Thursday, July 11, 2013

Speed Dating -- A Redhead, Mixed Messages, and a #BbWorld13 Call to Action sans Notes

It began with an invitation that was given to all of the #BbWorld13 Bloggers: Come for a reception that will include food, drinks, a digital sketch artist, and SPEED DATING.

wow. I mean, you have to understand, not only am I very happily married, but I am intensely introverted. I am the blogger that scared off other bloggers and made them feel bad about talking to me. I practically invented the hashtag #tweetfrom10ftaway.

Was I ready for this? Well, I did look pretty good in my Google Glass and I was wearing my lucky Dr. Who shirt. So, with a lot of hesitation, I entered the a live-action version of the blogosphere.

They plied us with food and drinks. The sketch artist was AMAZING (I'll share the pic soon, but I never got my digital copy). And then one of the organizers approached me and said that I would be paired off with @MedinaTech.

Catalyst Winner,
@medinatech
Wait a minute? That isn't how speed dating works!

I will give it to BlackBoard, they really did their homework. She was a 40-something, midwestern mother of three two. She was a redhead. Sure, she was a little into checking her phone, but who among us is not? I mean, there seemed to be no downside.

Then they told the two of us that we were speed dating together and that our first table had another two people already at the table! Well, I certainly knew where Blackboard sat on the political spectrum. Talk about innovative!

My introverted sensibilities were reeling. What had I gotten myself into?!? But, WTH, we were in Vegas after all....

Speed Dating Table #1: Social Learning
We were paired off with two experts in social learning. And then came that awkward moment where we had to break the ice. What to say?

  • "So, think this twitter thing will ever take off?" - stupid
  • "Are LOLcats the zen koan of the modern age?"  - i mean, i want to be generous, but how do you even hold a Big Mac with those paws?

Greg, casually dropping bombshells
Then I realized. I was a blogger. I was here for the hard-hitting questions!

"So, think Blackboard will ever make a play for MySpace?"

A silence fell over the table. In a hushed whisper, our social media guru looked at us and said "No. That is not going to happen"

Mind. Blown.

At our first table. On the first real question...

We had discovered a company that Blackboard would not buy!!

and then it was time to move on...

Speed Dating Table #2: Mobile and Mosaic
Oh this guy was smooth.

He made us feel comfortable by lulling us into a conversation about whether he was table #1 or #2 or #3. He used latin words like de jure and de facto. I knew from my time on the interwebs that girls go for Latin men. Would @MedinaTech be swayed?

He was there to sell. He had a product called Mosaic. It's a big deal here at #bbworld13. It is social and mobile and gives news and...stuff. I would love to tell you more but just as the conversation was getting interesting...

It was time to move on (look, I told you in the title I didn't have my notes).

Speed Dating Table #3: Analytics
(NOOOOOOOOOOooooooo! - emphasis added by jd)

He tried to cover it up with words like data analysis and aggregation. He talked a good game, but finally I sussed it out: "Wait, you're the analytics guy!"

Now long-time readers of this blog (or, you know, from yesterday) know my feelings about analytics. I switched into debate mode. I had one of the enemies of education in my sights and I was ready for it!

He began talking about the systems he worked on that allowed institutions to pull information from a variety of sources and generate reports based on student demographics, course content, common core state standards, up-time, usage logs...you name it.

Oh. I had him.

"Soooo, you do a great job pulling information, but is education really at the point that we can do much with this information? I mean, we aren't Google or Amazon. Insurance Actuarial number-geeks had years worth of data before they were willing to say anything other than smoking was bad for you."

Ka-Boom

Paraphrased Response:
No. You are absolutely right. We don't even know what some of the matrices and permutations are yet. This is a very early field and we are just beginning to tap into the power of numbers. It takes a lot of thought and lots and lots of data for the experts to begin to tap into the long range potential.

Um...yeah.

"So, does Blackboard provide this analysis?"

"No. We give the tools to generate the reports. Figuring out what to do with the data is the responsibility of the individual institution. It's complicated but there is some really great information you can get even at this early stage."

...and it was time to move.

Speed Dating Table #4: MOOCs
If you haven't heard, "MOOC" (which is Massive Open Online Classroom) is the "Flipped Classroom" of 2013. Every company is an expert. It will be a game-changer. It will solve all the problems of education without addressing a single social ill (that actually has some of that analytic validity).

Internet History, Technology
and Security Badge
I was still off my game from the analytics guy basically agreeing with my whole problem with the movement in Big Data.

Then this guy (he is the pretty awesome @drchuck) gave me a sticker. Oh, man, he is good. I am a sucker for an external motivator. I am totally taking his course! -- this could be the one...my first MOOC I actually complete!

That led into a conversation about the online class movement. Dr. Chuck, one of the original players in the field, was concerned with the proliferation of "experts" both corporate and consulting that didn't really understand how students learn or how technology can and cannot be leveraged to address these needs.

We talked about the potential of MOOCs beyond 5th year differential calculus. Could it be used for remedial education? Is there a chance to access the motivational barriers that derail so many people. Do these motivational solutions arise from the MASSIVE or the ONLINE?

Exciting stuff...but it was time to go *sigh* -- I am not cut out for speed dating.

Speed Dating Bonus: Are you a Man or a Puppet?
and then I saw him.
From across the room.
I couldn't believe he was here.
I mean, there was a rumor that he had applied for a press badge and been soundly rejected (and by that, I mean no one replied to his tweet).

But here he was. And he came to see me!

A man's puppet. An #edtech legend. Interviewer extraordinaire:

Wokka Patue and his handler Sam
Maybe I am pretty good at this speed dating thing after all!

On Reflection: Calling Blackboard to a Become Digital Citizen and Educational Advocate
What I like about Blackboard, despite their categorization as an educational business and all the profit motive angst that goes along with it is this:

At its core are people who are excited about the potential for the future of education and the role of technology within it. They have people who know what it means to be on the cutting edge and the uncertainty, exploration, occasional failures, and potential payoff that comes with it. 

These are people who site at the core of some of the major movements in educational technology not just for this year or next year but for 10 years from now.

So, my question for Blackboard is "where are you in the conversation?"

When the Gates Foundation's paid politicians talk about the data gleaned from a glorified digital bubble test as if it is the analytic cornucopia that bypasses years of teaching experience, do you tell them publicly "We are not there yet!"

When every vendor is fighting for a slice of the MOOC pie and struggling school districts are requiring online courses for every students, do you tell them that we really don't have the full picture on human motivation in the online world yet and that the students with the most potential to benefit might also not be ready for the technology being offered?

When Common Core stands as the good guy of education while the PARCC test stands in the wings waiting to give us another half-generation of test-obsessed, noise-ridden data, that has no actionable use in the classroom, do you shout from the roof tops: The Common Core demands that you assess students' ability to think critically, collaborate, and use the internet. PARCC does none of this, but our system can do it!

When the CEO, Jay Bhatt, calls for the company that leads the way in educational technology to become a better digital citizen, he has to come to the table with more than an auto-routing text service.

The teachers and the students of the nation need an advocate who can combat the half-truths and testing/publishing monoliths and deep-pocketed foundations. You have the knowledge and expertise and clout to be that advocate.

There is your gauntlet.
Please, pick it up.