Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘edtech

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I was excited to learn from this TechCrunch article that a few edtech companies were trying to address issues like differentiated online instruction for kids with special needs.

The article focused on Learnfully which is supposedly a:

…learning platform that connects neurodiverse students, who have conditions such as ADHD or dyslexia, with specialists to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses.

Better still, it claimed to focus less on the “what” of learning and more on the “how.”

I was less excited to find out how costly such a service would be:

Learnfully offers a learner assessment for $299, and then charges $60 per hour for personalized instruction.

The article pointed out that:

…consumer spending power is higher in more affluent families, meaning that only the parents who can afford further education for their neurodiverse children will have access to the Learnfully service.

Differentiation and personalisation is more difficult and will be result in higher costs. But imagine shelling out USD60 per hour. Even the affluent might resort to this as an extra instead of a core need.

Edtech companies have a right to make money. But they also have a responsibility to stay true to core values in education. One of these values is equity, i.e., providing disproportionate help to those who have been unfairly marginalised. If they fail to do this, they should not be in business.

One of my favourite education bloggers, Martin Weller, reflected on how “universal and good enough” edtech becomes the default at institutes of higher education.

According to him and an ALT report, MS Teams was dominant in the UK as the video conferencing tool of choice. Why? It was not particularly powerful, but it was easy for IT teams to deploy into existing infrastructure.

So convenience made MS Teams good enough. But when is “good enough” just not good enough? When pedagogy, powerfulness, or meaningfulness are thrown aside in a moment of urgency and not revisited when you can catch your breath.

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I have used Teams when meeting with folks who already had it by default and each time I was not impressed. For example, it still does not have a choose-your-own-room affordance. Zoom has it, and even though its settings leave something to be desired, at least it has it.

I disagree that good enough is good enough. This approach allowed an inferior tool became popular because of convenience and administration.  We have to be better than that if we know there is better and that we can do better.

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This artist’s process video reminded me of a principle in edtech implementation.

When you are a beginner, simply understanding separate concepts seems like the neat thing to do. This might include separate elements like technology skills, pedagogical strategies, educational psychology, and content knowledge.

The consummate skill is in knowing how to combine these separate dots into a coherent whole. For example, the TPACK framework connects pedagogy, content, technology, and context. The separate concepts need to be blended and blurred into each other.

But even TPACK does not provide all the dots or help an educator connect them. Just like the artist brings other tools, techniques, and his vision to to the canvas, so too must an educator who wishes to enable learning with technology.

Today I offer a simple reflection on what the edtech world might learn from the development of electric vehicles.

One of the latest electric vehicles (EVs) to get a lot of attention was the Ford F150 Lightning. President Biden took it out on speedy spin and Marques Brownlee reviewed it.

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For some, all this seems like a new development, but it is not. According to this article, the first electric carriage was invented some time between 1832 and 1839, i.e., about 180 years ago.

The EV has certainly come a long way, but it still has more to go. Critics still reject EVs because of factors like cost and infrastructure. Internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles currently cost less and are relatively easy to refuel.

Like most technologies, the cost of such vehicles will go down as they become more common. This will happen if infrastructure like charging points are more widespread.

So what parallel lessons hold for developers and users of edtech learn?

First, edtech is not new. Any tool or platform that makes teaching and learning easier, faster, deeper, more meaningful, or otherwise better is edtech. Cave paintings were used to record and share history then; styli and screens might do the same now.

Second, the barriers of cost and accessibility of technology become secondary (or even non-issues) when expectations and policies change. For example, the need for wide-reaching broadband and access to remote schooling/working tools are practically the norm now. 

Third, the resistance to edtech persists because, like the dominance of ICE vehicles, teaching and parenting that eschews technology is still common. It is easier and more comfortable to do without and to stick to old habits.

Fourth, EVs do the same thing differently — they move us around with cleaner sources of energy. In edtech, applying this principle lowers barriers to adoption, e.g., using Zoom for emergency remote teaching.

We can see the electric vehicle “revolution” driving silently towards us. The signs are obvious because the front runners are already here.

The edtech signs might be less obvious. Why? There is still a lack of deep knowledge and appreciation of the history of edtech; policies that enable the thoughtful and responsible integration of edtech are rare; and we are unimaginative in changing how we teach and learn with technology.

Unlike EVs, edtech needs signs that come more from processes, not products. If we simply do the same things a bit differently, others do not see the value of edtech. We fail to drive forward.

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I was a bit disappointed that respected educator, Larry Cuban, decided to air the concerns of a scholar, Rick Hess, who is from the American Enterprise Institute and director of Education Policy Studies.

My disappointment aside, the piece is worth the read.

Hess had opinions that probably carry some weight for a likeminded readership. For instance: 

Tech isn’t a replacement for the human face of schooling; at its best, it augments and supplements it. The goal is to give teachers more time and energy to get to know their students, to put a hand on a shoulder, to ask the right question, to engage a disengaged learner. It’s hard to do all that in the best of circumstances—it’s that much tougher when schools are using tech to normalize remote learning, asynchronous days, or eyeballs glued to devices.

Hess considered these to be a bitter pandemic legacy for schooling. To be fair, Hess seemed to be concerned about technology being used for its own sake and driving change that does not change teaching and learning for the better. I share that concern.

But I worry about the dichotomy of thought. The split is that technology is only for enhancing and not for enabling. Why can’t edtech be used to engage, encourage, and help create cognitive dissonance?

