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Posts Tagged ‘history

The video below reminded me of one of the core messages of the Pessimists Archive/Build For Tomorrow podcast — technology backlash (tech lash) is often driven by technological determinism and ignorance of history.

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This Economist video started with a self critique of the opening question: Should we fear technology? It rightly pointed out that the problem is not technology, it is our relationship with technology.

One relationship is our failure to learn from how people reacted to emerging technologies in the past. We fear technology because we do not understand it, choose not to understand it, and attribute systemic ills to it.

If we had a less deterministic mindset, we would learn from history. We might rise above such lessons and conclude that how we Design, Use, Manage, and Revise technology are counters to ignorance and fear. Yes, I am suggesting that we need DUMR to craft smart responses to tech lash.

It is said that history is told from the point of view of the victors and not the conquered. It is also told from a male lens and with male pens.

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I used to be a biology major (it is my first academic love) but I did not learn about Marie Daly’s contributions to our knowledge about DNA. I only learnt about Watson and Crick — two white men.

I learnt that Watson was a racist and sexist. He had many of his honorary titles removed over his racist comments.

My issue is not that we ignore history that was whitewashed or spiked with testosterone. It is that we revisit it, view it with multiple lenses, and revise it. What we see might surprise and inform us. What we retell might provide a clearer path of where to go next.

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If Johnny Harris has his facts straight, then there is a surprising and enlightening historical link between Belgian imperialism of the Congo and the Johnson and Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine. The video is well worth the watch for the story and the skill with which Harris serves it up.

For me, this is a reminder to always be aware of the history of any policy, process, or product. In my field, all three are ingredients of edtech.

Like the J&J vaccine, each form of edtech has storied histories. Some might have dark or dirty roots. While we cannot change the past or if the present might be positively unrecognisable from a shady past, knowing the history is still valuable.

How so? After being informed about the past, I believe that we can do something about making the present policy or practice better. For example, content management systems with strict command and control might be giving way to more open platforms that encourage co-creation and collaboration.

We can also can be humble about what we are involved in. This approach is particularly relevant if we are part of a successful intervention, e.g., the provision of mobile devices and Internet dongles to students-in-need. We acknowledge what others have done to enable online and distance learning, and do our part to keep everyone moving forward and upward.

I created an image quote from this tweet. It explains why history repeats itself.

If we bother to study our yesterdays before making judgements about our todays and tomorrows, we might break the pattern that holds us back.

That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.  — Aldous Huxley

There are several models of educational technology (edtech) integration. However, not many of them have been as researched as TPACK.

TPACK framework,


If I had to give an elevator pitch for it, I would say that any educator wishing to integrate edtech (not just use it) would have to consider their knowledge of the technology (T), pedagogy (P), content (C), the overlaps of TPC, and contextual factors.

One contextual factor that is often ignored is the recent history of the edtech in question. Why does edtech history matter? We need it to learn where it came from, why it was created, how it was used, and what mistakes were made before.

Take Zoom, for instance. Now it seems that every other video conference call or class is over Zoom. People blindly ignore its non-educational roots and its missteps. Audrey Watters recently summarised just one of many examples of Zoom’s foibles.

While Zoom has tried cleaning up its act, it still has a chequered past. Not factoring this as part of the contextual integration is like ignoring, say, the racist past of a book publishing company or the financial irregularities of a potential partner vendor. We would baulk at being associated with the publisher and vendor, so why not Zoom?

You can only answer that question yourself. To do that, you must investigate the recent history of any edtech vendor or company. You owe it to yourself as a decision maker or educator because you are the gatekeeper for your students. To ignore that task is to shirk your duty.

I look forward to Monday evenings because that is when Last Week Tonight with John Oliver releases a segment of the show on YouTube. This week’s episode was a gem among gems — it was about the state of US history.

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Oliver explained why it was not just important for all of us to learn history, but also to find out what actually happened. After all, conventional wisdom states that history is written by the victors.

There is another saying, this one attributed to George Santayana.

Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. -- George Santayana

At this mark of the video, Oliver stated a reason why we condemn ourselves:

The less you know about history, the easier that it is to imagine you’d always be on the right side of it.

While Oliver passionately sold his message in the context of US history, something similar could be said about educational technology. We condemn ourselves to repeat the mistakes of the past by assuming that the circumstances now are “unprecedented”.

In that respect, I find the musings and work of people like Audrey Watters, Larry Cuban, and Steve Wheeler to be informative and instructive. A bit of critical insight can prevent a lot of wasted time, money, and effort. But instead of investing those resources into looking back and around, I see companies and schools looking blindly forward.

It is one thing to remain wilfully ignorant of the recent histories of various edtech. It is another to keep others in the dark. This is when schools and institutes share only success stories without context or hide failures for fear of ridicule. Context and takeaways from failure are part of the history of edtech. Leaving these out from the narrative sabotages the tomorrow’s efforts.

History repeats itself. We just have to be still and reflective enough to notice. For example:

But to actually change, we need to have the courage and persistence to take action.

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The video above seems to have little, if anything, to do with being an edtech champion. But the words of historian Rutger Bregman ring true.

Bregman gained attention at the most recent Davos summit when he emphasised taxation of the ultra rich over philanthropy.

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Change agents who take their roles seriously might take to heart his reminder:

We can’t afford to just be tinkering around the edges. If history teaches us one thing, it’s always that change never starts in the centre, but it always starts on the fringes, with people who are first dismissed as crazy and unreasonable and ridiculous. Every milestone of civilisation, the end of slavery, democracy, equal rights for men and women, the welfare state. All these ideas were dismissed once as unreasonable and crazy. Until they happened.

Be crazy. Be unreasonable. Be ridiculous. But only you have your head screwed on right and are a student of the history of your field. You can project only if you have depth, and that comes from the past. For change agents, this past does not hold back; it anchors to realities that need to change.

During a visitation this lunar new year, a family member played a video of a gathering on an almost 30-year-old video tape.

Through the video “snow”, we watched a snippet of Singapore in 1991. Folks gathered around the TV screen to question their fashion and hairstyle choices, and to gossip about relatives who had since passed away.

Since the video featured the apartment we were in, some marvelled at how little had changed by comparing what was on screen with what was around us.

Only one part of the video caught my attention. While the adults in the video chatted in the living room, a girl busied herself by playing video games on an old console.

Back in the room, my son was sitting in the same place as the girl in the video. In between watching the video time capsule, he played video games on his iPhone. So much time had passed, but so little had changed.

I was not thinking about kids being kids. I was thinking about how quick adults are to judge kids as they explore and learn on their own. I was also wondering how oblivious adults are to the change process (or the lack of, in this case).

For me, the visitation video was a reminder that things might seem to change superficially. But if we dig deeper, things actually remain the same. The way to tell if anything has changed at all it to examine the history of a behaviour or practice.

By the time this entry goes live, I should be rewarding myself with a short and actual break.

But I can bend light and see something beyond the horizon. This is why I chose to revise this image quotation.

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

The new image is above while the original below was one that I uploaded to Google Photos in October 2015.

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

Like my reflection on yesterday’s image quote, I liked the original image. It was simple and the bloodied “repeat” button sent its own visual message.

As I work with different agencies and various stakeholders, I sometimes wonder why they do not learn from one another. The opportunities wait to be taken and the links between groups grow cold. So instead of learning from the mistakes of others, they make the same ones all over again.


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