I was at the ICDE conference last week, and there was a very interesting set of keynotes. Paul Prinsloo had deliberately chosen speakers to offer something of a counter-narrative to the “wow! ed tech!” type talks we often get. So for example, we had Audrey Watters on the Californian ideology that underpins much of ed tech, Laura Czerniewicz on the paradoxes and potential of open ed, Tressie McMillan Cottom on the access paradox and Joyce Seitzinger on the use of design approaches as a possible way of addressing some of the issues we’ve found with online learning. Watching these four excellent keynotes in particular made once again reflect on the nature of the educational technology field.
I blogged a couple of posts back about how ed tech is a rather strange discipline that people seem to wander into. I used a National lyric for that post so have set myself the challenge of only using lyrics from the National when blogging about this topic. And, no, I don’t care how tortuous or strained that gets.
I think most people who I spoke with welcomed the intelligent critique present in talks such as these. But I was aware of how rare they were as the type of keynote we get at ed tech conferences. All speakers stressed that they weren’t anti-technology, that they used it and encouraged its use in education, but that here were some issues for us to explore. Too often in ed tech we have uncritical talks, or occasionally someone brought in to be the contrarian. Neither of these approaches is helpful. I think there is a fear that if we offer up any criticism, then it will be seized upon by the doubters, naysayers, etc and used as an excuse – “see, I told you there was nothing in this internet thing. Back to the dusty tomes people!”
I confess, I think back in the early elearning days, when I was trying to convince people that there might be something in this internet thing for educators, that was my feeling. I wanted to emphasise positives and ignore negatives. But I feel it is a sign of maturity in the field that we can now have these discussions. Imagine a sociology, or art history conference that wasn’t interested in critiquing the field itself. No, you can’t. That’s how the field evolves.
As I joked to one of the keynotes the problem is you’ll never get rich offering this nuanced, thoughtful position. There is something about throwing technology in the mix that demands people set aside critical faculty. If you want the big keynotes, the money slot on TV or the big book deals then you’d better be coming with a dystopian or utopian vision. Preferably based on sweeping generalisations from your own personal experience. That’s what sells here.
So, this is just a long plea for other speakers, and conferences, to take a leaf out of the ICDE book and start to have thoughtful, research based analysis of ed tech itself as a discipline. And, oh, look, a National song: