Ed Tech Retro-Futurism

Every time I read someone’s tag line or bio that self-describes themselves as an “ed tech futurist”, I chuckle a little inside. Since time only seems to move forward (as far as we can tell), aren’t we all a little bit of a futurist inside? I mean, besides thinking about what we will eat next or if we will be at the same job next year, don’t we all pay some attention to the future of technology? Whether its the next phone we want or what we want to our apps do in the future, I think we all have a futurist in us. Might as well say “I’m an oxygen-breathing human.”

Maybe its a way to say that you are trying to shape the future, or predict the future, or something along those lines. But wouldn’t that make you more of an ed tech fortune teller?

Maybe it’s just me, but every time I read about the future of ed tech, I seem to just see a newer, fancier way of getting dogs to drool when a bell rings. And I admit, I’ll be the first dog in line to drool over the Occulus Rift or anything else, but has anyone else noticed that all of the coolest tech toys are really just finding more and more realistic ways to recreate this thing we already have called “reality”? Can we just be honest about Occulus Rift and call it “Your Own Eyes 2.0”, or call 3-D printing “Stuff 2.0”?

In many ways, we haven’t as much come up with new ways to teach as much as new toys to make Pavolov’s dog happy. Its like we want to completely ignore the Clark/Kozma debate and say “Google Education will revolutionize education more than MOOCs ever did!” or something along those lines.

That’s why I tend to focus on ideas and philosophy more than gadgets and websites these days. We still haven’t gotten to a point that we are implementing some of the last truly new ideas we had from Skinner to Vygotsky to even people like Foucault and Habermas in education in transformative ways…. even though we know that they often work better than behaviorism does in many instances. No wonder we are still resistant to ideas like connectivism and heutagogy – we never got past cognitivism and pedagogy.

So, yeah – I still look more towards the ideas of the past as holding the best promise for the future, because while people are right that there really isn’t anything new per se about connectivism or heutagogy, it is an idea that takes what we’ve known really does work from the past and marries it to the way the world is today. These retro-futurist ideas give us an idea of where we need to head in the future of education by being grounded in the ideas that we never really got at any one point as a field as a whole (notable exceptions withstanding, of course).

Some would say “well, why don’t we just bring back social constructivism?” Well, for one it didn’t catch on the first time around, and two, the world has changed some since then. So we need to take the parts that worked and mix them with a healthy dose of reality. Don’t like connectivism? Well,then come up with your own idea. I would bet you will mix together a lot of the same source ideas of chaos and networked learning and so on and so forth and come to a crossroads of going idealistic (which is where the proponents of social constructivism messed up in the past), or realistic. An idealistic route is one that says “we need a lot of money and small classroom sizes and large numbers of well-trained teachers to pull this off!” While it is true that this will work, it would also work for behaviorism just as well. And guess what? Your never going to get that. So if you go the practical route of scaling learning with less resources and less money and less instructors and what do you get? Open learning, connectivism, heutagogy, etc.

All roads in education are leading to the same place no matter how much new technology we throw at them. But sometimes it seems like the new technology is actually slowing down the real progress as we focus more and more on how to get the puppies to drool faster and faster with fewer and fewer bell ringings. Maybe someday when we actually gain the ability to download factoids straight to the human brain via the Matrix, we will finally wake up and say “oh, I think we finally have this one corner of the educational experience down. What else is out there?”

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

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