Reflection on 25 Years of Ed Tech – Chapters 1 – 8

Repetition – Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash

I’ve been reading Martin Weller’s book titled, 25 Years of Ed Tech.  It’s an historical recounting of Weller’s experience as a professor of educational technology at Open University in the UK with the development of ed tech over a twenty-five year period beginning in 1994.

Was 1994 the appropriate year to start with?

I think so.  The book that Weller set out to write is a history of how web based digital technology has had an impact on education, not a history on educational technology in general.  Certainly, educational technology was in use prior to 1994 and took many forms, but in order for this book to be focused and concise, Weller would have had to make a decision on what to include and when to begin.  Lunduke (2017) indicated that Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), the topic of the first chapter of 25 Years of Ed Tech, had been in use since the eighties.  Having said that, Weller (2020) admitted in the introduction of his book that he’s “guilty of… being rather arbitrary in allocating a specific year to any given technology“ (p. 6).  The book had to begin somewhere, and the transition between BBS and the web was certainly a pivotal moment into the era which is the central theme of this history.  So, this seems like a logical place to start.

Reactions to Weller’s Writing

One of main themes of Weller’s (2020) book that has so far stood out to me is the “historical amnesia of educational technology” (p. 11).   This concept reinforces Santayana’s (1905/2017) frequently misquoted passage, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (p. 132).  This theme was most obviously illustrated to me when Weller outlined Carr-Chellman and Duschatel’s (2000, as cited in Weller, 2020) application of constructivism theory in the development of the ideal online course.  The list of recommended components are so familiar…

    • An online study guide
    • No online textbook
    • Assignments
    • Examples of previous student’s work
    • Student-to-student communication
    • Interactive skill building

This list holds up so well, despite being twenty years old and created in the infancy of online learning, and yet I feel like those who are developing online courses for the first time in the post COVID-19 educational environment, are discovering these concepts for the first time as though they were new.

References

Lunduke, B. (August 28, 2017). History of computers, part 1 – The bulletin board system. Network World. https://www.networkworld.com/article/3220488/history-of-computers-part-1-the-bulletin-board-system.html

Santayana, G. (2017). The life of reason. ProQuest Ebook Central. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca (Original work published 1905)

Weller, M. (2020). 25 years of ed tech. Athabasca University Press. https://doi.org/10.15215/aupress/9781771993050.01

14 thoughts on “Reflection on 25 Years of Ed Tech – Chapters 1 – 8”

  1. Thank you for this post, Christopher! What do you think might be some reasons to explain the rediscovery of concepts that you describe in the last paragraph?

    1. Thanks for your question, George. I think the rediscovery of these sound pedagogical techniques is almost inevitable. The suggested elements of an ideal online course mentioned in Weller’s book are good… and it makes sense that passionate, competent educators, through their own investigation should come to the same, if not similar, conclusions. The concern, I suppose, is the time and energy spent on the rediscovery. If those in the educational technology field make more of an effort to keep a record of the application of their innovations, more attention could be spent on moving those ideas forward, rather than repeating previous work.

  2. In June, while attempting to salvage the school year, I suspect BC teachers quickly discovered what didn’t work well. For example, “dumping” content was an easy fix but not effective. Maybe teachers are now in a comfortable position to experiment with other pedagogies online, like constructivism.

    1. I completely agree, Wendy. I was teaching a few face-to-face courses in March when the pandemic hit (though I live and work in Ontario). At my college, we were given a week while classes were temporarily suspended to transfer the learning material into an online environment. It wasn’t nearly enough time. We were basically just doing anything we could to move everything online… there certainly wasn’t enough time to consider the effectiveness of the approach. Now, as we move into a semester where online delivery was always the intention, we should be considering not just how to do it… but how to do it well.

  3. Thanks for posting Christopher.

    Speaking for myself, the ideas you note are certainly “new-ish” to me, as well, and I can see a good amount of it being “rediscovered as if new” by many in this current pandemic-focused climate, as well.

