Spencer Fellowship!!!

I still can’t believe it, to be perfectly honest. I was selected as a Spencer Education Fellow at the Columbia School of Journalism for the 2017–18 academic year. It’s meant a huge shift for Kin and me. We left beautiful Hermosa Beach and relocated to New York, initially thinking we’d just stay here for the duration of the fellowship, but changing our mind once we got to the Upper West Side. We’ve rented an apartment here, and even though there’s snow outside as I type this, we’ll be staying for a while.

I feel as though I’ve spent the first few months of my fellowship just adjusting to life here. (Moving was a bigger ordeal than I imagined.) People ask how my project is coming, and I politely change the subject.

Fortunately, I did a lot of work this summer on that project – researching some of the financial, political, and social networks of education’s investors and entrepreneurs. See: I have some reporting trips planned for the spring, and I’ll be working on how best to visualize these networks.

But in the spring, I’ll also be taking Sam Freedman’s book-writing class. Perhaps in 2018 I will actually finish Teaching Machines. (No. Not “perhaps.” I will.)

The highlight of the fellowship so far: we had a substitute teacher the first night of Jelani Cobb’s class on opinion writing. (And I should clarify: taking that class was also a highlight. Just not the highlight.) I wasn’t formally registered for the class, so I had no idea what was going on on that first night. But as we waited for class to start, the other students started murmuring: “Jelani can’t make it.” “Oh my god.” “Oh my god.” And at 6pm, his stand-in entered: his friend, Ta-Nehisi Coates. We spent the next hour or so just talking with TNC about how he works, how his work has changed, what constitutes an opinion worth writing about (and what is, in his words, just the sort of opinion you express at the bar). We all had to introduce ourselves and when I said “I’m Audrey, and I’m a Spencer Fellow,” he asked, “What’s that?” And someone else in the class sneered “She gets $75,000 to just do what she wants for a year.” (This is a common description of the fellowship. I ain’t mad.) And Ta-Nehisi looked at me and said “That’s huge. Congratulations.”

It is huge. I get to sit and think and write and research and I don’t have to hustle for these 9 months for my next freelance check or speaking gig. It’s a different hustle. I gotta get stuff written, and I gotta make connections, and if I want to be able to make this New York thing work, I gotta work a lot.

But here I am, at the end of a terrible year, really really pleased about where my work is at.

Articles on Hack Education

I wrote 94 some-odd articles on Hack Education, some of them worth reading.

Most Popular Articles

I don’t know. Who cares? I don’t have analytics on my sites any longer. I’d rather not track my readers – privacy is more important than ego.

Articles Published Elsewhere

I had my first article in The Baffler: “Dunce’s App.” NEPC republished two of my articles – “The Weaponization of Education Data” and “Inequality, ‘Brand Ambassadors’, and the Business of Selling (to) Classrooms.” Educause republished a talk I gave at DigPedLab a couple of years ago: “Memory Machines and Collective Memory: How We Remember the History of the Future of Technological Change.” I had an article in Educação e Tecnologia abordagens críticas: “A história do futuro da Tec-Edu.” I had an article in Issues in Technology, Learning, and Instructional Design: “Women in Educational Technology.” Points published my response to a big Data & Society report on inBloom: “Rationalizing Those ‘Irrational’ Fears of inBloom.”

Speaking Gigs

I gave the following talks: “‘The Brave Little Surveillance Bear’ and Other Stories We Tell about Robots Raising Children” at NMC. “The Histories of Personalized Learning” at OEB MidSummit. “Education as ‘The New Normal’” at Data, Paper, Scissors: Tech-Based Learning Experiences for Higher Education. José Vilson and I co-facilitated a talk at Educon: “The Privileged Voices in Education.” I also co-facilitated an Educon session with Bill Fitzgerald: “EduCon Cryptoparty.” I was on a panel with Steve Farnsworth, Sara Cobb, and Julian Hayter at the University of Mary Washington where we all addressed “Higher Education in the Disinformation Age.” I was on a panel with Daniel Burgos and Lynn Clouder at Coventry University where I addressed “Technology-Enhanced Student Attainment and Retention.” I gave a talk to NYCIST: “The Ed-Tech Mafia.” I gave a talk to Justin Reich’s class at MIT: “The History of the Future of Learning Objects and Intelligent Machines.” I gave a talk to Donna Murdoch’s class at the Teachers College at Columbia University: “The History of the Pedometer (and the Problems with Learning Analytics).” I gave a couple of talks at Coventry University: “Education Technology’s Completely Over” and “The Top Ed-Tech Trends (Aren’t ‘Tech’).” I gave a talk at Edinburgh University: “Driverless Ed-Tech: The History of the Future of Automation in Education.” I gave a talk at the University of Richmond: “Ed-Tech in a Time of Trump.”


Kin and I continued our Contrafabulists podcast, although we didn’t manage to do it weekly. We recorded 36 episodes.

I was also a guest on Journeys in Podcasting.

Other Projects

I started a project on the history of education technology, making timelines for the history of Pearson, the Gates Foundation, and teaching machines.

I have expanded my research into who’s funding education technology. There are now a bunch of education data sets on GitHub, with details about people and investments. I pulled all the education-related grants from the Gates Foundation website – you can find the details on


I wrote 51 issues of HEWN. My contributions to the Educolor and Contrafabulists’ newsletters were far more irregular.

Books (Written By Me)

I published The Monsters of Education Technology 4.

Books (Read By Me)

I read Wishful Drinking, I Hate the Internet, Underground Airlines, Infomocracy, The Man in the High Castle, Universal Harvester, Binti, Binti: Home, In the Cage, Jaran, The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, The Stone Sky, Bringing Montessori to America, Platform Capitalism, Kids These Days, “They Can’t Kill Us All”, World Without Mind, Dark Money, and How to Survive a Plague. I reread Parable of the Sower.

Live Shows

The only band I saw perform live this year was The Mountain Goats. My kid and I went to a recording of Late Night with Stephen Colbert.

Social Media

Twitter refused to verify my account many many times. I started deleting my old tweets and Facebook posts, something I plan to keep doing in the new year.


I traveled to (and spent the night in) San Diego CA, Yuma AZ, Phoenix AZ, Flagstaff AZ, Havasu City AZ, Philadelphia PA, Richmond VA, Washington DC, Temecula CA, London UK, Edinburgh UK, Coventry UK, Fredericksburg VA, Mexico City Mexico, Reykjavik Iceland, Cambridge MA (twice). I left Hermosa Beach CA and then visited there once. I traveled to New York NY once, and then I moved there.

It was my first trip to Iceland and my first trip to Mexico City. I also took my first trip to Disneyland.

Some of My Favorite Photos

Bill Williams River National Wildlife Reserve

Amelia and Judy at Grauman's Chinese Theater

The family at Space Mountain

Emmett, Amelia, and me at Griffith Park

Blooms at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Poppies at Lake Elsinore

Mom and me in London

The Bard

Me and Maha

Me and Hazel

MOMA with the kid

Reykjavik murals

Icelandic waterfalls

The Whitney with the kid

Icon credits: The Noun Project

Audrey Watters


Audrey Watters


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