Monday, June 11, 2007

What are the Big Problems in Ed-Tech?

NECC is an occasion to take stock every year. These are the bottlenecks I see in ed-tech, or at least the part of ed-tech that I'm interested in (this probably isn't news):

  • Utter chaos around privacy, safety and liability. The "practical" advice being promoted seems out of sync with empirical evidence, but much worse, there just doesn't seem to be any doctrine to guide decision making. I have absolutely no clue how we work our way out of this mess, because ultimately, the problems are driven by anxious parents, who aren't exactly rational actors.
  • Out of control web filtering. Again, what's the doctrine? There seem to be no professional guidelines. We've got a situation akin to letting the clerks in the purchasing department decide whether or not the books ordered by teachers and librarians are acceptable. This one at least could be addressed by some of our professional organizations, if they're willing to show some spine and dive into this mess.
  • The economic model of ed-tech. How is this market even supposed to work? Just look at something like games in education. Explain to me how this works economically? Really. It is 2007 and every teacher doesn't have a school-supplied laptop. WTF? We need fewer people reading management gurus and more figuring out ways to make the accounting work.

Everything else we talk about at NECC doesn't matter much until we solve these.


Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher said...

How about the number one problem that causes many of these -- high stakes testing that demands empirical research for documenting the efficacy of technology in education. (Just typing that gives me the heebie jeebies.)

We don't have studies on pencils and yet we use them.

Tom Hoffman said...

This is a problem too, just of a slightly different scope that I was thinking of.

Mark Ahlness said...

Tom, a huge Bingo on #2! Not sure how happy the tech folk making those filtering decisions would be, being compared to clerks in purchasing, but it is spot on for me. Good one. - Mark

Tom Kennedy said...


The issues around filtering and privacy (etc) are driven emotionally charged as you alluded to, making them very difficult to address in a rational manner.

The problem with the "pencil" analogy is primarily economic. The cost of a pencil being negligible, the cost of a laptop considerable. Its not unreasonable to take that into account when creating budgets.

Johncn said...

Nice entry, Tom.

I think the three problems you mention here are related. The vendors drive the chaos by direct and indirect FUD (#1), and then solve the problems they create with their "solutions" (#2).

The reason #3 has not been taken care of? We continue to be focused on the solutions to the problems the vendors and "industry stakeholders" have identified as politically perfect issues: something called accountability, and protection of our children.

Education vendors are solving these perfect issues with their products, and Higher Ed has failed to carry on the public conversation about teaching and learning techniques.

Pedagogy is dead in the era of accountability, fear, uncertainty and doubt.

The sad truth is that nobody is even TALKING about applying technology to pedagogy except some of the education bloggers we all know and love.

Accountability is a political issue, not an instructional one. The vendors win, the politicians can't lose on a win-win position, and school leaders get their news from the vendor-sponsored eRags (eSchool News, District Administration, THE Journal, etc.).

Most of the articles in thse publications promote vendor-centric solutions. Many do what all good 30 and 60 second television commercials do...create a problem, and then solve it.

Has it been effective? Most school district curriculum and leadership folks don't even know that there is another side to some of the FUD-inspring stories ;-)

I am working on a couple of posts about this on The Education Bazaar if anyone is interested:

Vendor-drive Misperceptions About Web 2.0 in Schools