Education, Uncategorized — May 10, 2017

Beware the “Gig Economy” version of education

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Gig Economy Graphic | by Senator Mark Warner

A recent blog post by Morna McDermott at Educationalchemy.com connects the dots between the recent surge in popularity of the new “Gig Economy” and unsavory influences from the usual suspects in the corporate education reform agenda, ALEC and Pearson. McDermott points out the K12 aspects of this connection (i.e., Competency Based Education (CBE) as an “alternative” to actual classroom learning, “self-directed learning”, an emphasis on “college and career ready” approaches), reminding us how the reformers are experts at coming up with positive sounding names for dangerous and unethical pedagogical strategies.

McDermott identifies the principles upon which CBE is based:

  • “Disenfranchises teachers who are replaced by computers and third party providers (now LEA’s with access to student private data). This erodes a unionized teacher workforce.
  • Eliminates collaborative interactive learning activities in favor of individualized one-on-one learning with a computer program
  • Course credit will no longer be counted by credit hour but by completion of a series of exercises, tasks or data driven curriculum which provides the student with a “badge of completion” (see Pearson). The amount of time spent in a classroom experience is no longer a determining factor in evaluating success.”
  • All of these “innovations” are being designed to hurry us all along to an even stronger embrace of the so-called “Gig Economy,” which has been characterized by the ascendance of start-ups like Uber and AirBNB–guerilla operations intended to replace taxis and hotels in the new “sharing economy.” The seductiveness of the Gig Economy model is clear–workers will be their own bosses, there are no burdensome “regulations” to present challenges to “entrepreneurship” and “creativity,” and cumbersome layers of oversight and accountability vanish in the new, “flat hierarchy” of the sharing economy.

    Neo-liberal politicians and policy makers are already drooling over the new possibilities the Gig Economy model promises. Instead of school tax revenues going to…you know, schools, “visionaries” like Michigan Governor Rick Snyder are eagerly planning a “new” approach to school funding: education debit cards that will “decouple” funding from the schools and attach it instead to individual students and families to spend as they wish. How exactly would Gov. Snyder’s plan work?

    Each student would be handed a “Michigan Education Card” to cover the cost of “tuition.” The plan envisions a $5,000-per-student cost, a low price tag achieved by (potentially) using fewer teachers and increasing the use of video conferences for distance learning, among other options. Anything left on the card after tuition costs could be used by the students on Advanced Placement fees and other academic expenses.

    Unfortunately for Snyder, his “skunk works” project was discovered prematurely, and along with the other “distractions” he’s been forced to concern himself with during his term as Governor–as a result of his own flat-out ineptitude and arrogance (i.e., the poisoning of Flint’s water supply, the systemic defunding of Detroit’s schools)–his plan has been scuttled–temporarily.

    Devotees of the Gig Economy also exist within the higher education sector, as characterized by new “innovations” such as online and virtual programs that offer “badges” instead of credits. Not surprisingly, our friends at Pearson were among the first to sidle up to the trough with this one: “Already badges that represent these credentials are serving an important purpose in fostering trust between solo workers, employers, and project teams because they convey skill transparency and deliver seamless verification of capabilities.”

    Only in Pearson’s virtual world is a “badge”–conferred to a person who watched an online video alone, and completed an online quiz with no proctor, which was no doubt scored automatically via computer–somehow considered more “trustworthy” than a credit earned by a student actually participating in a real-world classroom, with other students and an instructor, engaged in regular discussion, with assignments, graded by the same teacher who taught the course.

    A similar “advance” was recently announced by a professional association that is now offering “Professional Development Credits”, for free, for reading an article from one of their journals:

    You can get FREE professional development credit for reading certain articles in Music Educators Journal starting in June! Simply read an article, successfully complete a short quiz, and receive one hour of professional development credit. These peer-reviewed articles provide a top-notch insight into issues teachers face on a daily basis.

    Full disclosure: I served a term as Editor of this journal, and believe that the articles published in this journal, and many others, provide an important professional resource for practicing teachers. That said, awarding a “professional development credit” for reading an article and filling in the blanks on an online quiz is pretty much the definition of an intellectually and educationally bankrupt notion of what learning represents, and devalues to the point of worthlessness what a “credit” means.

    So, what happens when schooling looks more like Uber and AirBNB than your local elementary school and state university? When teachers are replaced with uncertified and unqualified “course facilitators,” classes are replaced with “online virtual meetings” and “chat sessions,” and when high school and college degrees and certifications are replaced by “badges” and “digital credentials”?

    Pearson provides this chilling glimpse into the “future” of the Gig Economy, brought to you through their “innovative” approach to structuring learning opportunities:

    A decade from now, when solo workers comprise the majority of the American workforce, I think it will be common for all of us to point to digital credentials and badges as a better way to talk about our own expertise and the know-how of others. Trusted digital credentials will strengthen the new economy by removing some of the high-frequency friction and inefficiencies of project work. Digital, verifiable credentials owned by each worker will ease employer uncertainty while forming project teams. And at the same time, badges will help each of us to identify relevant new work projects and navigate toward just-in-time (aka “gig”) learning opportunities.

    In this dystopian vision of our educational future, the joy of learning has been swapped out for a notion of education as “college and career ready” training experiences.

    Sequential, comprehensive curriculum is replaced by a series of unrelated, disconnected videos and “online modules,” with no cohesiveness, content area articulation, or spiral curriculum organization.

    And the purpose of education has been subtly but irrevocably perverted, from the passion and beauty of discovery to the administrative checking off of boxes, rewarded by a badge.

    The true purpose of education is less “high tech” than it is “high touch.” We learn best by developing strong relationship between teachers and learners, and by forming vibrant learning communities in our schools and classrooms. Technology is not evil, and is a useful tool in teaching and learning–but it is just that; a tool. It can’t replace persons, spaces, and relationships.

    Learning is too rich, diverse, and meaningful to be reduced to a “badge” or a “digital credential.” It is about the memories we make with our peers through the active “doing” of learning.

    The goal of the Gig Economy is to replace hotel stays with bunking with strangers.

    The goal of education is to create new relationships, and to turn strangers into friends.

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