In a recent interview, Noam Chomsky commented on the relationship between technology and education and one of his thoughts was the following:
As far as technology itself and education is concerned, technology is basically neutral. It’s like a hammer. The hammer doesn’t care whether you use it to build a house or whether on torture, using it to crush somebody’s skull, the hammer can do either.
I admire Noam Chomsky and his brilliance. I agree with this perspective, but this perspective does not paint the whole picture of what happens when we use technology in education. I’d like to unpack this just a little bit because there is a more accurate picture of technology use in education available to us. The broader picture I describe below helps us understand how technologies are used, why they succeed/fail, and how we can design better learning environments. From my observations of technology use in education, my research, my colleagues’ research, and my reading of the field’s research, here’s what I understand:
- Technologies can be as neutral as described above. For example, Twitter can be used as a broadcasting medium, a conversational medium, or even a 1-1 support tool. YouTube can replace the VCR used in class. Or, it can bring together people from different locations to discuss topics of common interest. In this sense, technologies are neutral in that they can serve various needs and can be used in different ways.
- Technologies themselves are rarely neutral. How can that be, you ask, when the bullet point above stated the opposite? Technology is not created in a vacuum. When technology is created, it is built with the developers’ worldviews, values, beliefs, and assumptions embedded into the technology and revealed through the activities supported and encouraged when individuals use the technology. For example, social networking sites (SNS) structure relationships in specific ways (e.g., followers, friends) and perceive privacy in different ways. Technologies hold particular views of the world, and in this way, they are not neutral. This is true for technologies that we repurpose for educational means (e.g., Twitter, YouTube, Ning, Elgg, Facebook, Flickr, and so on) as well as for technologies created specifically for educational purposes. For example, Learning Management Systems (LMS) espouse certain beliefs about the educational process and their default settings and suggestions may shape how they are used. Whn introduced in educational settings, said technologies tend to introduce tensions and conundrums (e.g., The way the LMS or SNS structured instructor-learner relationships vs. the way faculty envisioned instructor-learner relationships may be in conflict, leading to low uptake, rejection of the tool, etc).
- Technologies can be put to different uses, but not all uses are productive or effective. A hammer doesn’t care whether you use it to “build a house… or crush somebody’s skull,” but it will do a poor job if you try to use it in lieu of a screwdriver. The problem arises when entrepreneurs, designers, instructors, etc treating the hammer as a tool that can help them address all needs. A recent example of this is Udacity treating its product as a solution in search of a problem.
The ways that technology is used on the ground are complex and negotiated. In preparing instructors to use technology in education and designers to envision ways that technology can support/enhance education, we need to expose them to skills and mindsets that allow them to use tools in creative and inspirational ways. We also need to help them understand the assumptions and beliefs that technologies espouse and remain cognizant of the pressures and tensions that these may introduce.
* References pertaining to technology being not-neutral:
Whitworth, A., & Benson, A. (2010). Learning, Design, and Emergence: Two case studies of Moodle in distance education. In G. Veletsianos (Ed.), Emerging Technologies in Distance Education (pp. 195-213). Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University Press.
Hall, R. (2011). Revealing the transformatory moment of learning technology: the place of critical social theory. Research in Learning Technology, 19(3), 273-284.
Lane, L. (2009). Insidious pedagogy: How course management systems impact teaching. First Monday, 14(10).
Crook, C. (2012). The “ digital native ” in context: tensions associated with importing Web 2.0 practices into the school setting. Oxford Review of Education, 38(1), 63-80.
HarvardX and MITx released a number of reports describing their open courses. The overarching paper describing these initiatives, entitled HarvardX and MITx: The first year of open online courses is really helpful in gaining a holistic understanding of HarvardX and MITx learned about their initiatives.
My (preliminary) thoughts:
- It’s exciting to see more data
- It’s exciting to see education researchers involved in the analysis of the data
- The researchers should be congratulated for making these reports available in an expeditious manner via SSRN
- We need more interpretive/qualitative research to understand participants’ and practitioners’ experiences on the ground
- I am wondering whether the community would benefit from access to the data that HarvardX and MITx have, as other individuals/groups could run additional analyses. Granted, I imagine this might require quite a lot of effort, not least in the development of procedures for data sharing.
