I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle covering innovation in and around higher ed.

We’re doing some innovating of our own here at The Edge. Each week I will share my latest thinking on the people and ideas reshaping higher ed, alternating between my own reporting and my picks for thought-provoking and useful stories and resources from other organizations. I’ll also mix in some quick takes, noteworthy quotes, and stats that catch my eye, as well as occasional contributions from my colleagues.

This week I highlight what struck me from a recent podcast with a well-known ed-tech skeptic and share some thoughts on surveys and other reading that have hit my inbox.

A conversation with ‘ed tech’s Cassandra.’

The head of higher education’s largest technology association and the ed-tech industry’s best-known skeptic walked into a podcast. And nobody got hurt.

Actually, it shouldn’t have surprised me that the discussion, posted online last month, was cordial: a 30-minute reflection on the 20th-century origins of today’s puffery about how technology can transform teaching, plus some ideas for better directions for ed tech into the 21st. After all, I know John O’Brien, president and chief executive of Educause, as a realistic observer of the evolving tech landscape, and Audrey Watters, the blogger behind Hack Education and author of the 2021 book TeachingMachines: The History of Personalized Learning, as an insightful (and sometimes delightfully snarky) commentator on ed tech’s propensity to over-promise. But I’ll admit I didn’t expect O’Brien’s deep appreciation for Watters’s book, which he called “an antidote to hype.”

In her book, Watters steers clear — mostly — of the modern ed-tech scene. It’s more B. F. Skinner than MOOCs, although Sal Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, takes some licks for a glib video on the history of education that Watters calls “all wrong.” Still, as she makes clear in this Educause “Community Conversations” podcast, the pre-internet tales she tells in the book are relevant to understanding the market right now. “The promises ed-tech entrepreneurs want to sell,” Watters tells O’Brien, “are not that innovative.”

Two moments in the podcast really stood out to me. One was her response to O’Brien’s question about which (if any) recent tech innovations “got it right.” Watters named two, adding, “I wish there were more.” One was the free online tool Desmos that students can use instead of buying a graphing calculator, and the other was the Domain of One’s Own platform, pioneered by the University of Mary Washington and now adopted at other colleges, which gives students the digital tools to “showcase their scholarship.” Unlike some other “invasive” technologies, like those designed to spot cheating, this platform treats students “as scholars in training,” Watters said, “not as potential fraudsters.”

The other revealing moment for me came as O’Brien noted how Watters’s reputation as the (self-described) “Cassandra of ed tech” can sometimes lead folks to dismiss her critiques without actually listening to them. Does she honestly feel, he asked, like she’s playing Whac-A-Mole with new products? Is it exhausting? “People do say, ‘Oh, there’s Audrey again,” Watters replied. But that doesn’t dissuade her. In the past and today, “it’s not the science that gets ed tech adopted,” she said. So “maybe we should ask some questions.”

One more reason to value that college degree.

For all the reproof of higher ed these days in politics and the news cycle, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center — looking at what happened to people who quit their jobs during the great resignation of 2021 — found that college graduates ended up better off financially than those without a bachelor’s degree.

College grads were more likely to report (66 percent) earning more in their new jobs than were job leavers over all (56 percent), the survey showed. The college grads also felt they now had more opportunities for advancement (63 percent versus 53 percent). Those opportunities were a main reason people had quit their jobs, along with low pay and feeling disrespected at work.

But there’s a less rosy side. Asked whether it was easier now to balance work and family responsibilities, 48 percent of college grads said yes, compared with 53 percent of all respondents who had quit a job.

Check these out.

Here are some education-related items from other outlets that recently caught my eye. Did I miss a good one? Let me know.

  • As lawmakers continue to restrict the teaching of so-called divisive topics, the College Board has warned that censoring certain topics could disqualify courses from Advanced Placement authorization. In January, the organization said it was “not aware” of any state requirements in conflict with its standards, but this month, as Education Weekreports, it issued a reminder to teachers that if they omit certain required topics (Ed Week gave the example of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”), the school could lose the right to designate the course as AP on students’ transcripts.
  • Congress has lifted a ban on allowing incarcerated students to receive Pell Grants, and while that action could make 400,000 additional inmates eligible for federal education benefits, a new report from The Education Trust calls it “just the first piece” of what should be a broader plan to expand college access for people working their way out of the criminal-justice system. The report, “Beyond the Ban: A Toolkit for Advancing College Opportunity for Justice-Impacted Students,” analyzes policy in eight states, looking at whether formerly incarcerated students can receive state financial aid, whether state law bars colleges from asking applicants about their criminal history, and whether the state provides any incentives to colleges to develop programs for currently or formerly incarcerated students.
  • Conventional wisdom about online education says it’s often less effective for students from backgrounds historically marginalized in (or by) higher ed. But deliberate strategies can counter that, as EdTech Magazine describes in this article featuring Jessica Rowland Williams, the director of Every Learner Everywhere. Among her ideas: Acknowledge that not all students will have the same access to time, space, and resources to do their work; ensure that all students know how to use course tools; and, in general, “do not make assumptions about students.

Got a tip you’d like to share or a question you’d like me to answer? Let me know, at goldie@chronicle.com. If you have been forwarded this newsletter and would like to see past issues, find them here. To receive your own copy, free, register here. If you want to follow me on Twitter, @GoldieStandard is my handle.

Goldie’s Weekly Picks