EdTech Ideas Opinion

The Tech Dilemma: Asking questions before solving problems in education

At the moment I am situated in the midst of a number of debates and discussion around technology and education. There are those around mobile and the desire to embrace this new suite of technologies. Those around innovative ideas and practices of technology and incorporating them into the mainstream. Technical discussions over formats, development processes, standards, ownership, data governance and privacy. Other still around strategy, vision and planning a roadmap for these technologies. It’s all extremely important work, key issues and problems that have to be resolved.

The dilemma I am starting to face is – to what end?

This kind of work consumes hundreds of hours a week at our institution on all levels of the business, from the academic in the classroom, through divisional and faculty structures right up to the Vice Chancellor. It costs thousands of dollar and to what end?

The clarity of vision required to justify that kind of spend just isn’t there and I am really struggling with the signal to noise ratio at the moment. I feel that good ideas and topics of vital importance, the stuff we really need to be talking about is being lost in the constant babble.

As a designer a client will come to you with a job, and it usually has a price tag and a timeline associated with it. However the job itself often lacks the fundamental details required to get it done. An example might be a logo for a business that they need in a months time and they are willing to pay $1000. The job sounds quite reasonable but you can see there is no detail or information to work on to get it done. You can’t hand that back to your team and expect that it will happen, the client will accept it and be forthcoming with their payment. No, what you need to develop is a brief where you ask questions of the client and glean as much information from them about their company, what they do, their style, language, market, position, values, principles and aesthetic. Without a brief its just a shot in the dark, guesses that are often wildly inaccurate, impertinent, inconsequential and won’t get you paid! The brief is the crucial element in design and a good brief will produce good outcomes that are crafted and purpose-built for the client. The key to a brief is asking the right questions to elicit the right information to achieve the right outcomes.

So whats the “brief” for education at the moment? Did anyone even ask? As we travel down this road has anyone sat down and really asked the right questions because from where I’m sitting the answer is No.

To me MOOCs are a good example of a solution without a brief. An unproven theoretical model that equates free with open, applies an outdated, outmoded and ineffectual instructionalist pedagogy, relies on venture capital, frames education as a disaster scenario and requires a return on investment to private investors. The fact is they have failed to do even precursory research into educational theory or practice in say the last 150 years. Are there good ideas in there? Yes of course, but it is design without a brief, a shot in the dark, technically sound but education without any understanding of current context or practice.

We need to stop. Slow down and take a deep breath.

Let’s instead put our efforts into formulating a brief. Let’s ask the questions we need to ask, find the answers we need to find and work out what we want to get out of this. Let’s stop engaging with technology blindly and instead engage it with purpose and vision. Let’s not play pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey in the edtech space and instead work craft solutions to suit our needs rather than shoehorning them into the next big thing. Let’s design for the outcomes we want, that our students need not what the purveyors of solutions present. Let’s reassert control over the process and lead by example. If silicon valley wants to get involved let’s be good clients and write them a brief, give them the information they need to make the right decisions, formulate the best solutions to what we actually want and are willing to pay for.


By Tim Klapdor

Passionate about good design, motivated by the power of media and enchanted by the opportunities of technology.

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