Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘edtech

Today I reflect on how an article about spraying disinfectant on streets mirrors a negative edtech practice.

The short answer to the question above is no. A more detailed answer is in the article linked in the tweet.

The spraying is largely a show of action with little, if any, effect. The same could be said of most instances of enacted policy. These result in empty shows that engage or impress people in the short term, but do not empower in the long term.

I focus on schooling and education. We still reach for the low-hanging fruit of edtech that is showy for teachers and not necessarily meaningful for learners. Take, for example, “interactive” white boards, clickers for responding to PowerPoint presentations, and “interesting” YouTube videos.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the tools except that they are created for the teacher and teaching. These are the first line of tools that a teacher can showcase if she is observed by visitors, peers, or superiors.

But the more powerful tools are mundane and insidious. They are used every day by learners outside the classroom. We might include Instagram and TikTok in this category. Attempts to formally integrate these into the curriculum, particularly attempts that go through the motions, might result in rejection or ridicule.

This is one reason why using educational technology is easy and integrating it is difficult. This is why professional development tends to focus on use by improving skillsets instead of also working on integration by changing mindsets.

The most recent measures added to Singapore’s COVID-19 circuit breaker redefined “essential services”.

When the restrictions started two weeks ago, getting your fill of bubble tea and having a haircut were essential. Now they are not.

I am not complaining nor am I worried because I did not buy into the bubble tea fad and I can get a haircut later. But I am worried about some smaller food & beverage (F&B) outlet owners and the possible parallel future of school edtech.
 

 
According to this government article, “standalone outlets that only sell beverages, packaged snacks, confectioneries (e.g. sweets, toffees) or desserts will be required to close their outlets” (more detailed list here). These are typically owned by young, gung-ho, and creative types who rent shophouse space in HDB estates and areas that can only be described as outliers.

The large and franchised chains like Starbucks or Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf are not affected as much because most outlets operate in malls. They can still sell their wares via takeaways and deliveries. The small and independent outlets have to shut down completely.

Here is a message from Lee’s Confectionary, a patisserie that I visit almost every week:

Message from Lee's Confectionery about the extended circuit breaker.

The independent F&B outlets are the ones who need to most help. They do not have parent bodies that might absorb the impact and share the load. They rely on viral social media marketing, word of mouth, and reputational capital because they carved niches of their own. But they were the first to be dropped.

What is the parallel with edtech in schooling that is currently defined by emergency remote teaching and possibly later by actual online learning? I worry that the established vendors of content and “learning” management systems, or sellers of popular tools like Zoom, will continue to get deference over niche platforms or tools.

Such a move is a “safe” bet from an administrative and policy point of view. Those in charge of purse strings can bargain for the best price of implementing a platform over large systems. In terms of policy, having just one or very few platforms is easier to monitor and control.

But such a mindset is outdated. It counters what open, online, and distance education expert, Martin Weller, described as essentials for moving forward: openness, decentralisation, and distribution.

An oversimplified version of those three principles put into action is: Do not put all your eggs in one basket. CMS and LMS strain when accessed concurrently. These platforms are rarely designed with progressive pedagogy, e.g., they are designed largely for consumption instead of creation/co-creation. None of the standard platforms can assure stakeholders that they can implement tests and evaluations in the way schools currently do.

Yet the incumbents are preferred over the niche and nimble tools or providers that pioneering teachers already rely on. It is not that niche and nimble tools are actively discouraged. It is that they are not prudently encouraged. I wonder when we might see a clear shift in of mindset built on empowerment and trust.

 
Larry Cuban shared a collection of comics that provided commentary on kids and technology.

There is some truth in the funny frames, but they mostly rehashed unnuanced tropes. This is probably because everyone, their grandmother, and the occasional comic artist has an opinion about kids and technology.

Such opinion is rarely expert or informed. I cannot blame them if they are not students of edtech because this is a broad, complex, and ever-changing field. But I can point a critical finger at folks who do not bother to ask the kids or keep learning like kids.

A layperson’s view of edtech is not just inadequate, it is irresponsible particularly if that person is a teacher who internalises popular culture. This is why I promote professional development that addresses mindsets first. If we do not change attitudes and beliefs, we will not change behaviours.

