Friday, 28 February 2014

Feltag Friday! Is it Rocket Boosters on? ...Or Huston We have a Problem!

I'm a huge fan of FE, Tech and organisational culture so I should be delighted after listening to the panel about the FELTAG report which is due out today, right?

Well... Erm... Yeah... Maybe...

I've not read the full FELTAG report but, based on yesterday's presentation at the Education Innovation Conference I had a few concerns around the rhetoric; 
  • Rocket Boosters on Technology in Learning 
  • 10% of funding for courses needs to be allocated to an online component 
  • No need for more conversations it's action time
The message was one of we should ACT! And ACT NOW! All of which I agree with... after all I write often enough about creative disruption, and am an advocate of the role that tech can play in edu etc etc.

But then on FELTAG Friday I'm suddenly advising caution? Look a bit like trying to make a noise? Or maybe you think this is a little bit of self promotion? Or perhaps this is consistent with the OCR/Invent Ed report and that valid points are being made? Whatever the reason I'm aware that my blog may now be looking like something out of a Monty Python sketch...
But bear with me, allow me to explain... then you can make your own mind up;

1) High Cost/Low Impact Vs High Impact/Low cost interventions 
I think it's great to say "Do something, lets act!" It's also great to say "Let's allocate 10% to online component for courses to make sure we are keeping up with industry changes" 

But when we combine the two together is this a good mix? Or will we find that money gets spend unwisely? If there is one thing that the short history of EdTech tells us its how easy it is to allocate funding to programs that promise much but fail to deliver.

On the other hand finding tech that provides value for money, and is fit for purpose regarding learning outcomes is no easy feat! This is because creating Tech like this is extremely difficult.

Also, I get the rationale and intention behind allocating XX% for online courses but, is this the right message to be sending out? Given all the Freemium models that are out there today, would it not be possible to build a really good online platform without it costing anything?

Now experts like Paul McKean will quite rightly highlight the need for caution regarding free models, they still cost with staff training etc. But just like services that cost money, there will be the good, the bad and the ugly both should be assessed with caution... but neither should they be dismissed out of hand.

I can think of no better way to highlight this than Professor Coe's fantastic "High Cost/Low Impact Vs High Impact/Low Cost model;

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2) Scaling too Early 
The #1 cause of startups failing is because they scale too early, they never iterate their way to "Product market fit." This is something that I would argue that the high cost models above, as well as other tech and teaching models suffer from... They should never have been rolled out in the first place!

I have seen articles questioning the value of NLP, multiple inteligence and other teaching models. With regard to emerging technology the "City and Guilds" recent report Unlocking the potential of digital technology in vocational education had this to say about interactive whiteboards; 

Culture, coaching and collaboration reportInteractive whiteboards provide a pointed example of the problems of a national roll-out of one specific technology. Most colleges have interactive whiteboards, but few use them well, and those that do have tested a range of different approaches to find the right place for them. While the technology was rolled-out, it was not entirely clear what the stand-out benefit of interactive whiteboards was, and many teachers used and continue to use them in a similar way to chalk boards.

How much of this early scaling is due to us wanting to find quick fixes for some of the complex educational challenges that we are faced with? How much rigor do we sacrifice and replace with too much optimism? (Or even blind hope?)

3) Rocket Boosters on with Technology and Learning
Is this kind of rehtoric and the recommendations going to see more of the same? Are we going to be heading off full speed ahead with technology in an industry where 50 tech enthusiasts gather but only 5-7 of those people are Tweeting about the event?

I don't wish to dampen any enthusiasm, but when doing some research for another project I came across this article and found it quite interesting and topical (even though it was from 1997) - European Schools Politicians New Mantra: Wiring Up Schools to the Internet

I've seen commercial EdTech companies try to go "Full Speed ahead" and the ensuing crash that their recklessness has caused. So, if this is the direction we're going in, I'll be handing my ticket on board "FELTAG Galactic" to Richard Branson (That is of course provided I had a ticket in the first place?!) Because if you're not prepared to go slow, then I'm taking Zaya's advice and I'm going home! - EdTech in India: Go Slow or Go HomeI've been involved with bad EdTech and refuse to do so again!