Taking a step back, the desperate push to use edtech during the pandemic might have created some semblance of continuity in schools. With this push came quick answers like adopting current technologies, shortening school days/weeks, and redesigning curricula.

But what are the important questions we should have asked and should still be asking? For example, why is the use of technology a second-best option or even a last resort? How might edtech be integrated into everyday schooling so that it enables learning rather than just enhancing teaching? What is not right about returning to normal? How might we change for the better?

The pandemic is an opportunity to rethink what it means to school, educate, teach, and learn. It would a bitter legacy if we keep relegating technology-mediated teaching and learning to second class.

I do not leave home as much as I use to given the current pandemic. But almost every time I do, someone stops me to ask for directions. This happens whether I am on familiar ground or not.

So I have started to wonder if I look like I belong or somehow know the surroundings even if I do not. Either that or more people now get lost and do not know how to use a map app.

Perhaps I am thinking too much about a non-issue. It might just be faster and more social to just ask someone. This is despite the fact that a) you might get the wrong information because you cannot verify the expertise of the person you are asking, and b) you remain dependent on someone else instead of learning how to use an app.

Now consider this. I know that some in schooling and education are lost or directionless with regard to technology-mediated pedagogies. Yet they do not ask someone like me or learn from expert others via social media. They choose instead to follow their internal compass and muddle along.

They might be heading in the right direction. They might not. The problem with schooling and education is that the journeys are long and the landscape sometimes changes so slowly and subtly that folks think they are on the right track. That is until someone points this out. Then they ignore the call, shoot the messenger, or take the warning seriously. Sadly, not many belong to the last group. I wish more of these people would stop me and ask for directions.

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Jimmy Kimmel introduced an eight-year-old girl who scammed her way out of Zoom-based class.

That girl was not the first nor will she be the last to find ways to skip class be it in-person or online.

However, she was among the few who got on television because a talkshow host and/or his team thought it would be funny.

In the past, some folks might have sought 15 minutes of fame by design. Today it might be their 15 seconds of TikTok notoriety by accident.

The difference is the speed and method. But the outcome is the same: The fame/notoriety is a footnote in history or replaced with the next attention grabber. This is what happens when you celebrate mediocrity.

This is a tangential reminder not to reach for the low-hanging fruit in teaching. Merely enhancing lessons with technology to grab attention is mediocre compared to the more difficult but also more effective work of enabling learning.

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I was glad to find out about the effort to actively diagnose and support young children with learning impediments.

I was not as glad to see how “digital solutions” to support or enable learning was relegated to the end of the video. It was merely mentioned and not elaborated on. Is edtech not part of the support or enablement of such children?

More broadly speaking, I take issue with agencies that still have a standalone technology module that is part of a larger course. Worse still, some of these modules are afterthoughts and/or relegated to the end of the course.

Such a design sends an insidious message to participants: Edtech is not important or is a good-to-have instead of a must-have.

I found this selection of perspectives from teachers who used edtech in their classrooms interesting.

Not eye-opening because these were pretty well-informed and critical views of teachers who had been around the block and who seemed to care for their learners.

They were interesting because of the deep insights and persistent misconceptions. An example of the former:

…one thing about technology that can’t be said enough is that it is NOT neutral. I so often hear “it’s just a tool” arguments, but it is more than that–especially digital technologies. These have embedded in them the views, values, and (often) misconceptions of the developers. If a school adopts a platform or LMS, it is also bringing on board those things…

An example of the latter:

It would be interesting to have two classrooms of the same subject at the same grade level, one high tech, one old-school and feed those students into the same classroom the next year. Ask that next year teacher if there is a measurable difference between the groups.

Such a design might have been common two or three decades ago, but it is unethical to do this nowadays. Technology “treatments” are not like SARS-CoV-2 vaccine placebos vs treatments.

The vaccines are tested because they are the one big factor that is supposed to make a difference. Edtech is not the one big thing that is supposed to raise test scores (that teacher mentioned AP test results in an earlier part of his quote). There are many co-factors that influence test scores so they become confounding variables in a treatment vs control design.

The first example was from a teacher who seemed to have a more systemic view of how things work. We need more teachers who learn and apply that perspective. These teachers will be less frustrated when they fail with edtech and more appreciative when they succeed.

I agree with the tweeted sentiment above, but for a different reason.

The rationale in the linked article for not taking Bloom-ified technology seriously was:

Many of the free digital services illustrated have been abandoned, shutdown or curtailed (eg Delicious, Wikispaces, Flickr).

Someone could easily replace those examples with popular and functional ones.

I have shared my objections before [1] [2]. Short version: The taxonomy is misleading because it implies directionality, i.e., bottom to top.

It is possible to focus on one higher outcome, e.g., challenging students to create a two-minute video about a concept. This challenge requires students to run the entire gamut of outcomes from basic recall to higher level decision-making.

My objection to Bloom-ified edtech is reducing or locking affordances instead of exploring possibilities.

Consider how a quiz-based app might be used by a teacher to test recall and then provide formative feedback. This is a relatively low-level task.

Now imagine the same app in the hands of learners challenged to cooperatively design and test five questions on their peers. They would need to do what a teacher does and employ both critical and creative thinking. They would need to ensure that their recall is accurate and be able to evaluate their options.

Bloom-ified technology is taking one flaw (linear hierarchy) and combining it with another flaw (limiting technology). Just because you can combine one idea with another does not mean you should.


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