Is EdTech Still Relevant?

This post is a submission to the OpenBlog challenge #OpenBlog19.

As people who work in the business of supporting educational technology you’d be surprised (and probably a bit disappointed) if we said no EdTech is not still relevant, it’s not. But it’s a question that’s fairly regularly asked. It normally starts along the lines of “But surely everyone …” and is followed by at least one of the following:

  • Knows how to use a computer
  • Has a <insert device of your choice>
  • Understands how to use <insert software / tool of your choice>

Despite the myths of digital natives and ubiquitous device usage, what educational technology requires more than anything is thoughtful planning, and careful consideration. Yes, many of us have multiple devices, yes, we know how to get a list of search results (of varying qualities and usefulness), but do we know how to use what we have to provide high quality learning? Is our student’s attainment linked to technology now? Is attainment the only factor we should be considering?

Those myths can lead us down a Daedulus like labyrinth, so what is the ball of yarn to guide us towards the exit? Well, there are two pieces of research that may help us unravel these questions. Firstly from the U.S Dept. of Education in which their report in 2014 states, “Technology is not a silver bullet and cannot—by itself—produce the benefits we seek in learning”. So does this mean that the presence of technology does not lead to an improved attainment?

A picture of scores and analytics –
https://unsplash.com/photos/qwtCeJ5cLYs

Do marks matter?

To further back this up, this study’s research aim was to find, “whether the dependent variable (final marks obtained by the students) and the independent variable (VLE visits) are correlated to each other”. So, does the constant use of likely ubiquitous platform, the VLE, lead to your student’s attaining higher results? Just the abstract provides you with a clue to unravel this one and it reads, “The results showed that the number of VLE visits did not have a direct impact on the final marks obtained by the students.” It shows that visits to the institution’s VLE does not correlate to a student’s attainment. Just imagine all the VLE admins and research projects that look to highlight visit stats quantity and frequency to their VLE as a better student experience. It turns out, more visits may not necessarily equal higher scores!

“number of VLE visits did not have a direct impact on the final marks obtained by the students


Chowdhry, S., Sieler, K., & Alwis, L. (2014). A Study of the Impact of Technology-Enhanced Learning on Student Academic Performance. Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice, 2(3), 3–15

So are we at a dead end for EdTech? Is a pointless medium for learning, should we just go back to pen, paper, slate and blackboards? The use of an iPad in a classroom isn’t of itself educational technology. If the activity its used for isn’t supporting and developing learning; if the use of tech isn’t bringing something that can’t be achieved with pen and paper, then it’s just using the iPad to hit your IT target. After all an e-tablet is just a tablet right?

So are we saying that EdTech should be thrown away into the growing tech waste pile? Well the U.S report (Learning Technology Effectiveness) offers a hint towards the maze’s conclusion, stating,  

“the potential for positive effects when technology is a key ingredient in well-designed learning systems”.


U.S. Department of Education (2014). Learning Technology Effectiveness.
Someone learning at their computer –
Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

Positive effects?

Firstly, it’s pointing out that EdTech may not only be there for the sole purpose of student attainment, it can have other “positive effects”; like the on-boarding of students to a technology-enhanced world that they’re entering, or already in. Secondly, a “well-designed learning system” matches up with the Chowdhry et. al (2014) report stating, “However, for one of the modules there was some correlation between the final marks obtained by the students and the way the modules were structured around the VLE.”. So, the devil is in the design of the learning and not the technology itself.

And this is where we start to consider what these VLE clicks really mean. Are they interactions with high quality learning materials, activities that encourage deep learning and active engagement. Or are they frustrated visits to a module site that contains old materials and broken links in the hope that something will have changed since the last time you looked? Are they evidence of searching the maze for the feedback you thought would come today (but you’re not quite sure because the date of feedback return isn’t on the site). Or do the show that the students have escaped the maze and are heading for daylight of deeper understanding, better marks and above all enthusiasm for learning.

The profession of educational technology is as relevant now, as it was in the early days. Knowing how to send a text, and stream music isn’t the same as understanding how to design a high quality online assessment. And pretending that it is devalues the profession.

Changes forever?

However, are we destined to always come back to the maze’s dead ends with “Technologies that were supposed to change education forever”? Or do we need to say EdTech is dead to progress through this constant educational maze of myths and dead-ends and focus on the learning not the tech.

