Replied to What is the purpose of educational technology? (

I don’t mean that title as a rhetorical, smartass, question, but rather a more fundamental one. It’s probably not one we ask ourselves very often, we tend to be caught up in the application of a particular technology, or trying to solve a specific problem. But at the more abstract level, what do you think educational technology is for? When we adopt it, what is the purpose we are intending it to fulfil? I expect the answer will vary depending on technology or context, and not be limited to one function overall. But of you had to answer the question “what is the main purpose of educational technology?” at a cocktail party, what would you answer (apart from asking yourself how did you get invited to a party where this is the conversation).

Here are some potential responses I think:

  • Improve learning performance
  • Making learning more accessible/flexible
  • Financial benefits
  • Student experience and choice
  • Improved pedagogy
  • Reflection on practice
  • Administration and monitoring

Source: What is the purpose of educational technology? by Martin Weller

Martin, this has me thinking about a post I wrote too many years ago about my ‘vision for eLearning‘:

Is Transformative: More than just redefined, learning is purposeful and involves wider implications.

Is More Doable: Makes things like critical thinking and collaboration more possible.

Enables Student Voice: Technology provides a voice for students to take ownership over their work and ideas.

Involves Modelling Digital Citizenship: More than a sole lesson, eLearning should be about foster competencies throughout the curriculum.

Source: Vision for eLearning by Aaron Davis

The thing that struck me then was that vision is a collective enterprise and so often is contested, no matter how much work is done. For example, this week, I got caught talking with a colleague who argued that there are three facets to the technology project that we are a part of: finance, student/community and pedagogy. The problem that we face is that there is nobody who is properly invested in all the areas, therefore any decisions made are always made based on the priorities of the group in question. When I started too many years ago now, my focus was all about the students, as outlined in my vision, and although this is still the case and will always be something of a north star, my day-to-day focus these days is on administration and finance. Sadly, I have come to learn the reality that when it comes to technology at scale (financial benefit, you might say), the focus becomes the quality of data you are working with and improving the steps to producing such data more efficient. Many prefer to call this ‘magic‘, but to me it is the foundation that allows the house to be built. Invisible to most, until a massive crack appears in the wall and you need to go digging.

I was also left thinking about Ewan McIntosh’s post about the various purposes alongside Ewan McIntosh’s discussion of a school’s ‘value proposition‘. He posited that beyond two values, teams get lost:

A value proposition, even if you are a state school, is a vital value to hone down, not just so that kids aren’t ripped out of your school but so that everyone, including the leaders, can be held to account when kinks in the system appear. If you state that excellence in education is your value proposition, then you’d better get that nailed, all the time, every time, or perceptions will change and take a long time to bring back.

And defining a value proposition is easy – you can really only choose one top value you pursue, and a close-place second one. Beyond two core value propositions, your team will be lost and not know what they are chasing

Source: Working out a school’s competitive position even when it’s not competing #28daysofwriting by Ewan McIntosh

All in all, your post has me intrigued to think about what has changed and what remains the same regarding education technology.

Bookmarked Weary, old, a little broken, but not letting go of the dream: edtech in the 21st Century by Jon Dron (

Edtech is learning from that model, replicating it, amplifying it. ‘Content’ made of bite-size video lectures and pop quizzes, reinforced by adaptive models, vie for pole position in charts of online learning products. These are not the products of a diseased imagination. They are the products of one that has atrophied.

This is not what we intended. This is not what we imagined. This is not what we wanted. Sucked into a bigger machine, scaled up, our inventions turned against us. Willingly, half-wittedly, we became what we are not. We became parts in someone else’s machine.

Jon Dron reflects upon the current edtech conversations. He shares his thoughts on how to help the edtech community find its soul again:

We must make playgrounds, not production lines. We must embrace the logic of the poem, not the logic of the program. We must see one another in all our multifaceted strangeness, not just in our self-curated surfaces. We must celebrate and nurture the diversity, the eccentricities, the desires, the fears, the things that make us who we are, that make us more than we were, together and as individuals. The things we do not and, often, cannot measure.

