Don’t Believe the Hype

Hype is part and parcel of technology enhanced learning (TEL), particularly when gurus evangelise about what’s hot and what’s not in the world of eLearning. At some stage in our lives, we’ve all been seduced by the slick patter of any number of individuals passing themselves off as a leading Authority on the role of technology in education. From their ivory towers they proselytize about the benefits the latest technological developments will bring to learning. More often than not this is based on speculation and a one-size-fits all approach to learning. Subjective viewpoints are articulated in terms that make them seem like common sense and visionary. These are circulated, take hold and before you know it we are buying into the next big thing or eLearning concept.

While I acknowledge that innovative thinkers are necessary in order to keep ideas from becoming entrenched and out-dated, they need to be challenged in order to avoid what they say as becoming the accepted way things are. This is particularly important when considering the role technology plays in educational settings. Buying into technologies/concepts that are all surface no depth can be an expensive error both financially and pedagogically. For this reason, it is vitally important that we critically evaluate the effectiveness of technologies for the purposes we envisaged them fulfilling. More importantly, though, we need to be wary of ‘Experts’ preaching about what we should and shouldn’t be using/doing.

The next time an item of technology is heralded as the panacea to all our learning woes it’s worth actually thinking how relevant it might be to learning/teaching scenarios we are familiar with. It’s also worth looking at documents like the ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and IT Study, 2010 (http://www.educause.edu/Resources/ECARStudyofUndergraduateStuden/217333) to get an idea of what technologies students are using. Admittedly, the study covers use in the US and Canada, but I don’t imagine our students are that different. Given the importance of criticality with regards to academic practice, I believe it is vital that we adopt the similar approaches when evaluating the effectiveness of technologies.

8 thoughts on “Don’t Believe the Hype

  1. Charlie I very much agree with you. There is something about being wise and mindful enough to listen to what people have to say and being open minded, but being prepared to think it through play with ideas and have the wisdon and confidence to keep or adapt the technology that does resonate and without becoming defensive or hostile letting go of the things that do not resonate. This can sometimes be a challenge in the hype – as you have pointed out very well

  2. Interesting post Charlie!

    This way of thinking is very much informing our new ‘learning technology’ roadmap.
    Reassessing the tools we have and whether or not we are maximising their potential is very much the order of the day. The culture of chasing the e-panacea would seem to be endemic in the realm of learning technology, hopefully we can go some way to redressing the balance in favour of a “needs based”, rather than a “tool’s based” approach.

  3. I don’t know who are the biggest problems in education and society – those who hype or those who anti-hype: people who allow business or personal motivations to influence their objectivity and effectively hype technologies they have material interests in, or those whose career is built on playing to the crowd and feeding off people’s fears of technology.

    For my first few years as a learning technologist, I encountered much negativity that was, quite often, merely a rationalisation of an institutional refusal to prepare systems for the technology of the future. Technological innovations after all put a lot of pressures on institutions to get their act in gear. I was probably accused quite often of hyping up the potentialities of are generally referred to as Web 2.0 technologies.

    I think we need to recognize the hype in some of the anti-hype we hear.

    Personally, I am a little concerned about the overuse and inappropriate use of the ‘Hype cycle’ of Gartner, where new technologies are automatically assumed for everyone to be going through a period of Inflated Expectations before they reach the ‘Peak’ on that trajectory.

    Of course, early evaluations of new technologies can’t necessarily have behind them the evidential data to back firm conclusions. But lack of evidence can lead to verdicts of gulty as well as not guilty.

    Intelligent individuals and organisations should ensure that they evaluate new technologies objectively recognizing that if they are on a ‘hype cycle’, they have failed to achieve that objectivity.

  4. I mostly agree with Charlie’s comment and certainly agree with the principle of applying academic rigour to statements about worth. However, I think you are a little harsh on the innovative practitioners. I often think that enthusiasm and passion can be mistaken for expertise and dogma so critical evaluation needs to be applied by speaker and listener alike. I think the more fundamental problem lies in the fact that research in this area seems to be of the sort – I tried this with my class in x and they liked it so it must have improved their learning.

