Greetings. Thank you very much for inviting me to speak to you today. You have found yourself enrolled in perhaps the most perfectly and horribly timed class, as you’re asked to think about education technology critically, right as the coronavirus crisis plays out across schools and colleges worldwide and as students and teachers are compelled — even more than usual — to turn over their educational experiences to ed-tech.
I want to talk at you briefly about some history of ed-tech — I’ll yammer on for about 20 minutes or so, and then I hope we can have a discussion.
But first, a little preface on why history, why now…
I realize that most everyone — particularly on social media — wants to talk about the now or the future. But even with everything currently upside down, I insist that knowing the history of education technology is crucial. History is useful not just because of some “lessons” that we might glean from the past. But whether we actively recognize it or not, where we are today is an outgrowth of history — our systems, our practices, our beliefs. There is no magical “break” from the past, even if it feels like everything right now is different. History informs and shapes us. All our decisions about the now and the future involve some notion of what has come before — even if those notions are wildly incorrect (such as the very common narrative — a favorite of the current Secretary of Education — that schools have not changed in over one hundred years). It’s worth correcting these notions, of course. And it’s also worthwhile to stop and maybe calm the people who are throwing up their hands right now and insisting that “all this is completely unprecedented!” Because there is historical research and social scientific research about education and about ed-tech — knowledge that can help us think through this moment and moments to come more sensibly.