The Edu-Decade That Was: Unfounded Optimism?

Old European Clock with Calendar DialsI have seen a number of end-of-the-year/decade posts that seem to be somewhat pessimistic. There are a LOT of reasons to be pessimistic: especially in the education technology sector: privitization of teaching and learning; Betsy DeVos; corporate enclosing of the Commons; lack of data literacy on the part of institutions; entrenching LMSs, etc. But there were a lot of things that I liked between the years 2010 and 2019 that I think really changed the way that I think about teaching and learning. Before I go on – let’s define some terms: education technology is technology that is meant to facilitate teaching and learning. There are a lot of vague definitions that don’t really address the technology part. This is a typical definition from the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) as quoted from Kurt’s Definitions of Educational Technology: “Educational technology is the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.” Another more generic AECT definition from the 70s reads: “Educational technology is a complex, integrated process involving people, procedures, ideas, devices and organization for analyzing problems and devising, implementing, evaluating and managing solutions to those problems involved in all aspects of human learning.” There are a lot of definitions out there similar to this one. Some are more weighted towards teaching and learning, some are more weighted to technology, and few address ethics.

What made the last decade so difficult is how education institutions let corporations control the definitions so that a lot of “study and ethical practice” gets left out of the work. With the promise of ease of use, low-cost, increased student retention (or insert unreasonable-metric-claim here), etc. institutions are willing to buy into technology without regard to accessibility, scalability, equity and inclusion, data privacy or student safety, in hope of solving problem X that will then get to be checked off of an accreditation list. Or worse, with the hope of not having to invest in actual people and local infrastructure.

But despite all of that, I keep at this work. Those who know me, I mean those who really know my career, are sometimes puzzled (some are shocked) that I am still at it. The answer is, of course, the people. Those people include the students and faculty that I have worked with as a teacher and as an instructional designer. Through all of it, I have always believed in the human connection in education as a transformative force. For myself, technology is just a means to foster those connections – that is the only role it should have.

cMOOCS and Connectivism

I had participated in Connectivist MOOCs before the decade but early in the last decade there were a lot of interesting online courses ran on the Connectivist MOOC model or something not quite entirely unlike it including Rhizo14, DS106 continued, as well as other courses like “Critical Literacies 2010” led by Stephen Downes and Rita Kop, and George Siemens, Dave Cormier, and Stephen Downes again with “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2011.” George Siemens also facilitated “Learning Analytics 2011.” There were MANY more great courses, workshops, and experiences online that were driven by the participants rather than a syllabus. Is this “education technology”? I say “yes,” it is using technology to mediate teaching and learning. The corporations will tell you “no” because it is difficult to package and sell. They have their own version of this that is easier to market (see xMOOCs).

Annotating the Internet

We saw new tools that allow us to collectively annotate and share knowledge – not just information. When I can follow someone’s annotations on a document, read comments and questions others write on those comments, then I get to look inside someone else’s process as they make conclusions, arguments, and connections around that document. It is exhilarating. I had the good fortune in participating in Annotating Engelbart (along with hundreds of others) using the annotation tool which is also on this blog as a plug-in. Other tools that I think came along in the nick-of-time to save my faith in the network is Roam Research and Transo. These are social note-taking apps that allow you to easily share your notes and convert them into concept maps. This posting isn’t the place for me to review these tools but I think they are the three most import tools on the web right now. The web has to be more than a container of information and these tools go there and do that.

Equity and Inclusion

I was tired of seeing the same old course evaluation rubrics out there and watching online learning fail our students despite the course getting passing marks on a rubric. What the hell are we measuring? The expectations of the rubrics seemed to say that the students arriving in the online courses would be college-ready with a “standard” student back-ground, financially self-sufficient, not working, no children, etc. For instance, if the online course evaluation rubric asks “can the students easily find a list of outcomes for the class?” and the person checking off the course is usually white, upper-middle class, well educated, experienced in education and knows (or imagines) what value there might be in lists of outcomes, the answer will likely be “yes.” We have to stop believing the myth of a homogeneous student body. In the post-Black Lives Matter world, people are starting to do real work on this that I think will make a difference. A few of the ones I am currently excited about is the Culturally Responsive Curriculum Scorecard: “Across the country, rigorous evaluations and studies have shown that culturally responsive curricula increase student academic engagement, attendance, grade point averages, graduation rates, civic engagement, positive racial self-images, and self-definition…CRE is essential for students of color, and also has a positive impact on White students and their ability to think critically…Not only does CRE impact students’ academic experiences, but it can also have significant influence on racial attitudes and biases, and provide the cognitive tools needed to critique institutional racism (Garth-McCullough, 2008).” I am excited about this because we will actually be using this to evaluate HS+ college courses here in Washington State. Another tool that was created in 2018 is the Peralta Community College District Equity Rubric. All of this work came out over the last decade. It makes me hopeful that equity and inclusion can be part of the evaluation of elearning and technology. I am not celebrating social justice in education victories just yet, but the time for examining education with that lens is long past due.

