The High Speed of EdTech

I can’t help but feel that the onus, at least right now, is on the field of educational technology to slow down and listen a bit more, if edtech hopes to enhance areas of study other than itself.


Having a finger in educational technology, in addition to other fields of practice (mainly language learning & cultural issues, in my case) creates an interesting view of the field of edtech itself. I often wonder, in fact, if it’s even a worthwhile field to refer to, separate from subject matter context. The thought of an exclusive edtech themed conference is kind of strange to me – when I was involved in the national language teacher’s association in Japan, edtech (in the form of CALL) was a special interest group of the organization, and this seemed about right. So many practical questions of technology (devices, platforms, methods…) use can only be answered by first asking: What subject are you communicating in?

MOOCs provide a good example of this. First came MOOCs. They emerged out of online learning affordances (basically what MOOCs are, online learning – but this is not a MOOC definition post). They were used initially in successful cases (it’s worth nothing and relevant that initial MOOC subject matter was almost solely educational technology related subjects). They generated interest. They became popular. They became even more popular. Influential people tried to use them is certain ways. MOOC became a buzzword. Educators mocked and shunned their popularity. Educators mocked and shunned their popular representations. People discussed and critiqued them, both in response to their essence and in response to the popular notion of them. They became tired, old cliches. They became memes. They needed to be rebranded. Now, they sit, hopefully, in familiar terms with educators, ready as another option, like other forms of instructional design.  And, all of this within a few years. You could even appropriately use months as a measurement. The progress has been nothing short of astounding, when looking at it from the outside. (It all reminds me of Homer progressing through the five stages of death anxiety.)

Like many fruits of edtech, when I bring up the subject of MOOCs with people in the language field, the strong majority are apprehensive of the concept. Either that or they’re still at the “Sooooo, what’s a MOOC?” stage. Or, they’re both. Based on the speed at which edtech ideas progress apart from context, it’s easy to understand why. From my experience, diving in to tech use for existing educational practice (institutionally and individually) is often intimidating and impractical. I’m guessing this is true for many other fields beside language learning.

Innovation won’t happen from hydroplaning across the surface of learning. Practitioners will need to take innovative ideas and mold them to suit content, and they’ll need the edtech specialists to bridge that gap with the same respect that Research and Practice needs bridging. But, what can we realistically expect when edtech pushes pedal to the metal, seemingly targeted to the high-volume user. This is my impression, looking at it from within and from without.

As a side note – an analogy that I started thinking about lately is how the field of linguistics relates to other such fields as language learning and literature. They both share the commonality of language, and you would think that linguistics would be a direct feed for either, but somehow this connections is not as strong one (or at least I) would think. Linguistic materials aren’t the easiest nor the most practice  oriented materials to engage with. Certainly linguistics is a distinct field, and maybe it’s just an undeveloped thought – but I feel there something there in the analogy between linguistics and edtech. It’s one I’ll be thinking about.


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