The best experiences I’ve had were all learning experiences—not educational ones.
What is learning anyways?
Management trainer Martin M. Broadwell described the levels of learning model as “the four levels of teaching” in February 1969.
Levels of learning (four stages of competence):
- Unconscious incompetence: you don’t know what you don’t know and cannot recognize deceit
- Conscious incompetence: you know what you do not know and can recognize deceit
- Conscious competence: you know what you know but demonstrating it requires great effort
- Unconscious competence: what you know is second nature and teaching comes easily
You start with a wrong intuition. Then a wrong analysis. Then you start getting right analysis. And then develop a right intuition.
And the only way to get there is to practice. The most effective form of learning is practice.
In a similar vein, you may have heard of Bloom’s taxonomy or Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. The 2001 revised version of Bloom’s learning objectives in the cognitive domain (knowledge-based):
Both are often depicted as a hierarchical pyramid.
Moving through the four stages of competence and looking back on where I used to be is one of the most intoxicating feelings.
I would consider most of my education, which I acknowledge is exceptionally privileged, to be within the bottom rung—remember.
Notably, this has led to the ultimate question for students being educated: will this be on the test?
So, if learning is the acquisition of knowledge or skill, what is education?
Education versus Learning
Learning is a thing learned by experience, an acquisition of knowledge.
You get, purchase, acquire, and cheat an education. But you can do none of those to learning.
Education is an approach to learning.
A top-down industrial approach that optimizes for quantifiable compliance and subservience over new thinking.
An instructional system where we struggle to transform people into people who care.
And that’s an uncomfortable truth—most people don’t give a shit.
That means something to the ones that do when the fear of thinking really different is stronger than the fear of death.
The courage to defy the tribe’s standard ways of thinking is not something that comes naturally.
And tribes tend to love hierarchy.
We have Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate degrees.
Summa cum laude, Magna cum laude, and cum laude—with highest praise, with great praise, and with praise are the graduation honorary titles.
We have “Ivy League schools” to refer to a select eight schools with connotations of academic excellence, selectivity in admissions, and social elitism.
This isn’t to say “hierarchy is bad.” No, there’s a reason for that fence.
But it’s worth asking, why do we do this at all?
Student vs. Apprentice
While writing this I came across this tweet with something I hadn’t thought about.
Student vs. Apprentice:— Jack Butcher (@jackbutcher) December 2, 2020
"Memorize this and we'll give you a certificate that confirms you memorized it — by the way, you owe us $200,000."
"Choose a skill, practice relentlessly, and we'll pay you more as you get better."
This aligns with my recent epiphany when studying for this year’s exams: our education system only works by limiting access to information.
You know somethings fishy when your education system only works by limiting access to information.
Traditional schooling is based on top-down power, fear and an elusive carrot. It uses brute force to move large numbers of people down a straight line of education toward a norm.
Lectures are at the heart of the last century of higher learning. A proven scholar orates in front of a class of selected students.
Tests are the way institutions enforce compliance. They’re the stick.
And accreditation is the carrot. Put up with the lectures and the tests and we’ll give you the certificate, the scarce piece of paper that is (supposed to be) worth far more than the effort you went through to get certified.
Seth Godin set out to find a different way to teach online in with altMBA:
At its core: enrollment, not tests. Experiences not media consumption. Peer to peer, not top down.
Enrollment means students are here because they want to be.
Experiences because they’re at the heart of change. We learn what we do, not what we’re told.
And peer to peer because it scales. We know it works, we’ve seen it in the companies built on the web. But most schools haven’t learned it yet, because the existing bureaucracy is built on the control that comes from going top down.
Websters 1913 dictionary (my favorite dictionary) defines the term “proctor” as
An officer in a university or college whose duty it is to enforce obedience to the laws of the institution.
One of my professors said this in an email.
Proctorio will be used as a replacement for how I would observe you, if we were together in the classroom.
Enforcing obedience is at the heart of education.
Is that what we want school to be for?
Online education makes use of Learning Management Systems (LMS). Absorb, Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle, Schoology, are all popular LMS providers.
Today, even before COVID, when you pay for school you’re partially paying for access to their LMS.
These tools are where schools create, distribute, and manage the delivery of educational content including:
Everything that used done by people handing papers to each other is now handled by software.
But how will schools enforce obedience in online education? They can’t proctor students in person!
Ah not a problem, we don’t believe in privacy here anyways.
