Tuesday, 8 April 2014

A Virtual Reality... Or Pie in the Sky Myths?

70+ Participants, approx 450 Tweets, a good mix of people, a meeting of minds, lots of enthusiasm from educators and entrepreneurs to connect and collaborate... Absolutely fantastic! Those were my "takeaways" after the first #EdTechBridge session.

It was disappointing that a few 
UK Further Education Chat #ukfechat regulars missed the session due to the UK/US time difference, an issue that the moderators have now resolved. With regard to FE, people in my PLN may have been tucked up in bed, but we still succeeded in building bridges all the way across the Atlantic...and across EdChats. We were able to introduce former LaunchEdu finalist, Scott Freschet, and his company Activity Learn to some FE people who I knew had an active interest in Functional Skills. 

Scott and I actually connected prior to the chat as we swapped blog posts on how important we both felt getting feedback from educators is here's How Activity Learn Incorporate Educator FeedbackToday I was made aware of two blog posts regarding what a positive experience participants found that #EdTechBridge. Here is Scott's take on the event with the 3 lessons he learned from #EdTechBridge, and chat moderator, Steve Isaacs review of the premier: #EdTechBridge - What an Opening Night

Both posts mention my involvement with the session and I would like to thank both Scott and Steve for their kind words. I really appreciate it. I know this was only the first session and, as Jerry Blumengarten Tweeted:

This is just the beginning and it may even take a bit of work to "keep it together" but
 what a start! The spirit of collaboration really was fantastic. 

I wanted to follow Steve and Scott's example and write a post about how great an experience this session was because I had an absolute blast...But soon found myself come down from this EdTech cloud 9, and down with a bump too! I was reminded of the area of education that I work in. I wonder what advice people would have if this area of education didn't appear to have beginning. What if people refuse to come together? Or worse, if they thought they did but actually didn't? What do you do then? 

False Start...
My good friend and #ukfechat moderator Sarah Simons posted an article called "Virtual Reality" which is a critical look at EdTech. Her parting comment in the post is; 

"I will take the evangelistic materials and pop them on a pile marked “I don’t think so”

Not only do I have to contend with the fact that there has been little by way of progress, I also have to deal with what appears to be a difference of opinion with someone I get on well with. If we have opposing views... What to do? Ignore the comments in the article? But I've spent a year doing what I can to try to shift peoples' views in FE regarding EdTech, so feel compelled to say something. This is especially true as the advice I gave when introducing Scott to people in my PLN was;

Playing Devils Advocate
Neither do I want to have a tit-for-tat argument in public, but want to respond and address some of the points raised... I know what I'll do, I'll follow Steve Isaacs lead. I agree entirely with Steve's point that it is important to have a private forum to allow the detractors voice to be heard.

It is important to give voice to the dissenter. In group situations, the presence of a blocker can actually make the decision making process more rational and less likely to go off the tracks. It gives us a new appreciation for someone who tends to play “devils advocate.”  Although no one is likely to win a popularity contest by playing the devil’s advocate, businesses would do well to respect a dissenting opinion – if not straight out encourage someone to take on such a role. The dissenter, of course, is as likely to be wrong as anybody else, but the discussion of the points made by the dissenter can add perspective to the debate.

There is a great army example which is designed to question qroupthink is an individual believes that the group is wrong see the Getting off the bus to Abilene section of this article.

Convincing the Skeptics
I agree that these voices can sometimes be missing in EdTech discussions, but I am careful to make sure that I seek them out and listen to their concerns. Any time I am looking at a new service that looks promising, I ask the detractors of technology within my PLN to help me find all the reasons why this EdTech might not work, this is extremely important because I am 100% aware that;

I think that I convey the importance of the establishing relationships with detractors in my EdTech report Developing Relationships and Delivering Value and the fact that there is an entire section on Convincing the Skeptics (See section 8 on Page 26). So my attitude towards this group has been well documented for over a year. This report also includes Geoffrey Moore's fantastic observation that I believe is one of the biggest stumbling blocks with EdTech;

"Sales & marketing departments must refocus away from selling products and toward creating relationships. Partnering with customers is a key component. The primary challenge here is not technical, but cultural" 

Virtual Reality
But Sarah knows all this... indeed she even provided a comment for me to include in the report. But how to reply? I'll try this...

Firstly please allow me to say... thank you! Thank you for being brave enough to put your points across, even though you might have guessed that they had the potential to court controversy, not to mention the backlash from the tech enthusiasts. It can't be easy airing the a detractors' views in this pro-EdTech Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (FELTAG) era. It is my belief that EdTech needs more of this kind of discussion. 

User Vs Developer Mis-Match
At the core of Sarah's argument is something that is common in EdTech development. Developers are obviously proficient with Tech (well maybe not all, but most are. Lol), so can tend to make assumptions about users' ability and their level of tech proficiency. I made this point when I produced "Tech Story - What Education can Learn from Pixar's Toy Story" with Chris Grant in 2010.

