Conference on ed tech leads me to wonder about historical revisionism in the field

Lessons Opinion Reports
 Posted by jeremy on May 27th, 2011

I attended a regional conference on instruction and technology this week. I’ll admit I didn’t know what to expect – I had never been to anything smaller than a national conference – but I should have been able to predict that the sessions would be highly variable in their quality. Of course, there were the vendor demonstrations and the how-to reports devoid of data, but there were also more discussion-oriented presentations on issues of common-yet-unexplored techniques, and business reports on local issues.

I was satisfied with the quality of several of the presentations I attended, especially one on rubrics wherein, once the presenter discovered (by – gasp! – asking the audience questions) that most of the attendees had experience developing rubrics, she decided to let us do the talking. She would pose a question (which she knew to be the topic of her next slide), and then she would moderate our conversation. After four or five comments, she would flip to the next slide and show us that we had covered everything on it. Her effort in organizing the information wasn’t wasted just because the group in the room already knew it; see, we only knew it collectively, and she helped move that information from collective to individual.

Sadly, the worst hour I spent was during on keynote address. I’ve known for a while that the educational technology field is driven more by marketing hype (and the artificial demand it creates) than by the effectiveness of the technology. This presentation made me wonder the degree to which historical revisionism has helped maintain that unhealthy producer-consumer relationship.

The presenter stated as fact that the early computer-assisted educational programs translated the production mentality of early computers into a one-size-fits-all approach to education. While there were mass-produced products of this type, it’s wrong to ignore the more instructionally-appropriate efforts that included student tracking and automatically adjusted to their needs.

Ten years ago I sat on a committee with some very bright professors in the field. We discussed requirements for instructional authoring systems and, as each “cutting edge” feature was brought up, someone would ask a distinguished professor, “Didn’t [insert thirty-year-old system] have that?” He would nod or give a simple, “yep” in response.

The ed tech field’s collective ignorance of the depth and meaningfulness of their roots is not only wrong because it slights the visionaries of decades past; it’s also wrong because it allows us to be wooed by technologies that appear new, but are only new in that industry has never pushed them before.

This ignorance is most observable in our field’s unabashed embrace of the mobile “app” model. Those of us who have given decades of effort to establishing open, standards-based technology thoroughfares should be revolted that making our wares available on monopolized toll-roads is now seen as a requirement. (For more reading, see The App is Crap.)

3 Responses to “Conference on ed tech leads me to wonder about historical revisionism in the field”

  1. Andrew Evangelos Says:

    Ok, so we are looking for something that uses the standards from a given course to facilitate the learning process electronically. It needs to assess and maintain a profile of student performance in order to level the next new learning experience to students appropriately. This needs to be done extremely thoughtfully with a lot of data backing up the decisions being made. For the system doing this, it must be fundamentally sound here first. In addition to this, it needs to be engaging in such a way so that students will actually use it. So I would think that the interface and ease of use would be important, because in reality if there is no engagement, the system will only work with highly compliant top students (which don’t really need the system anyway). So I see that you are pushing at a point that we need to focus on the core of the system…what we really need is both, otherwise it would never take off in such a way to build a system that will take off beyond each individual niche they occupy.

  2. jeremy Says:


    Interesting points.

    What you’re looking for is what smart people in the field have been trying to do for decades, but the short-term ROI is too little. The more lucrative products are one-size-fits-all, which is why a shallow survey of the field may lead us to believe that nobody has tried electronic individualization.

    But the required information is now more available than ever. I bet I could gather more instructionally-relevant information from your browser history than is used by 99% of the online learning tools available today.

  3. Andrew Evangelos Says:

    So why don’t we create a single medium that can be used by teachers as a template. Then, those teachers put in their own benchmarks, assessments, and etc. They can be linked to bigger outcomes and standards, then we will have something that allows comparison between groups and people in different places, but still allows the customization that instructors seem to need to have ownership over their own courses.