Martin Weller does it again!

I’m older than Martin Weller. So his new book, 25 Years of Ed Tech, doesn’t seem to cover a long enough period to me (reminder: print is a technology). Nevertheless, it’s a full and enriching outline of the impact of the internet and associated technologies on education, so you’d better read it. Thanks to Martin and Athabasca University Press, the online version is free.

And it’s important, for as Martin reminds us, “Ed tech …  is not a peripheral interest in higher education but is increasingly framed as the manner in which the future of all higher education will be determined.”

This is not a ‘standard’ history book. Yes, it does follow a chronological sequence, but does so in an innovative way, by choosing an appropriate specific ed tech topic for each year, from ‘Bulletin Board Systems’ in 1994 through to ‘Ed Tech’s Dystopian Turn’ in 2018. This manner of structuring the book works well, and few of us would argue with Martin’s choices of topic for each year (perhaps with the exception of ‘Blockchain’ for 2017). And the topic of some chapters might better be termed an educational approach (e.g. ‘Constructivism’ and ‘Connectivism”) than an educational technology, but we’ll allow him that flexibility. So we are presented with a neat discussion of the ed tech innovations we’ve seen come (and sometimes go – ‘Learning Objects’?) for the past two and a half decades.

You can browse, of course, and one of the first I read was Chapter 5: 1998 – Wikis. It’s a nice outline of the emergence and potential of wikis, culminating in their ultimate achievement, Wikipedia. As we are rightly reminded,

Even now, when it is thoroughly embedded in our everyday lives, Wikipedia seems an unworkable idea. An online encyclopedia that anyone can edit should result in chaos. The disdain Wikipedia is held in by much of the traditional media is mainly because of the struggle to understand how such a process does not produce nonsense. It is the rigorous process of editing and focusing on verifiable know- ledge that is perhaps Wikipedia’s biggest contribution, not the actual technology it uses. For content to be retained in Wikipedia, it needs to meet three criteria: neutral point of view, verifiability, and no original research ( What Wikipedia brought to the fore is twofold: 1. The remarkable scaling and distribution of knowledge on many diverse topics across the global population; 2. The unpredictable and dazzling array of topics that couldbe generated by removing the very formal constraints on inclusion in an encyclopedia.

The amazing thing about Wikipedia is not that it sometimes contains errors, but how few of these errors exist within its 5.5 million articles (counting only those in English).

Each chapter is just a few pages (4-5), and not over-referenced. As 2012 was gleefully declared ‘the year of the MOOC’ (not by Martin) it has a chapter for that year, and you’ll find an insightful and balanced assessment, culminating in the conclusion that:

The raised profile of open education and online learning caused by MOOC may be beneficial in the long run, but the MOOC hype may be equally detrimental. The ed tech field needs to learn how to balance these developments. Millions of learners accessing high-quality material online is a positive, but the rush by colleges and universities to enter into prohibitive contracts, outsource expertise, and undermine their own staff has long-term consequences as well. These are all factors that are still playing out.

Whichever specific chapters you choose to read, don’t neglect the Introduction and Conclusions, especially the latter (‘Reclaiming Ed Tech), which is longer than each of the chapters. It would make great reading for a post-graduate class/group discussion.

Overall, another significant contribution from Martin Weller.

25 Years of Ed Tech

PS Martin has added this useful website to support the book in a number of ways:

A comment from Rodney Trotter

I don’t get many Comments on my blog, so when I receive one I take notice. When someone does comment, I’m automatically sent an email with the details. What particularly caught my eye with a recent one was the name of the sender: Rodney Trotter. This is of course the name of one of our heroes (Del Boy’s hapless younger brother) from the wonderful UK television series Only Fools and Horses, so my curiosity was aroused. Continue reading

On the joy of (largely) unknown books

An advantage of retirement is the time that becomes available for reading. I relish it, read regularly, and love discovering (largely) unknown titles. Most are discovered serendipitously; wandering among the shelves of bookshops (new and second-hand), visiting op-shops or meandering around markets. Particular examples include Lady Spy, Gentleman Explorer, which caught my eye simply because the biography’s fascinating subject was a Murphy, and Bad Faith, which tickled my fancy when I read on the blurb that an alcoholic Tasmanian, Myrtle Jones, was intimately connected with the worst Nazi collaborator of the French Vichy government in WW2. Other exciting reads include those that offer a fresh, and sometimes personal, perspective on well-known events and historical events. My favourite example is V2, an autobiographical account of the German rocket programme of WW2 by the German General responsible for its oversight, Walter Dornberger.

These books are relatively well-known. There are also many that are published (or self-published) in small numbers that remain unknown to the general reading public. We get to hear about them only by chance or through a friend associated with their publication. I have a few interesting instances. Continue reading

Why you should visit Hong Kong now

Earlier this month I spent five days in Hong Kong. You should go. Why?

  1. Hong Kong is still one of the world’s great cities
  2. There are very few tourists
  3. You can visit Disneyland and Ocean Park and not queue for rides and attractions
  4. There are bargains to be had – the markets are quiet
  5. Hong Kong has sites and attractions you haven’t seen yet
  6. Enjoy a country walk to a beautiful beach
  7. If you’re rugby fan, you MUST attend the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens at least once
  8. It’s safe: Hong Kong people support democratic reform but deplore violence
  9. It’s cheap – packages with major carriers are a bargain, and the public transport system is a dream
  10. It would demonstrate your support for the HK people

Continue reading

Bach loved beer!

St David’s Cathedral organ

I was introduced to Johann Sebastian Bach as a boy, while a chorister in St David’s Cathedral in Hobart. We were blessed with a world-class organist and choir master, John Nicholls, who knew no greater pleasure than blasting out Bach on the magnificent church organ. As the choir was located close to the organ, we not only received it at full volume, but could feel the vibrations through our feet. Continue reading

CoL and rugby

There’s been a weird confluence between the Commonwealth of Learning (CoL) and rugby this month. Not only is the rugby world focusing on the Rugby World Cup, but the open learning community has focussed on Murrayfield, the spiritual home of Scottish rugby, via CoL having its ninth Pan-Commonwealth Forum (PCF9) at said venue. I didn’t know that Murrayfield Stadium is also a conference venue, but it makes a certain kind of sense, and I wish I’d been there! Continue reading

What I have in common with Keith Richards

My discovery of commonality with a Rolling Stone originated in my search for the highest note achieved in the famous hymn ‘I Was Glad’ by Hubert Parry, often performed at British coronations (it was performed as Catherine Middleton walked down the aisle of Westminster Abbey to wed William). After the usual scramble around multiple websites, I ended up in the Wikipedia entry on ‘boy soprano’, where it was noted that “Keith Richards sang as a choirboy in a trio of boy sopranos for Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey in the 1950s.” Yes, I too was an Anglican choirboy, but never in such an esteemed setting. Continue reading

When you meet your heroes

‘Never meet your heroes’ is the oft-quoted mantra, clearly implying that they’ll disappoint you if by chance (or otherwise) your paths cross. Now maybe I’ve just been lucky, but I’ve managed to meet my heroes (albeit fleetingly) in three of the major categories (music, sport and science) and they’ve all been magic memorable moments. Continue reading