Average Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Fair

 

In all the yelling back and forth (aka “discussion”) about net neutrality rules last year, much was said and written about the “average” internet user in the US.

The FCC chairman, who led efforts to kill them, and his supporters claimed that competition in the market would take care of any issues related to ISPs who try to slow or block competitors on their networks. According to this theory, customers could just switch to another provider if their current ISP begins to play with the traffic.

Except that “average” doesn’t mean everyone is equal, and is usually a crappy way to understand any issue.

The map above illustrates just how bad the internet market is for most locations in the US. It uses actual data about the availability of high bandwidth access, the kind necessary to fully benefit from modern web services, and clearly demonstrates that it “varies greatly based on where you live”.

Average in this example is weighted very heavily in favor of metropolitan areas where households are likely to have at least two high bandwidth choices when it comes to internet service providers. The darker colors on the map show areas with fewer choices and slower speeds.

But even in those lighter areas, like that splotch of white around Washington DC where I live, choice doesn’t necessarily mean competition. Our two major ISPs offer the same packages at the same price. And once the furor over this issue dies down, both are equally likely to favor their own content over competitors. We do have a few other, smaller, options buzzing around but they are not equivalent, even if the chairman wants us to believe they are.

So, maybe “average” is acceptable to those who dislike all governmental regulation. But it’s not to the millions who are below, and far below, that average.


On another issue, this map was created using data from a variety of public sources and ESRIs wonderful Story Map application. You can zoom in to the county level to get more information, although you should pull the map into it’s own window for best results.

Some Thoughts for a New Year

New Year Sunrise

Although I’ve always thought September 1 would make a much better New Year’s Day, western society has decided today will be that largely artificial dividing line. So, here we are in the year designated as 2018.

So, how will today and the ones that follow be different from the 365 that came before? Unless you came into a big inheritance when the calendar clicked over, I suspect for most of us the answer is not very.

However, after the chaos of 2017 in the US (which spilled over into many other parts of the world), something needs to change. As I wrote in any earlier rant, resistance to negative change can only take you so far. If successful, it really only maintains the status quo. Even with the small positive steps that occasionally pop up.

In 2018, we can continue to complain about what has happened in the past. Or we can plan and work to improve the future. Only one of those is worth the time and effort.

I hope we can find good people to run for leadership positions, at all levels, not just Congress, who understand this. Because real progress is only going to come from clear, creative, positive ideas for improving government and society. Not from trying to scare people. Not from asking for support simply because “I’m not that guy.”.

Maybe in this new period of time known as a year we as a society can move forward instead of ranting in place.


The picture is of sunrise over the Potomac River as seen from the Alexandria waterfront, New Year’s Day, 2012. As I recall, the temperature was much warmer that morning than it is currently.

The Strange Holiday Mix, 2017

This is my idea of an annual tradition: a collection of the holiday-related songs I can stand to have on heavy rotation over the next month or so. As opposed to the traditional playlist of earworms that even the programmers at Muzak must be embarrassed to let loose on the world.

But regardless of your musical tastes, and whatever you are celebrating this time of year, enjoy!

  1. Strangest Christmas Yet – Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers
  2. Christmas Coming Home (feat. Lennon & Maisy) – Nashville Cast
  3. To Christmas! (The Drinking Song) – Straight No Chaser
  4. Christmas Is the Time – Katharine McPhee
  5. Naughty Naughty Children (Better Start Actin’ Nice) – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
  6. Santa Claus Is Comin’ (In A Boogie Woogie Choo Choo Train) – The Tractors
  7. Warmer in the Winter (feat. Trombone Shorty) – Lindsey Stirling
  8. Santa Stole Thanksgiving – Jimmy Buffett
  9. Feels Like Christmas (feat. Jana Kramer) – Straight No Chaser
  10. Santa Claus, Santa Claus – Dennis Turner
  11. California Christmastime – Rachel Bloom, Vincent Rodriguez III, and the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Cast (the video)
  12. Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’ – Bill Kirchen & Austin de Lone
  13. They Don’t Make Them Like That Anymore – Great Lake Swimmers
  14. Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me) – Davina & The Vagabonds
  15. Santa, My First Love – Swear And Shake
  16. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy – Lindsey Stirling
  17. Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy – The Tractors
  18. Baby Don’t Leave Me (All Alone on Christmas) – Echosmith
  19. Schedryk – Pink Martini
  20. The Way-Too-Early Christmas Song – Paul and Storm

The Cracker Jack of EdTech

Some of us older timers remember Cracker Jack, a snack mixture made of caramel-covered popcorn and peanuts with origins at the end of the 19th century.

