New Gold Dream...
New gold dream by law_keven

If you were to design the dream e-tool for education, what would it look like?

“Any e-learning tool should be mobile, interoperable, and allow collaboration,” began Kathy Hurley, Senior Vice President at Pearson Education and a veteran of more than 35 years in the education industry. Hurley provided the keynote talk at this year’s SSP IN meeting:

The good news is that students are embracing social media and collaboration.  The bad news is that most of this is going on outside the classroom

Most high-school students use social media and other mobile communication tools like texting on a daily basis, and yet these technologies are barred from the classroom. “There is a disconnect between the consumer market and the education market,” Hurley said.

Hurley spent much of her talk providing an overview of many of the successes of Pearson Education projects, where successes were defined in markets, users, leverage, and potential — terms that fall into the lexicon of business-speak and not of pedagogy.  Strangely absent were the words that educators like to hear — retention, comprehension, synthesis, and integration.

If Hurley believes that technology is but a means to an end, it did not surface in this talk.  According to Hurley, technology is a end in itself and does not require justification for its adoption.  New is far superior to old established technologies (e.g., the book, the classroom, the chalkboard), whether or not they are effective or even work at all.  Hurley described how a large school district purchased a few hundred thousand netbooks only to find that they wouldn’t work with a Pearson product they were purchased to run, yet the irony of this wasn’t apparent to her.

The narrative of her talk took a familiar form — factoids and trends suggesting that mobile computing devices will be nearly ubiquitous in the near future; that markets are expanding rapidly; and that the customer base is used to social media.  There’s just one thing standing in the way of delivering new and exciting products to these consumers — the education system.

Indeed, one of the subliminal themes in her talk was that the education system is getting in the way of student learning. “In the 21st century,” Hurley asked rhetorically, “why are still talking about leveraging e-learning in the classroom?”

Luckily, teachers, principals, and education boards weren’t the only obstacle to student learning.  Hurley points a finger straight in the eye of rights-management. “I think its a disaster,” she said. “I’m happy that I’m not in that area! It can be so daunting that most publishers will say that it isn’t worth it.”

“Just because there are challenges doesn’t mean we haven’t made progress toward the dream e-tool!” Hurley continued and briefly highlighted several tools developed by Pearson, including MyMathLab and Poptropica.

Hurley ended her talk with a four-minute infomercial prepared by her company.  Accompanied by heart-warming music, close-ups of teachers extolling the merits of technology, social media, and collaboration (many of the teachers wore black turtlenecks and possessed cultured Commonwealth accents).  These are the insiders, the bearded intellectuals, the renegades within, trying to kill the system that has prevented real learning.  The last line of the video was reiterated by Hurley as her favorite:

The death of education is the dawn of learning

Is it possible to develop and market new e-learning tools without blaming teachers or the educational system?

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Phil Davis

Phil Davis

Phil Davis is a publishing consultant specializing in the statistical analysis of citation, readership, publication and survey data. He has a Ph.D. in science communication from Cornell University (2010), extensive experience as a science librarian (1995-2006) and was trained as a life scientist.


14 Thoughts on "Imagining the Dream e-Tool for Education and Training"

“Technology is a end in itself and does not require justification for its adoption.”

Hear, hear! How can we shift the focus so that “best” becomes the end that guides the choice of materials and tools?

“Best” is not a goal in itself. I was hoping that you would use a word like learning, retention, comprehension, synthesis or integration.

Totally agree – in my mind, best was shorthand for the more meaninful words you chose. Thx.

I am sure Hurley uses education achievement terms when addressing educators, as opposed to publishers. As for blaming the system for not adopting revolutionary technologies that is a standard feature of revolutions. SK is full of such rhetoric. It has been commonplace in education since the advent of hypertext and CBT (computer based training) in the 1970’s & 80’s.

The deeper issue is that most of this technology stuff does not work as well as a teacher in a classroom, which is an extremely efficient system.(I run a small think tank on this- What happens in teaching is far more complex than people realize, so it is no wonder that the proposed replacements do not work as well.

By way of explanation, my team has cataloged the major concepts taught in K-12 science education. It is an amazing one to two concepts an hour, for 13 years, which is very intensive. I call it a marathon of sprints.

This introduces what we call the “cognitive budget.” Most of the so-called reforms take longer to teach each concept, thus their use would reduce literacy (defined as how much one knows). This is especially true of inquiry and collaborative approaches.

There is a trade-off between literacy and inquiry.

“Hurley ended her talk with a prepared four-minute infomercial prepared by her company.”

Bravo for calling her on this. But let’s be realistic here. What do you expect when your “conference” is really a trade show?

The playbook on this has been in practice for years, but really perfected in the last decade in America. Want to advance your position? Step one, find someone to blame.

One could extend this conversation to include the role of a reference or bibliographic instruction librarian in information literacy. Can any technology by itself work better than a person explaining the information landscape and tools at the precise time a student needs to know? I prefer the words knowledge and wisdom to “information” and the dreaded “content.” See Drexel’s efforts in assigning personal librarians for more along these lines.

It may be useful in this context to differentiate pedagogy (teaching) from learning (knowledge change and acquisition). Pedagogy is tied to the classroom, VLE, and/or educational system, whereas learning occurs constantly in all environments through countless vehicles. In this sense, pedagogy filters and restricts the scope of learning, on the basis of socially agreed-to principles of educational delivery and assessment. Therefore, it’s only logical that commercial publishers are focused on supporting “learning” versus strictly “pedagogy”—there are more consumers, purchasing channels, and sales opportunities in the broader landscape. But is this dangerous? Or is it simply and aspect of a larger conversation about risks of disintermediating faculty and content experts from the digital learning process?

The education market is not small. There are 70 million students in the USA alone, whose full time job it is just to learn. On an hours-of-learning basis it may be half the entire learning market, or more. Unless you count all reading and listening, or even looking, as learning, in which case the word loses its meaning.

Of course the e-dream is to replace the 4 million teachers. It is basically an AI challenge.

I’ve read recently about how “clickers” have been adopted in many classrooms all the way from K-12 through college. These small and relatively simple devices evidently increase student participation markedly because students can instantly respond to questions posed by the teacher without having to raise their hands or stand up or otherwise expose themselves to possible embarrassment if they are wrong. The teacher gets immediate feedback about what the students are actually absorbing, and each student gets to find out if the answers given were correct or not. They even use the bar graphs seen on TV shows where audience response to questions is elicited, and the graphs show how many students in the class got any given answer right. I haven’t witnessed these in use, but the idea certainly sounds great and they seem to be catching on like wildfire. Technology doesn’t have to be complicated to be really useful.

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