Last week, I was fortunate enough to bear witness to the first online Future Trends in Technology and Education Forum on the Shindig platform. The forum was led by Bryan Alexander (Twitter @bryanalexander) and featured special guest Audrey Wattters (Twitter @audreywatters) of Hack Education. Both Bryan and Audrey are, in my humble opinion, giants in our field and offer incredible insights into the current state of education and technology (henceforth referred to as EdTech) and the hopeful yet horrifying future of EdTech.
If you’re reading this, you probably know this already, but it bears repeating. Education technology is like a tightrope…. an icy tightrope…. an greased-down icy tightrope that one must navigate while riding a unicycle, blindfolded, in a hurricane blizzard… It’s the job of the educational technologist to cross this tightrope, knowing full well that the fates of many students hinge upon the successful navigation of this oh-so-treacherous path.
Okay. I admit. Maybe I’m engaging in a bit of hyperbole here, but I’m not off the mark by much.
In case you missed the memo, technology is advancing at an ever-increasing pace, and with these advances in technology, so expands the overall knowledge of the human race. The education system is struggling to keep up, fighting tooth and nail to deliver the most current, relevant instructional material to our students with (particularly at the community college level) ever-decreasing funds.
Now that I’ve stated the obvious, let me get to the point. During the Future Trends Forum, a few of us were tweeting about the topics at hand, and the advances in EdTech, and the following exchange occurred…
It’s been on my mind ever since.
(In truth, this is a topic that is rarely far from my mind, but the more I ponder it, the more troublesome it becomes.)
We have been witness to all sorts of marvelous advances in technology which have produced myriad learning tools, each one more revolutionary than the last. But for the average community college student, what does that mean? How many (if any) of these tools are actually designed with the student in mind? For that matter, how many of these tools will even be around in two or three years?
During the forum, the conversation shifted to the role of the “VC” (no, not Viet Cong…. the Venture Capitalists) in the development of these new tools, and the cynic in me commented that most of this stuff is designed not for the end user, but for the company itself to gain revenue so that future updates could be applied, thus generating further revenue for further updates, which would spawn more revenue for more updates and even more revenue for……. you get the picture.
And, of course, we can’t talk about new learning tools without discussing analytics and all the wonderful, glorious mounds of data that will be generated by these tools and how we can have legitimate assessment of learning through analytics and on and on and on….
But, as Audrey and Bryan both pointed out, all this quantitative data is meaningless when assessing learning. The only thing data can truly tell us is what we already know. Sure, we can get broad ideas about students as a whole, but at the end of the day, did Learning Tool X really make a difference? Well…. we really don’t know.
But what about “adaptive learning” and the rapidly developing AI?? Do they change the game by personalizing the experience? (And how many buzzwords CAN I fit into one blog post anyway?)
So where am I going with all of this? What is my point?
The LMS (Learning Management System) is a mess. It was designed by engineers for technicians. It’s difficult for faculty and students to find their way around, and when new third-party tools are added, most of the time they don’t work as advertised.
As an instructional technology professional at a community college, it is my responsibility to make the LMS experience as simple and seamless as possible. If students can’t log in or can’t figure out how to access course materials, or if course components don’t work on the student’s mobile device, then the student spends time learning to navigate the system or troubleshoot their problems. This is time that should be spent learning curriculum.
So here I sit, deicing and de-greasing my tightrope, working on my balance skills, and trying to see things from a student’s perspective. I’m working on new interactive tutorials and updated designs for our Blackboard environment. I’m even considering implementing badges into our student training materials so we can make the “learning how to use the LMS” experience more fun and engaging.
But it’s an uphill battle, and every new update, every new tool, every new earth-shattering, groundbreaking, data-driven, integrated, future-ready tool or platform that rolls out makes doing my job just a little bit trickier.
I enjoy tricky. Tricky makes life interesting. But at the same time, I want to make sure that at the end of the day, our students don’t get so lost in the latest and greatest technologies that they forget to learn the curriculum.
I’m rambling (or venting) at this point, so I’ll stop the madness. But I’m going to keep thinking about this, and keep trying to solve the riddle of how to make the experience better for the students….