I know people like to say Ed Tech won’t save you, and that is a good antidote to the ed tech saviour hype, but in 2020 educational technologists really did save education (by which I don’t mean silicon valley profiteers, but the small teams within unis, colleges, schools, etc). People who were often buffeted around an institution, not treated with appropriate respect and under-resourced were suddenly called upon to keep the whole thing going. That’s a hell of a spotlight shift.
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.
The prevalence of wifi, smart phones and unobtrusive earphones, combined with abundance of audio content in audiobooks and podcasts, makes me feel that we are entering a similar combined oral/literacy phase socially and moving away from a largely literate dominated one. Given the number of other tasks that only require partial attention (from playing Candy Crush to having your dad talk to you), the opportunity for orality to become prominent is present. And I for one, welcome our new audio-overlords.
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.
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.
In short, the future will have much resonance with the present, but it will be one where the relationship between people and increasingly powerful technology is one that is constantly examined and negotiated. I would not expect any grand revolution in the higher education space, the much quoted concept of disruption is almost entirely absent and inappropriate in this space. So don’t expect the type of future often predicted by educational technology entrepreneurs, with all existing universities made redundant by a new technology centric model. Instead we see a continual model of innovation, testing, adaption and revisiting within the constraints of an existing, and robust system.
- Very little changes, while simultaneously everything changes.
- Change is rarely about the technology.
- Appreciate the historical amnesia in much of educational technology.
- Technology is not ethically or politically neutral.
What has changed, what remains the same, and what general patterns can be discerned from the past twenty years in the fast-changing field of edtech?
If I had a desert island EdTech, it would be blogging, and that is not just in a nostalgic sense. No other educational technology has continued to develop, as the proliferation of WordPress sites attests, and also remain so full of potential. I’ve waxed lyrical about academic blogging many times before, but for almost every ed tech that comes along, I find myself thinking that a blog version would be better: e-portfolios, VLEs, MOOCs, OERs, social networks.