The Top Ed-Tech Trends (Aren’t ‘Tech’)

Every year since 2010, I’ve undertaken a fairly massive project in which I’ve reviewed the previous twelve months’ education and technology news in order to write ten articles covering “the top ed-tech trends.

from Pocket

This is a really interesting post from one of my favourite blogs, Hack Education. It’s the rough transcript of a talk given by Audrey Watters, about her work developing the ‘top ed-tech trends’. She talks about the ways in which this cannot be predictive, but is a ‘history’ of technology, and one which is immersed in claims made about technology by the people who are trying to sell it to us. Technology, she says wryly, is always amazing.

I want us to think more critically about all these claims, about the politics, not just the products (perhaps so the next time we’re faced with consultants or salespeople, we can do a better job challenging their claims or advice).

Her argument is a profound one, and one which coheres nicely with the principal themes in EDC. Her conceptualisation of technologies is that they are ideological practices, rather than tools, and rather than things you can go out and buy and in doing so render yourself ‘ed-tech’, a form of technological solutionism. They have a narrative, and that narrative includes the $2.2 billion spent on technology development in 2016.

Personalization. Platforms. These aren’t simply technological innovations. They are political, social – shaping culture and politics and institutions and individuals in turn.

Watters ends with a plea to us all. When we first encounter new technologies, consider not just what it can do, or what our ownership or mastership of the product might say about us. But also consider its ideologies and its implications.

Really, definitely, absolutely worth reading.


I’ve spent some time this weekend reading a couple of articles to help me to formulate the specific questions I’d like to focus on in the assignment. I was mostly enjoying myself, when I started on an article that elicited the reaction you can see in the tweet above. The phrase in the tweet – “a certain performative, post-human, ethico-epistem-ontology” is pretty much inaccessible, and this is a real bugbear of mine. Thankfully I’ve encountered it only a few times in this course. It took me a while to figure out what the author was getting at with his ethico-epistem-ontology, and when I did I found that it wasn’t half as fancy or clever as the language used might suggest.

Ideas should challenge, and language should challenge too, but one of the things about good academic writing (obviously something on my mind with the assignment coming up) is the ability to represent and communicate complex, nuanced, difficult ideas in a way that doesn’t throw up a huge great wall. There are times when that huge barrier is instrumental to the argument, I suppose: I remember reading Derrida…*

Yet largely if the aforementioned ‘challenge’ is located as much in the discrete individual words used as in the premises of the argument (assuming, of course, that the two can be separated), then what does that mean for the locus of academic literacy? And what does it mean for openness? The trend toward open access and open data, despite being fraught with issues around policy, the way technology is implicated, and other things, is generally a positive. But is representation of ideas like this even vaguely ‘open’ in anything but a literal sense?

Anyway, this is a total aside, and I’ll bring an end of the rant.  Authentic content for the lifestream, I think 🙂

*OK, I mainly looked at the words and panicked internally

What I’m reading

At a conference today! #cctl2017

March 23, 2017 at 11:53AM
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I attended a Teaching Forum hosted by the Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning on Thursday, and this is a photo of some of the notes that I took during a presentation by Dr Sonia Ilie, on the LEGACY project. Dr Ilie discussed the results of a bit of qualitative research surrounding students’ understanding of learning gain.  One of her arguments put me in mind of learning analytics.

In case my handwriting isn’t clear, Dr Ilie reported that the research had demonstrated that students are variably equipped to reflect upon their own learning. I wondered – in the bottom comment of the photo – about the impact that learning analytics might have upon this. I’m interested in whether learning analytics might help students to develop critically reflective skills, or whether it might let them off the hook by effectively providing them with a shorthand version of that reflection.

What I’m reading


March 18, 2017 at 04:48PM
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I included this because it so strongly chimed with what I was thinking about student profiling – in particular, the highlighted bit reflects my experience of working with young people in HE, and the (in my opinion) dangers of treating any people, but particularly young people, as linear, as models of themselves, or as unable to follow unpredictable paths.

It’s from here, by the way:

Lawson, C., Beer, C., Rossi, D., Moore, T., & Fleming, J. (2016). Identification of ‘at risk’ students using learning analytics: the ethical dilemmas of intervention strategies in a higher education institution. Educational Technology Research and Development, 64(5), 957–968.

[Edit on Sunday 19th March: it’s also, I notice very much retrospectively, an attempt for me to use the lifestream to model how I study, how I make notes, how I identify comments and other thoughts. There’s another example here. I didn’t really realise I was doing this.]

