Has the Ed Tech Bubble already burst?

April 27, 2012 § 3 Comments

Today I read an excellent editorial by Neil Selwyn, soon to be published in Learning, Media and Technology (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17439884.2012.680212), in which he criticizes academics working in the field of educational technology for being content with restricting themselves to specialist publications and inward looking communications often via the very technologies they are vociferously advocating.

Selwyn argues that there is a significant gap between the ed tech rhetoric and the realities of the technology users on the ground, propagated by intra-mural dialogue and a lack of healthy inter-disciplinary exchange.  A major contributing factor to this gap, he suggests, is the fact that ‘many of the discussions taking place within the educational technology community about social media are actually being conducted through social media’ (2).  This leads to an ‘ed tech bubble’ – a skewed self-referential world view which has little communication with or affect on the outside world of education.  This bubble, he argues, needs to be burst.

I am, of course, acutely aware of the irony of the fact that I came across this editorial via a Tweet from the Selwyn himself and that I am discussing it on an ed tech blog.  That aside, broadly speaking, there are three main strands to Selwyn’s critique: that ed tech fails to engage properly with wider academia at an inter-disciplinary level; that ed tech fails to engage with wider society beyond both itself and academia; and that ed tech is too eager to uncritically enthuse about the transformative promises of technology.  I think these are extremely important points to make and whole-heartedly agree with them. However, I suspect the situation may not be quite as bleak as he suggests.

Firstly, the problem of a lack of inter-disciplinary engagement with wider academia (and the wider world in general) is certainly not unique to ed tech – as Selwyn acknowledges himself.  It is a problem that plagues all disciplines and one which regularly causes intra-disciplinary angst.  While ed tech is certainly a guilty party, I very much doubt it alone can find a solution.  Inter-disciplinary collaboration is necessarily a concerted effort by all disciplines involved – all disciplines involved in inter-disciplinary engagement must be engaged.  To a certain extent this engagement is taking place across many universities, as divisions increasingly emphasize the need for inter-disciplinary collaboration, and grant-giving organizations demand it.

Secondly, in the UK, it’s arguable that the discipline is still recovering from the shock of losing BECTA.  This was a formalized way for many academics involved in ed tech to communicate with both policy makers and a wider more general audience.  At present its loss has left a vacuum, and Selwyn is right to emphasise the need for different avenues of public engagement.  However, it would be wrong to overlook the fact that in the recent past the discipline (or parts of it at least) has been actively involved in public outreach.

Finally, while Selwyn is right that it is all too easy to find a large amount of literature enthusing about the promises of new technologies, there’s also a growing trend in research coming out of places like the IOE (unsurprisingly), Oxford, Manchester (and many more) that analyzes and engages with technology critically.  This can be seen in the upcoming student conference hosted by Oxford University Department of Education’s Learning and New Technologies’ Research Group – ‘Losing Momentum: Current Challenges in Learning and Technology’ (http://www.losingmomentum.org/).  This conference aims to explore the nuanced realities of the use of technology in an educational context and Neil Selwyn will be delivering a keynote address.  We’ll blog about it…

I think Selwyn is right to highlight the problem of the ed tech bubble, but would like to think that, with the emergence of new critical research approaches, it may already be beginning to burst.

James Robson

Doctoris Jingjing: Valediction

January 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

In the middle ages, it was the rule that academics spoke to each other in Latin. If you were a student at Balliol College in 1282, for instance, and were caught speaking English repeatedly at dinner, you would be banned from common table, made to eat alone, and be served last. Proper Oxford punishment.

The point about Latin then, and for the next several hundred years, was not exclusivity, but commonality: “Scholarly Western Europe, from the end of antiquity to the seventeenth century, had the advantage of sharing this single ‘academic’ language” (G.R.Evans University of Oxford: A New History 2010:97) which was not pure classical Latin, but something living and practical – “the working language of scholarship”, enabling intellectual exchange across institutional, disciplinary, and national boundaries.

Which brings us to Dr Jingjing Zhang, who has just completed her studies in Oxford, having been a member of our first elearning masters cohort, and the very first from that course to be awarded a DPhil. Jingjing’s thesis looks at how network technologies are changing intellectual exchange and scholarly dialogue, building new global connections between multiple nodes of academic endeavour distributed around the world. I think. It seems we have finally caught up with the communicative sophistication of the thirteenth century, thanks to the Internet.

Jingjing embodies the very same values that those amazing medieval scholars displayed, with or without the Internet: a hunger for knowledge, and a readiness to travel round the universities of the civilised world seeking and offering knowledge and scholarship. Jingjing seemed to make a friend of just about everyone in Oxford while she was here, taking herself into new intellectual pastures whenever the opportunity arose: Paris for a few months at OECD, New York for some time at the UN, international conferences where she would challenge passing academics and enquire about their modes of intellectual exchange.

Now she has packed her bags and as I write is flying back to China to settle down as a fully fledged academic. But I really don’t believe that her journey as a wandering scholar is finished yet. I know she will do great work teaching and researching educational technologies in her new job at Beijing Normal University, but the pull of the spinning world might one day carry her away and deposit her in another strange land that she will make her own. A true global scholar – it was wonderful to have her with us for a while.

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