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Tuesday, 13 January 2015

IT, ET and UT. Rethinking the control of technology in education.

A photo posted by Teresa MacKinnon (@profteresamac) on
 Working in educational technology and teaching at this time of rapid change I often find myself in uncomfortable positions, trying to navigate conversations with people who have varying levels of understanding of technical systems and priorities that are not my own. I try to understand their point of view and, if they are interested, explain how I see things. Some conversations end happily, with increased empathy, others are awkward. Control is central to the awkwardness.

In educational institutions access to technology, how it is configured and used and by whom has long belonged to IT departments.  Over more recent years, technology deployed specifically for teaching and learning (Educational Teachnology, ET) has seen the development of new IT roles, often combining the skills of technical staff and teaching staff working side by side. This is not always an easy relationship but does provide a bridge between the two areas of activity, allowing (at best) increased understanding of how to provide engaging online systems which meet user needs. 

However, we are rapidly moving to a new reality. 

The era of UT - ubiquitous technology. Our smartphones are often all that is needed to capture and share a learning opportunity. We share and message each other, building our own personal learning environment as we select our preferred tools, sources of information and interactions. The educator's role in this context is changing, no longer the sole purveyor of wisdom (if we ever were) we have to keep pace with the ever proliferating access to more interesting content in order to engage our learners critical skills and earn our place in their information eco-system. The image below, shared on Steve Wheeler's post summarises the changes clearly: 

Originally shared by Teacher Toolkit http://teachertoolkit.me/
The debates and concerns about control of IT systems are really as helpful as my tangled mess of wires. If institutions are to cope with the changing landscape, those in IT and ET need to accept the era of UT and work constructively in discourse, respectful of the rights all have to participation and preferences in choices of technology. Sure, there will be core tools we may provide but control of all technical tool use in unrealistic and undesirable, especially when you are working with young people who have only known a world mediated by the digital. There are more important things to worry about than control - the learning and strength lies in co-operation and distributed networks. Effective collaboration is the key.

As a youngster I would often sit and untangle the box of wires my dad kept for his hobby of amateur film making. Seems like I find myself in that situation professionally now.