EdTech Assumptions

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In my work in online learning for a university I often assess new tools for possible incorporation into online classes. These are almost always digital and web-based tools ( not hardware). I’ve been to ISTE, and to SXSWEdu, I’ve played around with VoiceThread and  Zoom and Yellowdig and Smart Sparrow  and Zaption, and many others. Many of them are quite cool.

But I’ve also heard many an edtech sales pitch heralding a new amazing tool that has turned out to be quite limited pedagogically.

My colleagues and I assess tools based on many criteria: protection of student privacy and adherence to various institutional and federal requirements, cost, ease of use and administration, whether or not they adapt to a diversity of bandwidths, how accessible or adaptable they are to a variety of student needs, whether or not they integrate with our LMS or other tools, etc.

The more I do this work, the more I develop my own criteria which includes two key questions:

What assumptions is this tool making about teaching and learning, or about my instructors and their students?

Am I OK with these assumptions?

If a synchronous platform privileges webcam and has a tiny chat box that cannot be enlarged, that says to me that the platform creators do not see chat box participation as important or authentic participation (FALSE). If a platform allows for student annotation of instructor-created content, but not for student creation of multimodal content, that indicates to me that its creators assume instructors should generally create and/or transmit while students receive (FALSE). If a discussion platform privileges contributions by recent-ness or popularity but has no way to show the threaded nature of online discussion, that suggests it’s progenitors are less concerned with the development of ideas between people over time (FOR SHAME).

All of these are fairly unforgivable pedagogical offenses in my book.

But if a tool offers instructors and students multiple pathways for the creation of and participation in meaningful multimodal hands-on learning, as well as customizable ways to aggregate and assess the fruits of that learning, I will song a hosanna. These tools, the ones that trust teachers and learners to fashion their own meaningful content and learning experiences, and offer them multiple pathways to do so, are actually fairly rare.  

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