Five Types of Educational Technology Experts – An Autobiography

You have probably met each of the following people and you might even be one or more of them. I know that I am. In fact, I didn’t have to look beyond myself in order to create this list. Depending upon the moment, I am every one of these people. I hope you enjoy this as little more than a playful reflection on life in the digital world.

One Size Fits All – This is the person who gets attached to one or a few specific technologies and then becomes an unpaid sales person for these technologies. This person is most easily identified by the fact that he sees his favorite technologies as the solution to almost every problem. Common one-size-fits-all individuals include blogophiles, wikiheads, podcastigators, digital storytologists, voicethreaditicans, Google earthlings, moodlers, and edutweeters. It is amazingly entertaining to see the extremes that the one-size-fits-aller will go to frame his technology as the solution to everything from low math scores to classroom management problems.

Trendy Technologist – This is the person who is addicted to the current technology, current ed tech buzz word, or the latest educational technology celebrity. This is not to be confused with the gadget junkie or the person who just wants to experiment with the latest technologies. Instead, the trendy technologist seeks to be an advocate for the latest technologies as things that are inherently good for teaching and learning. Or, they constantly quote the latest educational technology buzz words or ed tech celebrity names. If you challenge them with a simple question like, “How does this improve student learning?”, you might just provoke them into repeatedly chanting “Cool Tools Rule!”, ranting about 21st century skills, or engaging in a rapid-fire quoting of a dozen ed tech celebrities. While knowledgeable, they have become more focused upon staying on the cutting edge of the field than being on the cutting edge of improved student learning.

Antique Technologist – In contrast to the trendy technologist, this is the person stuck in the 1980s or 1990s. They speak with passion about 10-20 year old technologies as if they just hit the shelves. They are the people who swear by the superiority of the overhead projector or critique current technologies based upon how they performed years ago. A common critique might be about how PowerPoint destroys the classroom, even though they are entirely unaware that PowerPoint has changed multiple times over the years, that it can be used in hundreds of different ways, or that it can be a tool for all sorts of non-linear learning experiences.

Technocrat – This is the person who is a computer programmer, network administrator, or all around technical whiz; and somehow thinks that this makes him a skilled educator. This is likely cultivated by the fact that he has seen endless teachers unable to deal with the simplest (in his view) of technological problems. As as result, the technocrat begins to think that he should make the call on what educational technologies should be adopted, who should have access to what, and how technology should or shouldn’t be used in the classroom. Interestingly enough, many school leaders submit to the technocrats. In some instances, these technocrats become more influential in curriculum and instruction decisions than curriculum specialists, instructional designers, or classroom teachers.

Expert by Recognition – This is the educational technologist who develops an inflated view of his or her expertise because of recognition. This sometimes comes from taking on the self-anointed title of blogger, getting invited to lead some in-services or workshops, having a big following on Twitter, or having a couple of YouTube videos that go viral. Unfortunately, they may have mistaken celebrity and expertise.

Boiling Frogs, Family Time, and Internet Usage

frogWhich of the following best describes your view of the Internet?

1) It is basically a good thing.
2) It is basically a bad thing.
3) It is neutral…neither good nor bad.
4) It all depends upon how you use it.

OR

5) It is, in the words of Neil Postman, a Faustian bargain…a mixed bag, and it is often hard to determine whether it is good or bad until after the fact.

If you read this blog long enough, you’ll find that I’m a #5. And I’ll be honest that I read #5 into pretty much everything. I’m skeptical of complaints that the digital world is making us the dumbest generation ever, and I’m equally skeptical that it is the solution to all of our problems. It is a mixed bag. To illustrate the point, allow me to direct our attention to a report published this week by the USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future, Family Time Decreases with Internet Use. Here is a quote from the first line of the article:

“More and more of America‚Äôs Internet-connected households report erosion of face-to-face family time, increased feelings of being ignored by family members using the Web, and growing concerns that children are spending too much time online.”

