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Initial Thoughts on Chapters 1-8 of 25 Years of Ed Tech

It’s been really interesting reading Weller’s 25 Years of Ed Tech. While I shared many of the earlier experiences (BBS, IRC and AOL’s horrible experience (and their “coasters“), teaching myself HTML in ’95-’96, using Encarta and watching it’s replacement by Wikipedia) some of these items have been new to me in the past few years since earning my GCID, namely Constructivism and SCORM. Reading this has been like having an alternate portal into times I have lived through as my use of modern tech in eLearning has been limited. I do feel like Weller’s written voice (which is refreshingly informal) would lend itself well to including either narrative (like Steven Levy’s Hackers) or including anecdotes from others in the eLearning field, perhaps as “chapters” between the current chapters. This would add more weight and remove the admittedly limited view that Weller acknowledges within the first few sentences (as broad and experienced as that view is). For instance, I wonder how his view and experience differs from those here in Canada or even further abroad, including so-called Third World countries.

Not having much knowledge of the history other than the courses I have taken so far, and papers I have read, I feel like (technologically-speaking) he has started in a good place. I would have liked to have heard how technology from earlier times, for instance the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, entered in to things. Computers have been revolutionary, but I feel there would be more to say about the topic had it been taken back further to include tape, projectors, early uses of computers in classrooms, etc. Even including more about Britain’s own use of television in learning, why it happened and what challenges they experienced, would provide a helpful backdrop. While it would make it a different book, I feel it would add necessary breadth to the “why’s” of what technologies the book leads with.

With all that said, I am excited to read and learn more, particularly with regard to seeing how Learning Objects influenced OER, as well as the section on Personal Learning Environments. I’m curious how this has been, and is being, combined to allow students to receive more personalized learning. I’m also curious to learn more about things that are, currently, both over my head and things I’ve never thought of applying to learning, such as Blockchain and AI.

Edited (9:43 AM on 6/9/20) to include Tags and the following:

Having read George’s initial thoughts, it struck me that I should explain with regard to Access, that this is part of why I am curious to see other views included. For example, when I went to South Africa in December of ’99, cellphones were ubiquitous while computers were not. I had never owned a cellphone but I had grown up with and around computers. I have memories of programming BASIC as a 5-6 year old … along with playing River Raid (my favourite game at the time), as well as using Commodore PET’s in grade school. My wife’s first experience with using a computer, meanwhile, was after meeting me in 2001; She had already had a cellphone for several years. When Blackberry came out, many in South Africa grabbed them because, along with keyboards and free texting, they included free (if limited) internet.

In a country where there is no right to access for schooling (all school, including primary school), not only is access to information an issue, but access to learning how to access that information is privileged. Learning in a South African context, then is still very, very much about access to information. To my understanding, much of Africa is in a similar boat, if not with regard to right to access, at least in context of access to internet. Cellphones are still a pay-per-use platform and so eLearning, in an African context, would still be limited in how it is presented due not to data rates but data caps. (This doesn’t even bring into the conversation the amount of times the undersea data cables to South Africa have been cut over the years.)

Given the current pandemic there is a good deal of focus on the experience of rural Canadians, whose access to information is hugely limited by the current high-speed internet infrastructure. In an African context, we had a fantastic cellphone infrastructure with much lower cellphone fees. At the same time, the country is also significantly smaller than Canada and far more densely populated. This is why, to me, it would be interesting to understand how this affected not only a British experience, but also Canadian and abroad, so that there is more context in how to approach the issues we experience currently. In reality, as Christopher points out, the scope of the book did need to be limited and so it may be that there is a need for this to be a separate “product” than to augment the current writing.

12 Responses

  1. I watched the “Crash Course in Computer Science” on youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5nskjZ_GoI&list=PL8dPuuaLjXtNlUrzyH5r6jN9ulIgZBpdo&t=0s) and, although they look at purely the computing side of Ed Tech, they view computers as a revolution similar to the mechanization during the agricultural and industrial ages. They start with a history of the “Electronic Age” and they start as early the abacus in 2500 BCE! For Crash Course, they went to what they thought was the first device used to aid in computation. Even though, they went back over 4000 years to start their history of computing, the series does an amazing job of showing the history of computing and how we got to smart phones with wireless Internet capable of augmented reality and artificial intelligence. It’s worth a watch!

    1. Thanks for sharing Patrick! That was a great watch … Always good to see Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace and the Difference Engine mentioned in anything. I’ve got to watch the rest of the series! 😀

  2. I found that starting in 1994 was an appropriate place to start for Weller’s purpose, but I agree that I would also like to learn more about the history of technology in a more general sense. Especially, since seeing how the attitudes towards technology are so influential in its adoption or burial. How many technologies were dismissed because an educator was frustrated with the overhead projector or the old grading systems?