An “interactive” white board (IWB) is not necessarily edtech. It is vendor-speak for change without really changing and controlling from the front.

An IWB reinforces teacher talk, but with more whizz-bang. It enables the all-eyes-on-me approach. These are not wrong in themselves, but they are not progressive or effective (see Hattie, example).

Vendors might also provide training, or worse, get other teachers to convince their peers to sell the idea that IWBs can be student-centered. How? By inviting kids to tap it select an item and return to their seats.

This does not illustrate the power of edtech because it merely replaces and possibly enhances a chalk board. The power of edtech is empowering students to create and critique content. It does not look like the punitive and irrelevant punishment of repeated writing.

But the tweet and GIF does reveal an important truth: Kids find ways to creatively undermine what adults want them to do. The adults might label this as wrong and seek to power their will over that of the kids.

The ed in edtech often lies in educating with the technology, not just by the technology. Its power is in working with and learning from the kids in exploring possibilities, not retracing tired and old paths.

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There are four Es that teachers and educators need to distinguish in edtech.

Enhancing: When you enhance a process or product with technology, you add some value to something that can already be done. Type-written documents are enhancements over hand-written ones.

Enabling: When you enable something, that task was previously not possible or very difficult to do without the technology. Consulting directly with an expert over a video conference or co-building in Minecraft with partners who are physically halfway around the world is enabling.

Helping a hearing-impaired learner hear with cochlear implants or having speech converted in real-time to text is enabling. So is providing noise-cancelling headphones to a learner who suffers from sensory overload or one who simply likes quiet.

Engaging: This is a teacher constantly trying to keep and maintain the attention of students. YouTube videos, quick polls, video games, and Internet memes are ways to instructionally engage a group.

Empowering: This is an educator nurturing more independent learners who problem-seek and problem-solve. Empowering edtech is virtually indistinguishable from everyday technology, e.g., Google, voice assistants, Wikipedia, social media, etc.

The four Es are not mutually exclusive. A strategy that starts with enhancing/engaging might have enabling/empowering as an end goal.

Sadly, the four Es are not given equal air time. Most administrative and policy documents seem to stop at “enhancing lessons with technology” or “creating engaging lessons with technology”. Very few progressives explore the more difficult but also more meaningful enabling and empowering with technology.

I wonder if the use of the pencil to illustrate technology leaders and laggards was ironic or intended.

If technology is anything new that you did not have when you were growing up, then using a pencil makes sense — everyone in the audience used one.

But its use is somewhat ironic. The speaker had to rely on an older form of technology that no longer had laggards. Who objects to pencils?

The point was to encourage better use and integration of current educational technologies. These are things that teachers did not have when they were growing up but what students have in abundance now, i.e., mobile phones and laptops.

The metaphors we use are powerful. They reveal our mindsets which in turn shape our behaviours. You might start with a pencil because everyone can relate to it. But that could reveal a mindset entrenched in the past.

To paraphrase a Biblical reference: You cannot put new wine in old wineskins. If you do not get that reference, you should also not get why people do this.

Old ideas applied to new technologies make both look ridiculous. And yet we keep repeating that mistake.

New technologies might make current processes better. But we should also be looking for what they enable, i.e., what we thought previously difficult or impossible to do.

Applied to schooling, edtech should be about enabling new possibilities, not entrenching old habits. If we ignore that approach, we risk looking as foolish as the VR soccer players.

This seems to be the favourite type of opinion piece in the press.

How do I know? The title provides clues: Teachers should enrich life, not worship the machine.

Both the title and the ensuing article says everything and nothing at the same time. Take this excerpt:

We are already in danger of creating “industrial” school systems, the authors note, in which teachers are reduced to near-automatons, implementing a prescriptive model of education and ticking boxes.

It makes a claim (we are in danger) without backing or evidence.

The second claim about inhuman robo-teachers not only suffers the same problem as the first claim, it is also reductionist. The statement claims to be about everything (“we” and “teachers”), but since it provides no evidence, is also saying nothing.

