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Values, Stories & Responsibility

Recently I've been reading a number of the papers from the Maintainers Conference.

I really enjoyed Lee Vinsel's presentation, “The Stories We Tell, or, Mary Poppins, Maintainer”, and found these three quotes from the conclusion, useful to help us consider several important aspects of edtech, that aren't often discussed.

Values

What values are embedded in the tales, for instance, that we recount to our children? I know so many young people who are literally all tied in knots because their parents and elders have told them that they must get STEM degrees, that they must be innovators, that they must be “game changers,” “thought leaders,” “entrepreneurs,” and a host of other hollow buzzwords attached to contemporary self-identity...

I want you to consider how many of the ed-tech stories that you've heard in the past few years have been varying degrees of this sense?

How many times have we hailed ed-tech as if not the 'silver bullet' that will fix education, then at the very least, the thing that will really, truly, make a difference in the life of a child.

How many times have we done this with such hyperbole for a pencil, or a book, or a basketball?

If we aren't hailing the pencil, the book and the basketball, as ways and means by which young people can get ahead, can engage with the world around them - why aren't we?

Because they are.

They are also tools around which we've developed stories. These stories allow us to have shared understanding of the point of the tools.

I'd argue we're still really trying to figure out how ed-tech can be part of that shared understanding.

In a world in which we still have heated arguments over which is the "best OS" or the most "powerful text editor", we've got a way to go before that happens.

Don't get me wrong, ed-tech, innovation, and STEM degrees do matter, but at a certain level the hype feels hollow.

That hype is still something we're tacking on to the side of our shared understanding of what education is.

We know this because we still debate whether or not STEM should include an "A" for the arts.

Stories

The stories we develop around ed-tech, they are important as well - not something to dismiss.

Because they map onto the stories that our young people are telling about themselves. For young people these stories really, really matter. They are the way they know how to give themselves value.

These are the only stories these young people know how to tell; they tell them of themselves, or try to.

My 7 year old loves gymnastics. Goes once a week to training at the local club for an hour. Practices on the trampoline regularly.

She loves working with her coach, and is diligent at practising by herself, and as her Dad I try to help. But in reality she takes most of her inspiration from videos like this.

These stories are not just about the physical acts on display, but the young people in them. They are her people. They matter.

How do we create ed-tech that lends itself to the stories that children are telling themselves? More importantly perhaps, the stories that they are sharing with each other?

Often they are telling these stories without direct support from parents or teachers and outside of formal learning situations.

How do we design our software or our services, so that they support young people, in those evolving environments?

Responsibility

As ed-tech designers, coders and startup leaders, how are we taking responsibility for the acts we engage in?

But what are our true values? What are we trying to do? How can our yarns, include our histories of technology, embody care? ... All of these questions remind us of something quite basic: that we are technology’s storytellers, and that we must take responsibility for that act.

How judicious are we as we plot our IPO and our marketing strategy, in staying true to the point and purpose of learning - as we understand it?

How do we define, for ourselves, the purpose and place of public education in a neo-liberal political environment such as New Zealand?

How do we reflect on the roles of parents, of school administrators, on communities that exist around students?

If we examine the product, the code-base, the people we hire in to build our ed-tech - how do each of these parts, answer the question posed by Jane Roland Martin

“What are we passing down to the next generation?”

Are we passing down our cultural wealth? Or are we passing down our liabilities?

And the problem of generations, as I call it, is how to maximise the transmission of the good stuff of the culture – the assets – and how to minimise the passing down of the bad stuff. I really think that this is the crucial thing that we have to start thinking about.

Every school sits within a community, and reflects the values, wants and needs of our wider society. Every student works and learns as part of that culture and community.

Every ed-tech product or service does so also.

How does your product maximise the good stuff of that community, as it engages and enriches student's lives?

How does the ed-tech product you build represent your personal values and honour your users stories?


Thanks to Banqer who asked me to write some thoughts on designing ed-tech. They're good people.

A slightly modified version of this post originally appeared here.

To be clear, other than Cam's business card I've not received anything from them.

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