Stagger onward rejoicing

Tag: edtech (page 1 of 1)

William Davies

Before March 2020, I was unfamiliar with the phenomenon of ‘guided reading’. My daughter (aged eight during the school closures that year) was sometimes required to read the same short passage five days in a row and to perform different tasks in relation to it. Presumably the idea was for her to learn how specific sentence constructions work, in the hope that she would be able to apply that knowledge elsewhere – but the invitation to write autonomously, beyond a sentence or two, never arrived. It wasn’t merely the emphasis on obscure grammatical concepts that worried me, but the treatment of language in wholly syntactical terms, with the aim of distinguishing correct from incorrect usage. This is the way a computer treats language, as a set of symbols that generates commands to be executed, and which either succeeds or fails in that task.

This vision of language as code may already have been a significant feature of the curriculum, but it appears to have been exacerbated by the switch to online teaching. In a journal article from August 2020, ‘Learning under Lockdown: English Teaching in the Time of Covid-19’, John Yandell notes that online classes create wholly closed worlds, where context and intertextuality disappear in favour of constant instruction. 

Almist every structural element of Western education, on all levels, militates against humane learning. 

Excerpt from my Sent folder: quarantine and quizzes

Hello friends,

A handful of you have told me that you’ll need to be quarantined for a while — I’m sorry to hear it. Here’s hoping for clean tests and a quick return!

If you find yourself in this situation, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Email me to let me know at least a couple of hours before each class you will miss. Please do so even if you have already emailed me. I get torrential downpours of email and things can get swept away by the tides.
  2. Give your email a useful subject line, like “HEADS UP: ABSENCE FROM CLASS.”
  3. Just as class begins, check your email to see if there is a reading quiz. If there is, then take the usual allotted time — one minute per question — to answer, and simply reply to the email. Then, as we go over the quiz in class, grade it as usual and send me another reply with your grade.
  4. Then open up Zoom and join the meeting I have invited you to. I’ll usually send the invite while people are taking the quiz, but if there is no quiz then I’ll send the invite just before class begins.

A couple of additional notes.

Please do not cheat on your quizzes. Last semester when I had to administer email quizzes several people confessed to me that they had cheated. For this reason, I won’t accept quizzes if they are timestamped more than a minute or two beyond the allotted time.

Finally, if you are ill or otherwise indisposed, please do not ask me to add you to the Zoom list. If you want to get a friend to Zoom you in, you may, but otherwise let’s treat illness just the way we did before Zoom was invented. That is, some days you don’t feel well and miss class, after which you get notes from friends, etc.

I’m actually rather concerned about the problems the use of Zoom creates, and I’m not sure what I am going to do in the future. Allowing people to Zoom into class whenever they feel like it creates many bad incentives: the incentive not to participate fully in class, the incentive to pay more attention to your messages app than to the books we’re discussing, the incentive to cheat on quizzes. I’m afraid that the widespread use of Zoom will force me to change methods of teaching I’ve developed over the past thirty-eight years, and that makes me a little sad, because I think the methods I’ve developed really help you to learn.

Blessings to all,


MOOCs are a kind of entertainment media. We are living in an age of para-educationalism: TED Talks, “big idea” books, and the professional lecture circuit have reconfigured the place of ideas (of a certain kind) in the media mainstream. Flattery, attention, the appeal of celebrity, the aspiration to become a member of a certain community, and other triumphs of personality have become the currency of thinking, even as anti-intellectualism remains ascendant. MOOCs buttress this situation, one in which the professor is meant to become an entertainer more than an educator or a researcher. The fact that MOOC proponents have even toyed with the idea of hiring actors to present video lectures only underscores the degree to which MOOCs aspire to reinvent education as entertainment.