The course reports appear below, and these are quite helpful in helping the community understand the particulars of each course:
- 3.091x Introduction to Solid-State Chemistry – Fall 2012 MITx Course Report
- 6.00x Introduction to Computer Science and Programming – Fall 2012 MITx Course Report
- 6.002x: Circuits and Electronics – Fall 2012 MITx Course Report
- 2.01x Elements of Structures – Spring 2013 MITx Course Report
- 3.091x Introduction to Solid-State Chemistry – Spring 2013 MITx course report
- 6.00x Introduction to Computer Science and Programming – Spring 2013 MITx Course Report
- 6.002x: Circuits and Electronics – Spring 2013 MITx Course Report
- 7.00x Introduction to Biology: The Secret of Life – Spring 2013 MITx Course Report
- 8.02x Electricity and Magnetism – Spring 2013 MITx Course Report
- 14.73x: The Challenges of Global Poverty – Spring 2013 MITx Course Report
- 8.MReV: Mechanics ReView – Summer 2013 MITx Course Report
The burgeoning interest in education and educational technology is the result of a multitude of forces, pressures, and failures: demographic, political, social, technological, and economic just to mention a few. And the outcomes aren’t just technology-enhanced or better courses. Educational institutions, academic roles, academic life itself, the student experience, and so on are changing. A recent call for proposals from The American Association of University Professors’ Journal of Academic Freedom (due: January 31, 2014) calls for authors to explore the relationship between academic freedom and some of these issues:
Electronic communications and academic freedom
- How has the growth of electronic communications facilitated and impinged on academic freedom?
- What are the implications for academic freedom of the proliferation of open access publications?
- Are commercial entities contributing to the commodification of knowledge through various electronic gatekeeping mechanisms?
- How can institutions cope with hacking and other forms of electronic piracy while maintaining accessibility?
- To what extent are social media such as Twitter and Facebook changing forms of scholarly communication and knowledge dissemination, and what is the upshot for issues of academic freedom?
- How are the increasingly elastic and intangible walls of the electronic classroom challenging existing definitions of academic freedom, shared governance, and intellectual property?
- In what ways can we promote faculty participation in the shared governance of various forms of electronic communications?
- Are faculty e-mails considered the property of the institution? Can administrators read faculty e-mails without notice or permission?
The abridgement of academic freedom in instruction
- The case of former Indiana governor Mitchell Daniels’ efforts to purge scholars’ writings from the classroom has drawn attention to renewed attacks on academic freedom in instruction. Where are such attacks coming from and how have they been resolved?
- The Gates Foundation has devoted millions of dollars to supporting MOOCs and other experiments in online teaching. To what extent are such experiments curtailing or facilitating faculty input into course design?
- The suspension of University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan in 2012 drew attention to the increasingly tense relationship between university boards of trustees and university faculty and executives. In what ways, if any, are such institutional dynamics transforming academic freedom in instruction?
- Federal and state assessment protocols are putting pressure on curricula in many fields. We are interested in both case studies and overviews that detail the impact of these pressures on academic freedom.
The increased use of suspensions
- In September 2013, a professor at the University of Kansas tweeted a comment about gun control that led to a barrage of hate messages. The university suspended this faculty member in order to “avoid disruption.” To what extent are such misused suspensions proliferating, and how might faculty members be made more aware of their rights?
- As university work has become more complex and extensive, the number of duties from which professors can be suspended has proliferated. Examples include relationships of researchers to outside funding agencies, access to email and computing services, and workplace provisions against sexual misconduct, just to name a few of the complex domains in which professors often operate today. What kinds of problems of academic freedom do partial suspensions in these and other areas represent?
- University administrators often seek to cloak suspension in duplicitous language. Does reassignment to duties other than teaching constitute a form of suspension, for example? What is the distinction between such a sanctioning of faculty rights and total suspension?
If you believe that educational technology startups can learn a thing or two from educators and education researchers in their quest to improve education, then we’d love your vote for our 2014 SXSWedu proposal.
Tanya Joosten, Amy Collier, Audrey Watters and I have proposed a panel during which we will discuss how educators/researchers can help startups improve their education technology offerings, and answer questions pertaining to education research, how people learn, and classroom practice. If we want meaningful and transformational change in how we do education, it is imperative for
entrepreneurs and educators/researchers to converse. We’ve called for this over and over. And it’s not just us four that have noticed a disconnect between what educational technologies companies do and what we know about education and learning:
In discussing the flipped classroom model Schneider, Blikstein, and Pea note that “by failing to pay attention to the research, we were applying what is possibly a good idea in the wrong way. That’s why research in education is crucially important to improve our schools. Intuitions are good, but science is better.”
