North American educational technology futurists see great things ahead in 2015. After marveling at the amazing technological advances of 2014, the Ed Tech promoters at Getting Smart.com are even more bullish about the year ahead. What excites them? The new problems to be solved, the innovative power of technology, the promise of edu-resolutions, and the infinite possibilities ahead for students and teachers.
Optimism is fine, but heralding the coming of Ed Tech “Heaven” is indicative of what might be termed a 21st century “New Light” technological futurism. How individuals, institutions, and school culture respond to technological change is fast emerging as the critical issue in today’s education world. What now passes for educational forecasting, pitting the “Heaven” of the optimists versus the “Hell” of the pessimists, is actually more akin to what Joel Garreau (2005) aptly labelled the “Prevail” or “Muddling Through” scenario. With technology advancing, the idealism of the movement has given way to the “Prevail” option testifying to “the power of humans to muddle through extraordinary circumstances.”
Getting Smart sounds positively overflowing with optimism . “What’s a new year without optimism?,” the lead blogger asks in rhetorical fashion. “Without a positive outlook on all things capable? What’s a new year without gathering to peer at the horizon of where we could be headed if we’re all in this together?” In its first post of 2015, Getting Smart, buoyed by fellow Ed Tech enthusiasts at Digital Promise, not only took time to celebrate the launch of Smart Parents, GenDIY, and the new year by examining how 2015 will be different for parents and students.
The Getting Smart 2015 predictions are lofty and perhaps typical of the rather pollyannish thinking of ed tech futurists:
1. With increased access to anytime, anywhere learning, students will have more options than ever to personalize their education in 2015.
2. Lots of schools and districts will move from planning mode to implementation mode on efforts related to personalized and blended learning.
3. Parents will become more knowledgeable about the opportunities available to their students thanks to personalized, blended learning, ultimately resulting in more smart parents.
4. 2015 will provide even better student experiences for quality online and blended higher education through the personalization of virtual learning, including more cohorts and webinars, allowing them to tailor their degree program.
5. The millennial generation will show us the way as Generation Do-It-Yourself (GenDIY), educators and EdLeaders will now shape instruction, strategies, and practices to best fit the jobs of today and tomorrow.
6. Solutions to a handful of EdTech issues will emerge in 2015 making it easier to combine formative data, compare student growth rates, and acknowledge progress, and hopefully improving guidance and counseling systems.
Taking a closer look at the Getting Smart prognostications, the initial over-the-top optimism seems to be rooted in a firm belief in a technology-driven society. They also reflect the pragmatic optimism of the so-called “Prevail” camp. As American education technology researcher Adam Therier puts it in The Technology Liberation Front, today’s ed tech promoters focus not so much on its transformative powers as on how we can adapt and learn to cope with technological disruption and prosper in the process.
Modern thinking on the impact of technological change on societies continues to be largely dominated by skeptics and critics. From the French philosopher Jacques Ellul (The Technological Society) to Neil Postman (Technopoly) and Nicholas Carr (The Shallows), social critics have alerted us to the potential for the subjugation of humans to “technique” or “technics” and feared that technology and technological processes would come to control us before we learned how to control them.
Postman, perhaps best known as co-author of the 1968 classic, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, had a way of capturing your attention. The rise of a “technopoly”, he wrote, would mean “the submission of all forms of cultural life to the sovereignty of technique and technology” — that would destroy “the vital sources of our humanity” and lead to “a culture without a moral foundation” by undermining “certain mental processes and social relations that make human life worth living.”
National education technology lobby groups like C21 Canada simply brush aside any such concerns in their overall pursuit of the so-called “Mind Shift” to “21st century learning.” Most of the C21 Canada initiative is focused on mobilizing education CEOs and tapping into corporate funding from the leading technology providers, most notably Pearson Canada. This top-down educational leadership strategy was exemplified in the C21 Canada partnership with the Council of Ministers of Education (CMEC) under past Chair Jeff Johnson and most recently in the announcement of a C21 CEO Academy composed of West Vancouver ed tech champion Chris Kennedy and 21 other school superintendents.
School-level examples of the “Mind Shift” ushered in by prophets of the new technology are still hard to find here in Canadian provincial school systems. Well- funded ICT projects initiated by Mind Share Learning produce rather uninspiring “Let’s Play with IT” student activity videos like Foggs Science Classes and How to Integrate ICT. So far, it’s doubtful if such small-scale, teacher-led activities are making much of a difference in the classroom.
We can move forward with education technology without ignoring the more sobering prophecies and succumbing to the allure of “technics.” What Adam Therier calls “permissionless innovation” is definitely needed in the education sector. Creating the spaces to experiment with new technologies and pedagodgies is critical if we are to take fuller advantage of the success of the Internet and the digital economy. In doing so, however, let’s not lose our heads and succumb to the technopoly in all its insidious forms. It’s also fair to ask whether the current C21 Canada approach led by the CEOs will ever lead to true bottom-up ‘disruptive innovation’ in the schools.