User Error – “My Arms are too short!!” 
"Another consideration is how proficient the users will be with Tech Toys. When trying to defeat Zurg in a computer game Rex turns to Buzz and complains in frustration that he’ll “never be able to defeat Zurg because of his little arms”, because he can’t press the fire button and jump at the same time. 

This Tech Toy doesn’t suit Rex so he can’t complete the game without assistance. Buzz and the other Toys may be happy to offer assistance initially, but if help is required on an on-going basis then everyone may become frustrated, so Rex may decide not to use that Tech Toy anymore. He may decide to play with older, more familiar toys instead." Tech Story 
So I can see how the same is true with access to the internet and other devices... but this is not restricted to developers! Accentuated perhaps, but they are by no means alone. Indeed we spent a while with no internet connection at home and on many occasions my kids were given homework that involved wed-based activities. Given that our local library closed as a result of budget cuts. This did pose some challenges, especially when you factor in after school activities and library closing times. So which group was wrong with their assumptions on access to technology on this occasion? The educator or the EdTech guy?

This random example aside, I agree with the point that developers have a different level of proficiency and understanding of how disconnected FE students can be at home and, to the shame of policy makers, how unplugged FE Colleges can be. 

The Harsh Truth
Now for the thorny issue of the harsh truth and the myths around this reality that Sarah reports on, which is less virtual and more non-existent! I have some very different experiences, opinions and evidence as to exactly how and why there is; 

"A horrifying lack of awareness about the reality of resources within colleges" 

And it has nothing to do with the "tech-botherers" and an awful lot to do with colleges who, it would appear, simply can't be bothered!

Can't be Bothered
I know that Technology in education is no "cure all," neither do I constantly bang on about how great technology is or any magic powers to hypnotise students to learn or make colleges "outstanding". I did a quick scan of my previous tech-based posts and, from what I could see, I had more posts designed to encourage detractors and calls for collaboration, than I had written about the "Outstanding EdTech promised land".

In fact, as someone who knows that education does not operate in silos, I do my best to produce content with a holistic outlook, so a lot of issues I talk about are not tech related at all (Whether the content is any good or not is another matter).

Please allow me to put forward some evidence in an attempt to counter this claim with the fact that there is;

"A horrifying lack of engagement within FE for people who are trying to do good work with colleges"

Please note: There are links to a number of previous blog posts below. Obviously people are welcome to read that might appeal, but the intention here is more to put my argument forward as opposed to people reading them all. That said, if you have the time and find them engaging, by my guest ;)

Non Technology Examples
  • Hardly a single idea from my Culture in FE report involves the use of Technology, instead there are case studies highlighting the power of positive messages, psychology research and organisational culture examples. 

    Indeed it might be argued that the majority of my EdTech report has very little to do with Technology as it focuses on culture too! Organisational culture plays a big part of my blog posts and reports.

    While the ideas are not technology based take a look at I get the material from. I have an interest in developing great EdTech, so read about operational practices of Google, Apple, Amazon etc. But instead of simply taking these ideas and applying them to tech, I also try to apply the principles to FE. Please allow me to submit
     Exhibit A: Culture in FE Report

    Supporting evidence with blogs about organisational culture internal/external, students and technology can be found at the end of this post
  • It's not just culture that I have tried to transfer the ideas of Google, Apple, Microsoft et al to FE. When the recession was starting to bite I produced report with 9 potential income generating ideas for colleges. To help ground these ideas in education I tried to "mash up" 1930's Stanford Professor, Fred Terman's example, along with my own humble experiences with the changes in the sales process.

    Here is Exhibit BBusiness Development Ideas for FEThese ideas are still sitting waiting to be developed, and you may have noticed that Frugl was in the press this week... looks a bit like one of these ideas don't you think #missedopportunity!
  • I know the importance of listening to the FE Community... which is why I have attended #ukfechat every Thursday night at 9pm for the last 14 months. 

    Furthermore as a regular participant I try to add value to the discussion. During one such session I put forward the idea of
     Exhibit C & D#ukfechatrq research project. I then submitted a number of ideas that I felt might be worth exploring. 

    As irony would have it, I actually detailed these ideas in my "
    Good Roll out processes come to those who wait..." post, and explain the reasons why I come up with all kinds of ideas but don't run with them, because the ability to reach customers is challenging and needs addressed. 
In order for Tech to avoid Sarah's "I don't think so pile" two things are needed. Any time I have been "cult-like" on the issue of EdTech it has been to "bang on about," be advocate of and, in a couple of cases, exasperatedly plead for it is the same things Sarah feels EdTech is lacking: Engaging and collaborating with the sector

I don't mean to be critical, so I won't be... but I will be honest. It is my belief that more was achieved on the other side of the the Atlantic with EdTechBridge in one night to shift perceptions than what I've managed to achieve by working on this for 1-2 years in FE. I will leave you with all the evidence you might need to demonstrate this.
 Exhibit C: Asking for Input.

