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.)