Crackerjack2

Of course, the most distinctive element of the product wasn’t the edible part but the “toy surprise” buried in every box. Although, thinking back, the biggest surprise was probably why any of us cared about those trinkets in the first place.

Anyway, the edtech professional development community has its own variation on Cracker Jack: the event known variously as a “demo slam”, an “app smackdown”, or some similar title.

In these sessions, popular at EdCamps and smaller conferences, participants line up to present a two or three minute demonstration of a favorite piece of software or web service. Sometimes they try to connect the app to teaching and/or learning. But in that brief space of time, the focus is most often on the “wow factor” of the tool.

At larger conferences lacking a formal “smackdown” contest, the program is often littered with sessions completely devoted to this concept. With titles like “60 Apps in 60 Seconds” or “29 New Web Sites You Need to Check Out”, and “Tech Share Live!”.

Like Cracker Jack, these collections are a sweet mixture of cool tech stuff. With virtually no nutrition. And, if you’re lucky, a trivial prize buried inside.

Ok, I know there’s nothing wrong with indulging in a sweet treat every so often. I’ve had my share of Cracker Jack (although I much prefer Screaming Yellow Zonkers in that crap food category) and other items of questionable nutritional value.

And there’s nothing wrong with most of those demo slam, “cool tools” sessions. Occasionally it’s fun to have people rapid fire demonstrate a whole bunch of apps and maybe discover something new. I’ve even been known to participate in a smackdown or two.

However, the problem comes when we overindulge in snack food. Or in a constant search for the new, the next alternative, the techno “cool”. Looking for the toy surprise buried somewhere in the app store.

Inappropriate Optimism

Approaching the end of another calendar, the inevitable (and lazy) flood of year-end recaps and forecasts for some undefined future is beginning to trickle in.

In that latter category, one writer is very optimistic about the “next wave” of educational technology, ending his column that tries to make that case with this:

At this point, America’s education system finally has all the key building blocks in place: The infrastructure is solid, almost every student has a device and wireless internet access, schools and educators (at all levels) are now much more comfortable working with technology and data, and thousands of entrepreneurs are working—not just with early adopters, but increasingly with early mainstream schools and educators—to bring edtech and personalized learning to the masses.

This is why I’m optimistic about the next decade of educational technology and innovation. I can’t wait to see how the next chapter unfolds!

Ok. Except that he has all kinds of bad assumptions jammed into just that one paragraph

Start with the statement that the “infrastructure is solid” in schools. It’s true that the vast majority of US classrooms are connected to the internet. But the number with adequate bandwidth is much, much lower, especially in high poverty rural and urban areas.

Even worse is his claim that “almost every student has a device”. I suppose if you average out everything, it might be close to 1:1. But even if you can claim a 1:1 ratio in your school/district, that doesn’t mean every student has the same quality of device1. Or can accomplish the same quality of work with the equipment and software available. That’s true even in the very rich overly-large school district that used to employ me.

Finally, there’s the line about educators being “much more comfortable” using technology and data. I’m pretty sure most teachers are “comfortable” with the tools they use. The digital grade book, attendance systems, Word. Most are not at all comfortable with tools for meaningful learning, especially when it’s students using that technology in creative ways.

However, all of that really doesn’t matter. When it comes to being optimistic about educational technology, this particular column is not at all about student learning or even teacher productivity.

The writer is a “general partner” at a venture capital firm, one that specializes in “disruptive education” startups. His optimism is all squeezing as much profit as possible from the education technology companies in which they’ve invested. Profit which will ultimately come from schools and districts at the expense of other priorities.

After all, there’s a bear market in all that “personalization” and data collection.


1. A Chromebook is NOT a computer. Don’t tell me otherwise because I’ve used both and Chromebooks do not compute. But that’s a rant for another day.