Are We Guilty of EdTech Hype?

A call for realism.

June 2, 2013

Randy Riddle, an academic technology consultant at Duke's (amazing) Center for Instructional Technology, offered some wisdom on the risk of our edtech community overhyping our impact on teaching and learning.

In a discussion of the attributes of activism in academic technology, Randy commented that:

"I would add a sixth item - Are you realistic about what instructional technology can do and dedicated to reporting, accurately, what works and what doesn't?

The big failure of the instructional technology field, in my opinion, is that it's often used by institutions or individual faculty as a tool to get publicity for being 'on the cutting edge', rather than opening meaningful dialogue about teaching, learning, and strategic directions in higher education.

If you read instructional technology websites, attend conferences, or read what's been published about the topic, how much is empty hype? Sure, putting on "rose colored glasses" can appease administrators that control technology budgets and that have a hyper-awareness of good PR for the institution, but it can create a climate where faculty buy-in is difficult - faculty know when they're not being told the whole story and are just being fed "good news".

We should be approaching instructional technology as academics - not as a Silicon Valley start-up trying to appease stockholders and investors."

When reading Randy's comments I had two reactions:

1. He is on to something important here, as rigorous evaluation (using experimental methods) of educational technology investments in learning outcomes remain rare. (With the work of NCAT being one big exception, can you point to others?).

2. That I am probably as guilty as anyone in seeing the intersection of learning and technology with "rose colored glasses."

So Randy, points taken.   

Some counter-arguments to Randy's observations (and these points may be more complementary than oppositional), are that campus instructional designers and learning technologists view themselves primarily as educators first, technologists second.  

The learning technology people on your campus will always approach their work with with faculty with the goal of meeting the teaching needs and objectives provided by the instructor.   Sometimes a solution will involve some piece of software or hardware, but most of the time the real work is about adopting course design and teaching methods that are rooted in learning theory and experience.  (And yes, I wish these practices were also more rooted in evidence from experiments).

So if there is too much hype in instructional technology it is not the fault of the field's practitioners.   If anything, I would say that learning designers and instructional technologists on our campuses need to be more entrepreneurial in seeking out proactive opportunities to partner with departments, as opposed to individual faculty, for large enrollment (gateway course) re-design efforts.  (Again ... see the work of NCAT for inspiration and evidence of effectiveness).   

Learning designers and instructional technologists much position themselves to influence the strategic investment priorities of the institution's that they work.

If the hype problem does not lie with the educational technologists and learning designers, then where?

We want our leadership in educational technology to be visionary. To set out big goals and large visions, and to gain a seat at the tables where campus strategic decision making occurs.  

The challenge, as Randy recognizes, is combining a forward thinking / big issue leadership approach with an insistence on academic rigor in hypothesis testing and information sharing.   We need to be confident enough to share what does not work, what was a poor investment of time and resources, with the same degree of enthusiasm that we trumpet our successes.   


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