Audrey Watters on the nature of educational technology

Audrey Watters, presenting to Pepperdine University:

Ed-tech works like this: you sign up for a service and you're flagged as either "teacher" or "student" or "admin." Depending on that role, you have different "privileges" — that's an important word, because it doesn't simply imply what you can and cannot do with the software. It's a nod to political power, social power as well.

Many pieces of software, despite their invocation of "personalization," present you with a very restricted, restrictive set of choices of who you "can be."

This is gold. It gets to the very heart of the problem. And it's not restricted to online learning (and online learning technologies) - see my last post on a prof who bans "technology" in the classroom, effectively enforcing the restrictive set of choices of who her students can be. This isn't about the evils of restrictive Learning Management Systems - it's about the evils of restricting learning.

And this, on the nature of education itself:

To transform education and education technology to make it "future-facing" means we do have to address what exactly we think education should look like now and in the future. Do we want programmed instruction? Do we want teaching machines? Do we want videotaped lectures? Do we want content delivery systems? Or do we want education that is more student-centered, more networked-focused. Are we ready to move beyond "content" and even beyond "competencies"? Can we address the ed-tech practices that look more and more like carceral education — surveillance, predictive policing, control?

We have choices to make - and we (collectively) are making choices - about what we think education is, and what it should be. If we don't put some real thought into the reasoning behind, and the implications of these choices, we'll wind up in some uncanny valley of education where all of the checkboxes are properly checked, but it's not education as it could have been. As Gardner Campbell says, "That is not what I meant at all; That is not it, at all."

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