Student Surveillance Applications
The solution is easy, pay a third party that’s developed software to monitor and record students:
- Connected devices
- Connected storage devices
- Browser applications and extensions
- Browser privacy settings
- Keyboard strokes
- Head movement
- Eye movement
- Number of faces in view
- Mouse movement
- Window resizes
And have that software look for and flag a student for:
- Changes in audio levels
- Abnormal clicking
- Abnormal copy & pastes
- Abnormal exam duration
- End times
- Eye movement
- Multiple faces in view
- Head movement
- Abnormal movement of mouse
And ooo, now we have data! We can use other student data to compare students against a standard deviation from the average number of:
- Audio spikes
- Head movements
- Eye movements
- Mouse movements
And then immediately end a students test if they:
- Disconnect for over two minutes
- Attempt to modify page
- Attempt to download a file
- Plug in a monitor
- Plug or unplug a camera
- Plug or unplug a microphone
- Experience a “hardware malfunction”
- Switch networks
- Switch Proxies
- Reload tab
We can even make students scan their room and give that footage to professors and agents of the software.
Patriot Act (American Surveillance)
This all reminds me of what I’ve heard about the Patriot Act.
Through starting research for this project I learned that the full title for the Patriot act is “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.”
It was written after the September 11 attacks to tighten U.S. national security regarding foreign terrorism. For simplification included three main provisions:
- expanded abilities of law enforcement to surveil, including by tapping domestic and international phones;
- eased interagency communication by allowing federal agencies to use all available resources in counterterrorism efforts; and
- increased penalties for terrorism crimes and an expanded list of activities which would qualify someone to be charged with terrorism.
While certainly not the same circumstance, I think we’re all figuring out how far surveillance goes. (In the U.S, it goes all the way.)
Television is a huge advertising medium that’s increasingly under question whether to spending dollar on it as online platforms get bigger.
A significant reason is measuring. Ads on TV’s can be targeted and measured at the household level, but not at individual consumers as online platforms can.
We’re now seeing startups seeking to use eye-tracking to measure attention on TVs so:
- Businesses can disaggregate household viewing into individual viewing
- Business can get a better sense of ad visibility.
The whole point of direct response advertisers is to measure response rates through URL parameters or other tricks to see how much it drives sales. The goal of an ad is to get a click.
What is school for?
What we’re seeing today is the natural result of optimizing for the ability to enforce obedience.
What is school for? Is enforcing obedience what we want?
In 2012, Seth Godin gave the TedxYouth talk titled Stop Stealing Dreams and wrote a manifesto under the same name.
Please ask someone, “what is school for?” And don’t stop asking until we can agree on the answer and start taking action.
Students Pushing Back
Some students are standing up against schools using this format to enforce obedience. Erik Johnson at Miami University, Rogal Dorn at University of Texas at Dallas, Jazzy Brown at Florida International University, Aaryn Lewis at Washington State University, Patrick Sullivan at University of Massachusetts Lowell, Ethen White at the University of Colorado Boulder, Students at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, Students at The University of London, Students at The City University of New York, and Students at California State University Fullerton to name a few.
As a fellow student at Miami University and one of the more interesting cases I’ve come across, let me share with you the story of Erik Johnson.
September 7, 2020, 8:03 PM
Erik Johnson begins a Twitter thread:
Hey @proctorio @artfulhacker How do you explain this?— Erik Johnson (@ejohnson99) September 8, 2020
You have strings referencing
"A Proctorio agent will review and verify the test taker's room scan"
“live id check”
All while still saying that professors are the only ones who can access recordings and look at students?
The full thread is a lengthy exploration of how Proctorio monitors students and acts in bad faith. Johnson included links to Pastebin containing some of the code every student is required to download onto Chrome to have Proctorio monitor them alongside videos showing how Proctorio works.
The videos Proctorio uploaded to show how Proctorio works were removed from public access and the CEO of Proctorio filed a DCMA takedown request on Johnsons tweets and the Pastebins.
Here’s a few more timelined articles on the events.
- September 8, 2020: Erik Johnson publishes the Twitter thread
- September 24, 2020: Vice publishes Students Are Rebelling Against Eye-Tracking Exam Surveillance Tools
- September 28, 2020: “This paste has been deemed potentially harmful. Pastebin took the necessary steps to prevent access on September 28, 2020”
- October 22, 2020: The Verge publishes An ed-tech specialist spoke out about remote testing software — and now he’s being sued
- November 5, 2020: TechCrunch publishes Proctorio used DMCA to take down a student’s critical tweets
At some point Twitter reinstated the Twitter thread—I imagine with great chagrin to the CEO of Proctorio. He surely meet Streisand.
We Need to Push Back on the Why, Not the How
The problem isn’t forcing students to install spyware on their devices. The problem is seeking to enforce obedience.
As long as education views enforcing obedience as a prerogative we’ll be facing the problems that come with it.
There is more to learning than education. We can and should seek it without the shackles of education.