Top 10 Edtech stories of 2009

10 – YAWN
Our “haven’t you heard abouts” got rusty this year. We woke up with a cat stretch after new years hangovers, looking forward to the next great thing that would force us to remember just one new password. Just one more “is this the new twitter”? And what did we get? Nothing. No super tool shared. No chance to smile knowingly over other people who found out about it 2 weeks later. It seems we are expected to be able to do something useful with our technology now… no sir. I don’t like it.

And please… don’t give me the ‘what about googlewave. It has teh awesome.’ It doesn’t qualify for this list because it doesn’t do anything. “it’s the new email” “people just don’t understand how cool it is yet”. It’s a platform… I get it. There’s one thing it can’t do for me… and that’s make my day any longer. It can’t carve out an extra hour to live collaborate on the next great american novel with fifty of my bestest chums and 20 people who walked in barely invited. Do that for me. Then i’ll be impressed.

Google hates your job. If it’s not near perfect translations, it’s automatic captioning, and I’ve heard rumour that ‘they’ the actual ‘omnipotent they’ have just stopped hosting their own email and have said that “google docs is just a nice bonus”. If you are in the business of doing anything, ever, forget it. Google is just about to do it better. Barak Obama, they say, is already switching over his blog to googlesites… the UN can’t be far behind.

It wouldn’t be a top ten list if i didn’t make some reference to the OLPC project. Here is the tablet of the future… 2012. It’s only going to cost $100 and will save the world… oh wait, sorry. Flashback. All this year, we’ve been droided, and iphoned and i can’t stop saying it itableted to death. The future of learning is MOBILE… or so I’m told. Um… my brain is mobile. I’ve been moving around with it for years. Someday, someday we’re going to get post-digital and stop thinking about the technology as the locus for learning. Just not today. I’m the future!

The internet is growing up, it helped win an election… and reality is seeping in. This year we started to notice that things like people dying is going to create a few issues for our favourite social networking sites. If the population of facebook is 8 cagillion, and the fastest growing segment is middle aged… well… what are we going to do about people’s identity when they aren’t able to sustain it themselves? One more thing to worry about. Come on google… solve our problem.

Don’t leave enough comments on my blog? Don’t RT me enough? Don’t return my tweets? No more friend for you. The venerated oxford university press has chosen ‘unfriend’ as it’s word of the year. It’s hard to imagine a more depressing commentary on our times. Maybe we’re just looking at this wrong… maybe we should be seeing unfriend like unconference. Kind of a post-friendship worldview. Yeah… that’s it.

“There are really just too many live events.” This is my favourite complaint of 2009. The poor educationalist forced to not be able to claim to have shown up to every single presentation. But but what if i missed the CDAFGDSAG conference? Or the social media in learning in future in what about the children seminar. Oh the huge manatee.
Imagine, the pain of too much choice.

3 – OK. MAYBE ONE NEW TOOL Here’s my shot in the dark for this year. A an open source webconferencing system… 15 min install. Asterix. Red5. Flex/flash. I’ve been hoping for it for years, and these dudes might just have the moxie to do it. I really, really, like the look of this project. They claim they are working on recording… which is kinda necessary, and are looking for feedback. Follow along, get involved. Open source matters.

Alan Levine, who both killed and unkilled blogs last year, curmudgeon of awards , requester of snark, barker, and storyteller extraordinaire gives us a reason to believe in the ‘open’. And, as a result, wins the award. One biscuit to you. “What do you mean by open?” has become the theme of the open movement, sign of maturity or impending senility. Or, as my son would say, maybe both. Cast all thoughts of definition from your mind, openness is a state of mind… a state of YOUR mind. Be open. ’nuff said.

Harbinger of the end of civilization or righteous crowd demanding its due from someone who should know better… interpretations on this one span the gamut from moral to epistemic. A web 2.0 speaker trashed on a live twitter stream during her presentation. Should she? should they? Nevermind. In it is distilled the most important conversation of this year and probably the next five. What rights does the entertainer have before the crowd? Do we want to restrict knowledge in a presentation to that that can be ‘shared’ by a presenter (or teacher)? Should presenters (or teachers) be accorded any more respect than a comedian (who would have gotten the same treatment or worse in the same spot?) What are our classrooms going to look like with live twitter streams flipping through them? My friends, we have the tower of babel a million times over… We have 20 students in a classroom, 200 in a conference or 20,000 in a field all building their tower of knowledge… growing, maybe, passed the teacher, the presenter or the expert. Will you knock the tower down? The people are going to be heard… speakers corner has come to the back of the room… are we ready? I doubt it.

