25 Years of Ed Tech: A Reflection on Chapters 1-8

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In his book “25 Years of Ed. Tech” author Martin Weller presents his rendition of the evolution of education technology by outlining the histories and implementation of various learning technologies and pedagogical concepts in chronological order. Although there are many concepts in Weller’s book that warrant further discussion, this article outlines two central themes that stood out to me after reading the first eight Chapters.

The Semantic Change of Online learning

As technology advances, so too does the definition of online learning. Weller presents this idea through a clever series of illustrations depicting the invention of online learning to be chronological, rather than fixed: 1994 marked the discovery of online learning, followed by another discovery of online learning in 2012, followed by the re-invention of online learning in 2019. So why is this? Technically, online learning has already been invented, but innovation seems to redefine its appeal and meaning arguably on an annual basis. For every new learning technology created stands equal opportunity to implement new function into the online learning experience. For example, what would online learning be today without the influence of computer-mediated communication? Or, what would group collaboration be without popular virtual bulletin board systems like Padlet or Trello? It seems not one education technology will suffice for learners on a global scale; rather, it takes a combination of education technologies to satisfy the needs of not only the learners, but also the educators and institutions. What worked in the 1990’s may be seen as ineffective or dated by today’s industry standards, and thus, a new definition of online learning is created – which brings me to this conclusion: if an online learning system is built but no one is around to use it, nor does anyone understand how to use it, was it ever invented?

Inhibition of Pedagogical Processes

As a higher learning educator and instructional designer, I understand the complexities of education technology, and although I do not possess a degree in computer engineering, I feel competent navigating front-end user interfaces. Despite this, and as Weller demonstrates in his Chapter on E-learning standards, technology can still interfere with pedagogical processes, and in my opinion, negatively affect the quality of online course design. Setting up or fine tuning the technical components of software or learning objects can consume more time than creating the educational content itself. Weller supports this point by identifying the time consuming nature of incorporating metadata to standardize e-learning: “An educator would spend time crafting a useful activity and was then presented with pages of metadata to describe it, which often required more effort than the initial content” (p.60). What good is a learning system or online course if the content itself is subpar because too much time and resources were allocated towards manual tasks such as metadata entries? Yes, you can place IT specialists in this type of role, but not all institutions have the resources to do so, and to compensate, they place this demand on their instructors prior to the course start-date. In addition to this, the burden of learning new technologies or learning objects, in conjunction with creating courses, can negatively impact the quality of online learning content and delivery methods, not to mention lower the financial return of investment for the employer or institution. Clearly there is a significant need to address such a lack of productivity. I am particularly interested in how automation and artificial intelligence can affect instructional design productivity. We will see what happens!

 

References

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

2 thoughts on “25 Years of Ed Tech: A Reflection on Chapters 1-8

  1. Jonathan,

    Thanks for these insights. I always appreciate your trains of thought 🙂
    Your last statement reminded me of an article I read last year. It was about an AI that was fed historical medical research papers in order to catch discoveries that humans might have missed. It is particularly fascinating because they took it another step and looked at whether it could predict what discoveries humans did make. So, they fed the AI medical papers from let’s say 1940 to 1980, then let the AI predict what we as humans figured out next (Tsitoyan et all., 2019) It worked! The predictive nature of AI is intriguing to me and frightening at the same time. However, I am curious if an AI could help in this conundrum of ed-tech being forgetful of it’s past?

    Tshitoyan, V., Dagdelen, J., Weston, L., Dunn, A., Rong, Z., Kononova, O., . . . Jain, A. (2019). Unsupervised word embeddings capture latent knowledge from materials science literature. Nature, 571(7763), 95-98. doi:10.1038/s41586-019-1335-8

    1. Thanks for the comment, Sandra! I will certainly have a read through this link – thank you!

      I don’t know how tech like AI or other automations will impact this “amnesia” Weller refers to. Perhaps such technologies would enable more ‘buy-in’ into the online learning industry, and in turn, would create a greater appreciation and recognition of such education approaches. I’m thinking aloud here of course.

      I just wish to explore AI and related tech to enhance our productivity overall as educators. I have one course right now with 55 students – I need some automated functions to stay afloat with grading alone.

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