Online Policy Debate – the verdict

The Secondary Futures live, on-line debate that launched the ThinkTech website on the 31st of March is now available for viewing and reflection. It’s been nearly a week since the debate and I’ve spent a lot of that time wrestling with my thoughts about its usefulness and the

The conclusion I’ve come to is that the event was wrongly advertised. The event succeeded in providing a commentary on the current level of thinking about technology and its possible impact on our future, exposing several perspectives, but as a policy debate I feel it failed, largely because the level of discussion was pretty superficial and whenever it did begin to delve deeper into issues things were moved along by the chairperson (who acted more as a participant in the discussion than a chair in my view.) The confusion expressed by the chair at the end about how this discussion may actually be used to inform policy reinforces my view.

On the positive side, the fact that we now have access to the recorded version (or at least half of it, the record of feedback and input from those who were watching is curiously missing) means that we have an historically valuable artefact that should be on the required viewing list of all sociology, ed tech and teacher training courses around the country. Why? Because in a single viewing we are exposed to a wide range of views and trigger points for future thinking that leave us is suspense – and we need a generation of new thinkers to help us resolve these issues. Sadly, there wasn’t anything new in this discussion – I can remember participating in discussions where the same views were being expressed ten years ago – and a lot has happened in the meantime.

That’s not to say it was all bad. I appreciated Seddon Beddington’s wisdom in his attempts to contextualise the impact of technology in a broader view of history etc, and I did find Antony Royal’s comments typically insightful. Conversely, I was concerned at the assumptions about teaching being the transmission of knowledge, and of teachers being the transmitters etc that frequently underpinned the suggestions of some of the other speakers.

Regarding the event itself, I think it would have been just as effective to have been broadcast on TV. The desing of the event appears to have been created by someone more used to the television format, and failed totally to capitalise on the fact that there was an audience capable of being participants in the event rather than simply observers and occasional commenters (which already happens with emails to the news and current affairs programmes for instance). For instance, why was it necessary for someone to “moderate” the comments and keep walking in front of the camera to pass the selected ones on to the chairperson – surely each of the panelists could have been better served with a laptop in front of them and the ability to independently select the comments they wanted to introduce onto the discussion and respond to??

But hey, these are my views – with the benefit of the technology we can all now review and reflect on the discussion and form our own opinions. 🙂

If there are any policy makers who are watching the recording, here’s my take on some policy issues that were exposed in the discussion that need to be explored further…

  1. How can we resolve the dichotomy of research and curriculum development that proposes a learner centred framework based on understandings of knowledge as a ‘verb’, with prevailing beliefs of education as the accumulation of knowledge and teaching as knowledge transmission?
  2. How can we promote the fact that the significant use and benefit of technology in the lives of learners today is to enable communication and participation, while the dollars seem to follow those who want to develop content. (I’m not saying that we don’t need content, we simply need balance)
  3. We’re now well beyond the time when schools have “control” over the technology access of their learners, and that learners now have an expectation of learning through technology at any time, from any where and with any device. This has huge implications for the design of our schools, our networks (nationally and locally) and our spending on technology itself.
  4. The issue of cyber-safety isn’t going to be resolved through more legislation or restricting access at a national or school level, it’s going to require significant changes in the practices at school and home in the way technology use is modelled by teachers and parents. If you want to know what you child is doing on Facebook, open a facebook account! (It was evident from the comments of a number of the panelists that this is a world they don’t inhabit, but simply observe and form opinions about from the outside).

On that last point, I feel I need to  make a comment about the ThinkTech website itself. Firstly, good on Secondary Futures for attempting to nodel some of what they’re on about with their final theme here.  Unfortunately it provides itself a good example of the “two worlds” sort of situation we’re in. The site, with all its great design, snazzy buttons and places where you can contribute ‘stuff’ is a great example of how the old web works, but where are all the Web2.0 features? I recall being in some early discussions about how such a site might operate and be constructed, but it seems that all of my suggestions (if they were taken at all) have been filtered through the lens of a 20th century view of the web. Some reasons I say this are…

  1. Why create a separate environment for broadcasting the live event when there are others out there that do it so well (eg UStream) tha could be integrated easily into an “aggregation interface”, that includes many of the other sharing features (such as discussion forums, groups, photo-slideshow-movie sharing etc) that we’ve come to expect on social networking sites. Not only would something like UStream have saved some time, effort and energy in geting up and running, we’d also have been able to view and read the participation of the online viewers as it tracked the video. (If you do want to see the archive of the discussion you can download the transcript-of-participation, thanks to my friend Warren who captured it during the session.)
  2. Where are all the features that will allow me to include this material in my online environment – (you come to my place instead of me always coming to you) – eg RSS feeds from the various sections of the site, RSS feeds in from other people’s blogs and news sites, email notifcations I can switch on and off, threaded discussion forums instead of contribtion panels (just why do the most recent contributions in the chat areas appear at the bottom of the list??) etc.
  3. It seems sad to me that I can’t actually embed the video into my blog for instance – instead, everyone has to come to the ThinkTech site. This isn’t the way of Web2.0. Additionally, I can’t actually embed video or anything else for that matter into the ThinkTech site – best I can do is link away from the site.
  4. What about my identity in all of this? All I am is a name on this site – but in the world of Web2.0 the ability to establish an identity is important, as is the ability to know the identity of others in the community. The ability to create profiles, and for those profiles to be joined to all areas of my participation becomes an important feature of communities that develop depth and meaningful engagement.
  5. For me it was interesting that, during the course of the online event several of my online “buddies” made contact with me through Twitter, iChat or Skype, so that while I was watching there were “back-channel” conversations about the event happening in all three of these environments as well. Think about the richness of the discussion if all of these could have been captured through using an agreed #tag etc. and how including these conversations in the analysis afterwards might be useful in informing real policy development.

