Sitting in on a recent donor-stakeholder discussion about the use of ICTs to support education for poor people in developing countries, inspired me to formalize my critical thoughts on the increasingly common usage of the term “EdTech”. There are three main reasons why this terminology is so problematic:
- First, the term EdTech places the emphasis on the technology rather than the educational and learning outcomes. Far too many initiatives that have sought to introduce technology systematically into education have failed because they have focused on the technology rather than on the the education. The use of the term EdTech therefore places emphasis on a failed way of thinking. Technology will only be of benefit for poor and marginalized people if it is used to deliver real learning outcomes, and this is the core intended outcome of any initiative. It is the learning that matters, rather than the technology.
- Second, it implies that there is such a thing as Educational Technology. The reality is that most technology that is used in schools or for education more widely has very little to do specifically with education or learning. Word processing and presentational software, spreadsheets, and networking software are nothing specifically to do with education, although they are usually what is taught to teachers in terms of IT skills! Such software is, after all, usually called Office software, as in Microsoft Office, or Open Office. Likewise, on the hardware side, computers, mobile phones and electronic whiteboards are not specifically educational but are rather more general pieces of technology that companies produce to generate a profit. Learning content, be it open or proprietary, is perhaps the nearest specifically educational technology that there is, but people rarely even think of this when they use the term EdTech!
- Third, it is fascinating to consider why the term EdTech has been introduced to replace others such as e-learning or ICT for education (ICT4E) which clearly place the emphasis on the learning and the education. The main reason for this is that the terminology largely reflects the interests of private sector technology companies, and especially those from the US. The interests underlying the terminology are a fundamental part of the problem. EdTech is being used and sold as a concept primarily so that companies can sell technology that has little specifically to do with education, and indeed so that researchers can be funded to study its impact!
Those who use the term EdTech are all conspiring to place the emphasis on the technology rather than on the education. This is often deliberate, but always misguided! Many of those who use the term are also concerned primarily in generating profits from education rather than delivering effective, life-changing opportunities for people to learn. If you ever use the word again, please think twice about it, and preferably use something more appropriate!
I have always admired Mike Trucano‘s work, and so it was great to hear him speaking this morning at Online Educa Berlin. His theme was understanding failures in e-learning, especially in the countries where the World Bank is working.
This was his list of the ten worst practices in e-learning:
- Dump hardware in schools, hope for magic to happen
- Design for OECD learning environments, implement elsewhere
- Think about educational content only after you have rolled out your hardware
- Assume you can just import content from someone else
- Don’t monitor, don’t evaluate
- Make a big bet on an unproven technology (especially one based on a closed/proprietary standard) or single vendor, don’t plan for how to avoid ‘lock in’
- Don’t think about or acknowledge total costs of ownership/operation issues or calculations
- Assume away equity issues
- Don’t train your teachers (nor your school headmasters, for that matter)
- ….for your own worst practice
The really sad thing is that all of these known worst practices continue to be replicated across the world. Hopefully, more people will listen to Mike, and then we can develop much better ways through which technology can really be used effectively to enhance learning!
Filed under Education, ICT4D
At this year’s e-Learning Africa conference in Dakar (27th-29th May 2009) we are convening a workshop that explores the interface between story-telling and ICT4D. One of the outputs will be a digital ‘place’ where people can contribute their stories, and thereby use ICTs to support traditional African oral and story-telling traditions.
In this connection, it is salient to note that 20th March 2009 is World Story Telling Day – “a global celebration of the art of oral storytelling. It is celebrated every year on the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere, the first day of autumn equinox in the southern. On World Storytelling Day, as many people as possible tell and listen to stories in as many languages and at as many places as possible, during the same day and night. Participants tell each other about their events in order to share stories and inspiration, to learn from each other and create international contacts.”
“World Storytelling Day has its roots in a national day for storytelling in Sweden, circa 1991-2. At that time, an event was organized for March 20 in Sweden called “Alla berattares dag” (All storytellers day). The Swedish national storytelling network passed out some time after, but the day stayed alive, celebrated around the country by different enthusiasts. In 1997, storytellers in Perth, Western Australia coordinated a five-week long Celebration of Story, commemorating March 20 as the International Day of Oral Narrators. At the same time, in Mexico and other South American countries, March 20 was already celebrated as the National Day of Storytellers”.
Perhaps those who would like to tell a story related to ICT4D might like to post a comment below on March 20th!
It is with very great sadness that I have recently learnt of Til Schönherr’s untimely and sudden death. Til was project manager for eLearning strategy, media-didactic advice and training at InWEnt, Capacity Building International, Germany – a great enthusiast for the potential of eLearning to make a significant impact on development agendas, a generous and open colleague, and someone from whom I learnt a great deal. He joined InWEnt’s E-Learning-Center in 2003, where he conceived and developed the “Capacity Building for e-Learning ” programme, and amongst his many activities, he played a leading role in the development of Global Campus 21, was enthusiastic about building collaborative partnerships with cognate organisations, was an active supporter of the e-Learning Africa conferences, and generously shared his time and insight with younger or less experienced colleagues. Above all, I remember his intellectual generosity, the warmth of his handshake, the smile on his face, and the sharpness of his mind. He was one of the people who contributed most over the last decade to our understanding of how to use e-Learning effectively in development practice – he will be very sorely missed. Thanks Til for all you gave us.
In late November or early December every year, many of the world’s leading figures in e-learning make their way to Berlin for Online Educa. This (14th) year was no exception – as ever, those left on the dance floor early on Friday morning somehow recovered enough to participate enthusiastically later in the day!!!
Members of the ICT4D Collective were involved in two main activities:
- sessions on technology supported learning in the UN system, and the launching of UNeLearn – led by UNEP
- workshop on OER convened with GTZ
… and then there were the cocktails ….