Recently I was leading a meeting with a group of very young designers presenting a low-fi version of an idea for part of our product. It was gamified. It had delightful animations and heavy lift technological fixes for the problem at hand. It was a version of an app and interactions that one sees over and over. Make it competitive, make students award each other likes or fires or hot streaks (or whatever you want to call it), and that will overcome the problem (perceived problem) of no one actually wanting to do that whole learning thing.
So much edtech marketing tries to sell the idea of “engagement”; I've written before about why I find that phrase so pernicious. While I'm still bothered by the way that selling “engagement” through technology makes it seem like what teachers do is inherently not engaging (e.g. “boring” lecture, plain old non-technologized classrooms), the more damaging part of buying into the marketer's story, that technology's goal is “engagement”, comes from the way such framing distracts from the more valuable — and undervalued — part of teaching and learning: reflection. I would put it starkly: knowledge and the act of knowing comes not from engagement but from reflection percolating and punctuated over time.
We need more forgetful educational technologies. The default mode is always record and preserve first, deal with data issues after that. Privacy policies are not sufficient. We need intentional forgetting in edtech. Here's why.
I started writing this blog, about 6+ months ago, when I was headed in a professional direction that was a bit different than it is now. Let's say that my worldview was a bit more open source-ish and not particularly commercial or profit-minded. Since then I've moved into greater contact with the business of edtech, so to speak. One useful feature of writing in the current format and under the current heading of “minimalist” edtech is that it's given me a chance to think through the tension between my teacher brain, which tends to want to serve students and teachers, and the reality of various edtech business models and trends. I don't mean to imply that edtech companies are bad actors in relation to some sort of pedagogical purity that only teachers possess; it's not that at all. But there is a tension there, a difference in what stakeholders may value or may find compelling.
More specifically, if asked, “what's the value prop for x edtech product or y technology”, how far apart would teacher brain and business brain be?
In a physical classroom, some students are shouters, others are reserved, and all gradations in between. As teachers, we respond to that difference and the uniqueness of students in a variety of ways, ideally such that everyone has a voice and can join into the whole in a way that feels both comfortable and authentic.
Technology encodes values and edtech is no different. In too many ways, edtech today tends to encode and promote the particular ideals of extroversion, demanding that students act publicly, visibly, and loudly, as if this is the only way of doing things in the world.
A good friend of mine admitted that he was a pretty piss-poor teacher on zoom. He is, in the classroom, an excellent teacher, in no small part due to a charismatic persona which slides from serious to amused and from hard to soft with ease. It would be easy to imagine that he's just being tough on himself, but I think he's actually kind of right. He's not great on Zoom. Something about his instincts and his habits don't translate quite right and his inability to sense the physical cues of students distracts and frustrates him.
There is some sort of mismatch there or difficulty in translating teaching persona through the screen.
The overuse of the term “AI” to market technology products has been out of control for some time. Educational technologies are no different. More and more I've been seeing “AI” products in edtech that are little more than slick visualizations wrapped around basic arithmetic.
Things that are not, by themselves or by default, “AI”:
simple and obvious things expressed as percentages, e.g. percentage of students participating in some activity
any graph and visualization that is not a line or bar chart
huge dashboards full of numbers
huge dashboards full of numbers with fancy labels of the form “Engagement Score” or “[StupidTradmarkedName] Score”™
Make it stop. Seriously, machine learning, deep learning and everything that might legitimately be called “AI” are interesting and awesome and powerful, problematic and potentially biased and also full of possibility. All of that is worth talking about and fair game to market as some branch of artificial intelligence; but selling elementary math and week 1 of Intro to Statistics as AI is just ridiculous.