Eyes shaded, we walk out of the factory – there is no more button to push

I’ve had any number of discussions with some of my good peeps this week talking about the factory. This is, as any long suffering reader of this blog will realize, one of my ‘first draft thinking’ posts, so stay with me if you can, and comment deeply if you can afford the time.

kindof introduction
I’m currently in the process of trying to pull together a paper with someone about what literacies we need in order to deal with the current influx of control we have over the means of production. We are not, most of us, in control of the means of production around our food, or, for many of us, for our jobs, but we are able to participate. Far more. As many of the jobs in our factories disappear, and the jobs that we have get more complicated, new realities (or, really, old realities) emerge. We are more and more tasked with trying to figure out how to maintain larger stores of knowledge, computers allow us to compute more data, to process more products. Many of our jobs are in the process of breaking under the strain of scale creep.

Our schools and teaching for the factory
The traditional idea of schooling hangs on the idea that we can get a really long way on calling things TRUE. or FALSE. That we can offer a task with a single correct solution that can be achieved based on the general agreement of the people who are creating the curriculum. We all (or i certainly hope all) know that we are kinda simplifying the world by doing this, we know deep down in ourselves that the world really isn’t a place where things are completely right or completely wrong, but a place where these things are often or usually so. But its hard to measure those things and sure easier to design things around people ‘needing’ to know ‘this thing’. The other side of this is that this was exactly what some people had in mind when the designed ‘public’ education. We needed to have kids who showed up to work on time when they grew up and could live with pushing the button with their right hand. In a factory.

Hello, my name is joe, i work for a button factory
I have a wife and a job and a family
One day, my boss came up to me
He said “push this button with your right hand”
Hello, my name is joe, i work for a button factory
(half remember song from my childhood)

Walking out of the factory
Much to the chagrin of places like where i grew up, these jobs are fading fast. They are being exported to other countries where they can be done far cheaper and they are being done by machines. Any operation, whether it be winding a string of wool around a spool, or pouring lead into a kettle (a job i’ve had), or pushing buttons… if these jobs can be automated they will be. soon. 20 years from now there will be no need for people who can boldly ‘remember’ or who can staunchly ‘repeat’. Whether that be at the coal face or the book shelf. That’s not to say the remembering and repeating wont be useful… just that people wont be making money because of it. We are all of us walking out of the factories and moving back into the light, and it is a bright light that we are not used to seeing. There will be no more button pushing for joe.

Why this is a problem
Well… this sounds like good metaphor… hell, we’re moving towards the light. The only problem is, we’re very, very accustomed to the factory. We are accustomed, as a culture, to having a button that can be pushed. A truth that can be true, and fully true. A task that can be approached, tackled and accomplished and then… be finished. These are the ways of the factory… a factory has a superstructure a falsified context wherein things need to get done in a linear, straightforward way. It’s a place where science gets rarified down to its purest. Lead melts 318 degrees, it also sheds impurities just above that, so keep it between 325 and 319 and you’ll be able to clear it out. Wash hands. repeat. Each person has a very specialized task, and that task has predetermined parts… a way to win… judged by the fact that you are still being payed.

We’ve seen this light before
The funny thing about this brightness, is that we’ve seen it before. There was a time where many people did control the means of production. They did have control of the work that they did. Certainly not everyone, not everywhere, and not in every culture… but many many people. They watched the weather, and accepted that sometimes it was good for crops or not. They built tables and chairs, and horseshoes and made dishes and utensils. And each making was slightly different than the one before it, and they were each judge in a variety of different ways. A person who makes things makes a bunch of different decisions in the making that sets them apart from someone who doesn’t. It’s the difference between cooking your own food from scratch and cooking a frozen pizza. Bunches of decisions, small ones, but they matter.

Why are we shading our eyes
Our decider is a bit rusty. This is why we are shading our eyes. We aren’t able to make decisions for ourselves about things that are important. We’ve lost our ability to see through the vast amount of garbage we are being fed (see vaccination debate) and just deciding what is right for us. Our school system is often designed to train obedient button pushers, not strong deciders. I mean, lets face it, deciders can be a pain in the butt. They don’t do what they are told…

But we need to… and i don’t just mean the kids. We are entering a time that might be very shortlived. We have a chance, right now, to start to take control of the messages that are out there. To have a real pluralistic society where people are allowed to have different opinions about things and that could be something that makes us strong. But we need to be thinking about talking to people and teaching students what it means to be responsible to the work that you do. What it means to decide that my work is done because it is done right to the best of my ability to do it… not because i have managed to satisfy some obsessive rubric.

This is my rant against digital literacies. The literacies that we need are not digital. THEY ARE HUMAN. We need to be responsible to the products of hands… even if they are typed through a keyboard. The digital may have given us an opportunity to band together, but the banding is not about technology, it’s about us raising a very old standard.

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