The Edu-con

I am not the only teacher who’s decided not to attend Australia’s educational-technology event (Edutech) in Brisbane. Pip Cleaves posted some powerful and personal reasons she won’t be bothering either.

So this post isn’t for everyone, not is it about anyone. I am sure that plenty of people will attend this event and get inspired and make new connections which will change their practice. It’s just not for me either. And I feel sad about that, as I have not logged-off from new experiences, I just find the cost of these events beyond justification – for me. So in this post, I’m wondering just how this event grew so big, and what it means for teacher-culture and practice.

Education and Technology are seriously powerful tools when mated, where as this is commercial event created and run for the  purpose of making the organiser a profit.

I am not anti-technology. I use technology all the time in my lessons. I don’t have a ‘filter’ and there is no while list of apps, games or other media that a preside over. The world our children know is infused with media and immediate access to information. There really are no students left in schools who the pre-date Web2.0 boom and fizzle – and yet it will no doubt be resurrected from the dead, all be it with a new wrapper.

The issue is that while this students can (and do) access to technologies and media information, there is little research to suggest schools kill creativity or that technology does not have negative impacts on some students, extend the gap between have and have not, create new social-problems for the day to day operational needs (legal and cultural) of schools etc., More importantly, there is no effective ‘test’ for a child’s media-age or experience. What we do know is that children bring with them a very complex and varied set of routines, belief and interests – all of which have not so far been considered by the canon of tweets, blogs and writing around ‘the digital generation’. No 90% of Australian households have three or more screens which children use pervasively.

There is on certainty. Teachers are requiring students to spend more time online than ever before which increases the cognitive load. Do schools track these hours and report on them? I mean, play most online games and you can find out the time spent, but schools gingerly avoid any reporting of hours logged. Given the recommendations for ‘usage’ for young people, schools routinely over-clock kids brains. Some schools seem to have inter-staff rivalry over the amount of technology loaded onto kids and of course, as Prensky said over a decade ago – great rivalries for superiority have emerged over who’s the coolest of the cool.

I looked over the agenda for the show: I couldn’t find any presentation or paper (cough) with addresses – and yet these real issues which are ignored time and time again at this big-events.

  • Missing school, work or other important commitments
  • Losing or neglecting significant relationships
  • Physical health impacts (like back pain or strain)
  • Sleeplessness
  • Reduced mental wellbeing

The push back will be: “Yes, but I’m a teacher and I’m sharing my practice to help other teachers”. No you are not, you are providing I.P., time and personal brand value to an company that is interested in making a profit – it’s an Event Management company with no governance or obvious vetting process – other than “who will put bums on seats”. How do I know – Because I’ve been phone grilled by some marketing womble to appear at this event more than once. I don’t justify myself so someone else can maximise their profits, sorry but not sorry. You are also the regulator between the child and the media for 6 precious hours a day. The idea that these show enable teachers to show kids how to use technology is a broken reality, what children need are media literacy skills which directly target measurable 4cs and actively fend off the commercial crap-fest that assaults their every moment in front of a screen. So is EduTech interested in me or you?

AceEvents also run RetailTECH, CustomerTECH X, Cards & Payments Expo. Think about though corporate knowledge and insight that requires … and they also run EduTech. So while there will be a crap-load of tweets, mass virtual hugs and people talking about foggy futures, there are the veterans of EdTech, most of whom are now out of classrooms and on the circuit. I have deep respect for some, but skeptical of others.

Jane “Gaming” TED Talk is there, heading up the ‘games can change the world’ mantra. While her formative academic work on games was interesting to a point, the book that flew off the back of the TED talk – now puts bums on seats and why not, games can save education … assuming it needs saving and that childhood is as grim as she claims.

I am sure there will be a crap load of people talking about Minecraft and gaming too, all excited in a post-keynote euphoria. The darling of the show will of course be the “NEW” Minecraft Education. This is another gateway to commercial-loyalty in the Microsoft biome and someone picked up some cash to sell it (and the user base). Good for them, but not good for the decades of scholarly effort which has looked at play, games and human interaction.

Here’s a tip: you don’t need to anything more than to un-block games at school and start to play. Next you read some of the great books on game design and finally think critically about how well established educational theory allows you to make connections to your context. Boom, you know more than the panel.

I am sure there won’t be anyone playing  Overwatch or discussing the porn and meme media explosion  that has accompanied it. There’s no blood and gore, there’s low cartoon violence … but this doesn’t remove it from culture. To me this is so important and routinely overlooked … games are lock-stepped with media cultures which cannot be isolated … or limited to Mineraft ‘totes’ creative fun rhetoric.

Let’s talk about the fact research shows 80% of kids who play app and web-games never go back to the same game again. It is worth knowing that apps are not classified as ‘games’ in the numbers they’ll throw at you about the size of the gaming market and players. What are hearing are numbers that are about as reliable as those from a government spin doctor or corporate PR machine.

Finally, let’s work out what it is about the teacher-brain (culture) that says Minecraft is okay, but I personally don’t play it– and even worse … those who don’t play or teach, but tell everyone else to. Urgh, no thanks.

Here’s the issue: the on-going merger of commercial interests and education is dangerous. It attempts to avoid ‘evidence’ and endlessly talk about being on  the ‘cusp’ of change and teaching towards some yet to be imagined future. In the mean time, wander the halls and get show bags full of unproven commercial technology – or don’t.