(Featured image of class with pens and paper from
https://unsplash.com/photos/jEEYZsaxbH4 )

Student painting with a VR headset on –
https://unsplash.com/photos/3eAByt3-eOw

This #OpenBlog19 post was co-written by Kate Wright and Dan Course.

Diablo 3 and the devil in the gameplay

When I was younger, Diablo 1 took some level of skill to complete, and consideration of ones armour or weapons. The game was atmospheric, challenging and a load of fun. I’ve got Diablo 3 for Switch now and it just feels like there’s such a missing element in the gameplay, like under the hood the game format changed, but the style, atmosphere and story haven’t.

Diablo 1 from, https://www.polygon.com/2016/11/4/13530784/diablo-3-diablo-1-level-details-darkening-of-tristram

In Diablo 1, you had to make time to consider the best load-out for your character, inspect the item properties and fawn over new items. You were scared entering a new area or level because who knew what may be about to pop and and take you!

With Diablo 3, I’m desperate to enjoy it, and the cut scenes and story are the things that have got me so far. However, even on the higher difficulty, the levels involve me doing nothing me than moving a character towards the dungeon spawn and rolling around control pad buttons to win. You get a new cool upgrade, and you equip them and repeat. You get some new armour, you equip that if it’s stronger and get going.

You just wade through any dungeons like a hot sword through butter without really any concern. The challenge is gone. It’s like the Total War “auto-resolve battle” button was just omni-present throughout the game and bound X,Y,A and B buttons. I fear I may get more enjoyment from just watching all the story cutscenes on Youtube and bypassing the RSI inducing middle-bits. I just don’t enjoy Diablo 3.

Hero image from “dave“, http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/diablo/images/2347181/title/diablo-3-wallpapers-wallpaper

Design thinking – part 1 – my recap

Everything is designed. You don’t have to be a designer to influence the design of things.

Adapted from Tim Brown, IDEO CEO

A quick write-up to further solidify my week 1 learning.

  • At it’s core, design thinking is empathy, ideation and experimentation

I remember this seems odd, because I was expecting it to be a set of set stages you followed to be a “design thinker”, however it appears to be more about a way of acting with some “set pieces” to maximise that approach.

Agile was a way of thinking, but had lots of managed stages and a particular roles / rules to help you at each stage to make further support an Agile team. However, this quite literally is a way of thinking. #CluesInTheName It sounds obvious but I hadn’t realised it.

Empathy

Really understanding your user’s / learners perspective leads to being able to make a better design for them (and potentially others). Some tips were,

  • Always say yes to what they offer (tea, coffee, biscuits) so they feel comfortable
  • Be brave and leave pauses during an interview, this allows your participant to mull on their answer more and potentially share more
  • Fall in Love, not literally, but you need to be thinking in an empathetic manner with them, so loving them means you care more for why.

“Treat people like partners in research” – this struck a chord with me, I always collaborate i.e., involve my colleagues in the discussions as partners to the solution.

Ideation

Go wild. Some of these ideas won’t make it past the whiteboard, but you’re allowed to go there.

This to me is seriously linked to Agile in that the board can list everything, but really only the priority ones that hit the goal will naturally boil to the front.

Experimentation

Small experiments early always tell a lot. Whether it’s a few <div>s and a bit of javascript, or a notepad and a conversation, that’s a real experiment.

In Agile it’s the same, iterations and releasing early lead to better, more valuable work. I’m used to producing things on a notepad first, moving them further along with OmniGraffle or PowerPoint.

So…

A lot of design thinking is quite similar to Agile, “Lean startup” and 7 day startup and also my own way of working, so really I think I’m looking for,

  • more tips through the course to improve my general skill-base,
  • applying that thinking to my work today, and
  • #humblebrag sharing “I’ve completed a design thinking course” on Linkedin

Good, onwards to week 2 and learning more about “inspiring new thinking”.

Featured image from, pixabay

Voting for what you believe in

Yes. It’s clear that people voting for Brexit had no plan, and yes that is frustrating, however do you blame them?

To put it in context, think of something you really want to buy. Take 10 seconds…

Now what if I told you there’s a possibility you could have it, but we’re not sure how yet… would you pursue it or leave in the vain hope that the opportunity may crop up again.

If it wasn’t a material thing, what if it was a social change, or a vote to show you wanted believed in something controversial but would make things better. You’d have to vote for it, even if it was slightly blind.

