Thursday May 01, 2014

What Should Technologists Know About Education?

I'm quite flattered to see my "Audrey Test" show up as part of the #TeachtheWeb discussion. I’m also a little mortified – perhaps it’s always weird to see something you wrote several years ago back in circulation.

I wrote the post at a particular time in my thinking and at a particular moment in ed-tech. The post was also a response to a specific request (to devise the ed-tech equivalent of Spolsky’s “The Joel Test”). Without the urging to do so, I’m not sure I ever would have framed it in quite such a pedantic manner. Or at the very least, I’m not sure I’d have framed it as a “test.”

(For what it’s worth, I have added a section to this site -- the Hack Education Ed-Tech Guide -- where I’ve expanded on this question of “what should we know about ed-tech” but also included what educators need to know about tech. And I plan (some day) to add a section about what learners should know as well about both industries. I'm happy to include resources. Here's the Github repo. You should know what to do right?)

I do stick by the overarching and original argument that motivated “The Audrey Test” – one that several folks have pointed out on this thread: that there’s a dearth of knowledge about and experience in education among many in ed-tech, particularly among the latest surge of ed-tech entrepreneurs and among those who are suddenly interested in boosting technology education.

The word “education” here is shorthand for a number of things, of course: how people learn (what we know about cognitive development, what we know about social interactions that welcome or dissuade people along the way, how learning theories have and have not shaped classroom practices, etc); how individual schools function (in terms of procurement, pedagogy, policy, etc); how we came to have this particular institution and its particular disciplines (what’s changed, what hasn’t, and why).

Frankly there’s actually no need for a “test.” I can tell within the first few minutes of talking to folks what they know, what they want to know, what they want from their work in education, what they think about “the public sphere,” what they think about kids, what they think about me. (That doesn’t mean I write them off, dismiss them, “fail” them. It’s really not that simple. Except when it is.)

Nevertheless I’d still like to point people to edu resources to help us all think through our endeavors as we work towards building the future of learning. (That’s what I hope I do with my blog, I guess.) And it’s worth noting too, as I think @toolness mentions, that those who could and should benefit from these resources does indeed include those already in education, not simply those in the business of education.

If all this looks too much like a reading assignment, well, there you go. I am partial to reading. Very partial to reading.

For what it’s worth, I actually don’t have, as I think @epilepticrabbit suggests, “a background in education” – not formally at least. I mean, I taught for a long time. But my academic background is in literature, folklore, media studies, and women’s studies. What I learned about “education” as a practice comes through thinking about pedagogy and literacy and freedom. What I have learned about “ed-tech” comes from experience (as a student and as a teacher); what I have learned about “ed-tech” comes from my own purposeful and extra-academic immersion in the field. It does come from reading some books. So there ya go.

And it’s true: when I point people at resources to help them think through their approach to technology and education, it’s probably going to be colored by some of the framework of my academic training. I care about language, culture, equity, justice. I read blogs. I read books.

But I worry that, when we don’t think about education technology through that rich framework – the history and theory and practice that has come before us – that we’re gonna fuck up at a really important moment in history. It isn’t simply that we’ll recreate the mistakes of ed-tech past or that we’ll burst free (INNOVATION!) of ed-tech past via our imaginative ignorance (that’s not quite @carlacasilli’s point, I recognize). It’s never easy to shake off the ideology of education or of technology. They’re so deeply embedded in politics and power. When we “disrupt” institutions, power doesn’t simply dissipate, it moves to new nodes. One of those powerful new nodes is the tech sector. Let’s recognize that, eh?

See, I look around technology today (tech and ed-tech) and I see an incredible reverberation of the work of the behaviorist BF Skinner, for example. Now if you turn to programs in “academia” that teach "educational theory," you’ll find that Skinner, while taught, isn’t lauded. He hasn’t been for decades. He was resoundingly dismissed in other disciplinary circles too via Noam Chomsky. And yet, all around me, I see Skinnerism – click-for-immediate-feedback. People as pigeons. Zynga. Farmville. Gamification. But without the language and the theory and the history to say, “hey we recognized in the mid 1960s that this was a wretched path, one with all sorts of anti-democratic repercussions,” we’re not just making the same mistakes again, we’re actually engaging in reactionary practices – politically, pedagogically.

It matters what we know about the history of education. It matters what we know about the history of technology. We don’t all have to know every detail. Good grief. Me, I learn something new every day. I’m a student of the field. But to suggest that such an undertaking is a waste of time or only for academics (eyeroll. academics) and that instead we should in education technology “fail fast and pivot” means we’re adopting the language of business and moreover the ideology of the technology industry (and all its imperialist history – right? we know that history? the history of computing and war?). And it’s becoming a resoundingly anti-intellectual ideology.

And if we’re so obsessed with failure as a goal, we need to recognize too that while we work things out – because we’re too busy to learn about the past – we’re in the meantime screwing with a lot of (often marginalized) kids as we “play.”