    1. That’s a good point, Kristin. I remember Weller mentioning that some of the uptake and failures in technologies really came down to ease of use. It might even make an interesting visual, seeing a pile of discarded technologies that have led us to where we are today.

  3. Thank you for this, Jean-Pierre. I want to draw attention to the update, but I’ll refrain from posting right now, and wait for others to chime in as I’d like to see how that part resonates with others.

      1. Jean-Pierre, as you may have surmised, I called upon Paul to share his thoughts and insights below, as he’s well-positioned in the South African context to do so. Some of these areas (such as divides across wealth, race, and gender) are areas that we’ll return to, but the uniqueness of the S African experience is such that I thought Paul would guide us a bit here, given his lived experience and expertise. You’ll encounter Paul again: In assignment 1 there’s a video. Paul is the one interviewing Laura in that video.

  4. Jean-Pierre, this synopsis offers lots of information. George has asked on my post to respond to your take on accessibility to the masses. Until recent for access to school (not sure about primary though) such as university, it was pay to play. Tuition granted you access to the data through classrooms and professors. Lucky for us to be in a digital world where access to the information has become more transparent to those that have access to the internet. Sadly, many countries still do not offer internet access at low prices. This happens when a dollar has control over society’s priority. Once access is free, then too can be all the information provided through that medium. As mentioned, it is going to be exciting to be at the forefront of change when it comes to offering open source material while still being able to make a living as an educator.

    1. Thanks for the insight, Rod. I appreciated reading your post and your comment. It really got me thinking. 🙂

      One concern I have, at least in a South African context, is that if primary school is pay to play, this increases the barrier from being one about “free-as-in-beer” (to use an Open Source phrase) to being a fundamental understanding of even reading/writing and math. According to UNESCO, this appears to be a problem across Africa. Despite education being mandatory in SA, many students are already at a disadvantage whether they wish to pursue tertiary education or simply access things like MOOC’s. Those who have money, then, receive training while those without are still left outside. This is something which is a broader conversation than perhaps simply Ed Tech, but it has an effect “downstream”, as it were.

      With regard to his book, Weller also does specifically state that issues of accessibility are something he does not specifically cover, but haven been woven throughout various aspects of Ed Tech over the years. I am encouraged by efforts like OER, Khan Academy, MOOC platforms like Coursera and EdX, as well as University of the People, in making resources themselves more accessible in general. With lower data rates, even in certain areas in Canada, I do wonder how things like cellphones and/or less data-heavy alternatives to the current MOOC Lecture model might be better utilized to enable access to those materials. I feel like what we’re experiencing with this course, for instance, might be a reasonable model regarding that.

  5. Jean-Pierre – thanks for sharing your thoughts. Your blog and reflection triggered some thoughts and I hope they further deepen the conversation:
    * It is interesting to consider the influence of socio-economic-political-legislative-environmental-technological context on the prevalence and use of technologies in a particular context. For example, 1994 was a significant moment in South Africa’s history as we had our first democratically elected government and moved to a period known as post-apartheid. But as many South Africans would hasten to tell you, there is not much ‘post’ in this period as the intergenerational legacy of colonialism and apartheid continues to haunt and shape us, whether referring to education or educational technologies.
    * You refer to your visit in 1999 and then state that cellphones were ubiquitous? Interestingly, I came upon a historical overview of (cell)phones in South Africa (https://mybroadband.co.za/news/telecoms/133008-a-history-of-phones-in-south-africa-1878-to-2015.html) and it would seem as if the first cellphones were sold in 1994… I am not sure whether the claim that cellphones were already ubiquitous five years after they arrived are quite true – but that is not the (whole) point. Getting back to the point that Weller makes about ‘access’ – ‘access’ was and continue to be uneven and even in cases where access is not an issue, the use of the actual technology continue to be uneven. You may find the 2016 PewResearch report insightful – PewResearch. (2016). Smartphone ownership and Internet usage continues to climb in emerging economies. Retrieved from http://www.pewglobal.org/2016/02/22/smartphone-ownership-and-internet-usage-continues-to-climb-in-emerging-economies/
    * Another useful report is from the World Bank in 2016 on how the digital dividends are not equally distributed – World Bank. (2016). Digital dividends. Washington: International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank. Retrieved from http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2016/01/13/090224b08405b9fa/1_0/Rendered/PDF/World0developm0l0dividends0overview.pdf
    * The fact that you were doing playful programming as a 5-6 year old, most probably put you in the top 1% of the population while the other 99% (?) of 5-6 year olds would have had very different experiences. Access to and use of technology is always raced and gendered – and I keep reminding myself that my experiences as a white Afrikaans boy growing up in a mining village during the heyday of apartheid was very, very different from the experiences of the majority of 5-6 year olds…
    * In your blog you state “In a country where there is no right to access for schooling” and then the link provided refers to the cost of sending a kid to school. I may have misunderstood you, but schools in South Africa are divided into a spectrum from no-fees, fully subsidised to no subsidies – Section 27, an NGO doing amazing work, provides a great overview if you are interested – http://section27.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Chapter-7.pdf
    * We have come a long way since 1994 – and while I would agree that mobile access to the Internet is almost ubiquitous, the cost of data makes access a costly affair, and as 2020 statistics show, the richer you are the less you pay for data – https://www.businessinsider.co.za/how-sas-data-prices-compare-with-the-rest-of-the-world-2020-5
    * If you are interested, you may find the following link a treasure trove with data on everything digital in South Africa in 2019 – https://www.slideshare.net/DataReportal/digital-2019-south-africa-january-2019-v01?from_action=save Slide 15 shows that South Africa has a 170% mobile phone subscription rate!
    * Lastly, like so many people commenting on the pandemic has pointed out, while everyone is in the same storm, we are not in the same boat…

