In mid-August,, I posted a note asking for your vote on a panel I proposed for SXSWedu consisting of Tanya Joosten, Amy Collier, Audrey Watters, and myself. The topic was: Startups Should Talk with Researchers and Educators,
I’m uber excited to report that our proposal has been accepted. We will be headed to Austin in March to discuss how researchers and educators can contribute to the design, development, refinement, and ultimately effectiveness of learning technologies and educational technology.
Tanya described why she is interested in this topic on her blog. I thought I would do the same, especially as Tanya, Amy, and I were at Educause this week discussing issues that educational institutions need to consider when piloting for technology/innovations.
A lot of you may not know this, but I have a degree in computer science, and way back when, in my undergraduate thesis I developed software enabling real-time interactions between students and instructor that emulated classroom processes by allowing students to “raise their hand” to ask questions, make comments, etc. This was nothing spectacular, unique, or groundbreaking. Yet, it was my first attempt at developing educational technology to solve a (perceived) problem. Since then, I have concurrently done design/development work and research, and I see myself as a researcher and a designer. Some of the projects I have worked on are AvenueASL (a language learning and e-assessment platform), Project Engage (a dual credit course and online learning environment introducing students to the Big Ideas relating to Computer Science), Geothentic (an online environment immersing students in Geography through situated, real-world problem-solving), and AL through Water and MOSS (an online learning environment supporting science learning via outdoor exploration). I don’t only write about learning technologies. I also build them.
How does one reconcile D&D work and research? My perspective is that it’s not enough to study what happens with educational technology. Studying, analyzing, critiquing, and questioning educational technology is very important. It’s imperative. But, we need to take the additional step to use the research to (a) design and develop educational applications, and (b) inform others on what the research says so that they can develop effective technology-based solutions based on what we know about teaching and learning. Hence the need for this panel.
I was also motivated to put together this panel after participating in SXSWedu 2013. One of the sessions I attended last year focused on business models for educational technology. One of the panelists noted that their commitment to their investors is profit, not learning outcomes. I’m not naive. Entrepreneurship is important and we should support and reward it in various ways. However, putting profits before learning outcomes is corrosive and dangerous. The biggest losers in such a setup will be learners, the idea of the university, and the idea of education. Our panel at SXSWedu is an attempt to add some sense to the conversation, to ‘add the “edu” to “sxsxedu” ‘ (I think that’s a Laura Pasquini quote, but i might be mistaken). It is also an attempt to explain to startups and vendors how they can have their cake and eat it too, how they can make meaningful, and much needed, change in education without necessarily sacrificing other goals that they have.
Whether you are an educator, a startup company, a researcher, a reporter, or an administrator, please join us – we’d love to have you!
For your information, here is our panel’s description: Education is facing numerous challenges. Educational technology startups promise solutions. However, entrepreneurs seem to disregard the knowledge that educators and researchers have amassed that can help startups address these challenges, or, at least, help them avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. At the same time, we were astounded by the lack of educators and researchers that were sharing their knowledge at last year’s SXSWedu conference. The event felt more like a vendor gathering than what the SXSWedu website describes as “meaningful conversation and collaboration around promising practices and tools for improved learning.” If we want meaningful and transformational change in how we do education, it is imperative for entrepreneurs and educators/researchers to converse. In this interactive panel, we will discuss how educators/researchers can help startups improve their products and answer questions pertaining to education research, how people learn, and classroom practice.
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.
I have proposed a session for the SXSWedu conference. The sessions to be presented are partly decided by community votes and comments. If you feel that my proposal is interesting or worthwhile, would you consider voting for it? You will need to create an account and register to do so. Here’s my proposal in detail:
Description: The mass media have embraced MOOCs and celebrated the disruptive nature of online education and the death of higher education institutions. On the other hand, critics’ responses to MOOCs have ranged from fetishizing face-to-face education to questioning the potential of technology. Both of these positions miss the research surrounding online education and the potential role that MOOCs may play in society. In this presentation, I will discuss how some MOOCs can be more appropriately described as commodified education, rather than the type of open education initiatives suggested by their acronym. The goal of this critique is to help us envision MOOCs as a means for powerful learning experiences and personally relevant/meaningful transformation. This can be attained through the following:
- Design opportunities that allow engagement beyond course activities
- Design for lasting impression
- Design for intrigue, risk-taking, and challenge
- Design for engagement and reflection
How do we create MOOCs that are exciting, that pull learners into the experience and hold their attention?
How do we design MOOCs that foster powerful and meaningful learning experiences?
How do we use emerging technologies to create learning *experiences* rather than efficient products?
online education, mooc, research
Format: Solo Presentation
Category: OER and MOOCs
Speakers: George Veletsianos, The University of Texas at Austin