So what should technologists know about education? And when should we call technologists (those inside and outside of educational instituions) on their powerful and troubling ideology of "I know nothing!"?


Thursday Oct 10, 2013

Technology & this College Generation

"College is a boring thing. E-mail is a boring thing. It goes together"

Prof. Sharma came into the classroom and asked the students if they were ready! He could see Students love technologyall the students looking at each other and murmuring.

"Silence please", he ordered, "I told you that there would be an exam today. Did you not read your emails?" There were only a handful of yeses... and the rest were still curious to understand what mail is the Professor talking about.

Dead silence remained...

The Professor soon learnt that the students did not know he had changed the reading assignment because they did not check their e-mail regularly, if at all. To the students, email was an antiquated subject. Some of them did not even seem to know they had a college e-mail account.

That is when he added to this course syllabuses: "Students must check e-mail daily."

So, what do students look at... what is that the access more frequently. Its no news, they prefer 'Social Media'. Email for them is too slow - compared to texting.

It was 'cool', once upon a time when a professor would announce that the new assignment would be available on the 'email'. But as it stands today, e-mail has never really been a fun to use. It's always like, "This is something you have to do. School is a boring thing. E-mail is a boring thing. It goes together."

An academician we spoke with mentioned, “We have this perception that because students are fluent with things like smartphones and downloading music that they are born with chips embedded in them that make them technology wizards,” he said. “They are no better at managing e-mail than anyone else.”

The computer habits are going down. A recent research published states that the students only access e-mail for 6-minutes during a day. It further mentions that during a semester, they spent an average 123 minutes a day on a computer, by far the biggest portion of which goes on social networking - 31 minutes. Interestingly, the only thing they spent less time on than e-mail: hunting for content via search engines (four minutes).

One director of an esteemed institution stated, "Faculty and staff love to blame students for not checking e-mail instead of owning up to the fact that no one ever got that good at using e-mail in the first place,” he said, citing vague subject lines and (exaggerating to make his point) 36-paragraph e-mails from faculty in which the crucial information is in paragraph 27. “How are they going to learn to use e-mail when that’s the model, and why would they want to?”

“E-mail is a sinkhole where knowledge goes to die,” he said. He further mentioned that he gave up e-mail in 2011. It was a radical move, because he was the one who introduced email to the institution 15 years ago. “I’m trying to undo that sinful work,” he said, jokingly.

E-mails to him receive an automated reply: “Goodbye E-mail, I’m busy/travelling.” plus some 20 ways to reach him. About the only person frustrated by this, he said, was a department head who wanted to know “how will you possibly read our important departmental announcements?”

Isn't it a better option that the student receives an text message like, "The reading assignment has been changed to Chapter 2." The other options: e-mail, text, Facebook and Twitter...

Is the faculty today prepared to embrace technology?

As professors step out from behind lecterns to stand beside laptops or in front of cameras—or both—the top concern for campus information-technology departments across the country is how they can help faculty members move smoothly into the digital age of learning.

While technology continues to grow on campuses — through both online classes and the increasing usage of mobile devices — the ability of faculty members to use and integrate technology is becoming a big concern; besides worrying about the effectiveness of information-technology spending.

As a matter of fact, its the faculty members who are facing the toughest challenge. In a recent research conducted, helping faculty members acclimate to new classroom technologies was addressed as the biggest concern for the next two or three years. With technologies like smart-classes and revolutions like MOOCs are bringing new headaches to the faculty members.

Infact, there is huge skeptism around this phase of transition - from traditional methodologies, western acceptance of virtual teaching, and our belief of face-to-face teaching. Infact, faculty is also not prepared to believe that the students will accept these modes of technologies imbibing virtual classroom methodogolies - like MOOC.

The generation today - institutions, parents and students alike - expects technology, integrated tools, accomodating mobile usage and upgrade to fast changing teaching tools. In one way or the other, the pressure only is on the faculty. Where aspects like ERP, institution automation were not the only necessity, these tools like BlackBoard, Moodle have become important tools too.

In the institutes today, we seldom see those racks full of magazines, journals... all cluttered in not-so-good conditions. The world has changed to a more contrasting avenue with subscribed e-books and e-journals being available and accessible not only from the workstations in the library but also from the laptops/smart-devices that the students have from anywhere through the internet.

The stakeholders are all consumers and demand a better experience, interestingly which is driven primarily by the institution's faculty. Technology needs to be driven by them and they need to be prepared for it. Not only does it have to be easy to use but also have tools that can enable them to be expressive.

In-line to these thoughts, I came across this 2013 Campus Computing Survey. This might be able to add perspective to the blog above.


Mohit Satraj Phogat
Author: Mohit Phogat

This site focuses on Oracle's offerings to higher education in the Indian region. It intends to cover news, reviews, guides, how-to articles, descriptive videos, and podcasts on the trends which should be helpful to customers, prospects and developer community alike.

Follow me @


« October 2015