Category Archives: Critique

Edtech: An Embarrassment or a Discouragement of Riches?

Two important questions continue to arise for all of us who teach and who use tech tools in the classroom

1. What actually works in the classroom?

2. How do we use them so that they do work?

Maybe we should just let Amazon eat everything?

Amazon, the company that eats all things, expands edtech offerings with … – PandoDaily (blog) Fri, 11 Oct 2013 00:43:41 GMT

Headlines & Global NewsAmazon, the company that eats all things, expands edtech offerings with …PandoDaily (blog)Amazon has just acquired TenMarks, an edtech computer program that teaches math to grades K-12. It’s part of a big wave in edtech t …

Or maybe we just let Zuck handle it?

Zuck’s first major ed-tech investment? Panorama Education, the brainchild of a … – VentureBeat Mon, 21 Oct 2013 18:04:57 GMT

New York TimesZuck’s first major ed-tech investment? Panorama Education, the brainchild of a …VentureBeatWhen Aaron Feuer was in high school, he helped write a bill for students to give feedback on their classes. By the time he matriculated at Yale …

Maybe L.A. will get the iPad 1-to-1 figured out. Or maybe not.

Uh oh, Los Angeles School District’s $30 million iPad program falls flat – PandoDaily Oct 22

In North Carolina when 73,000 Amplify tablets arrived — from Robert Murdoch’s edtech company — a good chunk of them were shattered and labeled “dangerous.” The program got discontinued.

Perhaps we should just say screw it and celebrate open access week?


Tue Oct 22 08:29:43 +0000 2013

It’s International Open Access week – see latest #openaccess resources from @Jisc at #edtech

Houston. We have a problem.  Schools and edtech, oil and water?  More and more I am sensing that our institutional structures and systems won’t play well together.  And you?


Will · Less About Tools, More About Thinking/ Tellio – More About Sensing/Feeling in Balance

Will · Less About Tools, More About Thinking.

(If you read the post (it’s short so go ahead) you will have a context for some admittedly blue sky thinking I indulge in below.)


I don’t think you can separate tools from thinking.  The tool brings the mind’s ‘hand’ into the world.  Nor should we separate either of these words from sensing and feeling.  I think that the larger goal of teaching is to help learners integrate thought, action, and feeling into a greater unity.  I know…that’s a lot abstract nouns, but we do know it when we feel it.

For example, Kevin Hodgson tells the story of how a student created a video game about vegetarianism using the Gamestar platform (  When some members of that gaming community criticized her for using vegetarianism as a game theme, her sixth grade class came to her defense.  That is the unity of thought, action, and feeling that I am referring to.  I don’t think you can design or manage that kind of complexity.  I think you can give students a digital repertoire and then put them into relatively safe places where they can play out their own digital thinking, acting and feeling.

Mostly this is a call to make sure we put sensing/feeling on equal footing with thinking and acting.  In a world where cooperation might just trump collaboration and competition, we had better get at the ‘thrust’ engine for will and passion–our own feelings and ways of sensing the world.


You can follow an interesting discussion between Kevin Hodgson and me here at Vialogue.




What’s the Fuss with Google “Suggested Users”?

There has been quite a bit of discussion about Google+’s “suggested users” list.  Seems to me as just another pretty much accepted way to populate an otherwise empty social network until you get the chance to fill in the blanks, but others have pointed out that many of the suggested users have empty streams.  Why suggest empty streams, Google?  Seems a bit half-assed or beta-assed if you will. Maybe somebody at Google realizes if you can’t do something useful then do something that appears useful.

Audrey Watters remarks, “I’m not on it [the suggested lists], and I bet you aren’t either, particularly if you’re an educator — because, well, there aren’t any educators on the list.”  But she also points out that Twitter’s suggested user list has few if any educators.

She also points out that

Google’s Bradley Horowitz — de-facto spokesperson for the new list — does recognize that there isn’t an “extreme knitters” group. In a post yesterday, he says he wants to assure extreme knitters — along with everyone else who isn’t a tech or pop culture celebrity — that the fact that Google doesn’t recognize your interest group is “a bug.”

