Higher Ed Tech Resistance

As technology continues to become more deeply embedded into the fabric of primary and secondary education, it’s interesting to note where resistance is still occurring. Writing at the Daily Beast, Ashley Mungiguerra notes that Print Textbooks Still Dominate Campus Textbook Market, and provides this observation:

But just because I prefer e-books doesn’t mean everyone else does. I’m a sophomore at Hofstra University in New York, and most of my professors have allowed me to buy digital editions of my books. However, some of them (the same professors who prohibit note taking on laptops) are still against technology in their classrooms. They prohibit e-books, iPads, laptops, and cellphones and instead require students to use (and haul around) physical editions of the book.

Resistance to the electronic version of textbooks is one thing. But the rejection of all electronic technology in the classroom seems a bit extreme. Presumably these students are forced to take physical notes with pen and paper. That might not sound like much of a hardship to many of us who did the same back in our college days, but imagine if back then you had been required to take notes using a quill pen with a little pot of ink. Requiring students to take physical notes is actually a bigger burden than that restriction would have been, and serves exactly the same purpose — which is to say, none whatsoever.

Mungiguerra notes that e-books make up only about 3% of the current total textbook usage in higher education. There are a number of factors at work, here. There are teachers like those described above, who simply won’t allow ebooks. There are students who prefer the feel of real books and who like being able to make notes in the margins. And then there are the peculiarities of the textbook publishing industry:

The revenues of the textbook industry continue to grow, but that’s largely because of the rise in prices. Textbook prices have tripled since 1986, at twice the rate of inflation.

The increase in textbook costs goes hand in hand with the overall sharp rise in the cost of higher education. And there’s your problem. An industry that has a captive audience whom they have been gouging for decades is going to be less likely than others to embrace disruptive innovation, particularly the kind that can drive costs down. No doubt that is one of the reasons that e-book editions of college texts, when they are available, aren’t sold for that much less than the print editions.

And swinging it back around to those Luddite professors who insist that print editions be used: I can’t help but wonder how many of them have their names on the cover of one of those expensive books?

In any case, higher-ed resistance to technology in general, and e-books in particular, can go on for only so much longer. Each new high school graduating class is even more tech literate and tech savvy (and tech dependent) than the year before. What’s happening in primary and secondary schools mirrors what’s happening in society overall. Higher ed is in an uncomfortable position, lying between secondary education and the real world, but falling further behind both where technology is concerned.

Adopters or Disruptors?

At the Tech & Learning blog, J. Robinson discusses the distinction between technology adopters and digital disrupters:

When it comes to engaging in innovation with technology, the mindset we take toward technology is extremely important. We can either take a “technology adopter” mindset or we can take a “digital disruptor” mindset. As James McQuivey states in his book, Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation, “Digital disruptors think about opportunity differently.” To the technology adopter it’s always about the technology. How can I use the technology to help me do the things I currently do better? In contrast, a person with a “digital disruptor” mindset sees the technology as the means to engage in entirely new and different possibilities. Which leads me to ask the question:  Which mindset  predominately drives technology policy in your school or district? Is it a “technology adopter” mindset  or a “Digital Disruptor” mindset? –

Great points. Whether educators focus on new ways of doing the same things or doing something completely new, students are always going to be biased towards doing something new. There are two reasons for this. First, students have a generational advantage and are likely always to be ahead of teachers when it comes to technology adoption. Second,and more important, it’s all new for students, anyway. They don’t have tried and true models that they want to reinforce with new digital tools. They are developing their models as they go.

Students are the original disruptors. We can all learn a lot from them.


No Fairness Without Cheating

From the Telegraph:

The relatively small city of Zhongxiang in Hubei province has always performed suspiciously well in China’s notoriously tough “gaokao” exams, each year winning a disproportionate number of places at the country’s elite universities.

Last year, the city received a slap on the wrist from the province’s Education department after it discovered 99 identical papers in one subject. Forty five examiners were “harshly criticised” for allowing cheats to prosper.

So this year, a new pilot scheme was introduced to strictly enforce the rules.

When students at the No. 3 high school in Zhongxiang arrived to sit their exams earlier this month, they were dismayed to find they would be supervised not by their own teachers, but by 54 external invigilators randomly drafted in from different schools across the county.

The kids in Zhongxiang apparently didn’t take well to their new exam monitors (nor did their parents.) When the exams ended, the school was overrun with protestors. The monitors ended up hiding out in school offices waiting for assistance from the authorities. Meanwhile, the protests grew into a full scale right.

Here’s where a very telling sign comes in:

Outside, an angry mob of more than 2,000 people had gathered to vent its rage, smashing cars and chanting: “We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat.”

Just let that one soak in for a moment.

The argument is that since cheating is rampant in China, and all but sanctioned, preventing the students in Zhongxiang from cheating amounted to depriving them of their rights. Interestingly, after the police stepped in, some of the officials commented that the monitoring of the tests had, indeed, been “too strict.” It’s unclear whether this was a quasi-official endorsement of the notion that fairness can’t be found if cheating is prevented, or whether the officials were just trying to throw a bone to the enraged students and parents.

We’ll know in time which it was. If the exam results are thrown out, cheating is more or less endorsed as a matter of policy. If they are allowed to stand, it isn’t. Quite.

Reading the linked news story, it becomes clear that the students were highly reliant on technology to enable their fantastic test scores. Smart phones, in particular, played a big role in helping to get the right answers into students’ hands an onto their exam papers. For future anti-cheating measures to work, it may be necessary to marshal technology in support of the monitoring effort. (For one thing, human volunteers might be hard to come by after this.) It will be interesting to see what kinds of measures are eventually put in place.

(Cross-posted from Transparency Revolution, with additional commentary.)

Unintended Consequences

From The Next Web:

7 ways that technology is transforming education, with Pearson’s chief digital officer

Juan Lopez-Valcarcel provides a nifty overview of coming educational technologies that will  forecast a student’s score on an exam or respond in real time to his or her body language. But before he goes there, he lays out some discouraging facts about what is currently happening (and failing to happen) in the world of education:

  • 46% of students don’t graduate
  • 40% of those who graduate don’t have the skills needed to get a job, per employers
  • 70% increase in tuition over the past few years

Lopez-Valcarcel looks at these failings and sees opportunity. He points out that education is a $4 trillion industry, that as a market it is three times the size of mobile and eight times the size of advertising. TNW notes that the “opportunities for investors, technology companies, educators and (most importantly) learners are vast.”

Hmm — business eyeing the education market and seeing dollar signs. That’s great if it truly does lead to innovations that help students learn, but it’s hard not to be reminded of another instance where the private sector has seen an opportunity in education and gone all-out to leverage that opportunity: student loans. As some recent analysis has clearly shown, student loans are the primary culprit behind the jump in tuition cited above, and the exorbitant cost of education is only made worse by the fact that so many fail to graduate and that so many who do graduate fail are unable to find meaningful work.

Even as we celebrate the potential that EdTech has to accelerate learning, we have to be on the lookout for unintended consequences. There is a lot of money to be made in EdTEch, and a lot of potential for showy solutions that increase the cost of education while providing little or no educational benefit — or worse yet, that distract from meaningful learning. Let’s proceed cautiously.