Information technology wants to be personal, abundant, cheap, easy, convenient, open, small, mobile and connected – “resistance is futile”.
The balance of technology in education is weighted to the institution – we depend upon institutionally provisioned hardware and software from data centres and servers to “end user” computers – this is an expensive, resource intensive, centralised and locked down model struggling to meet the demands of what people want from technology.
Continuing on the current trajectory every room will be eventually be an IT suite or every student will have a college computer – how could I provision, support, maintain and secure up to 20,000 computers – we need a new approach. Educational technology must seek a lighter, simpler less resource intensive approach to technology – it must learn to let go of technology, step away from the diminishing returns on the technology treadmill. Instead, education should provide a platform for technology use – a feasible and sustainable model for the next era – the “fifth wave of computing” – personal, abundant, cheap, easy, convenient, open, small, mobile and connected.
The traditional response is for education to provide resources but better choices can usually be readily selected by people from the web. Education needs to de-institutionalise and reduce its own technology – allow the balance to shift to personal technology by exploring DIY and self service approaches.
All our learners have on-line presence and identities – why provide institutional versions – allow learners to use their own resources and on-line identity. Allow learners to select their own email and their own applications – some will use Google apps, some will use Microsoft Live apps while others might prefer Zoho, Facebook office or local apps such as Openoffice or even Microsoft office. If learners don’t have on-line resources then this is an area for education, for education should be about learning for life.
Shift investment from computers and servers to the network. Shake off the ghost of internal client-server thinking – think global – think open – think web only. Create pervasive wireless guest access and increase both internal and Internet bandwidth. Encourage learners and staff to use their own IT on your guest network – let the network be our computer – let the network be the technology platform for learning
Education teaching and Education IT could both share a common new approach – facilitation. Facilitate the use of resources rather than the resources themselves. In the same way that teaching is considering facilitation, coaching, guidance styles so too could education IT.
Technologists often have an almost obsessive addiction about “the next big thing” and a technology fetishism and determination about the power of technology to transform education.
Education is stressed by the need to balance a great many competing factors including finance, legal regulations, government requirements, market competition as well as learning needs – a stress that often results in organisational anxiety a conservative approach to new technology.
The conflux of educational anxiety and technology addiction has in many cases created an addicted, anxiety ridden institutionalised educational technology monster.
The monster mash is depressive, agoraphobic, addictive, obsessive compulsive ritual dance.
Dead and decaying technology is toxic and harmful but the monster is addicted and craves increasing doses to sustain itself in an all consuming self destructive habit.
Technology pushers fool the monster to try ever toxic technologies to keep it and its “users” dependent.
Education has become dependent on technology and has to purchase, power, support and maintain more and more equipment, computers, servers, storage and software each year to satisfy an expanding desire for technology in education.
Education has to deploy ever more complex and expensive technology in order to cope – increasingly needing expensive external specialists.
Education’s dependency on technology is almost 24/7/365 – how long could a typical institution last without a technology fix.
The monster seeks comfort from the familiar, private and closed places – it fears and avoids large, open, public and/or unfamiliar places where there are few places to hide.
Education perpetuates familiar first phase technologies and applications such as locally installed, local area network client and server products.
The monster comforts itself with repetitive self-reinforcing ritualistic behaviours.
Education seeks comfort in conforming to self-constructed norms of technology use – learner:computer ratios; e-boards installations, VLE/MLE and the use of technology in lessons. Ritualised technology becomes repetitive, rigid, self-reinforcing and difficult to change. Education becomes focused on preserving the rituals f technology rather than the function.
Despite all its hard work the monster cannot find love.
For technologists education doesn’t go far enough and for eduction the technology is too wild and risky.
The Monster Mash
The monster mash is a complex, expensive, rigid, and slow moving dance – increasingly ridiculous yet scary and increasingly damaging to education and learning.
New technologies allow Education to provide increasing amounts of IT provisioned faster and more flexibly while also exerting traditional practices for availability, security, control and standardisation. However, there is a price – these new technologies are far more complex than before. Consider the complexity of load balanced server clustering, Storage area networking or a typical institutional email system.
The complexity of our systems is expensive – not only in terms of capital but also in terms of time, skills and increasingly in terms of external support and maintenance.
The scale of educational IT is expensive – the rise in quantity outweighs the fall in unit costs – while the cost of computer hardware has fallen we use many more and while the cost of software has fallen over the years we use more.
The scale of educational IT is expensive to support and maintain – we need increasing numbers of technical people to keep all this ticking over.
There is also a cost in terms of preparing and delivering education doing the monster mash – consider the amount of time spent preparing attractive powerpoint presentations or populating a VLE for classroom use. This is the old e-board and VLE debate where for me the “E” stands for expensive – consider the opportunity costs of these technologies alone.
To deploy, support and maintain on scale institutional IT is pretty standardised – new technologies such as virtualised clients may allow some variety around a standard theme but they are all generally predefined menu selections.
To protect and secure on scale institutional IT is pretty locked down – people often can’t install programs of their choice on educational computers.
Consider the effect of this standardised lock down on learning. A learner may not be familiar with tools you provide so must first learn your tools before they can apply them to their learning – the tools become a stumbling block and get in the way of learning.
Traditional institutional IT is designed for providing a fixed standardised and controlled provision on scale – it is not well suited to providing a personalised flexible provision on scope. New features appear in free public consumer IT regularly and often yet consider the process of upgrading an institutional application or email system for all your people.
Free the Monster
However comforting the monster mash may be it now has an existential problem and risks harming everyone around it. The Monster mash is a big turn off for many people these days.
While slow moving, rigid, complex and expensive its addictive, depressed, agoraphobic obsessive compulsive nature make the monster parasitic and difficult to escape
Shock tactics and cold turkey could be fatal for both the monster and the host – we must treat the underlying problems of addiction and anxiety appropriately with exposure and response prevention. With support the monster must confront its fears and discontinue its escape and avoidance responses. The Monster must learn that it can be safe in open, public spaces and that it can reduce and maybe one day eliminate its dependence on tradition and ritual. Over time educational technology may once again lead a less complex, expensive, rigid and slow moving life – one day the monster may lead a happy and fulfilling life.
I hope to explore some technology and education for the monster in future blogs.