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Posts Tagged ‘edtech

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.

I have read about the pushback against “personalised learning”, particularly in the USA, for a while. The latest is this article, Teachers’ Union Faces Backlash Over Publication on Personalized Learning.

It might seem strange that attempts to help learners are met with resistance from the people at the frontline of helping them. The rhetoric, and perhaps the possible reality, is that computers and corporatised solutions threaten the jobs of teachers.

The actual reality might be that there are other factors that reduce teaching positions, e.g., shrinking budgets, poor test scores, political mandates.

Singapore’s reality was and is our low birthrate. As a former faculty of Singapore’s only teacher preparation institute, I saw the demand for teachers plateau and now see it in gentle decline.

When I started educating teachers 20 years ago, I would hear preservice teachers occasionally remark during our ICT classes how computers were going to replace them. That did not happen then and ICT is not the cause now.

We have yet to “personalise” learning in the mainstream Singapore classroom as much as edtech vendors might like. We do not have computerised standardised testing like many schools in the USA.

Our personal and personalisable technology is stealthily hidden in students’ bags, locked away in carts, or white-elephanted in labs. ICT is still like good-to-have bottled water and not must-have tap water.

Our edtech vendors are thankfully not as aggressive or creative as enrichment tuition agencies. The latter offer a different sort of personalisation: Exchange money, drilling, and sweat for better grades, never mind if you actually learn anything.

So in the USA and Singapore, we have depersonalised personal learning. It is corporatised and mechanical ICT in the USA; it is the avoidance of meaningful ICT and being test smart here.

Recently I read an article written with hope. Blind hope.

If the title (How the Amazon Echo Show Will Revolutionize Higher Education) does not reveal why, then its list of how-exactly will.

If the article was meant to be satire, it failed because its tone was too honest and earnest. It was almost as if the writer was sponsored to write it or wrote it to get sponsored.

Either way, the ideas focused blindly and romantically on technology in education instead of realistically and critically.

For example, one suggestion was that the device would let you “visit your alma mater’s Second Life campus from every room in your home by voice command”. Second Life? There is as much point of doing this as visiting Ello and MySpace.

How about being able to “monitor your children in their dorm rooms through the always-on video and audio feeds”? Creepy much? Legal advocates for privacy could have a field day with this one.

Maybe the legal folk could conference with the device. They could also use existing systems today to do all the items of the list and just as well if not better. The oversell of edtech is a fetish.

We already have the benefit of hindsight of the “disruption” of higher education by MOOCs and the “Uberisation” of education.

History repeats itself. It has to, because no one ever listens. -- Steve Turner.

We should have learnt from those mistakes, but we collectively ignore or conveniently forget.

The technology giants do create change and it is tempting to gaze into the crystal ball to predict the future. But the future is not just a function of technology, particularly in the edtech world.

Here it is a socio-technical phenomenon. People and mindsets shape what edtech does. This is why we still appropriate the latest technologies for show-and-tell. It is when people do something unexpected and different with the technology that change happens.

My claim is not sexy because it is not based on a fetish for technology. It is based on critical research and reflective practice. This allows me to have my head in the air while my feet still feel the ground.

You can accuse me of being boring with my approach to edtech, but certainly not of being kinky.

Are classrooms today different from those from a generation ago? Yes and no, depending on what you look at.

If you focus on the superficial, like infrastructure, you might say that classrooms have more modern fixtures. But just about any school-going child can still recognise a 19th century classroom because not much has changed.

On the other hand, classroom practices vary. For example, there are fewer incidences of corporal punishment now. Officially we might like to declare that there is none. So the classroom of today is different from yesteryear’s in that sense.

A recent STonline article, Put away e-devices in class? No way!, tried to show how else classrooms are different.

The article cited one example of “high-tech ways of engaging students”. It was the Swivl. Or in the case of the article, the “Swivl robot”.

I have used different generations of the Swivl (see older version above) and I would not consider it a robot in the educational context.

The device allows you to place a video-recording phone or slate on it so that it tracks the human presenter as he or she moves about the room.

The Swivl is not a robot in the sense that has been applied in schooling and education. The latter form is often an enhancement, an analogue, or even a replacement of the teacher.

According to the article, the device was used to record presentations and the recordings were put online. Institutions of higher learning that purchased this tool initially used it to create “e-learning lectures”. This was a perfect example of doing the same thing differently or a case of different-tool-same-method.

The important issue should not be the technological enhancement, but what technology enables pedagogically and in terms of learning.

For example, recordings of presentations or teaching enable a learner to see themselves through another’s eyes. They might learn to take more and broader perspectives, and thus develop metacognitive strategies like reflecting and changing approaches.

This sounds like a mouthful, but it is also what is more important than the tool itself. The tool does not just enhance a process; it enables it. This is what makes the classroom different and better than the one in the past.

I pick on just one of the three anecdotes in the article to make that point. The other examples of gamification and virtual reality are worth reading and seem different enough. Managed well they are better practices than classrooms of old.

That said, critical readers (critical, not cynical) should note that standalone anecdotes to not necessarily represent an entire system. Small pockets of experimentation or innovation do not represent the entire suit or wardrobe.

Actual pockets are designed be discrete. Some are even hidden. Both are functional and are arguably essential, but very few people outside the owner of the pockets know what is in them. So I appreciate the article turning this pedagogical pocket inside-out.

But let us not get carried away and think that the pockets make the suit.

It is Christmas so here is a spoof of the song, 12 Days of Christmas [source].

Twelve training centers closing
(In the age of tech, who needs classroom training anyway?)
Eleven courses boring
Ten networks crashing
Nine budgets shrinking
Eight SMEs hiding
Seven websites breaking
Six slide decks missing
Five authoring tools
Four LMSs
Three Google Glasses
Two Second Life logins
And some virtual reality.

I enjoyed this humorously sarcastic take on corporate edtech. As with most forms of humour, it is based on some form of reality.

As you ho-ho-ho, know that some places are not enjoying the financial and social costs of maintaining such systems because of misfiring or outdated notions of what it means to learn.

Fintech is short for financial technology. Examples might include digital wallets, apps for funds transfer, and bitcoin.

That is the limit of what I know about fintech. Oh, and that it promises to be a big moneymaker.

What I understand more deeply is educational technology. So when I read TechCrunch’s article Edtech is the next fintech, I shuddered.

I read with dread the dry descriptions of money-making and profit potential from this sector. It was like watching the Greek gods dispassionately play chess with human pieces.

We already have vendors and providers with little idea telling teachers what they are doing wrong and how to do it right, i.e., their way or the old way packaged in shinier parcels. We do not need more of that.

But we will get more. Many will be led by their pockets. Very few will have their hearts and minds in the right place.

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