EdTech Factotum #10: Institutional EdTech Capacity, Efficacy & Student Data

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6 min read

July 28, 2017

Here are 3 things I read & found interesting this week.


Brian Lamb, July 17, 2017

EDUCAUSE has dedicated their latest issue almost exclusively to Next Generation Digital Learning Environments (NGDLE), revisiting the idea of NGDLE 2 years after the publishing of their 2015 white paper that first put the idea forward. In response, Brian Lamb and Jim Groom are working on a position paper for an upcoming conference that focuses on NGDLE.

One of the critiques about NGDLE Brian makes is a pragmatic, yet vitally important one. Thanks to years of underresourcing and outsourcing, most institutions lack the technical resources & deep knowledge to implement the complex types of connected systems that NGDLE envisions.

While it is a lovely thing to dream of a generational leap in the capabilities of our learning environments, of optimized bespoke toolset ecosystems interconnected seamlessly by APIs, it’s difficult to envision the transformation described in these manifestos being implemented by the average institution, where most ed tech units have been hollowed out by more than a decade of outsourcing and austerity. Yes, there are elite institutions that can still afford to employ teams of developers, pay the vendor licenses and hire the consultants and contractors to make NGDLE-type learning environments happen. But those options seem remote, bordering on incomprehensible to those of us struggling to keep software and materials up to date, to build relationships with our communities, to provide the support our students and instructors need to get through the next semester.

This is a real and pressing challenge, not just to implement something new and innovative, but to just keep up with the increasingly complex demands of learning technologies. The issues today are even more challenging than a decade ago and, like Brian, I fear that institutional capacity to address these complex technical challenges has dwindled.

When it comes to Brian’s points about data collection, it’s hard to argue with the cautionary warnings he puts forth about higher education seemingly feeling “resigned to accepting the fundamental logic of surveillance capitalism as it stands, without asserting competing values or working to address its ill effects.” Indeed, much of the conceptual framework underpinning NGDLE is to make the collection of data easier and flow smoother between connected systems. Increasingly, however, I do worry that we are not being nuanced enough in our distinction between data collection in education and data collection on the web. There is a part of me that says if there is a possibility that the collection and application of learner data can help people reach their full potential, then shouldn’t we explore that? Isn’t our mandate to use the tools at our disposal to help people meet their goals? And if data is one of those tools, then shouldn’t we use it?

This isn’t to say that I am completely convinced of the usefulness of student data yet, nor am I a proponent of the mass “let’s collect all the data and well figure out how to use it later” approach. But I don’t want to shut the door at this stage that this stuff might be useful.

Certainly, the way that data is collected and used in education has to be different that the rest of the web. On the web, data surveillance is persuasive and opaque. You often don’t have control over who collects data about you or how it is used, and even when you do know that data is being collected and used, people often knowingly make Faustian bargains and uncomfortable compromises. This can’t be the way things are done in education and with our technology systems. Students need to be in control and know what is being collected about them, why, how it is being used, and be able to control it. In fact, well designed institutional systems that make the collection and use of data transparent and controllable by students could be a powerful pedagogical that teaches students how to control and use that data to meet their objectives and needs.

I’ve written about NGDLE in the past, and took part in a presentation this spring at BCNET about the concept. See also Jim’s take is The LMS is dead, not unlike God: thoughts on the NGDLE

In Defense of the LMS

Sasha Thackaberry, WCET, July 20, 2017

More response to EDUCAUSE talk of NGDLE from Sasha Thackaberry from Southern New Hampshire University.

I have to admit that I approached an article titled “In Defense of the LMS’ with trepidation. As Sasha points out, these are systems that no one loves, myself included. However, the article is very much in tune with how I currently see the NGDLE vision – the LMS not as a Learning Management System that imposes a single set of pedagogical applications onto all faculty who use it, but instead as the administrative middle-man. The middle-ware between the institutional systems and the teaching & learning applications.

But we can’t get there without technical standards, and while I appreciate Sasha’s stand that institutions band together to collaboratively put pressure on vendors to demand stricter adherence to standards, it does strike me as only part of the problem. Sure, we can write clauses into our RFP’s that systems adhere to open standards, but as our history on open courses and learning objects has shown us, interoperability is implemented to serve the vendor, not the system. Ever tried to move a course from one interoperable system to another? Yeah, not so easy.

Instead of relying solely on vendor pressure, I think we need to be leading not only the technical development of the standards we want to use, but also building and incubating the development of open tools that support those standards. To do that, however, requires deep technical expertise in the form of developers, as well as institutional capacity to be able to be part of collectives to develop the standards and tools we want. And, as Brian has pointed out above, those kinds of resources have been carved to the bone and are in scarce supply at many institutions.

How Much Do Educators Care About Edtech Efficacy? Less Than You Might Think

Jenny Abamu, EdSurge, July 17, 2017

Doubt anyone reading this newsletter is likely surprised by the findings of this study by Dr. Michael Kennedy at the University of Virginia. Within the sample of 515 teachers, administrators, and technologists from across 17 states, Kennedy found that 90% of the survey respondents did not insist on research about a technology to be in place before adopting or buying a product.

“Research, according to one of the quotes I received was the icing on the cake,” says Kennedy “Having a lot of research evidence, like the type demanded by the feds, was cool but not essential. I found that to be pretty surprising and a little bit troubling.”

Surprising, no. Troubling indeed.

Thanks for reading.

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