Less Data, More Freire.

Less Data, More Freire.

Seek, Make Sense of, and Share with Alison McDowell

I love the “responsive activity” (as my buddy @dogtrax calls it) of digital annotation, but I have a big concern with the kinds of writing others choose for us to mark up. It seems to be dominated by the cold fish jargon of ‘aca-speak’. These chosen texts gives me only an abstraction of feeling, hollowed out and brittle. I prefer to engage with plain writing, plain feeling, and plain doing instead of being distanced from feeling. Speaking of…

I would love to have a conversation with anyone who is interested in a future of learning that is not all about “data-mining, human resourcing, and social impact investment opportunities.” Or as Alison McDowell puts it: education for liberation, less data, more Freire.

I especially direct her work to Daniel Bassill because of all the work he does with maps and mapping as well as Kevin Hodgson with his recent twitter viz. McDowell uses a visualization tool called “Oligrapher”. This mapping tech is part of an organization called LittleSis.

LittleSis is offering a Zoom Training for January 7, 2020 for those interested in an introduction to Oligrapher. Sign up, become a member, and then sign up for the online training. I hope Dan and Kevin can join me to keep me honest, but I would love to meet other interested parties there as well. I am going to use this tool to do some investigative work on my campus and in my department about corporate connections here (read Blackboard, Zoom, and more). Might want to use this tool to look at the money pit that is my local Congressperson, Brett Guthrie. He needeth a paddling in the public stocks. Might also want to look at all the corporate and foundation connections that the NWP has embraced in recent years for funding projects

This flurry of activity is due entirely to my discovery of the work of concerned parent/citizen Alison McDowell. It is an understatement to say that her blog, Wrench in the GearsA Skeptical Parent’s Thoughts on Digital Curriculum, is a revelation.

She is spreading the word face-to-face as well as on YouTube. I have been listening to and watching one long, but super-fruitful video she gave in Kent, Washington. I have taken that video and embedded it into Vialogues, a tool for annotating videos. You can lurk and view the annotations, but you can also join Vialogues for free (it’s part of Columbia University) and pile onto the annotations. I have embedded the Vialogue of McDowell’s talk below. I think this is profound stuff and critically important for learning, especially learning that is ‘unbought’ by corporations.



  1. // Reply

    I’m so glad you are finding this research helpful. They are literally creating an infrastructure to run global markets in human capital data and while education is one part, it really touches on every element of civil society. In case you are interested, this is a talk I gave in Seattle back in 2016. I really didn’t have a handle on social impact investing at that point, so the focus is really on ed-tech and learning ecosystems. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvqBJYmpQrY

    This talk, which I gave in the spring in Philadelphia, touches on the bigger picture of impact investing in a high-poverty community. If you haven’t ready Yasha Levine’s book “Surveillance Valley,” I highly recommend it. https://wrenchinthegears.com/2019/07/16/moneyball-for-government-poverty-mining-in-philadelphia/

    1. // Reply

      Oops on your first name, Alison. Thanks for the links. Would love to have your input on the Vialogue comments and annotations if you had time. Picked up Surveillance Valley. I will be reading your blog and following up. Trying to get some folks to do some digital annotation using Hypothes.is for your posts. So happy to have you respond. You are doing damned good work. Keep on!

    2. // Reply

      Thanks for the link to the slides in the post you shared — https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1wLNcZ-I8yPzsNOFuJtyZuEwKB92OdUP4W9F2yx9vg88/edit?usp=sharing — it’s a fascinating deep dive into the topic.
      As a teacher, it is important for me to hear and learn about all sides of EdTech’s so-called “Revolution.”
      I do integrate technology as a way to push the concepts of what writing is, Alison, but I, too, often fret about my role in the classroom with students and worry often about where tech is connected to learning, and where it is connected to profit-for-corporations, and what trade-offs we may be making.
      I fear many teachers either don’t know enough about this larger issue, or are pressured to jump into using digital systems without much thought about data gathering (and why and how it is used) in this world of one-to-one, or if they are even teaching students strategies on privacy and data as part of literacy, etc.

  2. // Reply

    Thank you Alison for the work you’ve done and for joining in on Terry’s blog. I recognize the time spent aggregating the information you share on your blog and the LittleSis graphics.

    Finding ways to increase the number who view these ideas and then share them with others is something I focus on daily.

  3. // Reply

    I finished viewing Alison’s entire 2 hour video yesterday and have been going back and viewing and responding to comments posted by Terry and Kevin. I do this with some of the Hypothes.is articles posted by Marginal Syllabus, too.

    I think Kevin and Terry have both written in the past about the challenges of keeping the conversations in the margins going beyond the initial surge of interest.

  4. // Reply

    Yes, Alison. It’s a big club and we ain’t in it. I have no idea who funds Vialogues. I should know. And I should also know whose purposes are served.

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