I’m pretty sure that this was not the intended outcome for most families and Internet users. I doubt that the typical husband or wife sat down at the computer one day and declared, “I would like to spend less time with my family and more time browsing the web for random information.” Yet, that is what took places in some of our homes. I’m sure that you’ve heard the story of a researcher who explained how to boil a live frog. From the great digital author Wi Ki Pedia,

“The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability of people to react to important changes that occur gradually.”

It doesn’t really work, but it is a nice story that helps us to think about a phenomenon that is real. It is called “creeping normalcy.” It is the idea that a group or individual learns to tolerate or even embrace something if it is introduced gradually. If one had tried to introduce the same thing right up front, it would have been rejected. Is this part of what has taken place in some of our families? Imagine a modern day household that has been changed by increased Internet use. The husband is sitting in the living room, scanning the last few hours of tweets. The wife is in the next room doing some late night work online. One kid is on yet another computer, touching base with friends on Facebook. The other kid is playing a video game with a dozen people around the world. Keep the camera rolling for a few hours, days, weeks, and we see a similar evening cycle. Is that really something that most families would have embraced overnight?

So, is the Internet 1) good, 2) bad, 3) neutral, 4) all depends upon how you use it, or 5) a mixed bag? The most common answer that I get to this question is #4. However, doesn’t #4 assume that we first recognize the good and bad and then make a careful conscious choice about how to use it? Is it really that simple to recognize the good and bad? Is that really how family time decreases with Internet usage?

Online Medical Information Doesn’t Make you a Medical Professional

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about Postman’s distinction between information, knowledge, and wisdom. I revisited those distinctions as I read the newest posted research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. The research report, entitled, The Social Life of Health Information, documents e-patient habits. Based upon a survey conducted by the California HealthCare Foundation, the report provides interesting statistics about who is accessing online health information, what type of information they are accessing, and how it impacts patient thoughts and behavior.

I’d like to focus on a single finding from the study, “53% say it [online health/medical information] ]lead them to ask a doctor new questions, or to get a second opinion from another doctor.” Most teachers tell their students that there is no such thing as a stupid question. However, there is such a thing as an uninformed or informed question. In fact, without adequate information, how do we even know to ask a question? It takes a base level of experience or information to sometimes be able to frame helpful questions. The increased access to online “medical” information is changing the way that patients interact with doctors, changing the questions that patients do or do not ask. Now that we have this information, it is a perfect lead to another question. How does this shift impact patient care? Does it improve the patient’s chance of getting the best treatment or an accurate diagnosis? Does it simply increase medical costs due to unnecessary second opinions? Or, is it possible that this change even interferes with patient care by changing the nature of the patient-doctor interaction? Or, have be moved into a new realm of Internet-based patient self care?

I’m not a medical professional. My interest in this report relates more to how increased access to information on the Internet changes the shape of traditional interactions in society. How does it change patient-doctor interactions, student-teacher interactions, consumer-vendor interactions, and all sorts of novice-expert interactions? In some cases, is it possible that a layperson can confuse access to information with true expertise in a given area? Or, does this access to information (information that was formally only readily available to experts) empower the novice to hold experts to a higher level of accountability? I know that it does as a University professor. Now that a number of my students bring laptops to class, they can quickly “check my facts” or explore an idea that I mention in a presentation. I’ve enjoyed this shift. In fact, I even find myself leveraging this new resource. If I can’t recall the exact quote, or the author of a particular work, I can call upon a student to look it up via a web-enabled cell phone or a laptop.

Each day, we are moving further into a world where where more and more individual have access to specialized information that was formerly only available to insiders in a given field. It is for this reason that a 21st century education must have a strong emphasis upon new literacies, specifically how to understand and make sense of this wealth of information. I continue to return to Postman’s reminder that there is an important distinction between information, knowledge, and wisdom – and a 21st century education must equip individuals to live, think, behave, and choose in view of this threefold distinction. To have a suitcase (or web) full of information does not make one wise.