    Weller noted that there was little educational training for those lecturing in the prior to the late 90’s, with lecturers essentially completing their PhD’s and then starting to teach immediately thereafter.

    Do you think this is going to change for those completing Teacher’s College now? Are we going to see the introduction to eLearning-focused training for teachers going forward? If so/not, how do you see that impacting society in the short and long-term?

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read my post, Jean-Pierre. The point about tertiary educators not being professionally trained teachers really resonated with me. It’s one of my main motivations for pursuing an advanced degree. Especially in the college environment, in the hiring of faculty, the priority is definitely placed on industry experience over teaching competency. As a part-time faculty member myself, I can attest to the stress and anxiety associated with learning (mostly on my own) how to transfer knowledge I was comfortable with to my students. Sure I knew what I was talking about… but not how to effectively communicate it. As I went through nearly ten years of rediscovering pedagogical techniques that have long been known by the educational industry, I found myself frustrated. Why isn’t there a better system for preparing part-time college faculty to be effective educators? I strongly believe that the development of eLearning techniques is the solution to this problem and I hope to be part of the group of people who see it realized.

      Part-time faculty represent about 70% of the workforce in the college system. That’s a huge portion of teachers. What a massive impact a better educational training system would have. If part-time faculty are better prepared… they’ll have a better experience and the likelihood of them continuing to teach would be increased. Retention of skilled educators would almost certainly increase the quality of services provided by the college system and students would hugely benefit.

      1. Thanks for the reply Christopher, and for sharing that article. I didn’t realize that was not only so widespread, but difficult to quantify. It’s particularly surprising given how mandatory teacher training is for grade school, to think think that nothing similar exists for higher-ed. As you say, it would certainly benefit all involved, and especially the students.

        What I take away from that article is that the census data seems the most logical place to start, so that we know more about the situation and where do start. Would you agree?

        1. I’m not so sure. I think it’s very clear, at the very least, that part-time faculty are in the majority, and that training and support for that group is either inadequate or inaccessible. I’ve been thinking about how my own research can better define the problem and suggest possible directions to move forward in the future. I’ve been considering the option of doing a mixed methods research model that would begin with a qualitative study of the experience of novice college part-time faculty, which would in turn inform a quantitative study of how introducing certain online training programs might improve the effectiveness of those faculty members. Lots to think about. What do you think?

  4. Christopher, excellent insight to the writing reflection. I too agree with the moving ideas forward than just repeating previous work.

  5. Hi Christopher,

    Thanks for the article. So, what do think was the first official education technology? And accordingly, what is your take on when online learning was first established/invented?

    1. A couple of great questions, Jonathan. I think something important to establish before answering the first one is the definition of technology. After a quick search, I came up with quite a few… but the simplest I came across (and in all honestly… the one that most closely represents my own preconceived understanding) is “science or knowledge put into practical use to solve problems or invent useful tools.” With that in mind… I think the first official educational technology might be as simple as language. I was originally going to say speech… but that’s not fair. I’m quite confident that we were communicating and teaching one another in a language of grunts and gestures long before we developed the power of speech.

      If we move forward a few hundred millennia to look at the introduction of online learning… it seems as though (as expected) it’s kind of difficult to nail down. Having said that, I was surprised by what I found. The first mainstream application of online learning seems to have been through the Electronic University Network, which was founded by Ron Gordon, a former president of Atari. It’s fairly obvious that online learning in some capacity must have existed before the establishment of a university network, but this seems to be the first widely available tool (that I’ve found, considering my relatively short look). The author of the attached article, Cate Etherington (2018), stated that in 1985 there were nearly fifteen-thousand students accessing the network (para. 3). I was shocked by that. It’s much earlier than I expected. What would that experience have been like? I can’t imagine it was good.

      1. Great thoughts, Christopher. I think it does come down to how you define ‘technology’. I suppose I should have said digital technology as opposed to analog.

        I also second your contemplation regarding linguistics and learning – it’s a cool subject. This concept takes me back to undergraduate debates in College. I think we may be heading down a bit of a rabbit hole with this one haha. Would be fun to write a paper on it though.

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