    Unfortunately, the digitalisation and datafication of education and society will not, necessarily, make out society more just and equitable, despite the hype. All evidence suggests that inequalities are increasing…

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts 🙂 I do apologise for the very long response, and I hope my comments and thoughts further deepen our conversation! All of the best!

    Paul Prinsloo

    1. Thank you for your comment and the perspective. It’s been great to read through your reply as there are a number of items that I was not aware of, for instance the access to school through Section 27.

      It’s funny, given Weller’s own writing on blog use in academia, but I never expected anyone from outside the course to actually read or reply to this. It certainly changes my perspective and does serve to underpin the important to choose my wording carefully, namely that I should have used the word “observationally” before “ubiquitous” when describing cellphone use in both SA and Canada. Trying to keep within 300 words when discussing a topic such as this is extremely difficult. My apologies in that regard; I should have been more explicit regarding the observational nature of my comment.

      With that said there are/were some institutional differences that I believe provided different landscapes regarding cellphone use in South Africa compared to Canada. For instance, during the 80’s and 90’s, Bell Canada was deregulated which allowed other providers to offer competition; Telkom has never really had any competition at all, at least for landlines. This creates a bottleneck as far as pricing and accessibility. Additionally, in Canada local calls on landlines have been free for as long as I can remember, while Telkom was (at least in the early 2000’s) still charging for them. This meant that for Canadians, accessing an ISP through a local call cost nothing while South Africans essentially paid twice for internet: Once for your provider and once for connection time (Unless you had access through work or Xsinet). This created a higher burden on users, although you could argue it is a moot point in a world where you need a separate DSL line.

      But, as you’ve said, this all ignores a key concern: Privilege. For myself, as a White Afrikaaner, I was born into certain undeserved privilege. While being an immigrant had it’s own challenges, even in Canada we have enjoyed privilege more than others. My experiences, while important personally, do not reflect those of the whole or the majority. This is why your points regarding the digitalisation and datafication of education are, to my mind, so important. We have had inequalities in education for a long while, and have seen these inequalities exacerbated by this pandemic.

      In a Canadian context, we have limited access to high-speed internet in rural communities, which is not an insignificant portion of our population. Educationally, this significantly hampered a good amount of students and employees living in these communities as schools were shut down in March of this year. I have had some difficulty finding information on how Indigenous students are affected, though it is clear that they are more at risk during this pandemic, as are Black Canadians and immigrants. As you’ve said, South Africa is in a very different boat compared to a country such as Canada as there were already challenges in primary, secondary and in higher-ed, as well as with high joblessness. As such, it provides a very different landscape in which to provide and practice in an EdTech role.

      I’m curious regarding this: Could you speak to how UNISA works with EdTech in such a context. Some initial questions that spring to mind are:

      What sorts of technologies or course delivery methods are typically employed?
      How have these changed or been affected during the pandemic?
      We have spoken a bit about cellphone use; Does their use affect how courses are delivered at all?
      While not a silver bullet in solving the inequalities within the SA Higher-Ed sphere, have there been any benefits or any cases you have seen where the use of EdTech has helped?
      What would you like to see change with regard to EdTech’s use within SA and why?

      If you have some time I would love to hear from you regarding these questions, and thank you again for adding to the conversation!

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