Learning, Digital & Education from Oliver Quinlan.
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This week: Seeing China differently, BitCoin meets fake news & the contested nature of times tables

February -  that time of year when I always find it really hard to get going... I'm considering investing in a replacement to my old sunrise lamp and trying to get back into early mornings. For any kind of creative work I find getting up super early brings so much clarity. There's something about writing or making music that seems so much easier in the early morning, the challenges to focus I wrote about last week seem so much smaller when you feel like the rest of the world is resting (however much that is an illusion). It seems more and more students are turning to drugs to try to get to that state. I read a fascinating article about someone's experiments with 'nootropics' while travelling last week, but my attempts to find it after not bookmarking it have led me down a rabbit hole of competing claims and online pharmacies... perhaps I'll just stick to getting up early...

Shenzen - The silicon valley of hardware

I've been learning a lot about China recently, slowly working my way through Martin Jacques' fascinating analysis of the history and future of the country. I think western culture often suffers from a huge amount of assumptions about the east. As China's influence becomes ever more global I'm convinced lots of us need to completely rethink how we see the world to understand it. This documentary does a good job of surfacing and blowing away any old assumptions you may have about China as a technology manufacturer. What I found most interesting was the historical perspective of how the US largely turned to software development, leaving China a gap to exploit in hardware that has helped them leapfrog western countries in terms of technological innovation. This is worth a watch for anyone interested in learning about how technology is driving what will undoubtedly turn out to be a huge shift in how the world works.

Off down t'bitmine

There have been a lot of articles recently about 'crypto jacking'. This is where a website you visit runs code on your computer to mine crypto currencies without your knowledge. It's effectively stealing the electricity and computing power you pay for to make money for someone else. J.J. Patrick here takes this reporting to another level, cross referencing viral 'fake news' sites and the advertisers that work with them to explore how the trends in 'crypto jacking' and 'fake news' come together to both spread misinformation, generate money and squander energy production. It's easy to get into conspiracy theory territory with such things, but Patrick appears to have some evidence that there are some links between these trends that look quite concerning.

Times-tables tests for 8 and 9-year-olds to start at 290 primary schools next month

The English government are starting to trial national times tables tests for primary children. Combine 'national testing' and 'times tables' and you are guaranteed a flurry of controversy that reveals the hugely contested nature of education in England, shared in many other countries too. I find the debate around this issue fascinatingly revealing as it's on the face of it quite simple. It's an effort, but not an enormous one, for most children (some special educational needs aside) to learn their times tables off by heart. A few people assert that in the age of calculators this is of no use, but most I think would see it's of some use to have these key number facts memorised and close at hand. Despite this relatively modest effort and widely accepted utility, this issue still causes huge consternation right across the spectrum of education. Educators on twitter have been (almost) at each other's throats this week about whether this constitutes a welcome development, nothing to worry about, or a dangerously reductive approach to what's important in education. It's fascinating to me that such an issue causes such controversy, and it really shows how so little in education in England is uncontested.

*I do accept that any kind of national testing in the current climate can create worrying pressure on teachers, and certainly don't mean to trivialise this in the current climate of accountability.
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Thanks for reading.
Until next week,


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