Dron’s list of dot-points are a useful provocation. I feel it also fits within the wider discussion of the small web.

RSVPed Interested in Attending Digitally Literate Educator

This open, online course is designed to familiarize educators with the best ways to build the knowledge, skills, and processes educators need to embed technology in a meaningful way in their classrooms from Pre-K up through higher education.

Ian O’Byrne has put together a course for designing a technology infused unit of work.
Liked The evolution of the global education industry during the pandemic (

Overall, the project has revealed a particular set of mutations in the global education industry during the Covid-19 pandemic. It has documented some ways in which privatization of education has expanded – through increasing participation of private actors in public education – and of how commercialization of education has developed through the creation, marketing and sale of education goods and services to schools (and parents) by external providers. We understand this as a particularly intense instantiation of fast policy involving multisector actors and networks, and as an accelerated realization of sociotechnical imaginaries of a highly digitalized future of education. The shifting landscape of commercialization and privatization in education we have surveyed will require sustained attention by educators, unions and researchers to ensure that all stakeholders, and not just private or commercial organizations, can participate democratically in imagining the post-Covid future of public education.

Liked Building Anti-Surveillance Ed-Tech (

I don’t think that ed-tech created “cop shit” in the classroom or created a culture of surveillance in schools by any means. But it has facilitated it. It has streamlined it. It has polished it and handed out badges for those who comply with it and handed out ClassDojo demerits for those who haven’t.


Chances are, if you want to focus on the tech because it’s tech, you’re selling “cop shit.”

Replied to New pandemic edtech power networks (code acts in education)

The aim of this post is much more modestly to start mapping out the actors that have emerged as influential organizations in relation to education during the pandemic, focusing on the intersections of education technologies and education policies. By mapping and documenting some of their activities, we can begin to understand how emerging networks of organizations are both seeking to solve the global disruption of education, and pave the way for longer-term transformations to education systems, institutions and practices. Much more sustained analytical work remains to be done–this is just a descriptive, first-draft sketch of current emergency policy developments that are still in motion.

Ben, I really enjoyed your mapping of the current crisis and what it means for educational technology.

The new pandemic edtech power network emerging through UNESCO’s Global Education Coalition is seeking to fulfil the important requirement for continuity of education for hundreds of millions of students worldwide. Many of its aims and its partners are clearly involved out of strong moral commitment. Not all the partners may always share the same objectives, but have, under extraordinary conditions, translated their aims into a shared policy and technology agenda that may lead to long-term consequences. The multilateral and tech sector partners of the coalition are already pushing for long-term changes to education systems that will:

  • Emphasize digital technologies as a solution to a perceived ‘crisis’ of education that pre-dates coronavirus
  • Embed digital technologies as long-term infrastructures of teaching, learning and assessment
  • Empower private sector technology companies as key providers of educational infrastructure, platforms, apps, content and other services
  • Further decentralize education systems into connected networks where learning can be conducted across homes, schools and other settings
  • Enhance data collection and expand use of data analytics, personalized learning software and AI in education
  • Focus on human capital development for the digital economy, and on lubricating learning-to-earning pipelines

I have been fascinated that the call for society to stop gives some aspects of industry the green light. I am intrigued about the 90-free days and what habits may have changed formed after the miasma clears.

Bookmarked Digital mudlarking by mweller (

If you are an ed tech practitioner then, the sense is less of a excavation, and more one of hurried gathering. Ed tech practitioners operate like mudlarks, gathering artefacts that have been exposed by the last technology tide (see below reservations on this). These artefacts can be seen as nuggets of good practice, research or concepts that have application across different technology. Things like how to support learners at a distance, how to effectively encourage online dialogue, ethics of application, etc.

Martin Weller wonders about another edtech metaphor, this time of digital mudlarking.
Bookmarked Colleges are turning students’ phones into surveillance machines, tracking the locations of hundreds of thousands (Washington Post)

The systems highlight how widespread surveillance has increasingly become a fact of life: Students “should have all the rights, responsibilities and privileges that an adult has. So why do we treat them so differently?”

