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Posts Tagged ‘edtech


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Why do some technologies, including educational technologies, fail to integrate meaningfully into our lives?

Viewed optimistically, one might suggest that the technology was “before its time”. The technology was ready, but the people were not.

Viewed more critically, one might argue that the technology was a solution seeking a problem. The core issue is whether the problem even exists or needs to be invented first. If you put the proverbial cart before the horse, do not expect any movement.

Viewed more realistically, technology co-evolves with our use so rapidly that it is hard to predict what people want, expect, or will do with technology. If the proverbial posts keep moving, do not expect to score goals.

 
Edtech tools are not created equally and even the best ones do not survive the test of time.

The first half of 2018 will see the demise of Storify and TodaysMeet. We say goodbye to Storify on 16 May 2018 and ta-ta to TodaysMeet on 16 Jun 2018. (The links lead to the official service pages and announcements, but I do not know how long those will exist.)

Storify was the go-to for archiving and curating tweet-chats. TodaysMeet was a clean and easy backchannelling tool. I have reflected on my use of Storify and TodaysMeet before.

I am sad to see them go, but I stand by what I tweeted earlier:

Already freemium tools like Padlet and Dotstorming — another two of my favourites — are emphasising the premium over the free. Padlet will only allow three free spaces and Dotstorming one board for new users.

The tools evolve and we must expect that and change. If the tools devolve, we should not throw our hands up in despair and cry unfair. There is at least person behind each tool who needs to pay his or her bills. We do not work for free, so we should not expect that of others.

But what might educators stretched for money do? Look for alternatives. It barely took a day for my Twitter PLN and RSS feeds to light up with alternatives.

Here is just one example from Twitter for TodaysMeet alternatives:

I also tweet-shared Wakelet, an excellent alternative to Storify. I discovered Wakelet as I subscribe to the RSS feed for ProfHacker.

The sun sets every day and it rises the next. We expect that so much that we take it for granted. Likewise we might become so dependent on some edtech tools that we forget to stay nimble.

It is not noon indefinitely. Watch as the shadows grow long and disappear. Find your own light and gather with other enlightened folk. This is the best way to learn and model constant learning.

If there has been a theme for my last few reflections including this one, it has been this: Refuse to be confused.

Refuse to be confused.

Recently I read an article whose author claimed that edtech was trapped in the basement of Bloom’s Taxonomy (BT). I agree the author’s conclusion, but not how he got there.

To understand what the author means, you need a visual representation of BT. The taxonomy is traditionally represented as a triangle with the learner’s ability to recall as the base.
 

 
The author’s argument was that edtech companies were not adding much value to schooling and education because they were addressing only this lowest order of thinking.

For critics of edtech companies, the author’s statement makes sense:

The current wave of education technology has been fraught with pedagogically unsound replications of the worst aspects of teaching and learning. Rather than build new opportunities for students to move beyond the most basic building blocks of knowledge, much of Silicon Valley has been content to recreate education’s problematic status quo inside the four corners of a Chromebook, and then have the gall to call that innovation.

I would agree fully except that BT should not be viewed or used procedurally from base to tip. I have rationalised why before.

TLDR? Authentic learning does not happen this way. There is no textbook Q&A or fixed procedure in life and in problem-solving. Authentic learning happens organically and the learner is often confronted with ill-structured and complex problems.

If school is supposed to prepare students for work and the rest of their lives, they should be taught in a natural and compatible manner, not in an artificial and over-structured fashion.

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy in the form of a Verb Wheel.

This is why I helped to develop the Bloom’s Verb Wheel. There is no implied base or start point for learning outcomes. A learner can start by needing to create (e.g., a YouTube video) but concurrently need to learn specific skills and content to enable that creation.

So I disagree that there is a need for teachers or edtech companies to climb up a hierarchy of cognitive outcomes. If they do, they constrain themselves to an artificial structure that does not necessarily help natural processes of learning.

I do, however, agree with the author’s suggestion that edtech companies could create better tech or less tech solutions:

Better tech entails leveraging cutting edge research in areas like machine learning to provide students with targeted feedback that scaffolds their learning experiences as they move up the pyramid. Less tech entails building technology that knows how to get out of the way and allow for more meaningful interactions to take place in the classroom. Today’s education technologists are exploring both approaches.

There is no need to use traditional BT as the reference point. It is better technology that enables natural learning or technology that emphasises social forms of learning. The triangle representation of BT holds us back; I say we roll with the BT Verb Wheel instead.

I reserved this read, Why We Must Embrace Benevolent Friction in Education Technology, for the new year.

A few concepts from the article jumped out at me, but the one that stood out was DRIP — Data Rich, Information Poor. What does this have to do with edtech?

DRIP is a criticism of edtech companies and providers that tout data analytics as a means of controlling, feeding, manipulating, or enabling learners. Data is just that, data. It is not organised information that might become internalised as knowledge and then externalised as intervention.

What edtech providers, particularly LMS and CMS companies, have yet to do is help their clients and partners make sense of the data. This is in part because programmer or provider speak is not the same as teacher and educator speak. There are relatively few people — like me — who can bridge that gap.

So what these providers do is reach out to administrators and policymakers because they all deal with numbers and data. They do so in a way that makes sense to them. It does not help that these discussions are not transparent and also make little sense to teachers and educators.
 

