Lessons from the History of Ed Tech

Posted By pguichon on Sep 10, 2020 | 7 comments


XKCD Isolation comic (#1601) by Randall Munroe retrieved Sep 6, 2020 from https://xkcd.com/1601/

I found this XKCD comic well before taking LRNT 523 at RRU, and I think it summarizes that while the specific technologies might change, namely books, newspapers, magazines, televisions, walkmans, and smartphones; the perceptions and opinions regarding them remain fairly constant, in this case social isolation. This applies for technology in general, but also more specifically, Ed Tech. 

While reading the book 25 Years of Ed Tech by Martin Weller, I see a similar tendency.  This is shown again with a comic at the start of the book on page 2 before the introduction.

Weller (2020) explains that many people in Ed Tech, think of new technology simply as a re-creation of a previous technology.

It has often been noted that when a new technology arrives, it tends to be used in old ways before its unique characteristics are recognized. So, for example, television was initially treated as “radio with pictures”. (p. 64)

This pitfall is a problem, especially when people overlook the features and benefits of the new technology. Another example provided by Weller (2020) is for online classes. He explains in the chapter for 2006 – Web 2.0, that traditional post-secondary degrees are often compressed into 3-4 year programs because students want to limit the expense of staying on campus. Since online classes do not have the constraint of being on campus, do they need to be in this condensed form? Online classes provides a new feature of giving students more time to complete their credential, but if we are restricted to our previous viewpoints, we may not be able to afford the benefits of the new technology.

This tendency is, I think, something we should learn from so that we don’t under utilize technology. One final example of this tendency in the chapter for 2007 – Second Life and Virtual Worlds, when Weller (2020) explains that virtual reality (VR) for education can (and should) be used for much more than just virtual lectures. It can be used for simulating forestry practices, diagnosing and simulating medical treatments, and so much more.

For me, lesson #1 is that every technology has advantages and disadvantages.
As I’ve summed up below, we need to take a critical look at the tools and technologies before judging them:

  • Don’t blindly follow the hype: Don’t assume that because a technology has many great features it will work in all situations.
  • Ignore the naysayers: Just because a technology has some failings, doesn’t mean there isn’t value in the tool(s) being used in other situations.
  • Investigate for yourself: Use the right tool(s) for the right job. Realize your situation is unique and may require different technology than those around you. 

In my work as an instructor in computing, critically analyzing new technology is crucial. Many new technologies are created every day, many with huge hype and passionate critics. I need to keep reminding myself that ultimately I need to use what works for me and my application. Not for what the hype tells me is important and sometimes despite what the critics are saying. 

Lesson #2, is that there is more to education than the content. The chapter on 2004 – Open Education Resources from Weller (2020), says that “contrary to many prophecies of doom… there was more to an education than simply the content” (p.78). As an instructor this affects me, since many instructors do not share their content with other instructors. And while I wouldn’t want someone to use my teaching content without my permission, I find it highly restrictive when attempting to teach a new course not having access to other instructor’s material. There is a lot of work required to create content for a new course; there’s finding the textbook(s) or reading resource(s), lessons, creating quizzes, in-class activities and exercises, practical labs and assignments, group projects, and exams. Without having example content when designing a course, including content for pre-requisite and post-requisite courses, I spend much time rediscovering the same resources and recreating the same content.

Our current policy for my work is that your course materials belong to you, the instructor, and by default are kept private. If we say education is more than the content, maybe our worth as an instructor would be predicated on our ability to teach the content, provide real-life examples and experiences, and troubleshot student interactions; instead of just the content we create. This way we could share the content freely and not worry about loosing our worth as instructors. Perhaps this would improve the quality of the content for everyone because we can leverage existing content, making a richer learning experience for the students. Or perhaps I am dreaming of a utopia, where everyone gets along, no one steals and takes advantage of the situation for their own personal gain. I’d like to think, though, that we could and should share our content openly, with respect for those who created it. 


Weller, M. (2020). 25 Years of Ed Tech. AU Press, Athabasca University. https://doi.org/10.15215/aupress/9781771993050.01


Featured Image: https://xkcd.com/1601/


  1. Patrick,

    Great post. Frustration. Every time I’m faced with a new course, I cannot help but think about the number of hours each teacher spends planning and creating. We endlessly search on the internet and sometimes find great stuff. But then we face the copyright demon. This year, I reached out to a teacher and emailed for permission. I haven’t heard back…I would love the opportunity to use what’s out there, tweak it, and then share my findings with the creator. We do this all the time in our school, but I would love to increase my network.

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  2. A thought provoking post, Patrick. Thanks for sharing. I hear what you’re saying about the benefit of of sharing learning materials and I totally agree with you. There’s some truth in what you say about the possibility of this concept being somewhat utopian. There will always be people who take advantage of a good system… but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t create it anyway. Perhaps we just do it with an understanding that the system won’t be perfect. It never could be.

    Have you incorporated OER into any of your courses? Is there much available that’s appropriate for what you teach?

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  3. You make a good point @Chris, that it would be good to have some OER material to reference for my courses. To be honest, I hadn’t thought to look for OER for my teaching material until now. I haven’t come across really anything so far. The closest thing I have found and use from time to time is w3schools.com which has references for HTML, MySQL, CSS, JS, and other web tech. However, w3schools is definitely NOT open source – their license states (https://www.w3schools.com/about/about_copyright.asp):

    Fair use includes using copyrighted material in teaching under this balancing:

    Favorable Use:
    Copying examples and code snippets for non-profit teaching and research.
    Copying small quantities, appropriate for classroom teaching.

    So, I guess it’s fair use to use some of their content for teaching, but it is copyrighted and not open to the public for editing.

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        • You’re welcome! We used to use them at work when I was a PM for a web dev company and I’ve always appreciated their focus on open source. Seems like some of the code is also available on GitHub, which is nice.

          I’ve always been a fan of MIT’s OpenCourseWare site (https://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm). Weller makes mention of them and they’ve got a lot of great content, although not all texts used/referenced are OER. Some content is also not fully-fleshed out, which does highlight Weller’s contention that education is more than content. For instance, I found it difficult to use as a learner given the above issues. That said, it’s a great starting point that can save a good deal of time when building a course.

          From a Computer Science perspective, I thought that University of the People (https://www.uopeople.edu) might have some resources, as well, but even though they mention supporting OER they don’t seem to have an easy-to-find resource for anything they have developed.

          In case you feel like twitching a little after going down the proverbial rabbit hole, I did find this resource: https://pitt.libguides.com/openeducation/biglist

          Hopefully your journey doesn’t make you as mad as a Hatter. 😀

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  4. I haven’t spent a ton of time looking for OER for my courses either… though I have looked. I find that any open content related to my course is quite out of date… but it’s perfectly possible I haven’t been looking at the best sources.

    I often struggle with the concept of Fair Use. I really dislike the subjectivity involved. My opinion of “small quantities” and that of the content creator are likely different. I suppose the best practice would be… when in doubt, ask for permission to use it… but that comes with its own set of problems. It’s tough…

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