Tracking Students: Google Rolls Out “Anytime, Anywhere” Learning in Kirkland, WA Parks This Spring

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

KITE

If you’re going to spend time in your local park, do you want your child glued to a device? Should they be looking at flora and fauna, or screens? Students, parents, teachers, and administrators need to start critically assessing the surveillance and data-gathering aspects of initiatives like the KiTE STEM challenge. As Eric Schmidt of Alphabet (Google’s parent company) says, data is the new oil. With each multiple choice answer (and the location and activity data associated with it) children are being mined for value. I’m not comfortable with that.

Fast forward fifteen years. Imagine that the vision advanced by Knowledgeworks, the futurists at the American Alliance of Museums, the MIT Media Lab, Institute for the Future, and ed-tech impact investors has been realized. Neighborhood schools no longer exist. Buildings in gentrifying communities have been transformed into investment condominiums with yoga studios and roof-top bars. Those in marginal neighborhoods exist as bare-bones virtual reality warehouses where the poor are managed for their data. If you want the narrative version, you can read it here.

A handful of designated structures have been retained as education drop-in centers, places where “lifelong learners” consult with mentors about their (bleak) prospects for acquiring “just-in-time” workforce skills. The global economy has gone digital. Everyone has a Blockchain identity and biometrically enabled payment account. Both are linked to a person’s permanent online record of academic and social-emotional competencies, the public services they’ve obtained, and determinations regarding the “impact” those services have had on their human capital. The social impact investors watch the data dashboards and take their profits.

Redefining Teacher Education
Source: Redefining Teacher Education for Digital Age Learners, 2009

“Future Ready” education has been gamified, decontextualized, and dehumanized. “Learning” repackaged into a product that can be dispensed, consumed, tracked, and evaluated via corporate apps. ICT (Information and Communication Technology) devices have largely supplanted human teachers, who had neither the capacity nor the inclination to gather learner data in the quantities demanded by Pay for Success contracts.

Austerity and technological advances gradually transitioned hybrid, “personalized” learning outside of classrooms and schools entirely. “Freed” of seat time requirements, teachers, grades, report cards, and diplomas, students pursue, in isolation, pathways to “career readiness.” What the concept of “career” means in a time of automated labor, precarious employment, and AI human resource management is open to debate.

A friend shared an article with me this week that reveals early phase trials of digitally mediated learning ecosystems are here. I plan to do another post that goes into detail about the Internet of Things, iBeacons, online learning lockers, Education Savings Accounts, badges, and informal learning settings. For now, it’s enough to know that the Cities of LRNG model the MacArthur Foundation is advancing via their spin off “Collective Shift” involves students using the “city as their classroom.”

Devices monitor an individual’s movements via apps, and accomplishments are logged as students undertake “any time, anywhere” learning. Sometimes it happens in the real world. Other times it happens in virtual or augmented reality. Either way, Tin Can API is watching, logging data fed to IMS Global. Watch this video by Rustici Software LLC, developers of Tin Can API, it’s under two minutes and worth every second. Pay attention to all the layers of data being collected in this simple interface.

In the case of Kirkland, WA, a Seattle suburb, education rewards are being offered to students who choose to participate in an informal STEM learning program in local parks between April 23 and May 13, 2018. A student downloads the app, and questions are delivered to them based on their age. This activity is targeted at children as young as kindergarten. Students can earn “entries,” chances to win personal prizes (museum admissions, IMAX tickets, and Google swag) as well as up to $34,500 in cash for Lake Washington District school PTSA organizations.

Attempting a question, even if incorrect, will win a student one entry, while a question correctly answered in a Kirkland park awards 15 entries. In order to qualify for bonus entries, a student must allow the app access to their real time location, which verifies by GPS if they answered the question while they were within the park system. I find it troubling that awards vary by the student’s location when answering. I can imagine, in some dystopian future, technologies like this being deployed to digitally redline education. It’s a chilling prospect, but not unthinkable.

The app also encourages students to allow the app to track “Motion and Fitness Activity.” Purportedly this is about “increasing battery efficiency;” however, knowing the prevalence of fitness tracking apps and how they are being incorporated into policies around health care (see Go360, the West Virginia teachers strike, and research being done at the Cornell-Tech Small Data Lab) I find this also very concerning. The amount of data being collected on students who download the app, if they follow the recommended settings, is significant.

According to the FAQ, Google is the financial sponsor of this challenge. Partners include the Kirkland Parks Foundation, the Lake District Schools Foundation, the City of Kirkland, the Pacific Science Center, Eastside Audubon, Brilliant.org (an online STEM network and talent scouting enterprise), and KiwiCo (age-based STEAM kit subscriptions). If you are a school administrator you can email them for a free action plan with tips to encourage students to upload the app, so their education can be monitored as part of Google’s pilot learning ecosystem experiment.

If you’re going to spend time in your local park, do you want your child glued to a device? Should they be looking at flora and fauna, or screens? Students, parents, teachers, and administrators need to start critically assessing the surveillance and data-gathering aspects of initiatives like the KiTE STEM challenge. As Eric Schmidt of Alphabet (Google’s parent company) says, data is the new oil. With each multiple choice answer (and the location and activity data associated with it) children are being mined for value. I’m not comfortable with that.

I wrote a companion to this post, Navigating Whiteness: Could “Anywhere, Anytime” Learning Endanger Black and Brown Students? I live in Philadelphia, and the arrests of two black men at a local Starbucks has me thinking a lot about how black and brown students could be placed at risk by the learning ecosystem model. Continue reading here.

-Alison McDowell

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