Tom Reeves on Things and Problems

I’m at AECT this week, the annual meeting of the professional association for academic educational technologists and instructional designers. This is my 15th year attending the conference, and (with the exception of the Open Education Conference) this is my favorite conference each year. These are “my people,” and so I was much more nervous than usual when invited to give a keynote address here.

Ali Carr-Chellman, Tom Reeves, and I participated yesterday in “AECTx,” a keynote session in which we each gave 18 minute talks. Without coordinating ahead of time, each of our talks focused on using educational technology and educational research to solve large, societal problems. I was particualrly taken with the clarity of Tom’s formulation. Two slides near the end of his presentation admonished us that we need to:

Stop Focusing Research on Things

  • Learning Analytics
  • Mobile Learning
  • Online Learning
  • 3D Printing
  • Games and Gamification
  • Wearable Technology
  • The Internet of Things
  • Machine Learning
  • Virtual Assistants
  • Immersive Learning

Start Focusing Research on Problems

  • Poverty
  • Primary education
  • Racism
  • Sexism
  • Child Abuse
  • Crime
  • Lack of literacy
  • Poor motivation
  • Hopelessness
  • Obesity

Tom joked about “research” on the impacts of iPads on learning, and other thing-focused research. While he excluded them (perhaps as a professional courtesy to me as his co-presenter), “open educational resources” very clearly belong on the “Things” list. Openness is, and always will be, a means rather than an end. The moment we allow the means to become the end, we sacrifice the true end on the altar of zealotry.

Of course, I would argue that “Affordability,” “Access,” and “Completion” belong on the “Problems” list. Those are the problems I’m working on, and it’s good to be reminded and recentered from time to time. I think we all need that.

Tom ended his presentation with this quote from Charles Desforges:

“The status of research deemed educational would have to be judged, first in terms of its disciplined quality and secondly in terms of its impact. Poor discipline is no discipline. And excellent research without impact is not educational.”

I’ve long been inspired by Tom’s pleas for “socially responsible research” in education, and it was great to hear that message straight from the source. I thought the whole AECTx was a terrifically inspiring session.

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