The ed tech dream is dead

As if regular old political news weren’t bad enough, we must make connections between the behemoths of technology and the decline of enthusiasm for web-based educational technology and online learning in general. The conclusions are not inspiring.

As you know if you read my blog, I essentially gave up on web-based apps for my students a couple of years ago, and have moved all my class activity to the Canvas system or a Canvas-based LTI within that system (with the exception of one Honors blog).

As the author of Insidious Pedagogy, this has been a painful, soul-searching path leading to closing my classes. Since the beginnings (I started teaching online in 1998), I have encouraged faculty to put their pedagogy first, to find ways to force the technologies to do what you want. As an early fan of pedagogies that emphasize constructivism and connectivism, I have experimented with many formats (contract grading, connectivist learning, open blogging). If you’ve heard of Ning, Glogster, Dellicious, Blip,tv, Blabberize, Elgg, Eyejot, GoAnimate, Lingr, Mind42, MyPlick, Overstream, Plotagon, Plupper, Screenr, Slideshare, Trialmeme, and Posterous, you have some idea of what I’ve tried.

My college went over to Canvas in the wave of California Community Colleges who’d been made an offer we couldn’t refuse. As California began to standardize its online college education, mass media began to cover the concerns I’d had all along about student privacy and exposure in online environments. I no longer had any arguments to answer those who objected to students working on the open web, even as the web was closing.

So whatever else Facebook and Google have done (and none of it struck me as exceptional or unusual), they have underlined my concerns about students working openly, and undermined public confidence in living portions of our lives on the web. We were so concerned about not being sold by Learning Management Systems that we were sold by the very providers who gave us freedom.

Educators who persist in using social media for the classes are not just outliers in ed tech anymore – they are now collaborators in the dissemination and sale of student information and data. Stalwarts who object to online teaching and web-based learning can now say, “see? it isn’t safe!” Anything not in a protected, encrypted, controlled system is rightly suspect.

We’ve lost, and to me that has meant not only abandoning my own open classwork and my own research in educational trends but a return to subversion inside the system.

My pedagogical focus now is creating encouraging environments and meaningful tasks for students that take advantage of system-based automation while allowing for freedom of pursuits. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in ed tech — Canvas forces me to take my place as a nobody functionary, a foot soldier following orders, with limited creativity and continual frustration. It’s one of the worst LMSs ever created, with a “community” deluded into thinking we help improve it. When my head is flat from pounding it against Canvas walls, I try to remind myself it’s like making a movie during the Hays Code.

But doing anything else isn’t moving forward.

5 comments to The ed tech dream is dead

  • Your post really made me think about just why Canvas is working for me… and I know coming from D2L gives me a very different take on that. Anyway, I wrote up my thoughts here; thank you for the excuse to write a blog post that is not just my latest nitty-gritty here’s-how-to-embed-whatever in Canvas, which is what most of my blog posts are admittedly about nowadays. HAPPY SUMMER! 🙂

    • Lisa M Lane

      I knew you’d provide the more optimistic view, and so quickly! Thank you. Trusting embed for now is a wonderful thing – I do it too, and put away my crystal ball for now.

  • And I make sure to let the Canvas people know just what I do value about their product… including for selfish reasons, ha ha. I am really hoping that now they have invested tons in new gradebook and new quizzes (neither of which do me any good), they will now maybe consider some content development features, which is surely one of the most neglected areas of Canvas right now. And you know I will be lobbying for student-authored content! 🙂

    • Lisa M Lane

      I have always envied your joyful approach to Canvas’ many faults, but cannot join in. They have not only built in difficulties, but are increasing them rapidly (see my current problem, at 101 votes, but which I have little hope will be fixed and will cost me many hours). I first became disillusioned with the community when I was told that:

      “Feedback comes from a lot of different sources, and Community comments only account for a portion of the feedback we receive. Not all customers interact in the community; a good majority of them never comment and prefer to communicate with their Customer Success Manager. Other feedback comes from product reviews conducted by our product managers”.

      I was naive enough to think we were the main movers and shakers in development. You have had far more success promoting change (like getting the awful “Late” thing improved), and I’m very glad of that.

  • Very true about low participation in the Community, and the participation is very much skewed to system administrators and other professional ed-tech staff. Not so many instructors… just as a guess I would say I see many more K-12 instructors because they are used to the idea of using social media spaces. Higher ed faculty not so much. I’ve given up hoping that will ever change; higher ed faculty are just not going to participate, even though I think it really is to our benefit. It certainly has been for me. But I guess most faculty communicate through their sysadmins. Or don’t communicate at all.

    And wow, I just voted up on yours. I had no idea they took away the column resizing in the new Gradebook. That will be a nightmare for me. There are other problems with the new Gradebook (you have to remove the awful late/missing crapola assignment by assignment last time that I checked), so I had not switched and do not want to switch. I have about 200 assignments per class (because students choose), and even squished down to the minimum, the Gradebook was hard for me to scroll through. I guess I’ll just have to start exporting the (damn) thing to Google Sheets to get anything done.

    This is why I don’t really hold out hope for the LMS changing in ways that will make it better for me: if there are so many problems with the new Gradebook after a lengthy and expensive development process, then they will have to keep working on the Gradebook. And presumably they will have to keep working on the new Quizzes. And so they will spend all their time and resources working on Gradebook and Quizzes into a Sisyphean eternity. I do not plan to hold my breath for improvements to the actual CONTENT side of Canvas. Which is also desperately needed. I occasionally check in on the discussion with hundreds, literally, of people pleading for folders in which to organize their Pages…