The vote to leave was based on people wanting to leave, possibly irrespective of a plan. Yes it sucks, yes it’s causing Britain to need martial law and potential food shortages but… if people hadn’t have voted that way wouldn’t they have been told they’re silly for not voting for it and “that was their chance”, only, who’s to say if they’d have had that chance again?

Zelda breath of the Wild and learning design

I love this game. My wife and I have played it every evening after work for about 5 weeks non-stop now.

By the way, this post is riddled with spoilers about Breath of the Wild.

However, the further down the rabbit hole you go the more it speaks to you as a learning designer and the more it reveals as a clever piece of entertainment and learning scaffolding.

Win their hearts

A clever colleague of my always mentions that a module should be meaningful and you need to win their hearts early. Zelda, breaks you straight into a magical world where you start scraping around but the landscape in the distance tells you there’s going to be adventure to be had once you’ve passed your basics.

Endless scenery – https://www.zelda.com/breath-of-the-wild/

Engage with your student early

To start with, your companion is an mysterious old man who guides you between all the early action so you know where you’re going. Also interestingly he is also a bit un-hinged, you’re never quite sure who’s side he’s on until later… this may just be me but it adds to the early game excitement.

The mysterious old man – https://zelda.gamepedia.com/King_Rhoam

Teach in your own style

The best IDs and teachers are able to be creative and teach using methods and techniques that they find engaging. In Zelda, the whole land is based on an early Japanese era and Shinto like shrines. You can tell that for the designers it was like second nature for them to invent these things and challenges because somewhere in their history they’ve engaged with those ideas first hand.

It’s like in Fable 3, the game is based on a dirty old-English industrial revolution and you can tell again that the designers have been taught this througout their history lessons and it’s imprinted in their culture.

Alignment – Formatives lead to Summatives

All of Zelda’s game play and stories is so well set up as training for the ultimate final assessment, calamity Ganon (or calamity Gammon as he was re-named in our house). The daily grind is scaffolding your learning for making elixers, fighting tips and solving puzzles which… apply in the champion bosses (formatives). The champion bosses require lots of effort put in before upgrading your character and button skills before you could stand a chance of flooring them. This then leads to the final boss, Calamity Ganon (the summative) which we can see is going to involve calling on all our training and upgrades so far.

The formatives are aligned to the summative.

Calamity Ganon Fanart – https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/623185667161763399/?lp=true

All of the Zelda grind is scaffolded learning to achieve when you need it. Not much more to say there 😀

Surprising Learning

I talked about this in another blog post, however the Zelda game never ceases to surprise you. The designers team have played with scale of monsters and NPDs, the sound team have pushed the boundaries of music and effects and the level designers have surprised you with challenges.

The world is humungous and each corner brings with it a surprising and new engaging new race. Some are quite close to human, others are a twist on a beast + human. But each one has their own personality and brings with it a new surprise and technique to learn from them.

Let them find their own path

An early design feature of Zelda was to let the player find their own way of doing things, you can cut down logs or knock barrels over to solve puzzles, it doesn’t matter, you can do it. You can skip sections if you want, or you can complete every activity you ever cared to, it’s your own path.

It’s the same in learning design, an adult learner will likely come to your module with their own ways of doing things and is likely to try to approach the problems in their own way or have covered something before. This game allows you to explore many different ways of winning and you can solve them how you want.

Collect Kurok seeds or not, it’s your choice – https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidthier/2017/03/09/what-to-do-with-korok-seeds-in-legend-of-zelda-breath-of-the-wild/

Gamification

Well yeah… obviously!

What a game

Me

Breaking democracy?

What was the point in voting in the first place?

Shouldn’t MP’s respect the outcome of the refurendum?

A second vote would destory confidence in government.

Well these are all seemingly correct statements but in today’s modern world I can’t help but feel they’re out of touch still.

A second vote to me would mean being reactive to change, would mean being more Agile around our government and choices. It’s possible to both accept the referendum, but also be smart and accept and act on the fact it’s going to cause significant disruption.

Yes. People voted out, the Leave team won that. Done. Dusted. However, to ignore the result of that choice, i.e., businesses are leaving the country, the NHS not getting that extra money… wouldn’t it be better to avoid a massive mistake rather than following it blindly? It’s possible that people who voted leave are comfortable with the what’s at stake, do not see it as a mistake and value the nation’s independence a lot more so want it to continue.