    Perhaps the more sensible approach is to understand that good facilitation of learning allows students to access information in many different ways. However, this inevitably requires more initial work for the lecturer. What we end up with, then, is a pragmatic approach that tries to marry the most effective teaching with the path to least resistance in workload terms. Combine this with every institution’s obsession with finding a perfect ‘one size fits all’ solution and we end up with vacuous debates about whether one TEL method is better than another.

    Trying to properly evaluate the effectiveness of this or that technique on student learning is time consuming and, at best, adequate. Maybe, though, the quest for improving learning is asking the wrong question of new techniques. So, for my own part in adopting TEL, I use two simple questions that I ask myself.

    1. Does this provide a useful additional/alternative way for students to access information?
    2. Can I be certain that it hasn’t made the effectiveness of student learning worse?

    • Before I have people knocking on the my door looking to lynch me for having a pop at innovative users of technology, I just want to clarify that I make a clear distinction between people I consider to be innovators and those individuals that I’d regard as self-styled gurus. The former, of who I’ve met many within the UoD and outside it, are those practitioners with a desire to explore the potential of technology to support learning and teaching in a multitude of contexts. They are I might also add not interested in plaudits nor being placed on a pedestal. The latter group, in my opinion, are sort of TEL celebrities, who from the relative safety of a blog, website and/or conference/trade show platform, offer up technology solutions for the allegedly appalling state of education. They latch onto the latest trends outlined in documents like the Gartner Hype Cycle, which Pete mentioned, and using very seductive language exploit pressures being placed on practitioners and institutions to improve their TEL capacity. Quite often, this results in institutions investing in technologies which fail to meet their needs and end up sitting in the proverbial corner covered in dust. The negative impact of this is not only financial. It provides those with cynical attitudes that wish to see a reduction in TEL with more grist for their mills and for those who perceive themselves to be technophobes it only intensifies their anxieties.

      I understand the pressures institutions, big and small, are under to engage with technology as I’ve worked in both. For this reason, I think it is of the utmost importance that we have fora in place which allow practitioners within institutions to debate the efficacy of technologies available to us to meet our local needs. This is what the roadmap Chris referred to is seeking to achieve and with events such as the MMTTL SIG in place I believe we are making the right moves to make this happen. Having more of these opportunities for dialog in place, can go some way to insuring a collective critical assessment of the technologies so-called TEL gurus and evangelists prophesise as being the universal remedy for all our educational woes.

      Knocking formal education is easy and doesn’t take much imagination. I get tired of those individuals that carve out spaces for themselves as Authorities on the use of technology and I feel we have a responsibility to hold them to account for their pronouncements, demanding they back their claims up with credible research. If we don’t, we run the risk of being held hostage by a TEL discourse built on fallacies and myths.

  5. I agree with the post and all the comments. Here’s some useful keywords and phrases when considering such aspects:

    * Common sense
    * Simplicity
    * Fit for purpose
    * Evidence
    * Reliability and robustness
    * User perspectives
    * Rate of adoption
    * Pilot projects
    * Support

    Common sense helps to make good decisions; but sometimes you will also need to understand the technology, and have strategic vision.

    Effective technologies are simple technologies that users can easily understand and quickly utilise.

  6. Below is a link to an article on the BBC website about how schools are being taken advantage of by less than scrupulous individuals willing to exploit a desire to engage with TEL. Although this is not stated in the article, I believe that this is one example of how hype about particular products or the need to engage with TEL, can lead to institutions being taken advantage of.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-16441186

  7. I agree with you Charlie, especially having been away from the academic world for the past year. A lot of technologists are set in the way of speaking you surmise, through having to ‘chase’ the next big development. The leaders above see such and such a university using a practice and think are we doing that if not why!. In my opinion and as you mention we should be looking at what it is we are trying to achieve, I could name countless projects that I have seen go through Derby University that was a failure, or was something for somebody to make a name for themselves. There was that much competitveness internally, that it undermined the core values and ethics/ethos of the University. Though it should not stop us trying new pilots. As for conferences Ive found most of them to be a load of tosh, the mainly good thing to come out of them is the networking and projects which then means we can get money to keep us all in a job. Just because someone has a speciality in a certain type of technological area does not mean that we should spend thousands of pounds developing something that ultimatly is not used.

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