Groundhog Day 4 Ed Tech

Over the last few months during the current online teaching “emergency” – I’ve had meetings with quite a few schools, companies and individuals all excited about “going digital” and “re-inventing” education. Don’t get me wrong, it truly is exciting for someone like myself who has thrown everything he’s got into transforming education. However, doubts linger …

Pardon me, but for me, it seems like groundhog day. 2007 or 2008. Everyone excited and believing educational technology is going to transform the existing institutional order and the way school “works”. I remember those heady days, a decade or so ago, leading the charge, believing all teachers and classrooms would go online and espouse the tenets of individualized, autonomous, student-centered learning. NOT.

Does anyone remember this commercial? Can you guess what year it was issued? It isn’t very recent!

I used to use this funny sketch back around 2008-2009 in my teacher training sessions for educational technology. Forgive my pessimism but I don’t think we’ve gotten much farther along in terms of teachers skilled in using educational technology. Further, I don’t think educational technology is about to transform the existing foundations of traditional education. I hope I’m wrong but if I were a betting man – I’d bet on large companies espousing the traditional way of teaching and doing educational “business” but online with the same approach of listen to a teacher, watch some videos or read some material, do some quizzes, show up for the tests, get a grade and exit graduation stage left.

This isn’t my vision for education. My own vision is one where teachers are there to guide student curiosity and discovery. Where students are autonomous learners, finding the answers to questions, creating projects and products and learning through active engagement in the world around them.

But so far, we just have many schools and teachers asking students to watch TV programs or show up in a zoom room or upload filled in worksheets to Google classroom.

Don’t get me wrong, there are teachers and schools out there doing great stuff. It’s just that like the heady days of Web 2.0 – I don’t think we’ll seize the educational moment.

And why? Well, I think there are a lot of profit driven and administrative mis-motives at work. Also institutional disruption is all about doing less with less – creating a “system” through which most students can be funneled. It isn’t about connections, relationships, nurturing, mentorship, reflection, personal growth and all the hard things which education is mostly about.

Right now, we need to put our money where our teaching hearts are. Into building online schools that really work and which create well adjusted citizens not just heads filled with straw. Here are a few ideas on how we might do this.

  1. Recognize informal learning. Students that can show they know the X, Y and Z of a subject or skill set should have that recognized whether they attend a formal school or not.

2. Make our learning platforms more social. Throw out the traditional LMSs which just foster the same old, same plodding submit, mark, move forward mentality that currently exists.

3. Curriculum needs to be injected with purpose, relevancy. Students of all ages should be producing, making, solving problems in engagement with the real world. Bring the real world to our students – the classroom needn’t have 4 walls anymore. Learning should be about answering vital questions and investigation, communication with the real world. For example, in my own field of ELT (English Language Teaching), students should learn language out in the real world, communicating with that world. Not through book exercises and tests on their grammar and vocabulary.

4. Lastly, let’s ask our students about the what, how, where and when of their learning. Let’s start there and then build and somehow remove ourselves from these groundhog days …

P.S. If you are looking for someone to help you build a platform, an educational product or help with teacher training, I’d be happy to talk. Please see my own resume, personal page and teacher training brochure.


Also published on Medium.

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