Neil Selwyn notes “The current understanding of schools in the digital age [is] hampered by a curious amnesia, forgetfulness or even willful ignorance of past phases of technology development and implementation…”
Rolin Moe argues, “In education, innovators and disruptors consistently reinvent the wheel, hyping revolutionary ideas that are often unaware of existing research, replications of prior models, or proud of their ignorance of history of the field’s theory and pedagogy.”
In short, our panel will provide answers to the following questions:
1. How can educational technology startups use knowledge generated through education research to improve their products and services?
2. How can educational technology startups partner with educators, researchers, and educational institutions to improve their
3. Why have education technology innovations failed in the past, and what can startups learn from those experiences, so as to avoid making the same mistakes?
If you feel that we have something meaningful to add to the conversation about how technology, pedagogy, and emerging ideas can improve education, then we’d love your vote.
Audrey Watters and I submitted an application for Iversity’s MOOC production fellowship program. If funded, we will co-teach a course that is desperately needed: Foundations of Educational Technology. Our goal is to help individuals learn the history, research, practice, and debates of the field.
We want to improve education. To do so, we believe that educational technology developers, learning designers, and practitioners need to know the answers to a number of important questions including:
(a) how do people learn?
(b) how does technology/pedagogy impact learning?
(c) why have educational technology efforts failed/succeeded in the past?
Our course focuses on these pillars.
The fellowship recipients are selected by a jury of peers and by a process of public voting. If you think that this is a worthwhile cause, we would love your support. If so, please *vote for our proposal*. To vote for our proposal first you have to register on the platform and then you have to click on the green vote button. While you are there you can also read more about our application. There you will notice that our proposed course blends pedagogies, approaches, and ideals that originate from the progressive and open education movements (e.g., OER reuse, cMOOCs, knowledge-building, communities of practice ideas) while introducing artifacts and values that we feel should be staples in xMOOCS (e.g., personal learning plans and instructor-supported community interactions).
The next step, if you are so inclined, is to help spread the good word. Please tell your colleagues and friends about it. Send them to this blog post, to Audrey’s post, or to our proposal, and ask them to help us help the world design meaningful, purposeful, effective, and equitable educational technologies. Remix it, share it on Twitter, Facebook, Google +, your department’s listserv, shout it from your rooftop, write a song about it, create a banner…. do whatever else pleases you to help spread the word. Or, just grab the message below and post it on your favorite social media platform:
I voted for the Foundations of Educational Technology class! Help me spread the word: http://bit.ly/100XoCK #edtechCourse
Finally: I’m very excited about this course. However, I am humbled, I am in awe actually, that friends and colleagues from around the world have offered to help us with the course. So far, 13 students from the University of Texas at Austin have volunteered to be Teaching Assistants for the class and Dr. Valerie Irvine from the University of Victoria and Dr. Rick Schwier from the University of Saskatchewan have also offered to help with various aspects of the course. I am in awe of my colleagues and students who unselfishly offer their time to improve education. The world is a better place because of you. And for that, we thank you!
George & Audrey
While yesterday I mentioned that there was not much conversation about research, today was a little bit different. The value that educational research can contribute was highlighted by Alan November (November Learning) and Richard Culatta (US Department of Education). Richard in particular suggested that edtech startups work with educational researchers and teachers in designing their products. Such a simple idea (and one that we teach in our MA and PhD degrees), but one that is rarely taken into consideration it seems. Working within disciplinary silos (whether that’s teachers developing educational technology alone, or engineers developing educational technology alone) is not how complex problem (like education) are solved. On the one hand, the absence of educators from a design team could lead to development of tools/products that don’t solve any sort of educational problem. On the other hand, the absence of educators might lead design teams to think outside of the constraints of current systems. Each time I think about this, I return to the design process used by IDEO, which highlights diversity and interdisciplinary thinking. The video below is a good example of this type of thinking:
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The acknowledgment that educational technology startups will benefit from partnering with educational researchers is important. It is the same acknowledgement that was made by the NSF in the computing education for the 21st century program (disclosure: I am co-PI on one of those grants). Actually, the NSF went beyond simply acknowledging the value of partnerships and made CS-Education partnerships a requirement in applying for funding.