Data Literacy

I am not a fan of giving all of our student data to corporations. LMSs, “platforms,” and the like can possibly start out well-meaning but then eventually they get “successful” and wind up selling out to others who may not be as well intentioned. It took a while to get here but at the end of the last decade, more institutions began to address ethics and data. Back in 2013, I began to see more papers like Sharon Slade and Paul Prinsloo’s “Learning Analytics Ethical Issues and Dilemmas” instead of the gee-whiz articles that promised that data was going to change everything. Maybe it has but not in a good way. The good news, and why data is on this list is that Sharon Slade continues her work in 2019 with “Global Guidelines: Ethics in Learning Analytics” which we desperately need – international guidelines for all data. Educational institutions need to develop purchasing contracts with ed tech vendors that describe exactly what happens with student data before, during, and after the life of the contract or the product. Just as we require a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) for purchases (which are sometimes ignored!), we need something similar for data.

Open Pedagogy, “A Domain of One’s Own,” and DS106

So all of the above have roots and beginnings in the decade before 2010, but for myself, they really bloomed in the 20 teens. Open pedagogy, student-driven and created learning, or “the practice of engaging with students as creators of information rather than simply consumers of it” was not invented in the twenty-teens but certainly blossomed with the work of Robin DeRosa and Rajiv Jhangiani (see the Open Pedagogy Notebook) and others. Audrey Watters has a concise and useful discussion of why students (and others) should have a domain of ones own in her posting “Why ‘A Domain of One’s Own’ Matters for the Future of Knowledge” from 2017. Jim Groom introduced me this last decade to DS106 which was/is a force of open pedagogy. This course along with cMOOCs changed the way I looked at online learning.

Open Education Resources

The last decade, for good or ill has seen a wider acceptance and understanding of OER. Of course, there is a lot of work still to be done. But events like the 1st World OER Congress convening in Paris in 2012 by UNESCO, COL and other partners was a good start. The resulting Paris OER Declaration reaffirmed the shared commitment of international organizations, governments, and institutions to promoting the open licensing and free sharing of publicly funded content, the development of national policies, and strategies on OER, capacity-building, and open research. And in 2018, the 2nd World OER Congress in Ljubljana, Slovenia, which was co-organized by UNESCO and the Government of Slovenia had 500 experts and national delegates from 111 countries adopting the Ljubljana OER Action Plan. It recommended 41 actions to mainstream open-licensed resources to achieve the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goal 4 on “quality and lifelong education.” My interest in this has been as a faculty mentor for “Open Education for a Better World.”

Micro-Credentials and Badging

Last year I worked on some badging projects for the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges. I have always been a fan of badging. As an English teacher, I would sometimes have students who had taken English 101 but still did not know how to do citations for their references. There were skills missing but we had no way to find out which ones until assessment which is pretty idiotic. Why not have badges for the specific skills the students are expected to have? This is very different from a grade. There are a number of colleges already doing this. It is taking a page from the programming community who has been doing this for years. Your computer science degree won’t impress anyone – what can you do? What have you done? Badges reveal that.

Stephen Downes

I join George Siemens and others in my appreciation for his work. As in all decades in my career as an educator, I owe so much to the hard work and generosity of Stephen Downes. He is one of the first connections I send new instructional designers. I am in secret talks with the Canadian govt to prevent his retirement.

The Year Ahead…

So am I really that optimistic? In some ways yes: I still believe in the power of human creativity and connection – you can take the kid out of the 60s but you can’t take the 60s out of the kid. But I also believe that for every tool, project, or process that I get excited about, there is a corporation ready to fry it and dye it into a repackaged, inaccessible, corporate pile. I think there is a lot more to be done in education. I think that the tools, processes, techniques, and ideas that make up “Education Technology” will continue to evolve as our understanding of what constitutes teaching and learning, knowledge and information, also evolves. But don’t be too attached to your vestigial organs…


This entry was posted in education and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Edu-Decade That Was: Unfounded Optimism?

  1. Pingback: The Edu-Decade That Was: Unfounded Optimism? | Weiterbildungsblog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.