Don’t get mad at Horwitz’s snarkiness just make your own list.  Isn’t that what the Circles are?  I have a circle for my CoopCatalyst folks.  I curate my own list of folks for #edchat and for a freshman comp class I am teaching this fall.  Do like Audrey Watters “suggests”– curate your own circles.

In Facebook you might be using ‘Pages’ (although I think that whole edifice rides on the shaky ground of having been first out of the gate).  In Twitter you can create your own lists although they haven’t been all that handy for me to use regularly.  So what’s the dealio about raking Google+ over the coals?  Keeps ‘em honest, I guess, but it also is a sly attempt at throwing baby and bathwater out.  I really don’t need another Google Wave, please.


Poverty: Is there an app for that?

“Development is the gradual emergence of a problem-solving system.”

via Poverty: Is there an app for that?.

If you substitute “learning” for “development” , then you have one of the most profound and simple definitions for what it is that teachers must become.

The authors are speaking from an NGO’s stance and a long term one at that.  So much failure in ‘developing’ countries has been the result of  what has been described as the ‘carpenter’s dilemma’–every problem looks like a nail.  And the hammer, while tres handy, cannot cement a foundation or glaze a window.

Kentaro Toyamo, a UC Berkeley ICT development expert, critiques this single minded strategy this way according to the author Tate Watkins,

Anyone imagining that a day or two of hacking will produce solutions to development problems, even in some small part, is either a technologist drunk on her own self-image who believes that she’ll solve a mindboggling social challenge with technology, or a World Bank officer drunk on his own self-image who believes that he’ll solve a mindboggling social challenge by motivating some technologists. In any case, it seems clear they are the kind of folks who don’t learn from history.

Every educator must confront the similarity of the problem in school settings and ask themselves wherever they are, “What am I doing to encourage the gradual growth of an emergent system that permits and promotes problem solving?”

The fact is that most of us are not doing much most of the time, especially edtech pedagogues, to humbly acknowledge its limits.  That is called hubris.  Hubris brought us the BP Oil Spill, the Iraq War, credit default swaps, and apparently the modern classroom.

Just as there is no app for poverty there can be no app for the learning that needs to emerge wherever it is needed.  I am appalled every time I reflect on the grimy wisdom of this video from a 2007 speech by Dr. Richard Elmore that I think supports what Kentaro and Watkins so simply and elegantly assert: it’s the default culture, stupid.


And the failure of the default culture is just as devastating in the first world as it is in the third.  And our hubris is to assert that there is an app for the failure of that default culture.  Elmore’s solution to this is a leap of faith in the redemptive power of our children and our communities, not small technology wallpaper,

I wonder, finally, what would happen if we simply opened the doors and let the students go; if we let them walk out of the dim light of the overhead projector into the sunlight; if we let them decide how, or whether, to engage this monolith? Would it be so terrible? Could it be worse than what they are currently experiencing? Would adults look at young people differently if they had to confront their children on the street, rather than locking them away in institutions? Would it force us to say more explicitly what a humane and healthy learning environment might look like? Should discussions of the future of school reform be less about the pet ideas of professional reformers and more about what we’re doing to young people in the institution called school?

Reminds me of the Simpson’s episode (s02 e09) where Marge succeeds in banning “Itchy and Scratchy” from television. At the end of the episode all of the children pour into the  streets to play to the strains of Beethoven’s “Pastoral”–a goosebump moment of the strangest order.  But isn’t that what Elmore is asserting–get out of the kids’ way and be ready to help them when they ask for it, but you better be damned sure to help when they ask you.

When it comes down to it we have made an assumption that is at heart wrong and destructive:  students learn only because they are taught.  That’s it.  That’s where we went off the rails.  An assumption like that becomes an institutional imperative over time (perhaps the imperative assumption).  After that we paint and wallpaper over the foundational cracks that inevitably form as the ground shifts.  Make no mistake.  The ground has shifted.  We teach in order to bring forth, to educe, from a learner an emergent intelligence that can eventually teach him or herself, can teach others, and can solve his or her own problems.  That is an assumption and a vision I can live with for the rest of my life.