Archives For EdTech

Jet Engine on Horse Cart

This image would be much more humorous if it wasn’t for the fact that this is an unfortunate and accurate representation of what is happening in our educational systems. Because we have been focusing on the technology and not the learning and have been attempting to gauge the effectiveness of applying today’s technology based on yesterday’s standards we are going nowhere in a hurry. Papert (1993) likened this to:

Attaching a jet engine to an old-fashioned wagon to see whether it will help the horses. Most probably it would frighten the animals and shake the wagon to pieces, “proving” that the jet technology is actually harmful to transportation. (p. 29)

Most people would chuckle at Papert’s example and ask how can anyone or any group be so naive or foolish? Yet, by trying to improve our passive traditional teacher-centered pedagogy with the application or addition of technology, we have essentially strapped a technological jet engine to our classrooms. Perhaps we should be pleased that we are at least not harming the animals (the teachers and students) and haven’t shaken our classrooms (the wagons) into pieces as the ‘no significant difference’ test results would show.

Unfortunately, we have the tendency to make similar mistakes when it comes to curriculum planning and instructional design. We all too often look to the content to be covered, update our terminology to reflect the current trends (individualized instruction, flipped classroom, blended learning, genius hour, 20% time, etc.), and then simply add in some new trendy activities to our well-established routines. We also bolt on some technology for added benefit. In minutes you have a new lesson plan, unit plan, or course plan. If you are fortunate enough to have a text book which chapter headings can be used to structure the content delivery steps—all the better.

However, if you really want to create significant learning environments by giving your learners choice, ownership, and voice through authentic learning opportunities then you have to build your courses and programs differently. You can’t just bolt on new activities to your existing curriculum. You have to look at doing things differently by using the backward design mythologies that require you to start with a big hairy audacious goal (BHAG) which you construct by imagining what your learner will look like, become, or be able to accomplish by the end of the course or units of instruction. I have outlined this process in greater details in the post, 4 Keys to aligning outcomes activities, and assessment.

Be forewarned… this is not going to be an easy process. Leon Festinger (1957) has argued that we seek or strive for psychological consistency and are motivated to reduce the cognitive dissonance that comes from dealing with contradictory information or ideas. It is not uncommon to feel psychologically uncomfortable when we are asked to do things differently than what we are accustomed. We look for ways to conform and align what we are doing with what we believe and if we can’t find this alignment we become uncomfortable. When this happens people will either change their beliefs to align with their actions or change their actions to align with their beliefs.

Fortunately, you get to choose how you are going to deal with this situation. If you are put in a position where you are asked to experiment or apply a different approach to creating your course or other units of instruction you have two choices. You can temporarily suspend your traditional content coverage beliefs about course design and adopt the new course design methodologies at the beginning of the process and then the actions of creating your BHAG and aligning outcomes, activities and assessments will fall into place and your discomfort may be limited or reduced. In contrast, if you maintain your traditional beliefs and choose to focus on content coverage you will find that you will not only be uncomfortable with the new course design process you will also not be able to create a BHAG nor align the outcomes, activities, and assessments that are so important to creating significant learning environments.

If you really want to get the most out of any learning opportunity you have to fight through the cognitive dissonance and experiment with the new ideas and processes to see if they really can make a difference. If you aren’t willing to do this with your course or unit design then you really do run the risk of bolting new more powerful ideas onto an antiquated foundation. Don’t your learner’s deserve more?


Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Papert, S. (1993). The children’s machine: Rethinking school in the age of the computer. New York, NY: Basic books.

Clayton R. Wright has released the 37th edition of the conference list. The list below covers selected events focused primarily on the use of technology in educational settings and on teaching, learning, and educational administration. Educational Technology & Education Conferences #37, June to December 2017, Clayton R Wright

Consider the following from Clayton email:

At the beginning of every conference list, I ask viewers to “take the time to conduct your own due diligence for any events you want to attend or submit a paper to.” Fake journals and conferences are scams. We need to be “scam-resistant” to academic communications just as we have become resistant to Internet scams.

A colleague in South Africa recently attended a conference that was presented like a symposium rather than in the multi-track format that was advertised. The 80-100 people in attendance all had submitted a paper and their papers were accepted. Then, they were charged a high fee to attend the “conference” even though there were no keynote speakers, only one room was booked for the event, and no meals were served. During the two-day event, each attendee was given 10 minutes to “read” their paper. No time was allocated for questioning the presenters. Neither were debates or other interactive sessions held.

Another colleague in Toronto said she receives “two or three invitations a day to write articles… The last one wanted $100 to review the paper and $2,999 to publish it.”

While assembling this conference list, I saw a photo of a colleague on a conference site. I contacted my friend and congratulated him on his speaking engagement in China. He said “What are you talking about? I haven’t been invited to Asia!” Apparently, without his permission, his photo and name were used to promote the conference.

As Alex Gillis recently wrote in University Affairs, academics are being reeled in by scam journals. (A number of organizations that produce questionable journals also produce questionable conferences.) Some educators have relied on Jeffrey Beall’s list of potential or probable predatory journals. But that list is now only available at the Internet archive. However, others, such as Walt Crawford and Hontas Farmer, have questioned the basis for including journals on Beall’s list. Thus, one may want to review the guidance provided here and check your gut – if it doesn’t feel quite right, perhaps additional scrutiny is required.

It is probably true that the rise of such journals and conferences is due to the low investment one has to make to use the Internet as a distribution channel. But I wonder if we, in general, don’t bear some responsibility for this increase as we need to have our papers published or presented in order to gain credibility and to further our career. And, we want this done as quickly as possible. But, do we gain credibility if we submit our article to a journal that doesn’t perform peer-review or edit the material? Do we gain credibility if we present at a conference that doesn’t actively review and select submissions and does not allow the audience to question the content of the presentations?

The 37th edition of the conference list covers selected events that primarily focus on the use of technology in educational settings and on teaching, learning, and educational administration. I trust that you and your colleagues will find something of interest.

WinDays16 – interview with Graham Brown-Martin from Graham Brown-Martin on Vimeo.

Note the new categories that Jane has added to her lists.