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:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *