect view when it comes to AI in education:

So one great fear when it comes to the Pearson vision of AIEd is that we reproduce existing inequalities. Some students get individualized attention from highly skilled human teachers who use the best learning software available to inform their practice. Other students get less face time with lower-skilled teachers plus TutorBots that imperfectly simulate human interaction.

This is of critical importance, and I will be addressing this notion of equity in access in other postings.  But for now, let’s just try to calm down, and remember that some good folk have gone before us, and that some principles endure.

At this point in my life and career, I’ve seen a number of ed tech trends and have watched as some have grandstanded about the imminent revolution these technologies would bring. Remember educational television (beamed into classrooms)?  Remember e-learning?  Remember the learning management system?  Remember the MOOC?

I think it’s useful to learn from those that have gone before us – occasionally debunking some sketchy ideas while also building on the good ones.  Here are just a few good starting points that give us some comfort in knowledge from the past, and some guidance for how we avoid hyperbolizing:

  • Einstein, 1930:  “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

    Albert_Einstein   ken-robinson

Sir Ken Robinson has also expounded on the importance of imagination; and as we look to a new wave of technological innovation, we will need this more than ever – especially as we are faced with entire populations of people that will need to learn new skills.

  • Dewey, 1930:  “Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.”

    john-dewey

John Dewey – A bright light in the development of learning theories very early on talked about the opportunity for learning from failure.  Today we are hearing quite a bit about this, typically framed in a conversation about innovation, and this has always been a feature of good simulations.  It is also worth noting Dewey’s phrase “…person who really thinks…”.  This simply reinforces the need to provide space for reflection and honest assessment.

  • Freire, 1970:  “Education [is]… the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

    paulo-freire

Transformation is everywhere, according to some.  This too, is nothing particularly new, but one could argue that it is accelerating as the global connective tissue of the internet, culture and economies strengthens and expands.  Relevant question for today:  What are we doing to provide education that emphasizes critical thinking and provides individual agency as digital transformation occurs?

  • Knowles, 1980: “… learning activities will be based on the real needs and interests of the participants…”

    malcolm-knowles

I’ve seen a number of recent posts and webinar advertisements for discussions of ‘adult learning‘.  I’ve always questioned this over-emphasis on differentiating adult from child learning.  Having taught everyone from 6 year olds to 60 year olds, I can tell you that there is just not that much difference!  However, this principle shared by Knowles will always be central to good education design.

  • Jonassen, 2000:  “Mindtools are knowledge construction tools that learners learn with, not from.”

    david-jonassen

Jonassen, a constructivist, pointed out the proper view we should take on using technology to facilitate learning – that ‘mindtools’ as he called them (computers, and digital resources) should be used to help learners creatively explore an area of study or interest.  We’ve seen, I think, an over-emphasis on using digital tools to create and push content, rather than providing tools that help learners capture, edit, create and share their own.

Warning:  Anytime you hear someone talking about ‘consuming content‘, that should raise a flag in your mind about the underlying role that is assumed of the learners in question, and whether or not there is a potential recreation at hand of the ancient idea of dumping knowledge into brains.

So:  Let’s relax just a bit, and maybe hesitate before we ‘consume’ that latest super-tasty hyper-urgent, hyperbolic declaration of imminent radical change.  With a bit of reflection, we may realize that some time-tested truths will remain, and that our critical review will help us build more, and possibly even better, future applications of technology in learning.

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