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Richard mentioned that the Obama administration is developing initiatives that value teachers (e.g., Project Respect). I look forward to learning more about this, but to also understand how such policies align with the high stakes climate that the administration has continued pursuing. While individual policies may be worthwhile, they exist within a larger ecosystem, and I would love to know how the administration sees its high stakes approach aligning with these initiatives.
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Towards the end of the day I managed to position myself right in the middle of conversations related to venture capital, business models, and investment in startups. And the statement that follows has been in my mind since. A panelist said: Do we care about learning outcomes? Absolutely. Once we first make money for our investors. This statement was followed by another statement noting that a sizable return on investment is the “mandate.”
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I’m not that naive to believe that everyone is in this space for noble causes. I also don’t think that everyone is in this space for monetary gain. When building the educational systems of the future, all of us (educators, researchers, investors, designers, and developers alike) should make sure to ask: For whom is this future being built? Who benefits? And who is left out?
This week I am spending time at the SXSWedu conference. It’s described as a conference that “features four days of compelling presentations and informative sessions from education professionals, industry leaders, and policy practitioners committed to engaging all learners.”
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These are not my usual stomping grounds. Indeed, AECT, AERA, E-learn, SITE, EdMedia, ALT-C and all the other conferences I’ve been to feature groups of individuals committed to education and learning as well, but none of them feature the entrepreneurial atmosphere and the “disruption is imminent” aura that this conference is epitomizing.
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I had a great lunch with George Siemens today. I came across George’s work in 2007 and have chatted on and off with him over the past 5 years on various social media platforms but we hadn’t actually ever met face-to-face until today. I joked that I will be wearing my ethnographic hat during my time at the conference, trying to make sense of a culture different than my own. While my research aims to ultimately make a difference in education and people’s lives, and, a number of edtech startups and I are (seemingly) operating in the same area, I am not so sure I am in the “edtech space” (as it is affectionately called by the numerous entrepreneurs I met at the opening reception). And I don’t fully understand the different rounds of venture capital funding. But, that’s the language that’s dominating the conversations so far. But, I do believe this is something that more education researchers need to know about. After all, when individuals propose solutions for the problems of education, we need to listen. And to question. For more on this you should read this piece from Audrey Watters, (who is also at the conference and we got to spend some time chatting together today).
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Language is a strange thing. It’s strange because the same words might have different meaning to different people. Take the words “democratizing education” for example. What do you think of when you hear those words? I think of Paulo Freire, equity, education as a public good, the freedom from pedagogies of oppression. I wasn’t sure what these words meant when I heard them today. I believe they meant “freeing education from the control that educational institutions exert on it.” And even though it sounded good (who doesn’t want to “democratize education” anyway?!) I’m not sure that progressive educators’ visions of democratic and equitable educational systems align with the visions of democratic educational systems that were discussed today. And that’s another reason why more educators and researchers need to be here, and need to be in these conversations.
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Research was absent. Perhaps I was at the wrong sessions. Even at the sessions that I went to, any mention of evaluation (let alone research) was problematic. For example: “15% of our students told us that they [insert survey response here].” There was no mention of how many individuals were surveyed, what the return rate was, or whether the evaluation questions were created and validated by an independent party. I understand that educational research might not be on the radar of commercial entities and investors. But, it’s important. And, if we are truly dedicated to making change in education, however small or large it is, then we should be investigating whether the tools we create work, how they work, and in what contexts they work.
A facebook conversation from yesterday encouraged me to share one of the assignments that I developed for my instructional design course. The goal of the class is for the students to understand, experience, and apply instructional design in a variety of educational contexts.
One of the assignments I developed for asked students to enroll in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) and analyze the instructional materials within the course using one of the rubrics provided by Dick and Carey (the instructional design book we use in class). It was a lot of fun and the students appreciated the exercise. Given the lack of presence and voice by instructional designers in MOOC happenings, the lack of valid, reliable, and serious research that exists on the topic (though Rita Kop’s work on cMOOCs is admirable), and my desire to engage students in contemporary events, I came up with this assignment to embed MOOC analysis in my course. The assignment is available for download on https://dl.dropbox.com/u/2533962/instr-materials-veletsianos.doc and posted below for those who just want to skim it without downloading it. Enjoy and feel free to use it:
Instructional Material analysis assignment
Individually, you will examine and report on the instructional materials of one popular digital learning initiative. An analysis matrix will be provided to you, and you will use that to matrix to evaluate these initiatives.
