Tag Archives: edtech

Michael Feldstein starts discussion of solutionism in ed tech

OK, maybe “starts” is not the right word as this discussion has been happening – albeit often in small, sometimes closed circles — for some time (see also Klapdor and Fernandez for example).

But having been on both sides of the ed tech purchaser / vendor fence (I spent over a dozen years in higher ed online learning and currently work for Canvas by Instructure), and still having the desire to turn that fence into something more neighborly, I agree with a lot that Michael Feldstein has said about the challenges that hype-driven trends toward solutionism present to both parties. Some abridged quotes from Feldstein’s latest e-Literate post, emphasis added:

…We seem to go through endless hype cycles for technology-enabled education solutions, whether those solutions are general online learning programs, MOOCs, adaptive learning, competency-based education, et cetera and so on, ad nauseam. And the context in which these solutions are discussed is usually either a pitch by a vendor or some breathless bit of fluff utopianism in the tech media or the mainstream punditry. … Conversations tend to be collapsed into which thing we should buy rather than what’s the best way to solve the problem that we’re worried about or reaching the goal that we’re aspiring to achieve.

Given that situation, educators generally have three choices. First, they can trust most everything the vendors and media say… Second, they can distrust most everything the vendors and media say… Third, they can put together a review process which attempts to codify the differences amongst the solution candidates. Unfortunately, what often happens is a combination of the worst of all three of these options. Somebody will make a (labor-intensive) attempt to codify every feature of all the solution candidates and make the vendors respond to a massive RFP. … because the RFP is usually written to document differences among products rather than illuminate important features of the problem being solved that might recommend one solution over another, the results of the process often don’t change many minds. … So either the vendor that checks the most boxes wins or the vendor who had the most support going into the process wins. Obviously, this is not a good situation for educators, students, or schools…

But the biggest problem that solutionism causes is that it distracts us from focusing on the problems the solutions are supposed to solve. Who cares about adaptive learning, really? What we care about is student success.

(From e-Literate TV Update and Request for Help)

It’s exciting to hear that e-Literate is targeting this challenge with their e-Literate TV project, and I’m anxious to see what insights they gather and share. For everyone else, I have no answer aside from the idea that repelling the temptations of simplistic solutionism may be as easy* as honest dialogue that is both goal-directed and widely inclusive, and open enough to run broad and deep.

“User innovation” and the opportunity to build broad, innovative teacher communities

Mike Caulfield wrote a great post musing on the origin of and instruments for innovation in teaching over at e-Literate, focusing on an area that I’ve always been particularly interested in, if only peripherally: the users. The following is a slight expansion of the comment I left on that post:

Almost from the beginning, one of the central efforts of my own education technology career has been faculty development. My personal fascination with the possibilities that technology offers to both teaching and learning has been irrepressible, and I’ve enjoyed sharing that fascination directly with teachers (and, occasionally, students). From admitted technophiles to technophobes, I’ve enjoyed nearly every conversation about the possibilities and limitations of technology. I’ve been challenged and contradicted; I’ve been told that technology is not the answer to a particular problem so forcefully that I’ve had no choice but to rethink my assumptions, and re-evaluate the technology itself.  And thus I’ve learned from every single conversation, and discovered that teachers scattered around your campus, yes your campus, are even now experimenting with instruction — whether your faculty development center is aware of it or not, and regardless of whether technology comes into play.

One of the keys I can’t seem to stop pounding is that every institution needs to invest deeply in ed tech faculty development for everyone, not just those teachers who self-identify into the ed tech user community. Simply enlarging the quantity and diversity of the ed tech participant community is one path toward discovering new, innovative ways of applying technology to education’s challenges. This is a hypothesis born of years of meeting and consulting with higher ed faculty who embrace or reject technology, and learning that great teaching (like poor teaching) isn’t exclusive to either technophiles or technophobes.

In one example, an English teacher was doing great things in his class discussions, things that would be hard to do online. These discussions engaged the students, and students produced high-quality work in subsequent essays. Understandably, this teacher felt online could never replicate the face-to-face discussions he had in-class.  nevertheless trusted a single anecdote power of blending onsite with online, and gave it a try. We discovered we were both right: online discussions did not replicate his students’ face-to-face experience, but they did expand and enrich discussions by providing different affordances. This blending was a small experiment, and that’s where .

Now, the current methods of ed tech faculty development may, in fact, produce a greater proportion of well-designed or even innovative instructional methods (if only because they tend to be supported by ed tech staff and more deliberately instructional designed), and that’s another great reason to invest in ed tech.

The challenge for ed tech staff, then, is to

  1. Get  faculty from across campus (disciplines, teaching methods, tech adoption, etc) in the door.
  2. Learn from their current (and dreamt-up) teaching practices.
  3. Uncover the root challenges they face in helping students achieve outcomes.
  4. Explore, together, new ways forward, whether face-to-face or online.

Then comes the fun part: the design, implementation, evaluation, iteration, and sharing of the results of those experiments. But as long as we (rather, you, at this point) in ed tech faculty development allow ourselves to be content with the self-identified community of participants, we’ll never fully realize the potential for innovation. Mike’s conclusion points out, “If we wish to engage in ongoing innovation, we need to focus on generating conditions that foster more communities of more such people, not less.” This is probably true simply because inclusiveness creates more opportunities for individuals to experiment, share, learn, and catalyze their instructional approaches, with and without “technology”.