EPT 011 – Audrey Watters @audreywatters


Audrey Watters is an educator and freelance writer who’s been “rabble-rousing” in the education field for over 15 years. She has followed her passion for education and writing with her work being featured in The Atlantic, Edutopia, MindShift, Fast Company, Inside Higher Ed, The School Library Journal, O’Reilly Radar, ReadWriteWeb, Campus Technology, and The Huffington Post. Additionally, she also writes regularly for her own blog called Hack Education.

Audrey describes herself as a “Writer” and a “Troublemaker”. She recently self-published her book called “THE MONSTERS OF EDUCATION TECHNOLOGY” which aims to explore “education technology’s histories, ideologies, and mythologies”. In this podcast, she shares useful insights on student data, women and Ed-Tech and her speaking and writing engagements.

Some links to Audrey ’s awesome videos:
altc 2014: Audrey Watters – Ed-Tech, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Teacher Machines (703)
Educause–Discussion with Audrey Watters and Kin Lane
The Three Laws of Ed-Tech Robotics: Audrey Watters at TEDxNYED
Education APIs: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” by Audrey Watters, Hackeducation APIDays Paris

Audrey’s journey in becoming an educator has been filled with “twists and turns” along the way. In high school, on an aptitude test, Audrey was told (by the test) that she would become a freelance writer – her first thought was “How will I eat? What will I do?” Audrey taught college and preschool and finally the prescient test that she took in high school led her to do what she is doing now, working as a freelance writer!

In talking about the new hackeducation.com redesign and my silly comment about the photo on her old site prompted a conversation around new devices and forgetting that there is a long history of using devices in the classroom, such at the one on her old site which was a teaching machine from the 1950s. Audrey, through this redesign, is also refocusing her vision. As a blogger, she needed something that would display her projects in a clean and simple way and be a refreshing experience for the reader.

“We click that button that says we read the TOS, but we lie.”

What is going to happen to our data – can it be sold, can there be advertising, are you sharing your location, contact list, etc? Great questions to which I have no answer – what are we asking students to give away when we are asking them to sign up for social (or for that matter, non-social) accounts?

“Educators need to do a much better job when they select tools, particularly free tools, thinking about what’s going to happen to the student’s data.”

What does happen to the student data, and is it permanent? The data that was kept from my school years is definitely not available any more – that data is long gone. Audrey brings up an excellent point that this student data can now be kept and accessed for a much longer time. The permanent (and not-so permanent) records are now permanent.

An avid blogger since 2004, Audrey has taken stances that are contrary to what the dominant conversations and opinions are around educational technology.

She published some of her most controversial posts that she wrote were in 2011 and 2012 and still continue to be some of her most popular blog posts. One of the posts criticized the workings of the Khan Academy where Audrey put forward an explanation as why some of the teachers were questioning some of the pedagogies and practices of Sal Khan and Khan Academy. The other post is a write up about Code Academy which came out with all the hype where the point is to learn to code. Code Academy was supposed to be this amazing free tool and when Audrey sat down and looked at the lessons, they were totally out of context and abstract that did not serve any logical purpose for learning how to code.

“You can raise $40M in Venture funding, it doesn’t mean you’re making teaching or learning any better”

Audrey talks about the origins of MOOCs and some of the origins of edtech. I’m really excited to read her book, when it comes out, on the history of edtech.

When asked about one of the most memorable moments of 2014 (not 2004, as I said in the podcast!) she talks about issues around women in technology, especially being a high profile woman, talking about things that provoke criticism, and even death threats.

I want to take a moment here and really talk about this issue here. As I listened to the interview again and heard all of the things that Audrey talked about in here, I’m really concerned that this is something that is a sickness spreading virally in our society. Looking at the world right now with mass killings in Nigeria, Kenya, Syria, Palestine, Pakistan, France – to name a few, it really does frighten and sicken me. As we talk about in the interview here, we really have a need for us as educators, to take a stand and help teach tolerance, understanding and acceptance. 

It’s really challenging in a number of ways to be that critical voice.”

In terms of daily practices, Audrey writes every single day. It helps her think and articulate some of the thoughts that are floating around in a logical and coherent fashion. And she writes on paper.

“Writing and thinking are really intertwined and really important.”

Audrey will turn off wifi totally on her computer when she needs to focus on something. I LOVE that and believe that this is a great way to get rid of those distractions and focus on the task at hand – and stay single focused!

Currently, she is working to complete her new book “Teaching Machines” and plans to finish it in 2015! I can’t wait…

Burst of knowledge round:

Q. The craziest business idea you’ve ever heard?
Audrey Watters: Uber for teachers.

Q. You have $10.00 to spend on iTunes or Google store anything like that right now, what would you buy? 
Audrey Watters: A book.
Q: Any specific book?
Audrey Watters: No. I just made bunch of book purchases recently. So I can’t think of anything.

Q: What’s the last book you purchased?
Audrey Watters: I just purchased Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle.
Link to the book: http://www.amazon.com/Wolf-White-Van-A-Novel/dp/0374292086

Q. What game did you play as a teenager?
Audrey Watters: I don’t think I played a lot of games as a teenager.

Q.If you have to pick one blog you would read every day, what would that be?
Audrey Watters: Stephen Downes

Q. Something that irks you, a pet peeve?
Audrey Watters: Dishonesty.

Q. If you had to choose one super power, what would it be?
Audrey Watters: To be able to move objects with my mind so that I can lie in bed and get the coffee with have to get up in the morning, telekinesis.

Q. Favorite movie that you saw in 2014.
Audrey Watters: Snowpiercer

Q. Something you are willing to share that not many people know about you?
Audrey Watters: I can write both with my left hand and right hand. I’m ambidextrous.

Q. If you going be invited on a one-on-one dinner, who would you like to meet?
Audrey Watters: Roxane Gay

Q. In less than 10 words how would you define success?
Audrey Watters: Optimize your life for happiness.

Q. In less than 10 words how would you define failure?
Audrey Watters: Giving up.

Q. Two to three words that you dislike in the English language?
Audrey Watters: Efficiency and scale.

Q. Two to three words that you think have a negative connotation and shouldn’t?
Audrey Watters: School and math.

Q. Define passion
Audrey Watters: Love for life.

You can reach Audrey in the following ways:

Website: http://hackeducation.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Audreywatters
Blog: http://Audrey watters.com/blog/
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/Audreywatters/
Google+: https://plus.google.com/+AudreyWatters
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/Audreywatters

Hope you enjoy this podcast episode!

Please leave a comment and let us know what you think!


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Adnan Iftekhar