February 5, 2015
In a great comment to my 6 Objections to Technology in Higher Ed, Randy Riddle writes:
"One criticism not on your list that keeps popping up is that technologists and administrators often pursue short-term, high profile technology "fads" that are aimed more at good publicity, keeping up with peer institutions, or alumni relations than the long-term core interests of the university, diverting resources and attention from basic needs. This pursuit of the “latest thing" results in technology dead-ends that have little or no impact on the less glamorous day-to-day work of teaching and learning."
Randy’s comment got me thinking about what higher ed tech fads that I’ve shamelessly promoted in my career.
#1 - Second Life: Remember when we were setting up Second Life classes, and contemplating our Second Life University? Teaching and learning was not only going to be virtual, but 3D and immersive. Why did Second Life die so hard?
#2 - Flip Cams: For a minute we were all buying Flip Cams to loan to our students. They were all going to create amazing multimedia projects with these cheap and versatile Flip Cams. Then everyone got smart phones and the whole thing just seemed to fade away.
#3 - NetBooks: Go ahead and admit it. In the year or two before the iPad came out, you bought a netbook. I know that I did. The keyboard was too small, the screen was too small, and the processor was too slow. We had big ideas about every student on campus getting the same netbook, our one-to-one 1:1 netbook programs. Did anyone actually get to a point of doing this?
#4 - QR Codes: I have a hazy recollection of QR codes on campus flyers, and maybe even conference posters. We were all supposed to use these wonderful QR codes to magically send people off to great educational resources. When was the last time you decoded a QR code?
#5 - Online Simulations: Simulations have been ready to take-off ever since I got into the edtech game. The simulations have always been a year away from being truly immersive and educationally valuable. Simulations were supposed to do for learning what the Xbox PlayStation did for gaming. We are still waiting.
#6 - Google Wave: Was there like a second in 2009 when we thought we saw the future of the LMS in Google Wave? Google Wave was a weird cross between a Wiki, e-mail, and a social network. Perfect for teaching learning, right?
#7 - Podcasting: Did it seem at one point that every professor was worried that they were not yet podcasting? Our students were going to make podcasts. We were going to share our campus innovations in our own podcasts. Some of us still listen to podcasts, but they are mostly podcasts made by professionals. When was the last time you made your own podcast?
#8 - Google Glass: We edtech people really freaked out about Google Glass. Finally, a whole new physical interface for the Web. Teaching and learning would never be the same when the screens were in the glasses, and the glasses had cameras. Never mind.
#9 - Personalized Learning Platforms: We are still in the middle of this fad. The excitement over personalized learning platforms is driven by an equal mix of a desire to cut costs and a desire to make lots of money. I’m fine with personalized learning platforms if they are part of the toolset of an experienced (and well-compensated) educator. I think that any institution that thinks that they can save money by substituting captial (in the form of technology) for labor (our faculty) is setting themselves up for an unwinnable and self-defeating race to the bottom.
#10 - Learning Objects: This one hits a little close to home. I spent the better part of a couple of years in the early 2000’s trying to get an integrated LMS / Learning Object repository off the ground. I spent hours finding flash (*.swf) animations of DNA and photosynthesis and supply and demand to put in the learning object repository. I worked hard to the publishing companies to unbundle their textbook content and provide us with short videos and animations. We did all this work only to find out that professors really didn’t need all the animations and videos. They were either bundled with their textbooks or easily findable on Google - and really not all that useful. An animation does too much of the thinking work for a learner. A static diagram is often better for learning than a full animation, as the student needs to animate the process in her own own mind. Content, when divorced from the educator and the teaching process, turned out to be not all that valuable.
#11 - Online Portfolios: Portfolios may be a bit close to home for you. We seem to have been talking about creating digital portfolios platforms for our students for as long as we’ve been teaching with the Web. Portfolios make perfect sense. A place where a student can store and tag all of their digital class work. A platform where they can show graduate school admission committees and future employers all their amazing work. Why haven’t digital portfolios gained any real traction in higher ed?
#12 - Big Data: The question is always the same: fad or trend. Maybe big data is a bit of both. The problem with big data in education is that its potential is oversold. We should learn that the most important aspect of education is the educator. We should get our heads around the expensive and difficult reality that if we want to improve our colleges and universities than we need to invest in our faculty. I’m a fan of small data. Gathering evidence to inform our decisions. Maybe we should say that data is the trend, and big data is the fad.
Can you add more higher ed tech fads to our list? To save all of us some time I’d encourage you to say something other than MOOCs.
Thin Clients? Occulus Rift? Gamification? iPads? Wearable Technologies?
What is the next higher ed tech fad?
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