The FOTA EduBeardStroke Parabola 2013

Most predictions are wrong. The small number that turn out to be right are largely luck, but we tend to remember them because they reinforce our naive belief that the future can be predicted.

Apophenia, they call it. The predilection of people to perceive patterns in meaningless noise.

Politics, ideology, is the battle for the narrative. The imposition of a pattern on the noise of life. I’ve talked about it in the past as a branch of storytelling – on reflection I might have been wrong. In storytelling there is a pattern, in politics only the ghostly perception of a pattern.

With enough events, enough data points, you can back up any narrative concerning the immediate past. The rise of “big data” makes this more, rather than less, of a problem. I have found myself, when confronted by a position ostensibly backed by a mass of data (be it university funding or climate change), to treat it the same as an unreferenced opinion. Given all the possible narratives you could construct with that data, why have you chosen this one?

People who play with big datasets (and increasingly, people who don’t) like to imagine the emergence of unassailable truth within them. A misunderstanding of the scientific method means that the idea of data as backing up a theory until either more data or a better theory comes along and changes everything has been lost.

So it would be unfair to dismiss something like the Gartner Technology Hype Cycle as being wrong because of an absence of hard data. It is wrong for far more interesting reasons than that.

(1) it presents the graph as an external, “natural”, process – seperate from human intervention. The cycle (and accompanying guidance) is sold as an investment aid. You “understand” the hype cycle, you don’t “use” it. It’s a map of the future. A future which cannot be changed.

(2) It reinforces our greatest secular myth – that “it will all turn out right in the end”. Technologies, no matter their idiocy, will eventually sail up onto the plateau of productivity. The difficulties – why, that’s just the trough of disillusionment. Soon the world will somehow see the light (without intervention, mind you) and the slope of enlightenment will be scaled. Our own experience tells us this is not true, but so desperate are we for it to be true we believe it anyway.

(3) It’s NOT A BLOODY CYCLE. there’s no iteration. there’s no improvements to old technology. Everything is a technology trigger – not an adaption based on findings out there in the real world.

So the hype cycle is just a model of an idealised closed system. It neatly illustrates the danger of too much data – so many technologies have been hyped, trashed, re-evaluated and used that we assume that they all must do.

Now I’m loath to do this, because I know the graphic will be used out of context and people will ask about the datapoints and complain even though I will tell you how it was prepared, but I present the FOTA EdubBeardStroke Parabola 2013:

FOTA EduBeardStroke Hype Cycle[Methodology: This diagram was prepared by taking one person who thinks too much about learning technology, leaving them on a train for a stupid amount of time and then marinating in beer and nachos]

So, in terms of a prediction of what might happen this year it probably works as well as anything else I might do – it’s got most of the right things in most of the right places, it’s arguable enough to get clicks and comments and it slags off Clay Shirkey. Typical cynical blogging really.

If you want something more real – technology (and technology aided learning processes) only work when fun. As soon as they get boring, codified, standardised they stop working. They become a part of the “grind” of education that they initially promised to free us from. They stop being interesting – they stop being chosen and start being imposed.

Most technology is awful, it doesn’t work and it causes us endless pain trying to make it work. People will get renumerative careers in helping us to get within touching distance of the initial promise. Eventually they will write books and articles, run conferences and workshops, and the problem will be filed as completed.

It won’t be. We will never, never solve education with technology. It won’t work. We will solve education with education, and we will solve education with a way of educating that is closer to collaborative play than anything we currently do. Technology might help us start to understand education a bit better. That’s it.

(trouble is, I suspect we’ll need to solve capitalism before we get there… and I suspect that technology is only going to be a distraction there as well)

22 thoughts on “The FOTA EduBeardStroke Parabola 2013

  1. Funny thing is, I expect many reading this will see it solely as an indictment of the hype cycle and gloss over this part:

    “Most technology is awful, it doesn’t work and it causes us endless pain trying to make it work. People will get renumerative careers in helping us to get within touching distance of the initial promise. Eventually they will write books and articles, run conferences and workshops, and the problem will be filed as completed.”

    As Pogo famously said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” There’s not only one way to arrest this cycle – people honestly owning up to their complicity in it (instead of diffusing responsibility to all the other causes) and becoming responsible for their choices (heck, even just realizing they are choices) would be a good place to start too. But that sounds hard. Sounds? IS hard. Easier instead to sleepwalk helplessly along, secretly praying that cancer gets you before you have to stare into the eyes of your grandchildren who are wondering where they’ll find clean water. Following the apocalypse, indeed. </rant>

    1. Barnstorming comment Scott, thank you. We can get caught up in all this edu-nonsense so much that we miss the wider issues around the way we see technology as the solution to all of the problems humankind faces. Eventually *we* have to start changing the way we act. And there most certainly isn’t an app for that.

    1. I know… it’s almost as if I am expecting you to make your own assessment rather than rely on the pronouncements about the future by so-called “experts” :-)

  2. First of all, genius and thanks!

    2nd, this brings back memories of an economics class from days gone by. One thing I do remember from that class is an emphasis of what Scott points out, which is OUR complicity in perpetuating the cycle. In the investment context, those range from “pundits, analysts, academics, etc.” and in the ed system “administrators, consultants, technologists, instructors, etc.”.

    Hopefully with FOTA edubeardstroke parabola can help us place ourselves in whatever stage of the hype we’re in and pull us back before we truly hold ourselves back.

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