4) Early Adopters
The best comment I head yesterday was; "If you're an innovator, you get to run with this."  Great News! But I wonder if SMT will really allow for this, if they will be brave enough to say;

"You know what I didn't have any of this when I was starting out in education, and I really don't know enough about it, so may not be best placed to lead to this... I'm giving you (younger/tech savvy/growth mindset/early adopters) the time, permission and resources to explore this"

These are the people I want to work with wherever they may be I love their energy, enthusiasm and "can do attitude" as well as their ability to have a full and frank discussion about the merits and drawbacks on various ideas.

But I don't want to travel with them, or anyone else, on a rocketship. My prefered mode of transport would be a mini... Well built, nice design, aesthetically pleasing, comfortable, you can control the speed depending on whether you're going full throttle on the race track with an early adopter or taking a technophob out on their first lesson, and it takes me where I want to go.

...You see I'm not so interested in travelling to outer space. My #1 priority has always been, and will always be, the school run. And when we're talking about a journey with my kids I want something that's tried and tested, that can help me navigate my way through all the traffic and pedestrians... and help them arrive safely at their destination.

How many early adopters do you think you can fit in a mini?
It may not be as exciting as space travel but, that's the way we roll. You may even think that this is not a very cutting edge approach, but some ideas can be a little too ahead of their time, and be costly to the early pioneers;
  • MOOCs are now being established but... in 1990s NYU Online at its peak never managed to enroll more than 500 students. After spending $20million on the venture , they shut the programme down in 2001.
  • E-readers have been around since 1998... and are only now gaining traction, being popularised with Amazon leading the charge. Where are the early e-reader companies?
  • MP3 players were around before Apple and Steve Jobs did a fantastic sales and marketing job on the emerging technology. How much market share do early MP3 companies have today? 
I know people struggle to believe that the sales and marketing matter, but they do. Furthermore, I believe that current practices make it very difficult for an effective and efficient roll out. Before you think that my Mini adventure is not ambitious enough, or doesn't have the kind of step-change that's needed... Let me remind you that 1) they are still here and 2) They have moved with the times

Morris Mini-Minor 1959.jpg  
.3) Have experimented with the crazy "oddball" idea from time to time.
4) Some people have customised their Minis... some customised Minis offer the promise of being rocket fuel that will "Give you wings."

By the way, if you'd like to join me on a mini-EdTech adventure and explore different ways that FE and suppliers engage with one another please see this link: Tech Stories - A Mini Adventure

Its the Te@ch Not the Tech
As a tech enthusiast I need to remind myself whats important in the classroom... This is why my online profile is Tech Stories. A comment regarding EdTech that has stuck with me is from KIPP CEO Mike Feinberg at the "Education Innovation Summit" in the US;

"Great teaching and more of it, that's what great EdTech does. Tools that either 1) reduce admin functions so educators can spend more time teaching, or 2) Allow educators to teach for longer by enabling students to learn outside the classroom" Feinberg went on to ask the audience "If you had the choice of a master craftsman or on educator who taught in a bare room OR a mediocre teacher who had all the gadgets and gizmos... Which class would you want your kids to go to?"

The spaceships that put the first astronauts in space had as much tech as we find in a calculator today, what facilitated this was inspiring a generation of scientist by firing up the imaginations of people with the statement  "We're going to put a man on the moon"

I don't care how much tech is in the room, but I sure do care if its an inspiring educator and they have whatever tools they need, that those tools are fit for purpose and, just as importantly, that the educator is comfortable using them.

While I love the energy and what the early adopters create, I also have "laggard tendancies" and know how daunting making changes can be... Whats the use of a rocketship if you've left half your crew stranded?

Will Tech ever replace a good Teacher, I doubt it! Will it replace a bad Teacher? The inclination may be to say "I hope so! They deserve to!" But there are many people who have failed if they system has succeeded in allowing poor teaching to be in the classroom, so hope technology will be able to find ways to improve their skills.

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