What I’m reading

Ethics and learning analytics: a short reading list

Lawson, C., Beer, C., Rossi, D., Moore, T., & Fleming, J. (2016). Identification of ‘at risk’ students using learning analytics: the ethical dilemmas of intervention strategies in a higher education institution. Educational Technology Research and Development, 64(5), 957–968.
Roberts, L. D., Howell, J. A., Seaman, K., & Gibson, D. C. (2016). Student Attitudes toward Learning Analytics in Higher Education: ‘The Fitbit Version of the Learning World’. Frontiers in Psychology, 7.
Rubel, A., & Jones, K. M. L. (2016). Student privacy in learning analytics: An information ethics perspective. The Information Society, 32(2), 143–159.
Scholes, V. (2016). The ethics of using learning analytics to categorize students on risk. Educational Technology Research and Development, 64(5), 939–955.
Sclater, N., Peasgood, A., & Mullan, J. (n.d.). Learning analytics in higher education. Retrieved 17 March 2017, from
Siemens, G. (2013). Learning Analytics: The Emergence of a Discipline. American Behavioral Scientist, 57(10), 1380–1400.
West, D., Huijser, H., & Heath, D. (2016). Putting an ethical lens on learning analytics. Educational Technology Research and Development, 64(5), 903–922.

March 18, 2017 at 10:58AM
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What I’m reading

Initial thoughts on the JISC report on learning analytics

Sclater, N., Peasgood, A., & Mullan, J. (2016). Learning analytics in higher education. Retrieved 17 March 2017, from


Summary statement:


The executive summary identifies four areas in which learning analytics might be used.


1      “As a tool for quality assurance and quality improvement” – LA as diagnostic tool both at individual and systemic level; demonstrating compliance with new quality assurance arrangements.

2      “As a tool for boosting retention rates” – with institutions using analytics to identify at risk students, and intervening.

3      “As a tool for assessing and acting upon differential outcomes among the student population” – engagement and progress of e.g. BME students, students from low participation areas.

4      “As an enabler for the development and introduction of adaptive learning” – personalised learning delivered at scale.

Interested in the instrumentalist approach here: “as a tool”, “as an enabler” seems to make this inescapable. Needs – I would say – more recognition of the fact that the platforms, data sources, infrastructures are socio-technical: informed, at the very least, by the humans who created them. Who analyses the learning analytics? What would a posthuman analysis of learning analytics look like?

Some other interesting points made in the Introduction:

Imperative for universities to obtain value from the rich data sources they are building up about their learners. Information known about a person in advance of their application, data accumulated about educational progress, learners likely to withdraw can be identified (p. 12).

This is fair enough, but by heck there’s the potential for a lot of inequality and leveraging of privilege here. Students being judged by their past absolutely inhibits room for development, especially among young people for whom university may be a ‘fresh start’. Also issues around linearity of university experience, who (or what) defines what ‘progress’ looks like, and the fact that new university students are ‘starting’ from different places. Achievement at university level may be a line to reach (1st class, 2.i, 2.ii, etc.) but potential is not.

Learning analytics can furnish teachers with information on the quality of educational content and activities they are providing, and on teaching and assessment processes.

 Identifying a problem is great and useful, but solving that problem is even more important. Can learning analytics help here? Also, suggests that the quality of educational content and activities is fundamentally based on the – what, ability? – of the teacher, rather than the institutional pressures that teacher is under, things like the TEF disrupting good practices, austerity, the socio-economic climate, funding, university overcrowding, lack of resources, etc. It seems perhaps a little good to be true.

Benefits for learners include giving students better information on how they are progressing and what they need to do to meet their educational goals, which has the potential to transform learning and their understanding of how they learn by providing continual formative feedback.

That is, unless some of the things the students are doing – and possibly not doing well – are not trackable e.g. how well a student takes notes while they’re reading, for my students, is a pretty big deal. How will formative feedback be provided there? Tyranny of assessment, tyranny of evidence-base. And, if automated, couldn’t this be demotivating? 

 Adaptive learning systems are emerging to help students develop skills and knowledge in a more personalised way; “set to revolutionise the teaching of basic skills and the provision of educational content” (p. 13).

Basic skills? Such as…I don’t know enough about STEM to know if that would work there, but within HASS I can’t think of that many basic skills that this could help. Critical thinking, synthesising diverse opinions, forming an argument, developing a critical voice, clarity of expression – would these be ‘basic skills’?  Feels like quite a narrow view of what HE learning might be; in my experience, both as student and librarian it isn’t just box-ticking.


March 17, 2017 at 08:47AM
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Hack Education

Udacity raises $100+ million and gets to claim the title “unicorn,” which is a rare and magical creature that visits the dreams of good venture capitalists in case you were unfamiliar with how the tech industry uses the word.

from Pocket

Included in the lifestream because it was a bit too late to set up to an RSS feed to it. One of the things about blogging publicly is that there’s a tendency to treat some posts as a PSA – including this, I think, definitely falls into that category…