Enlighten @Edlighten | The Sludge Edition

enlighten Sep 12, 2021

Things we've learned this week.

All You Need is a Nudge

In which Freakonomics Stephen Dubner interviews Richard Thaler and shares components of the revised edition of "Nudge".

Key Takeaways

I found myself loving the discourse on Sludge. Here's a quick outtake:

So, let’s remember: what is sludge, literally? It’s this thick, gooey byproduct of some industrial process that just gunks up the works. And the prototypical nudge, like automatic enrollment, the principle is “make it easy.” Sludge makes things difficult. And so there’s lots of different kinds of sludge, from massive forms you have to fill out to apply for student aid, if you’re going to college, and also business practices that involve sludge. And, of course, the fact that it rhymes with nudge is amusing.

School is insanely full of sludge. We deal with it as parents, as students, as teachers, and as administrators. As a SAS company, Abre intentionally aims to fulfill the principle of "make it easy."

It once took my wife and me 2 hours to pay a student fee. Only to find at the end of the process we owned a fee for one of our kids who didn't even attend the school.

Very sludgy.

The Legacy of InBloom

One of my new colleagues shared this great report on the legacy of InBloom. InBloom was a crazy, large, and ambitious edtech initiative that started around 2010. Conceptually, it was trying to tackle a range of "problems" we still face in education such as differentiated instruction, valuable data (and understanding the data), and open standards.

It failed.

This article was published well before the Covid-19 pandemic which, I suspect, would alter some of its conclusions on technology in the classroom. That said, I loved this conclusion:

David Graber argued in 2012, society needs visionaries to progress and grow. We need the risk-takers who attempt to build flying cars or cure polio or land on the moon. Risk-taking involves experimenting and failing and this is where the software development methods clashed with the responsibilities of schools to not fail, to approach experimenting with caution and care.

Steven Pinker Thinks Your Sense of Imminent Doom Is Wrong

Whenever I struggle with moments of existential dread, I go find some Steven Pinker. The New York Times ran this excellent profile.

A bit long, but here's a great question and answer.

You mentioned changing social norms. How can we know if the fights happening in academia over free speech — which you’ve experienced firsthand — are just the labor pains of new norms? And how do we then judge if those norms are ultimately positive or negative?
These fights clearly reflect a new regime of norms. The way we evaluate whether they are truth-promoting or not is twofold. One is by analyzing what they reward, what they punish. Are they specifically designed to reward more accurate beliefs and to marginalize less accurate ones, as, for example, the norms of science ought to do? There are norms in my own field, such as preregistering studies, that did not exist 10 or 12 years ago and that can be justified because we know that the old norms led to error and the new norms reduce errors. Moreover, this isn’t just etiquette. You can explain why that norm change is necessary in order to achieve our goal of the truth, whereas other norm changes descend on people like a kind of etiquette and are not scrutinized for their effects on achieving the goal of alignment toward truth. The second part of the answer is, does a community that has those norms tend to say true things or false things? You can contrast the set of norms around Wikipedia on the one hand and Twitter on the other, to take two digital platforms that differ a lot in their commitment to the rules that are implemented in order to steer users toward the truth. Does Wikipedia have a good track record? It’s not bad. It’s comparable to Britannica. If someone were to do that for Twitter, I think it’s obvious what the answer would be.


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