If George Orwell Hosted an Education Conference, It Would be This

…..The Pearson CITE Online Learning Conference.

First of all…I am NOT making this up. This is not science fiction. This is a REAL event happening next week, Feb 9-11th 2016. Hard to believe. It’s so bad I wish I were making this up.

This is not a conference. It’s a trade show. It’s an event where corporations can sell their educational services and products to meet the rising needs forced on us by education policies (lobbied and paid for) by these same industrial players. I’ve been attending education conferences for 18 years. Sure, usually they’re boring. Sometimes people get silly drunk and do silly things. Often presenters blather on about data that causes you to nod off. But more or less education conferences (even AERA) provide stories of and from experienced educators, administrators and/or teacher educators. Look at their bios, the majority of presenters or speakers have real experience in classrooms (with people). Or maybe they’re community activists who work with actual children. Some of the research might focus on the nails-on-a-chalkboard words like “accountability” but invariably the heart and soul of a true education conference is about caring for children, teachers, and the concept of democratic schooling.

So, sunny Amelia Island, FL is host to CITE: Online Learning Conference.

You may wonder, since the word LEARNING is in the title, is there anything about human development? Anything about joy? About imagination or curiosity? Anything about the benefits of the research being presented to children? Nope. These speakers have much higher credentials all related to business, profit, workforce and the free market.

The program states: “These 45-minute sessions are presented by online learning innovators representing K-12, two-year, four-year, and private sector colleges and universities, as well as leading corporate partners.”

Yeah…it’s pretty much being run by that last part.

And who is going to be presenting? They are MBAs and CEOs. There are a few PhD’s and higher ed faculty in the mix, but it’s the one’s with the corporate partnerships. This is about growing corporate interests… it has nothing to do with what is best for children. They don’t even hide it. The speakers are not educators. Not even close. They are business people who see education as a market. In each session the presenters have 45 minutes to present their services and products — its advertising and marketing disguised as legitimate inquiry and educational scholarship.

Here’s a short clipping of descriptors from the bios of the keynote speakers:

…. disruptive innovation to help clients create new growth businesses…. increase economic opportunity; and cultivate public-private education and workforce development efforts that support and advance these initiatives…. has expertise in all operations of online and blended learning programs including start up, legislative support, staffing, funding, marketing…  the firm’s largest and most profitable business unit … growing the company by launching and leading many of its research practices… is a former Peace Corps volunteer (Southern Chile) turned investment banker (Goldman Sachs)  …  is one of the nation’s foremost experts on higher education assessment … she worked as Executive Director for Higher Education at ETS … served on academic technology advisory boards for a number of information technology companies including Apple Computer, IBM, and Microsoft….  is a best-selling author and award-winning columnist who helps parents and higher-education leaders imagine the college and university of the future and how to succeed in a fast-changing economy…. she was a teaching fellow at Harvard College and a strategy consultant for McKinsey & Company. She graduated from Harvard College and received an MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School. … work readiness and employability, competency-based education models, online learning,… served as Executive Vice President and Chief Research Officer at Eduventures, a higher education research firm… He is founding director of the GRIT Institute, and the Global Resilience Institute, conducting research in 29 countries, as well as Founder and CEO of PEAK Learning, Inc…. a community of designers, coders, and entrepreneurs in which digital startups get their start … education venture capital firm investing in edtech startups. Previously he served as the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Here are Some of the Conference Highlights I Noticed (hang on to your hats!)

KISS MY GRIT(s) — One thing I learned reading the various sessions is that “grit” is now a trademark!!! What? Was “absurd” already taken? Now, it’s an actual step by step science (all yours for the price of $19.99). But wait, there’s more! If you call now we will throw in the The GRIT Gauge™ assessment for free!

Meet Paul Stoltz “Recently, the idea of GRIT, or Growth, Resilience, Instinct and Tenacity, is increasingly seen by educators and even the Obama Administration  as a key to success in higher education.  Building on the blooming popularity of GRIT in higher-ed, Pearson Education [5] has recently partnered with PEAK Learning in order to infuse their MyCareerSuccessLab service with the means assess a student’s GRIT.”

GROOVY BADGES — In one session: “Competency-Based Digital Badges as ‘Curricular Building Blocks’ Allison Eckert, Concordia University High-impact organizations invest in people. While some skills are prerequisites to employment, others can be acquired on the job, preparing people for more complex tasks, and even future leadership roles. That is the promise and possibility of building a progressive credentialing system using competency-based digital badges as “curricular building blocks.””      Thanks, Common Core!

Meanwhile, the schools of the future promise to track and record your every emotion no matter how hard you try to hide it because…. EAT YOUR HEART OUT FOUCAULT, THE PANOPTICON IS HEREiMotion “Measuring Learning Impact Using Next Gen Tools: A Learner-Centered View of Learning Affect, Behavior and Cognition Robert Christopherson, iMotions, Inc. Dan Shapera, Pearson Achievement is a key indicator of learning impact, but it often lacks the explanatory details of how a learner was successful or struggled to achieve within a learning environment. Measuring how a learner’s emotions influence final learning outcomes further supports iterative design decisions that can impact learner engagement.”

Here’s a list of their products:

Remember that US Office of Technology Report called Promoting Grit and Tenacity? Remember that page with the images of kids sitting at computers with sensors on their fingers and motion trackers on their eyes? (see p.44). In this conference we can see how GRIT in one session can hang out with Affective Monitoring right in the next room!


You don’t need a background in education! With some business acumen and your soul successfully sucked from your body, you too can start up an online school. Attend one of these sessions to learn “marketing, enrollment, and admission; how to create and maintain brand awareness.”    All the Starbucks franchises taken in your area? No worries! Learn how to build your own CBE! It’s in the mall right next to Build A Bear! Make sure to stop by these sessions:

Building Your Own Virtual Academy From the Ground Up

Direct Assessment and Competency-Based Education— What Is Required for Application Approval?

Seriously. There are numerous writers, activists, educators and parents right now who are aware and deeply concerned about how education reform, including the new national ESEA policy entitled Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) is really a bundle package of numerous hidden ALEC sponsored bills that sell public schools out to private corporate interests. We see how words that sound great like “21st century learning” and “personalized instruction” are codes for “learning in front of a computer, taking a test, and spitting out a badge so that you can receive the job training designed in the mind’s eye of global corporate CEOs”.

But many, many more educators, administrator and parents need convincing. They might say you’re being paranoid. You’re over reacting. You worry too much.

Show them this conference program.

This is the future of public education.

Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

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