But really what is everyone afraid of? A second vote doesn’t have to be a “best of three” and it doesn’t have to be seen as a democratic fail. It’s a complete democratic win, it’s a chance to say, “well here we are and is this what we wanted?”. In fact, it’s more democratic to ask again since so much has seemingly changed since the initial vote. The people get to choose, do they want the deal and the UK’s freedom, or do they want to stick with the bigger European picture?

You wouldn’t dream of carrying on something so un-settling in any local club you were part of without checking with the members on the way, so why should government be any different? Yes we honour the vote, but also we honour our own smarts’ and not forge ahead blindly.

This really is an opportunity for a more democratic UK government, and it could be embraced as a win for all. It’s not breaking democracy, it’s making democracy.

When the student is ready, udemy shall disappear

Or did I mean, “When the student is ready, the teacher shall appear.”?

Lao Tzu – https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1339572-when-the-student-is-ready-the-teacher-will-appear-when

I love that saying because it reminds you that as an adult you have to need to learn, not just want to. And this led me to a revelation on the learning sites I keep frequenting to advance myself in areas I find interesting, namely udemy.

Recently I’ve seriously wanted to understand more about Product Management and also Design Thinking and have been reading blogs on the gov.uk around service design and product management. It whetted my appetite enough to know I wanted to know more, so I put my money where my Lao Tzu is and purchased a udemy course.

It was the “Become a Product Manager” course actually. Without really thinking about it when choosing between them all I went for the one with more video hours. It seemed a good idea. More video is more learning right?

Photo by Niklas Hamann on Unsplash

Turns out I was wrooooong. Even as an ID I should have known that was a stupid choice to make, but I’m afraid I’m not perfect in the evenings. The course is just some guy talking for ages around things that even I know he’s not totally correct on. And he’s making up acronyms all over the place like they’re industry standard pieces you’d repeat in every office… they’re not. Then there’s the fact that the module is actually just him talking… for hours… and hours… with a pop quiz on something sensical every now and again.

More video does not equal more learn

Me

So, after trying hard… I’ve dropped that module, realising I actually do quite a lot of Product Management in my present Senior ID role where I manage the learning product.

Now, you’d think I’d have learnt after that, however I signed up to a Design Thinking udemy course with some kind Keypath sponsorship (we are VERY lucky and our boss protects a full hour every week for professional development – like you get in trouble if you skive). However, this module again seemed to rely on the andragogy that “more video = more learn”. I sat through a gruelling 20 minutes of a man smugly talking around Design thinking without actually covering any points or telling you where it was going. To make it worse his super sensitive microphone picked up him rolling spit around in his gob for all those 20 minutes. Again… a course that didn’t ask the learning to engage anywhere, didn’t test they picked up any points (not that he made any) and failed to map out the learner’s journey through the 400 minutes plus of him waxing lyrical.

Photo by Danny Postma on Unsplash

However, as I said, “when the student is ready” – so I’ve dropped the module and flipped to IDEO U’s free 5 email course on design thinking which is much easier to read and lays out where the learning is going and why. I highly suggest it if you’d like to understand the basics of an apparently messy and never ending process called “Design thinking”

So, where’s this going then! I can’t imagine even my Mum would have read this far, but, how would I make udemy to improve their learning Product? Well, with a bit of design thinking obviously.

  • To improve on Learning Design: Offer course designers some learning patterns / template to follow which encourage a mix of content delivery styles. This is showing Empathy towards people who are not IDs or teachers, show them a pattern with…
    • Videos
    • Simple HTML interactives
    • Set reading and discussion
    • Automated quizzes on real topics
  • To build on the Social-constructivism, you can improve the UI: Take a leaf out of Futurelearn’s book and make the comments ever present (not 200px wide and stuck on the side) so students can engage with the material between them and learn with / from each other
  • On upholding quality: Encourage the teachers do do less, maybe set a limit on video hours above which their course has to be reviewed. It’s presently a bit “myspace”, wild and messy without really doing what it’s meant to do. Go more “Facebook” and focus on making sure students are getting what they need by offering shorter modules

After writing these however, I suspect that udemy’s KPIs are more based on dollars to grow quick rather than actual learning, so they need to make an attractive offering and sell it quick so maybe their offering makes sense to them…

“Lots of video hours means lots of learning money”.

Actual udemy product goal… honest