 
A while ago I heard about an interrogative torture technique that involved slowly dripping water onto a victim’s head. The slow drips quickly wear down psychological resistance and the interrogators get what they want.

That method does not transfer via DRIP in edtech. It will only drown clients and partners in meaningless data that does not actually help teachers or their learners.

I was primed when I noticed a video waiting in my subscriptions list in YouTube, Educational Technology: Crash Course Computer Science #39.


Video source

I wanted to know what the presenter had to say about the wide field that is educational technology. The video had a good start — it pointed out that while there was a lot of information online, not all of this information would lead to learning.

The presenter then went on to suggest how to turn an informational video to an educational one. Here were some basic tips on leveraging on online videos like YouTube:

  1. Set the speed to balance the need to understand the content and also be able to reflect on it
  2. Pause for a metacognitive cause, e.g., reflect on takeaways, select strategies, anticipate what comes next
  3. Practice worked examples for active learning

Any learner work needs feedback. The quality of feedback is arguably among the most important factors that influence learning. It is also the most difficult and subjective especially when the number of students far exceeds the number of teachers.

How might edtech help in the area of feedback? The video suggested:

  1. Algorithm-based grading of assignments
  2. Algorithm-informed suggestions for more personalised materials, i.e., intelligent tutoring system

While these are nothing new to those in the edtech field, the video provided more depth on how the algorithms are shaped, e.g., Bayesian knowledge tracing.

The video was a great example of what sets an educational video apart from a merely informational one. Even its duration (under 12 minutes) seemed to be an application of research on designing videos for learning.

Have you ever wondered why edtech vendor-developers (particularly those from large companies) like using buzzwords and claim to innovate, but play the same lame game?

The buzzwords might include learner engagement, personalised learning, flipped lessons, learning 24×7, etc. These sound progressive enough, but they are also vague enough to be defined and implemented in any way the vendor prefers.

Why do such vendor-developers operate like this? One main consideration is the cost of development, which can be defined in terms of research, time, and manpower.

Their operating principle is: As much and as fast as possible for as little as possible. To live up to this mantra, vendor-developers can only afford two of the three elements. For example, if a company actually decides to do decent research, it has to lose some development time and dedicate manpower. This is why rigorous research from this industry is rare.

Instead the vendor-developers might ride on the coattails of leaders. Such leaders might include bloggers who are researchers in academia, reknown speakers, or respected thought leaders.

Vendor-developers also take advantage of most clients’ preferences for the familiar and comfortable. For example, vendors will not suggest something outside the institutional LMS or CMS when they offer both, and the client has been conditioned to favour walled gardens.

But little if anything changes with such a conservative mindset. It does not drive a system forward. I picture a worrier on a rocking chair. There is lots of motion and sweat, but that person does not go anywhere.

Worry is like a rocking chair. Lots of movement that gets you nowhere.

Staying still and maintaining the status quo is comfortable and even profitable for vendors. But it is not necessarily impactful for education. To move forward, we have to get off the vendor rocking chair.

The safe bet is dangerous because it breeds complacency and an unhealthy dependence. The complacency is in thinking, e.g., not doing your own homework of what the edtech possibilities and consequences are. The unhealthy reliance is budgetary, e.g., locking your system to a subscription-based scheme that the provider periodically upgrades at higher costs.

The safe bet seems like a small risk at the start. When the game is over, you rediscover why the adage is “the house always wins”.

This is not the time to learn from such a mistake or to reflect on failure. Take the long view so you do not put your teachers and students at risk.

In Singapore’s foodie culture, a crowd or queue is a sign of good eat. Following the crowd might be a good chance to take.
 

 
I read the article embedded in this tweet and was reminded why it is not always wise to do what everyone else is doing.

Microsoft’s Skype found out the hard way that following the social app crowd is not a good thing. Instead of leveraging on its strengths or developing something new, it tried mimicking Snapchat. Some users responded by giving Skype paltry ratings at app stores.

I suggest three takeaways that apply to educational technology integration, instructional design, and app development.

Do different
Going with the flow takes less effort than swimming against the current, so this might make sense in the development of curricula, course elements, and applications. However, this might be like doing the same thing as everyone else or doing the same thing differently.

Are you just delivering content and attempting to engage instead of designing to challenge and empower users? Doing the latter is more difficult, but this might be more worthwhile in the long run.

Sense accurately
According to the article, Skype Corporate VP Amritansh Raghav said that the new features of Skype were requested by users. Whether you are head of ICT or lead designer, you cannot listen only to your noisiest stakeholders because they might be a vocal minority.

You may chose to make data-informed decisions, but you need to know how accurate your sensing tools are and if the data are biased.

Needs, not wants
In 1989, Steve Jobs famously declared that the user is fickle [source].

You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.

Jobs relied more on his intuition than market research. Since most of us are not like Jobs, what can we do?

I say we give the user — or in education, the learner — what they need, not what they want. Being learner-centred does not mean pandering to their desires. It means being focused on their needs and future, not our hangups and past.

One more thing…
The author of the article did not like the garish colour scheme of new Skype. There is an easy solution: Opt for the dark, monotone one in settings.


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