Verdict: A step in the right direction, but still in the wrong century.

15 thoughts on “Online Policy Debate – the verdict

  1. Many thanks for your summary Derek, valuable as I missed the live event (already committed to an online conference call). Have listened to the replay, agree that this could have been a TV broadcast. May have missed something not having access to other viewers logged in at the time, but recognise an opportunity was missed to demonstrate the power and potential of the technology to enable collaboration and participation. Was there a #tag during the broadcast? 😉

  2. Thanks for the useful insights Derek. Like you I despair that people in policy making positions often don’t inhabit the tech world of the those whose futures they are trying to influence. There is soooo much that could be achieved if the facets that web 2.0 enables were used. It’s not enough now to have just an ability to comment or discuss on a site, as you say anyone should be able to take bits of a site and embed on their own site. Linking is sooo web 1.0. The policy makers have to involve those with the edutech knowledge into the delivery side not just the consultation side.

  3. I gave up after 15 minutes. Could see where it was going and when I weighed up the use of my time I decided it was time to leave. Glad I did from what I have heard around the traps.

  4. Really appreciate your excellent synthesis of the policy issues, Derek. I’m wondering why bringing about change in these areas seems so hard (yet the need for change is so obvious to many of us working in this space). One reason might be that, at the heart of policy issues 1, 3 and 4, there’s a challenge to prevailing notions of the adult-child social hierarchy? Traditionally, adults controlled the flow of information to children, and young people were protected from direct participation in civic life until schools make them ‘ready’ for it. Young people today have access to the same sources of information and the same technologies as adults, and they are using this information and these tools, often independent of adults, to be active in the world around them. We’re looking at significant social change.

    Regarding policy issue 2, I’m not sure that there’s an imbalance in the dollars following those developing content but I do think that models for online content are still evolving and quite a bit of work in this area is still unhelpfully referencing old forms. We need some collaboration here between educationalists who understand the potential of the curriculum and web designers and developers who understand the web (I’ve just posted about models for content on my blog:

  5. Thanks for your thoughtful and considered comments, Derek. We appreciate the time and care you’ve put into your response, as well as the expertise you bring to the subject.

    With the launch of ThinkTech, as with our workshop conversations, we aimed to bring together a range of people with different perspectives and different areas of expertise; people who don’t normally get to talk to each other about education, and people who don’t often get linked in to those making decisions on our system.

    That way, we can develop a shared understanding across various sectors of society of what is happening in learning now, what needs to change, how this might be achieved and who else might be able to help.

    The live launch discussion was intended as an opener to the debate about the relationship between technology and education, a debate which can continue via the Think Tech site and in other spaces over the coming weeks and months.

    New Zealanders have told us that the role technology has in our society in the future will have serious implications for schooling; that while they currently give very little attention to this, they need to have the space and the means to find out how technology is changing so that they begin to think about what this means for schooling.

    Your comments about being exposed to ‘a wide range of views and trigger points that leave us in suspense’ reflects exactly our aim – to open up the conversation around technology and education and to invite others to offer their views, their insights, their expertise from a broad range of perspectives.

    The launch discussion and the entire transcript from the on-line chat are available on site for others to use as starters for their own discussions: perhaps in school communities, in local government, or those making national policies.

    That’s why the site focuses on promoting the policy debate and bringing that debate out in to an open forum where those interested can find and leave resources, hold meetings, and share their thinking. Participants can get in touch with each other by email, while respecting privacy issues.

    The points you make illustrate the need for the discussion to happen so that those who do know about technology can talk to those shaping education; and so that students, parents and others in the community can also be heard.

  6. While I have not viewed the live debate, your post, and the comments made, make interesting reading. My concern though lies with practice. How many teachers, especially in secondary schools, are prepared to make the “paradigm shift” needed to embrace 21st century learning? The NZC provides the platform for this shift to occur, but I do not see the practice shifting very quickly, i.e. it will take some time before teachers shift their view of teaching and learning. Certain schools will move quicker than others in the adoption of technology and 21st century practice and systems. Be they private or public. Private schools that do not move quickly enough will see a drop in roles and revenue, hence there will be impetus for change. But what about publically funded schools? What will be the impetus for change? Policy? The opinion or advice of academics and consultants? ERO? While we endeavour to have equity regarding the quality of public education, until we can truly hold teachers to professional accountability for their practices, how do we ensure best practice in our public education system, and hence how do we ensure that NZ has an education system that prepares its students for the 21st century? Policy debate and research are one piece to the puzzle, but professional practice is the other piece needed to create the picture.

  7. Dear Derek, I assume you were dwenmoth who commented at 7.11. Personally I found the opportunity to watch, listen, read, think and participate very engaging – and we should encourage progession to this type of interaction. Sure it wasn’t perfect – technology glitches, time delays, focus, lack of input from the “public participants” but it was also brave – surely you are better to support than throw stones. You can always set up a chat group inside the forum – why not you obviously have a following.

    Rgs Julie

  8. Hi Julie – thanks for your comment, and yes, I am the dwenmoth who was online and commenting. I wonder if you mis-interpret my post as being merely “stone-throwing”. Yes, it is a critique of what occurred, and I stand by the comments that I make, however, it does not mean that I am not supportive of the intentions of Secondary Futures and the work they are doing. If you check back through my blog posts you’ll notice that I have regularly pointed to their site to promote what is happening, and on the ThinkTech site itself you’ll also notice that I was one of the first to contribute thoughts there. My post is an attempt to contribute to the debate, not undermine it, and from the tone of the responses I have received, it’s done just that.

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