Martin’s Weblog

Education and technology – doing the Monster Mash

Education and technology are necessary partners but the relationship can be far from comfortable or functional.

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
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.

Obsessive Compulsive
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.

Slow Moving
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.


September 18, 2010 - Posted by | education, ICT, IT and education

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