Consider another segment:

Instead, there is a danger that educational technology, or edtech, may only worsen the industrialisation of the system as governments resort to new ways of measuring student output and teacher productivity.

The writer seems to have only one perception of edtech — one disowned by teachers and students that dispassionately quantifies everything. Such an edtech is a bean-counting LMS provider’s wet dream.

Again this is a claim about all edtech when it is not. Just think about technology owned by and in the creative hands and critical minds of learners. The possibilities defy convention and measurement and that is the beauty of such edtech.

Even when the writer tried to provide balance, his attempt was not an informed one:

…technology can undoubtedly help democratise learning and improve knowledge transmission, but cannot replace the human skills taught by teachers. “Technology can uplift and amplify good teaching but it can never improve poor teaching,” he says. “Learning seems to be a social process.

Knowledge is not just transmitted, it is also negotiated. We are not programmable robots.

Edtech is not an either-or choice. With edtech, we do not have a false dichotomy of wide-reaching access or the human touch. We can have both. Consider how online and blended courses have communication tools to help learners connect. If these courses do not, learners find their own, e.g., WhatsApp groups.

All that said, learning is not always a social process. If the social process is defined by interaction between two or more people, then what is learning by observation (e.g., watching a video), experimentation (e.g., individually tinkering with different methods), repetition (e.g., practising a skill alone), or reflection (e.g., writing a journal or consolidating an e-portfolio)?

No teacher worth their salt should read such an article without questioning every other sentence. The questions should stem not from empty opinion but from knowledge of educational theories and years of critical practice. These questions, theories, and practice test everything and leave nothing unturned.

This critique of how people think about the effectiveness of edtech might push some folks to think more deeply about technology implementations in schools and universities.

It first suggested that most people assume that edtech and teaching practices independently impact learning outcomes. The article said this was wrong.

It then suggested that we should consider how edtech primarily influences teacher practices which then influence learning outcomes. While it did not discount the direct impact of edtech on learning outcomes should students learn independently of teachers, it relegated the importance of this route.

I would agree totally if it were not the fact that teacher practices do not necessarily change with technology use. This analysis of 41 teachers and the sample narrative illustrate this point.

I argue that the paradigm needs to shift to one where edtech directly impacts learning when it is in the hands of learners. Why? If teachers and teaching are like chemical reactions, they are the rate determining steps. However, they change too slowly to be noticed or to keep up with the times.

The edtech paradigm needs to match current reality. So what does that look like? Something like this.

Universities then and now.

Universities of old used to be centres of knowledge and learning. There was a nett outflow from these centres to the wider world.

While most universities might still see themselves operating this way in terms of research, much of their teaching is influenced by what is happening on the outside. They no longer are the only or primary lead in determining learning outcomes. You need only see the importance of portfolios, internships, vocational work, on-the-job training, and work-based qualifications to see how this is true.

Returning to edtech implementation, the indirect impact of edtech on learners via teachers is like relying on the university to learn about the wider world of work. The indirect approach relies on teachers to first see themselves also as learners and to change how they teach. If teachers do this, they learn to educate and can be very effective. However, this takes more time than the direct route of students learning how to be more independent with the edtech tools they already have.

Now this does not mean that teachers should not use edtech. It does mean teachers need to learn to be lead learners first. If they do this, they might combine wisdom from their adult experiences with the new found affordances of edtech to co-learn with their students. They become part of the wider world to wield influence not only on their students but also their schools.

People with business acumen might watch the video below and focus on the numbers, i.e., how much the companies stand to make by capturing the education market. They might also view this as a competition, but they are only partly right.


Video source

Prudent schools and educational institutions have learnt to be brand agnostic. Players like Google and Apple seem to recognise this. For example, you might have iPads deployed in classrooms, but users might prefer Google Drive to iCloud, so the two giants co-exist like parents.

I have worked with both in the past and realise that their representatives put their money where their mouths are. I recall Google Education folks toting Macs and Apple representatives not minding my approach to using the Google Edu Suite during a workshop proposal.

All this was a few years ago and the goal posts might have shifted. But I doubt they have moved so far that they try to blow the competition out of the water and risk destroying opportunities.


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