Length: Minimum 500 words.
|Criteria||Levels of Attainment||Points|
|Written analysis (evaluation)||
This task requires a few hours of research before you can actually complete it. Even though this is an individual task, if you would like to discuss the assignment with any of your colleagues, please feel free to do so.
First read the chapter and the rest of the materials for this week. Without reading those, I can assure you that your understanding of the issues presented will be superficial.
Second, examine the rubric provided by Dick & Carey for evaluating instructional materials (p. 250-251 – see below for the rubric). You will be completing this rubric for a digital environment, and it’s a good idea to understand what it encompasses before you proceed.
Third, select one course provided on one of the following platforms to examine:
- A course on Coursera (select a course that is occurring right now or has been completed. DO NOT select a course that has not started yet): https://www.coursera.org/courses
- A course on EdX (select a course that is occurring right now. DO NOT select a course that has not started yet): https://www.edx.org/courses
- A free course on Udemy (select a course that includes at least 5 “lessons/lectures”): http://www.udemy.com/courses
You can also choose to examine DS106: http://ds106.us/ I am including DS106 on its own because it is a course as opposed to the above (Coursera, EdX, and Udemy) which are platforms. If you pick any of these three (Coursera, EdX, or Udemy), then you should also pick a course (e.g., Within Coursera a possible course is https://www.coursera.org/course/friendsmoneybytes).
Once you have made your selection, it’s time to research your course. Spend time looking around, examining and evaluating the instructional materials provided. You will use the rubric to keep track of the criteria that need to be assessed, and then using this rubric you will write a report assessing the instructional material for the course.
You should start your report by stating the course and its provider. A link would also be helpful. For example, using the example above, I would start my report by stating the following:
“I am examining the course entitled Networks: Friends, Money and Bytes (https://www.coursera.org/course/friendsmoneybytes). This course if offered through Coursera and is taught by Mung Chiang who is a Professor or Electrical Engineering at Princeton University. The course is an introduction to the topic of X and its objectives are XYZ.”
Your report should be specific and detailed in its evaluation of instructional material, and should be guided by the five criteria families discussed by DC: Goal-centered, learner-centered, learning-centered, context-centered, technical criteria. I would like to see that you understand each criterion and that you are capable of applying it to evaluating your course. For example, at the very least, I would expect to see statements such as the following:
Instructional designers use five criteria families to evaluate instructional materials. Learner-centered criteria focus on XYZ and refer to X. The instructional materials for this course appear to be adequate for this criterion because <provide list of reasons here>. The course could be improved in this domain by <list of additions/revisions here>. However, because item X was not disclosed in the course, I am not able to evaluate Y.
Let me reiterate that to complete this assignment you will need to do background research on the course and the platform. For example, your background research on Coursera will reveal that some of these courses have more than 80,000 students from around the world. This fact alone will impact your evaluation!
Instructional Material Evaluation Rubric
Rubric is copyright of: Dick, W., Carey, L. & Carey, J. (2008). Systematic Design of Instruction, (7th ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
A. Goal-centered Criteria:
Are the instructional materials:
|1. Congruent with the terminal and performance objectives?|
|2. Adequate in content coverage and completeness?|
|6. Objective in presentations (lack of content bias)?|
Are the instructional materials appropriate for learners’:
|1. Vocabulary and language?|
|2. Development level?|
|3. Background, experience, environment?|
|4. Experiences with testing formats and equipment?|
|5. Motivation and interest?|
|6. Cultural, racial, gender needs (lack bias)?|
Do the material include:
|1. Pre-instructional material?|
|2. Appropriate content sequencing?|
|3. Presentations that are complete, current and tailored for learners?|
|4. Practice exercises that are congruent with the goal?|
|5. Adequate and supportive feedback?|
|6. Appropriate assessment?|
|7. Appropriate sequence and chunk size?|
Are/do the instructional materials:
|1. Authentic for the learning and performance sites?|
|2. Feasible for the learning and performance sites?|
|3. Require additional equipment/tools?|
|4. Have congruent technical qualities for planned site (facilities/delivery system)?|
|5. Have adequate resources (time, budget, personal availability and skills)?|
Do the instructional materials have appropriate:
|1. Delivery system and media for the nature of objectives?|
|3. Graphic design and typography?|
|6. Audio and video quality?|
|7. Interface design?|