Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

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.)

Write on

Opinion Reports
 Posted by jeremy on December 4th, 2009

There are two groups of pre-tenured faculty who meet regularly on my campus: one departmental and one campus-wide. It doesn’t surprise me that both groups express concerns with finding the time to write and publish research. We’re an institution that focuses on teaching, so research often gets pushed to the back burner, especially during the first few years.

The most common argument I hear for not writing is time. With all the grading, meetings, planning, etc., we have to do, where does one find the time to actually complete a project report and submit it? While time is a constraint, we can do very little to mitigate its impact on our lives.

But there are other variables in this equation that we can change. For example, it may be that we new faculty feel that, because we can’t rely on our reputations to get us published, our work needs to be of the highest quality to get published. I’ve discovered this to be false.

Last year I was finishing up the research track I started with my dissertation work. I desperately needed to get the paper accepted to a conference, so I worked many long days tweaking it. I sent it to established colleagues begging them to look over it. I proof read and proof re-read it more times than I’d like to admit. I submitted it on the deadline.

At the conference I was shocked to learn that it won an “outstanding paper” award. I realized that the level of quality I thought would be minimally acceptable was actually exemplary. That emboldened me, as did the assistant editor who passed me his card after my presentation and asked me to submit the report to his journal.

This year I submitted again to that conference, but with a twist. I put a great deal of work into one paper, but I also wrote my first “position paper.” The latter took me about two hours; I just typed out my thoughts on a certain aspect of the field – thoughts that had been ruminating in my mind for years – and backed them up with a few seminal references that just about everyone knows. If that paper wasn’t accepted, I would just post it here on my blog.

That was two months ago.

On Tuesday morning I received an email telling me that the journal that had asked for my award-winning conference paper had accepted it – with revisions. (Don’t believe all the horror stories you hear about the revision process; I agreed with every one of the recommendations.) Five hours and thirteen minutes later, I received two emails from the conference, informing me that both papers had been accepted.

So don’t let perfection be the enemy of completion; write what you have to say; submit your papers; shout it from the rooftops. Prestigious researchers were once young unknowns too.