Picking on great education and technology myths

Today I gave a webinar on a new theme, “Great .edu myths of our time”. TurnItIn.com hosted the event, and Jason Chu over there inspired the topic.

Identifying and busting myths sounded like fun, so I picked five, ranked from least controversial to most challenging. Discussion was very lively and appreciated. Here’s the short slideshow:

Myth 5: virtual worlds are the next big thing.  This was uncontroversial for the audience, who didn’t seem to include any Second Life die-hards.  I picked the topic as a clear example of a myth that soared high and crashed hard.  It’s also one far enough away in time that we could generate some perspective.  Then I asked participants to think about lessons learned from puncturing that myth.

Myth 4: MOOCS will transform everything.  And they fizzled.  This elicited the first pushback, as some people wrote in to celebrate their use of MOOCs for personal professional development.  One chimed in with admiration for the Modern Poetry MOOC.

Myth 3:the LMS is about innovative teaching.  Actually, profs use them primarily to share documents.  This also garnered some complaints, although nobody challenged my myth-busting argument.  These defenders thought LMSes had untapped potential.  Give them more time, urged a participant.

Myth 2:higher education reduces inequality.  But higher ed actually reinscribes, supports, and even enhances inequality.  There was much unanimity on this score, with nobody (!!) leaping in to defend academia as an American Dream pillar.  Debate did ensue about why this was, and what to do about it.  Nobody mentioned Thomas Piketty.

Myth 1: technology isolates people. Actually, we tend to use tech to connect with each other.  Although I used historical images to set this up (from the 1930s and 1960s), I expected the audience to jump in with references to Sherry Turkle, Jaron Lanier, etc. One did mention Nicholas Carr.  Many people agreed with my social model of tech.  Others sought more nuanced perspectives – i.e., it depends on the use, there’s a question of balance, etc.

After this we discussed other myths and what we learn from thinking this way.  Here are some of the latter thoughts:

  • Some developments aren’t obviously in parallel, but end up competing.  So gaming beat virtual worlds, and at least one person saw competency-based learning trumping MOOCs.
  • Usability is crucial, especially for non-techie users.
  • Faculty time is a powerful determinant.  Folks mentioned adjuncts.
  • IT resources are finite and in heavy demand.  Lack of them can doom new things.
  • Our human tendency to resist change.
  • The digital divide.  This came up at nearly every point in the discussion.
  • We need to think in the long term.
  • We should question assumptions, both our own and others’.
  • We still need to improve our ability to transition into the digital world.

Overall, a fun, thoughtful, and engaging hour.  Any myths we should tackle next?

EDITED TO ADD: a video recording of the session is now up on Vimeo.

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