crystal ball

Last January, I opted to forego making ed-tech predictions for 2013. I’m sticking with that decision again this year.

After all, I’ve spent the last 7 or 8 weeks writing at length about what I saw as 2013’s most important ed-tech trends. It’s not as though these will cease to be important simply because the calendar has rolled over to 2014.

But “important” doesn’t mean “inevitable.”

Nothing I identified as a “top ed-tech trend of 2013” (or any year) is inevitable. Not MOOCs. Not iPads. Not adaptive learning. Not Google Glass. Not Khan Academy. Not social media in the classroom. Not ever-bigger ed-tech investments. Not the Web. Not even the Internet.

Oh sure, that’s how technological developments are often presented: “inevitable, permanent, and natural” (a key part of “Internet-centrism” and “technological solutionism,” says Evgeny Morozov). Technology always progresses – it is progress, so the story goes – and there’s nothing we can do to stop its march. Always forward.

Technology – personified – has all the agency in this framework, let’s note; actual persons (non-technologists, at least), very little.

But is there really nothing we can do to shape the future?

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” – Alan Kay

Some of the predictions made this time of year tend to be wishes: the things we hope will happen in the coming months. Some predictions do contain more analysis than yearning: assessments made by observing trends and their trajectories. Other predictions lay out clear objectives: the things we will accomplish.

The Alan Kay quote above has been stuck in my head the last few days. (I’m working on a keynote I’m delivering next month that draws heavily on his work on the Dynabook.) I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the history of the future of ed-tech. Decades and decades of predictions.

Who makes these predictions – the predictions that we’re likely to hear about, repeat, and act upon, that is? Whose predictions appear in major publications? (The “5 Tech Experts” whose predictions are cited in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week: a university president, a university CIO, the head of Educause, a consultant, and a Pearson VP. The predictions in Edsurge’s “2014 Outlooks” include those from CEOs, investors, consultants, a Gates Foundation exec, and a Harvard professor.) Whose predictions appear in epigraphs and PowerPoint presentations ? (“Books will soon be obsolete in schools.” Thomas Edison, 1913. Heh.) Who’s inventing the future of ed-tech? And who’s an investor in that future?

For 2014, I see no end in sight to the political battles over the future of education (and ed-tech), despite proclamations from various corners that their “side” has momentum, despite predictions from various corners that developments will be inevitable. These battles will involve the Common Core State Standards; the hiring and firing and tenure of teachers; challenges to accreditation and the credit hour; the expansion of data collection and data-mining, along with accompanying privacy concerns; expenditures on ed-tech hardware and software and questions - as always - if any of this makes a bit of difference to "outcomes"; the promotion of online education in its MOOC and not-MOOC formats and the ongoing demand for face-to-face and hands-on learning experiences.

All the ed-tech trends of 2013 – all incredibly fraught, as they will continue to be for years to come.

Image credits: Ed Schipul and The Noun Project

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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