I think that it would be fair to say that this quote typifies my experiences over the last few days. This week my reading has included
- The MOOC's history in academia
- Simon Buckingham Shum's work in 2010 on Social Learning for The Open University
- James Stanbridge's Reverse Brief post which details his vision for Declara and young people
- Hootsuite's free social media education courses
- One of the nicest people in the world who worked on a fantastic education product has left their post
When you consider Simon's research with The OU from five years ago with James' vision and/or compare it with the needs of FE (and the level of uptake by colleges to date) you sure do get a sense of Jacobs' comment above... Even if we do struggle with the sanity of it all:
"Colleges and universities all over the world are buying back the innovation that their ideals, mission and people made possible" Reclaiming Innovation
It's the latter point above that gets to me the most. I caught up with someone who is one of the world's genuine good guys who works in EdTech in the UK. He told me he's left because "EdTech is tough" this is despite the fact that he is a nice guy who, worked on a great product and had an ethical approach with engaging educators.
Given the obvious fit with FE's needs and Declara's solution with young people, my friends announcement that he's left the sector and the general procrastination of the sector I Tweeted in frustration:
"I don't understand FE sometimes what an opportunity: Reverse brief "
I don't think this has done my job prospects for an interesting FE role that I applied to any favours.
On the one hand this is disappointing... On the other hand, this role involved some selling to FE, so what chance would there have been at excelling in the role if a great guy with a great product has just left in frustration?
When we consider that not only have academics been discussing these issues since 2010 but, given the insights of Simon's research we have to ask... what happened to these ideas in academia?
Declara was formed two years after this report was published and today, from what I can see, is working on many of these ideas. The reasons that I am a big fan of Declara can be found in Simon's research;
"Postmodernity: people value autonomy and diversity over authority, hierarchy, and conformity."
"Hegel, et al. (2010) have argued that social learning is really the only way that we can cope in today’s fast changing world"
"...As I engage in conversations with different people that my understanding of what I see outside my window increases"
As we highlight in Figure 2, this then forces us to ask whether our educational and training regimes are fit for purpose in equipping our children, students and workforce with the dispositions and skills needed under conditions of growing uncertainty
A significant feature of the Web 2.0 paradigm is the degree of personalisation that end‐ users now expect. This manifests in the user interface as a means for filtering the complexity of the internet to show just those resources being tracked, but also as the model for engaging with loosely coupled services tuned to one’s interests. Figure 4 indicates how this manifests from a learner’s perspective.
What do I say? I like Declara because they develop stuff that education should have, but didn't?
If we look at why this was all I can do is highlight my friends experiences... even the nicest guys working on great products struggle. So Silicon Valley startups see an opportunity, speak direct to young people because they are open to new ideas, and these startups disrupt the incumbents?
As honest as that may be, I played it safe and sent four reasons that I can see potential with Declara in education;
1) The ease of use.
If you look at any product that gets good traction in education these days, it's products that are intuitive... you don't need a training manual or a days PD to make it work in the classroom.
Products in the "Needs a days PD" category are a barrier to adoption, it is a challenge for educators who are the less technically proficient to make it work.
With Declara it "just works," if you can copy and past a link and use a highlighter pen... you can use Declara
2) Diversity of Material
In "Where Ideas come from"Steve Johnston highlights the importance of "Slow Hunches." The diversity of material makes Declara a hot bed for slow hunches and good ideas
3) Diversity of People & Knowledge Transfer
Not only do I agree with Simon's comment that "Social learning is really the only way that we can cope in today’s fast changing world" I have experienced this. Through following EdTechchat I realised that my skills would be outdated soon.
So I re-skilled by learning from others online via blog posts, slideshares, Google Hangouts etc. Much of this learning is in two Declara collections. If you take the time to look through them you'd know as much as I do on the topic.
4) Responsiveness of Staff
Culture matters... A Lot! How else would you explain how ideas that educators have been discussing for 5 years+, is being implemented by technology startups?
My experiences with dealing with Declara staff has been that they are extremely responsive to any ideas or suggestions... even the dumb ones.
How much does the culture of an organisation matter? I read an article called "Is Education Technology Losing it's Humanity?" While I agreed with a lot of this article two thoughts went through my head;
- That the arguments against technology in education in this article could just as easily be made as some kids march through the education system unnoticed. How else do you explain the unacceptably high levels of adult illiteracy?
- Who commissions and rolls out this technology? Who's buying this "Inhuman Tech" and putting it in our schools? If this is entirely down to the tech companies, then that's a lot of founders who are pulling the wool over admins eyes and persuasive sales people.
I opened the post with a quote from Jane Jacobs who I discovered because of the OU, I'll close with this one... which was my initial reaction to Declara when their CEO sent me an email asking me if I had any initial thoughts:
“I LOVE IT! This mixing of people in different sectors and areas of business is where I get a lot of my ideas. I have had a number of insights from taking my interest in education, culture, startups, technology etc and just mashing them all up… If your expert algorithms work well this really could look like “The Jane Jacobs” of knowledge by creating order out of the chaos of all the information produced and consumed today."