I have included 2 examples below but at the end of this post there are a further 17 posts that provide further evidence of the engagement and collaboration I have tried to get... with varying, but mostly disappointing, results; 

EdTech Products: Best Practice Survey
12 months ago I circulated this link to people, how many responses to date? 2! Who from? From connections in the US. Not a single FE reply.

·     Supporting FE - Conferences, College Sponsorship & Commercial Services 12 months ago I circulated this link to people, how many responses to date? Not a single reply.

Myth Busting in EdTech - An Invitation
I started this post focusing on the positives of EdTechBridge and I sure don't want this post to end in the different stakeholders taking sides and entering into any tit-for-tat exchanges. I have put my argument forward... and that's direction I want to focus on - forward. 

I am less interested in what past problems are and more interested in finding solutions, and I know what the solutions are, because I have a very topical example.

I would encourage anyone reading this to check out these 2 posts to see what happens to an idea when the EdTech entrepreneurs try to "go it alone" Vs getting input with educators;

#StartupEduChat Meets #EdTechBridge - Nice idea, bad presentation! 
Life's a Pitch - Presenting Ideas in Edu - The joys of EdTech collaboration with Educators!

On Wednesday at 11pm GMT/6pm EST a bunch of EdTech'ers who what the same thing as educators, whether proponents or detractor of EdTech, will be getting together in the hope of learning from educators. The topic will be to bust some myths about Educators and EdTech - maybe Sarah and any others in the FE "detractor camp" would like to join the debate and let us know how we can improve on our current methods of EdTech development, engagement and collaboration.

More Myth Busting Evidence 
Please find a selection of other Tech and non-Tech posts that this Startup EdTech guy wants to engage and collaborate - Here's the the Tech based posts with a brief outline of the topic;

EdTechBridge Related Posts
Community Building in Edu & FE... Building EdTechBridges Was just about ready to quit education... what stopped me? Hanging with a new crowd.
From Nightmare Scenario... To Living the Dream?
After a year of hard work... are things about to come together?
The Greenwich Village of EdTech
Can we create an online Global Greenwich Village for EdTech?
EdTech Startups & Beta EdChats - Lone Nuts or Visionaries?
Are Steve Isaacs and Katya Hott ahead of their time... or just plain crazy? I'm taking bets DM for details on the latest odds. 
Helpful, Friendly and Upbeat Posts
Sales People in Edu - The Fox of EdTech?
Business plan that took 12 months to develop all made readily available online for all to see... the Reason? Explained in the post.

100% College Roll Out
An impossible New Year resolution? Motivation for wanting to work with all FE Colleges? The reason might surprise you, given it's from one of those profit making EdTech people.

The Reluctant Entreprenuer
Details as an ambivalent relationship to startups and EdTech, and the kind of dissent that would do a technophobe proud.

Collaboration in Edu: How can we Help Achieve your Goals?
You'd be surprised at the reaction you get if you send an e-mail saying "Can I help..."
Exaspirated and Fed Up Posts
Disconnected, Disengaged...Or Dispossessed? 
Why am I getting so much interest in the US, but not in the UK! Give me a clue... I've tried everything, and I'm fed up!
Where in #FE is Everyone? 
Statistical evidence of just how fragmented FE is using Twitter data

(Reasonably) Pro Tech Posts
Massively Creatively Disrupt... Or Someone Else Will!
Not so much pro-Tech, but an apoplectic warning that Starbuck might steal educators lunch. Ridiculous I know! It'll never happen will it? But wait...Isn't that what the music industry said about digital downloads?
What does the US do that the UK doesn't?
Was Henry Ford a Connected Educator?
Social Media... waste of time? Or time saver?

Posts For Detractors
Startup Education The same discussion 12 months ago as we're having today... Humph!
Change can be Scary... But AWESOME
Love Lego? Hate change? Read this!
Feltag Friday! Is it Rocket Boosters on? ...Or Huston We have a Problem! 
Got praised by proponents and detractors alike with this one. 
Expedition FELTAG - The Cloud would be an Awfully Big Adventure 
7 Lessons that educators could learn from Shackleton. 
One Small Click for a Digital Immigrant… A Giant Leap into a New Online Universe?
Did you know... I used to be in the "why would I care what you had for breakfast" camp too. Here's a summary of my bumpy journey

BaaZynga! Getting an Education in the field 
Its the Te@ch... Not the Tech that matters. Warning: This is post is bizarre! But does make a similar point to what Virtual reality makes
Social Media in Education Risk Report
Am a big fan of social media but we need to know the risk
Additional Culture posts
Internal Culture

External Culture

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