Rebooting education – a little <rant>

    There’s no secret sauce to “reboot education”



I’m concerned that by signing up and subscribing to 21st century visions of “artificial intelligence systems“,  “virtual reality“, “personalized learning” etc that we are putting the metaphorical cart before horse. The position of this misplaced vehicle can be spotted quite easily enough. The innocuous sentence: “Technology is….” instead of “students are….”quickly shows where the actor and actant (or cart and horse) stand in relation to each other. Quite often, the assumption is that technologies (and not the student/ academic/tutor ) are leading the rebooting of education.

Putting the horse in front of the cart is important. But not enough. There are two choices facing an educational organization. The first is a yes/no decision. Do we want to adopt [INSERT TECHNOLOGY]. The second choice is about how we think that the adopted technology will reinforce, amplify or transform current practices within the institution. This is the more nuanced question. The history of education technology shows that most tools and technologies are transient. A start-up culture at a university isn’t created by the choice to hand out tablets to first year students.The combination of ubiquitous Wi-Fi and mobile devices will not flip (or transform) classes. It’s the second decision, about how you respond to the tendencies associated with the introduction of technologies and how these tendencies match you organization’s culture.

If you want to really use ed tech to drive change, then chat to your local ed techie, not the sales teams, futurist or tech evangelist. They will go beyond the simple yes or no decision and be able to tell you whether the proposed ed-tech can support or is at odds with institutional values. 

Rather than believing the benevolent venture philanthropists or start-up disruptors who think that the technology will make a difference, focus on the more nuanced choice about how you want to shape the technology within your organization. Strengthen your current policies and include ed tech elements in it. Focus on your current infrastructure and ask us about how ICT can be used to augment the teaching and learning experience. Invest your budgets in staff and build their teaching skills, don’t blow your grants on hardware. Using echnology for surveillance, detection and security is a choice that a few have made to exert their power with technology. The choice to use technologies in a manner that allows students to take advantage of the available of what technology is a choice on the other side of the same coin.

The digital deck is stacked in favor of certain interests and it is easy to fall into a trap where these particular interests are reinforced by your choices. It’s much harder to deal with the people, practices, processes and structures that make up the educational enterprise. But this IS where the change you seek will happen. Ed-tech can only be an of the enabler. Want to improve efficiency, the contain costs, meet student expectations, prepare them for a future workplace or assist with teaching large classes? Reduced administration, improved quality standards, suitable content delivery mechanism etc can be an outcome of an ICT investment. Alone, technologies cannot drive the disruption you seek. By itself, ed tech it is not a lever. It might be one, of many, enablers. But there’s no one secret sauce to help you reboot education.


P.S. I’ve been reading through the Technology-Enabled Learning Implementation Handbook. Its helpful for those who see the value of ICT, but also recognize the importance interested in adopting appropriate policies, strengthening technology infrastructure, building the capacity of teachers.  It’s less ranty and more useful than this post. More considered thought to follow.

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