As someone who supports schools with attendance, I understand to a degree where this is all coming from. However, this does not mean it is right. Along with the take-up of video surveillance as perpetuated by companies such as Looplearn, the use of phones as a means of tracking is raising a lot of questions about the purpose and place of technology within learning.

The Chicago-based company has experimented with ways to make the surveillance fun, gamifying students’ schedules with colorful Bitmoji or digital multiday streaks. But the real value may be for school officials, who Carter said can split students into groups, such as “students of color” or “out-of-state students,” for further review. When asked why an official would want to segregate out data on students of color, Carter said many colleges already do so, looking for patterns in academic retention and performance, adding that it “can provide important data for retention. Even the first few months of recorded data on class attendance and performance can help predict how likely a group of students is to” stay enrolled.

What is most disconcerting is the hype around such data.

The company also claims to see much more than just attendance. By logging the time a student spends in different parts of the campus, Benz said, his team has found a way to identify signs of personal anguish: A student avoiding the cafeteria might suffer from food insecurity or an eating disorder; a student skipping class might be grievously depressed. The data isn’t conclusive, Benz said, but it can “shine a light on where people can investigate, so students don’t slip through the cracks.”

Here I am reminded of the work by Cathy O’Neil in regards to big data.

Bookmarked Ed-Tech Agitprop (Hack Education)

To suggest that storytelling in ed-tech is agitprop is not to suggest that it’s part of some communist plot. But it is, I hope, to make clear that there is an agenda — a political agenda and a powerful one at that — and an ideology to our technologies, that come intertwined with an incredible sense of urgency.

In a talk delivered delivered at OEB 2019 in Berlin, Audrey Watters sets out to defamilarise the stories we tell ourselves about educational technology, our “edtech imaginary.” This is a part of an attempt to “turn ed-tech agitprop back on itself” in order to highlight the political agenda and ideology at play.

Agitprop is a portmanteau – a combination of “agitation” and “propaganda,” the shortened name of the Soviet Department for Agitation and Propaganda which was responsible for explaining communist ideology and convincing the people to support the party.

Watters touches on such stories as “65% of children entering primary school today will end up in jobs that don’t exist yet” and “half life of skills” as examples of agitation propaganda. She questions the contradiction that is inherent in much of these discussions, where on the one hand we are calling for a revolt against the system, only the to replace it with a more dystopian one.

If nothing else, it helped underscore for me not only how the vast majority of ed-tech speakers give their talks with a righteous fury about today’s education system that echoes that school-as-factory scene in Pink Floyd’s The Wall – a movie that is 40 years old, mind you – and all starry-eyed about a future of education that will be (ironically) more automated, more algorithmic; and how too many people in the audience at ed-tech events want to chant “hey teacher! leave those kids alone” and then be reassured that, in the future, magically, technology will make everything happier.

Watters closes with a quote from Jill Lepore which summarises this current conundrum.

Machines don’t just keep coming. They are funded, invented, built, sold, bought, and used by people who could just as easily not fund, invent, build, sell, buy, and use them. Machines don’t drive history; people do.

This all comes back to the point that technology is.not merely a tool, but rather a system with many interconnecting parts at play.

I loved John Warner’s response:

Bookmarked 25 Years of EdTech: 2019 – Micro-credentials – The Ed Techie (

In short, micro-credentials represent the latest chapter in the attempt to make the shape of higher education more amorphous and flexible. In this, I am in favour of them, because if you want education to be inclusive and diverse then it needs to come in various formats to meet those needs. Whether micro-credentials are the means to realise that, or another attempt to bend higher ed to mythical needs of employers which turn out to be ill-defined and unwanted, remains to be seen.

Martin Weller continues his history of edtech series discussing the trend towards micro-credentials in higher education. One of the points that really stood out is the idea of credentials as validation of online learning:

Micro-credentials were the culmination of several ed tech developments, but there is also a sense in that they are driven by these very developments in order to validate themselves.

Replied to Models for Evaluating Education Technology (

In the course of my research, I came across these different models of evaluating education technologies. I haven’t added much of my own context or analysis around many of these. But thought it could still be useful to some as a starting point for someone looking for tools to help evaluate education technology.

