Equity & Diversity

Keeping Jargon Out of Ed-Tech Talk a Titanic Task

By Ian Quillen — March 08, 2012 2 min read
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In one breath, college student and iSchool Initiative founder Travis Allen spoke of how technology integration in schools still isn’t—in most cases—meeting the modern reality of students’ lives.

In the next, he referred his audience to an analogy older—in most cases—than Grandma:

The sinking of The Titanic.

“We are headed straight for the information age,” said Allen, a student at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, during remarks at Wednesday’s closing plenary of the Consortium for School Networking’s annual conference. “But the problem is, there is an iceberg in our way.”

According to Allen, whose iSchool Initiative works worldwide to spread mobile learning, the iceberg is the obstacle to mobile-driven education reform. The part of the iceberg above water is fear and insecurity, and the part beneath it is bureaucratic inertia.

The metaphor is not without imperfections. For one, The Titanic left from England, a nation viewed as a leader in mobile learning, for the late-to-adapt United States. Further, it was the second reference to the 100-year-old disaster in two hours. (George Frazier, the director of information systems at the once-embattled Lower Merion School District in the Philadelphia suburbs, made the first.) And Allen’s image was hard to conjure on a delightful Washington March day when temperatures almost climbed into the 70s.

But examples the outside world can understand are always welcome at events like these, which can be notorious for jargon. And there were more accessible discussions at CoSN 2012 than perhaps there have been in past years.

In Frazier’s session about the lessons learned from his district’s 2010 laptop spying scandal, he used his own iceberg imagery to describe the challenges of launching a 1-to-1 laptop program.

“We went with the analogy of the iceberg because they’re very nice to look at on the surface, but they tend to sink things,” Frazier said.

In Tuesday’s session about how mobile device features effect composition, technology consultant Marie Bjerede said that, much like an automobile, the ability of a device to navigate software and the Web at a functional pace was more important than its make or model. (OK, maybe she didn’t actually say the automobile thing, but it makes sense, and is more timely than The Titanic.)

“I think we found user experience trumps the form factor,” said Bjerde, who has observed and documented a class of children’s experiences using assorted devices for writing. “If you can get a $300 netbook that is slow or a $300 Android device that is fast, you’re going to be better off with the fast-responding device.”

And John Seeley Brown, co-author of A New Culture of Learning, explained the concepts of 21st-Century Learning through a metaphor about diversifying a financial portfolio, instead of focusing on the at-times overused terms of “digital natives” and “digital immigrants.”

Of course, it’s not all big-picture theory at this year’s conference, the first in which CoSN administered its exam for its new Certified Education Technology Leader program. But Grandma would’ve understood more from this conference than from those in years past. That has to be a good thing.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.