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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Monsters of EdTech: Un-Fathomable

Reading Audrey Watters's The Monsters of Education Technology.

More of these posts. #ccourses

2. Un-Fathomable: The Hidden History of Ed-Tech.

As someone who studies the history of literature, folklore, culture in general, I always want to know where things came from: where they really came from (often impossible to know though) AND the stories we tell about where things came from. So I really enjoyed this particular essay, and I share Audrey's despair at people who foreshorten the history of education and seem oblivious to history's real intricacies. As things are organized in the book, this essay is even more hard-hitting after the great history investigation that Audrey already provided in the first essay, the kind of history investigation that is just not Salman Khan's style.

And I laughed out loud at this one: "The first rule of the history of online education: you don't talk about Fathom." Ha!!!

Audrey contends that edtech is really undermined because we refuse to talk about past failures, and I think she is absolutely right about that. Academia, in particular, suffers from a curse of perfectionism. In some ways it is a strength, but it can also be a terrible weakness when it means we cover up failures rather than highlighting and learning from them. At my school, every project is declared a total success from the moment it is launched. Even if quietly disappears later, well, we just never speak about it again. Not good.

I recently documented the branding propaganda around my school's latest venture,  "the very first television network-branded online course for credit," and the marketing fluff for that venture sounds just like the marketing fluff that Audrey documents for Fathom and similar projects of the past, and the fluff which you can read right now at Coursera et al. Neither the propaganda or the technology are anything new.

Audrey also reviews the history of the LMS, a history that I have lived personally. And just when I think I cannot get more depressed about the LMS... I do indeed find new depths of LMS depression.

Audrey closes with questions that are incredibly important at my school right now, questions we really need to be discussing at length and in public (we are not): "Why are we building learning management systems? Why are we building computer-assisted instructional tech? Current computing technologies demand neither. Open practices don’t either. Rather, it’s a certain institutional culture and a certain set of business interests that do. What alternatives can we build on? What can we imagine — a future of learner agency, of human capacity, of equity, of civic responsibility, of openness, for example."

And what a great discussion that would be!

In closing, here's a history resource I would like to add, for those of you interested in the history of education, not just edtech. It's a book about the history of religious education in the U.S.: Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — And Doesn't by Stephen Prothero (2008). Ignore the second part of the book, which is a Hirschesque venture into random-factoids-as-literacy (ugh). The real value is in the first five chapters of the book where Prothero documents the history of religious education in the United States. FULL OF SURPRISES. In particular, you will learn that it was Protestants who got religious education kicked out of the schools to start with. Why? Because they did not want equal time given to the Catholic religion of America's new immigrants (Irish, Italian). So, when you hear Protestants complaining about how godless American education is, you can laugh to yourself about how they did it to themselves.

... Next chapter, next post, coming soon. This is such a good way to think about some important stuff as I wrap up this semester and this year!

And for the slideshow, here is the original talk presented at Audrey's blog:
Un-Fathom-able: The Hidden History of Ed-Tech #CETIS14

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