Let’s Read “Teaching Machines”: An Informal Book Club

Repost from Mary Beth Hertz’s blog

This post is an introduction to an information book club conversation on Twitter centered around Audrey Watter’s new book, Teaching MachinesInformation on the logistics and how to purchase the book are below. Continue reading for some context around why we are excited to read this book

How it Started

When I first started my career in edtech back in the 2007-2008 school year, it was an exciting time for all of us blogging, tweeting and attending conferences about all of the possibilities that tech could bring to our classrooms. We shared ideas, took risks and tried to push the envelope around how this new “Web 2.0” could amplify student voices, give them agency and create a global community of learners. It felt magical. 

As the years passed and more and more schools began investing in technology, and technology and broadband became more commonplace in schools, it was clear that this magical feeling wouldn’t last. My computer lab was taken over for a month to drill kids on Study Island to prepare them for the annual standardized tests they would take in the Spring. Reading programs that required kids to sit in front of a computer with headphones on and click buttons became commonplace. Schools lauded the fact that now kids could type their essays and create slideshows to share what they had learned instead of turning in handwritten work or poster boards assembled with glue and scissors. This latter piece really only happened in schools with enough resources to provide students with this kind of access, which my school most definitely did not. Neither did any school I worked in for most of my early career. While many schools were teaching kids things like podcasting, video editing, and digital storytelling that allowed them to process what they were learning in completely new ways, others were simply replacing analog processes with digital ones or leveraging computers for “drill and kill” type programs aimed at improving students’ skills for standardized tests.

EdTech Now & Teaching Machines

I wish I could say that things have gotten better, but, well, that’s why Audrey Watters’ new book, Teaching Machines is so important. With the introduction of AI and Machine Learning and algorithms and the broad reach of the Silicon Valley mindset into edtech we are in a place where those of us in the field need to be conscious of how we got here and what, if anything has changed and what needs to change to ensure that edtech remains a way that lifts up student voices, helps them tap into their creativity and gives the avenues to help solve some of the massive societal and global issues that will permeate their adult lives. Audrey has always been that important voice re-centering the conversation, pushing back against the status quo and pointing out hypocrisy or practices that harm students rather than help them in the edtech sphere.

I haven’t read a physical book since last Spring when the world slowed down a little (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil–it was great). All of my reading is done these days is by audiobook. I knew, however, that this book was one that I wanted to hold in my hands and read. 

I also know that, realistically, my capacity to stick to reading on a regular basis is limited, so I enlisted my brilliant friend, Meenoo Rami, in an endeavor to hold ourselves accountable to finish the book and process it together. I figured I could probably manage a chapter a week.

When I presented this idea to Meenoo, she suggested that we share our informal reading club plan on Twitter to see if others would be interested in some accountability as well. So, here we are…

Reading Together

If you already have a copy of Teaching Machines, feel free to play along! If you need a copy, you can purchase one here. I got mine from Indiebound, since I am trying to avoid supporting Amazon at the moment. If you are interested in the book but aren’t familiar with it, I suggest you read this brief post of hers (and the longer interview linked there) to get a sense of what makes her voice so important in education.

We will start our informal book club on September 13 and read a chapter a week for 14 weeks (this includes the Introduction and the Conclusion). Throughout the week, we will use #teachingmachines on Twitter to share our thoughts about what we are reading. So far we don’t have any guiding questions or specific structure. Really, this is more about having a place to go to discuss or ask questions and to hold ourselves accountable to reading it closely. 

You can follow me and Meenoo and #teachingmachines for more info and to connect around the book. We’ll post more leading up to and on September 13th to remind you to start reading!

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