Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Ed Tech's Obituary

Mike Crowley (International School of Brussels) was part of the throng at ISTE '18, but what he saw caused him to declare the death of ed tech.

The particular feature that pushed him over the edge was Google Forms Locked Mode. This will only be available on school-managed chromebooks, but it does address one of the basic flaws of Google Forms. Google Forms was a great way to created a computer-operated quiz or test (perfect if you just don't have the time to score a bunch of bubble tests, for some reason), but there was nothing to keep your students from opening another window and browsing the internet for answers.

Now, if your school won't have access to Locked Mode, let me offer you a workaround that some teachers use.

1) Have students put away phones and close up their computers.

2) Hand out the quiz or test on a piece of paper.

As Crowley points out, one must wonder exactly what problem Locked Mode solves:

Prohibiting students from cheating on traditional assessments using expensive tech tools to perform very basic 20th century tasks is the new transformation.

Or as he puts it elsewhere, "New tools. Old thinking."

This is not a new problem in ed tech, and we always get there the same way. Ed tech companies and their fans don't start with the right question, which is "What's the best way to educate students?" Instead, they start with, "Let's assume that we must use this tech for something. What's an easy thing we could use it for? And then, because our backwards thinking has opened up a variety of canned worms, how can we use the tech to close up those cans?" This has been an ed tech problem since the development of mimeograph machines and those little mechanical bubbler test checkers.

The advent of computer driven ed tech has added one other wrinkle, and Crowley points at it here:

If education is to be the target of an industry that has grown increasingly obsessed with standardization, control, automation, and delivery efficiencies, then we must opt out.

Indeed. This is the other problem at the heart of ed tech-- an industry that says, "If we could just get schools to change the way they work, then schools could better meet the needs of our industry."

Our industry wants to make a mint from the data that could be collected via ed tech, but to do that, we need data that is standardized. And to deliver the standardization with fidelity, we need to set up a system that leaves no room for human variation-- ideally, we just automate the whole thing. By clamping down on the humans in the system, we can be more efficient, collect more data, and develop an approach to education that will really help us grow and profit as a company.

Crowley is correct-- this is not really Ed Tech, but just plain Tech with a focus on the education market. I'm with Crowley on this, including his insistence that digital tools still can matter:

I am very much an advocate for learning environments that provide learners with opportunities to do things that will enhance deep learning and provide students with the potential to do real, meaningful work, not simply mimic it. But this approach to learning needs to reside with the individual learner in mind, not with an industrial mindset that is driven by a desire to impose efficiency and control solutions on all. This is what EdTech has increasingly become now and it’s dead to me after ISTE. Let’s imagine what learning can be, not how we can run it to scale with organizational and industry needs driving the agenda.

Exactly. The ed tech tail wags the education dog. Far too much ed tech, from Common Core computerized testing to the new darling, personalized [sic] education, is driven not by what would be good for students, but by what would be good for the tech companies pushing this baloney.

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