I remember doing my own review of models and resources associated with educational technologies a few years ago. There were some like Graphite and Courseware in Context that I had not heard of.
Replied to Banning Tech Part 2: Assessing the Value of Opportunities (

How do you decide if one opportunity is more valuable than another? When I was in my mid thirties, I had three job offers pop up. I had ap…

Banning technology has been a topic that has come to the fore lately in Australian education, in particular, mobile devices. Too often the focus is on cognition and communicative, rather than the critical and constructive. I have discussed this further here. I think you are right that we need to start with instruction and then work from there.
Bookmarked Killer Apps for the Classroom? Developing Critical Perspectives on ClassDojo and the ‘Ed-tech’ Industry (Centre for Professional Learning)

ClassDojo has positioned itself as a ‘technical fix’ for the ‘engineering problems’ of classroom behaviour, discipline and more. Behaviour monitoring, content distribution, parent communication, teacher tools, social networking, pedagogic thinking, even relationships between parents and their children have become ClassDojo-fied as part of its Silicon Valley-backed expansion. As such, the expansion of ed-tech products and markets represents the clear commercialisation of public education.

Ben Williamson continues his critique of Class Dojo. This includes unpacking how it has been engineered, the use of social media to ‘spread the message’, the association with social and emotional learning, the infiltration of policy, the normalisation of surveillance and the spread of platform education.
Bookmarked Artificial intelligence in Schools: An Ethical Storm is Brewing (EduResearch Matters)

‘Artificial intelligence will shape our future more powerfully than any other innovation this century. Anyone who does not understand it will soon find themselves feeling left behind, waking up in …

Erica Southgate discusses a new report and project produced for the Australian Government Department of Education to support the analysis of artificial intelligence in education. It touches on some of the concerns around AI, including:

  • Bias
  • Black box nature
  • Digital human rights issues
  • Deep fakes
  • The potential for a lack of independent advice for educational leaders


Bookmarked HEWN, No. 318 (

Much of my work in the past has been to uncover the networks of powerful people who fund education technology and education reform. I believe that money shapes a product; it doesn’t just underwrite it. And I’ve hoped that educators and administrators would think more critically about the affinities that lay beneath and within the tools they mandate students and school use. (Like, say, if a “personalized learning” platform is backed by a dude who thinks the Nineteenth Amendment was a bad idea. I mean, WTF.)

Audrey Watters reflects upon the associated of MIT Media Lab with Jeffrey Epstein and the subsequent resignations of Ethan Zuckerman and visiting scholar Nathan Matias.
Bookmarked What’s the Role of the School in Educating Children in a Datafied Society? (

During our research, we also found ourselves reflecting on the unique position of the school as an institution tasked not only with educating its students but also with managing their personal data. Couldn’t one then argue that, since the school is a microcosm of the wider society, the school’s own data protection regime could be explained to children as a deliberate pedagogical strategy? Rather than something quietly managed by the GDPR compliance officer and conveyed as a matter of administrative necessity to parents, the school’s approach to data protection could be explained to students so they could learn about the management of data that is important to them (their grades, attendance, special needs, mental health, biometrics).

Sonia Livingstone, Mariya Stoilova and Rishita Nandagiri argue that schools have a place to not only protect students data, but build their knowledge and understanding of the world that they are being protected from. They provide an online toolkit to support this.
Bookmarked Automating mistrust (code acts in education)

Turnitin is the clear market-leader to solve the essay mills problem that the department has now called on universities to tackle. Its technical solution, however, does not address the wider reasons—social, institutional, psychological, financial or pedagogic—for student cheating, or encourage universities to work proactively with students to resolve them. Instead, it acts as a kind of automated ‘plagiarism police force’ to enforce academic integrity, which at the same time is also set to further disadvantage young people in countries such as Kenya where preparing academic texts for UK and US students is seen as a legitimate and lucrative service by students and graduates.

Ben Williamson takes a look at TurnItIn. He explores its past support from organisations like JISC and impact it has on higher education. The concern Williamson raises is that automated plagiarism checks will not resolve the underlying issues associated with cheating in higher education. Williamson adds further commentary in this Twitter thread: