The 3 Orthodoxies of Educational Technology

Our unstated assumptions.

August 12, 2015
Our edtech orthodoxies are so ingrained as to be invisible. We too often fail to challenge these orthodoxies as they usually go unstated, unspoken, and unchallenged.
As a card carrying member of the higher ed edtech establishment I wish to interrogate my own implicit assumptions and beliefs.
A list of the edtech orthodoxies that I carry around with me include:
Orthodoxy 1 - Technology Is A Metaphor for Postsecondary Progress:
The people of educational technology are future oriented. My bet is that we read more science fiction than our academic colleagues. We see mostly the upside of technology, and are relatively blind to the underwhelming track record of actual technology adoption in education. 
To say that our community puts technology ahead of other aims, such as learning or access, would I think be inaccurate and unfair. However, our faith in the ability of technology to be a force for positive change in higher education (as in all segments of society) shields us from fully recognizing the dangers of any technology-centric solution.  
Orthodoxy 2 - Technology Is a Mechanism to Improve Postsecondary Productivity:
Understanding, much less quantifying, productivity in higher education is possibly a fool’s errand. How can a service built on a relationship, that of between the educator and the learner, possible be quantified? Do we talk about improving the productivity of friendship and of parenting? 
The answer is that we all too often give in to alternative models of education that are not relational. We exchange the soft metric of a professor getting to know a student as an individual (and vice versa) with harder numbers of enrollments, costs, and time to graduation.   
My intuition is that we will need to find a way to enlarge our vision of postsecondary productivity if educational technology is ever to have a meaningful impact on higher education. We will need to be a fierce advocate for the autonomy and status of our educators. We will need to be the first and the most critical of any technology that is not fully assistive to the goals and well being of our faculty.
Orthodoxy 3 - The Higher Education Status Quo Is Unsustainable:
Going on my impressions of the edtech Zeitgeist, I would say that we (as a whole, and in our darker moments) are deeply worried about the long term viability of the higher education status quo. Perhaps this fear is justified, as our professional lives have been one of managing around scarcity.  We have absorbed structural deficits, increasing 24/7/365 demands, and thin to diminishing staffing. (“Do more with less”). We work in an environment where costs have gone up not only faster than wages, but faster than healthcare. As the public sector walks away from financing higher education, costs (and debt) have been shifted to students and their families. A system of underfunded public institutions, sprinkled with a vanishingly few number of privates and publics that enjoy resources disproportionate to their size, seems to mimic (rather than challenge) the worst aspects of our increasingly stratified economic system.
So we call the higher ed status quo unsustainable, and look to the power of new technologies (combined with new methods and new thinking) to disrupt and to displace. The danger is that we will unknowingly be complicit in the destruction of what is good in higher education, all the while cheering what will ultimately commoditize and devalue. Our edtech community needs to make a stand about what is worth preserving as well as what needs to be changed.  
Edtech should make our stand with the educator. With an educational model built on relationships rather than transactions. Our instructional model should be the farmer’s market rather than the superstore. Efficiencies should come in every place but learning.
What higher education orthodoxies do you carry around?


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