At her recent keynote at OEB Global, Laura Czerniewicz (2019) depicted the marketisation of higher education and demonstrated how surveillance capitalism (Zuboff, 2019) continues to intrude on the educational sector. In her talk, she highlights the accompanying dangers of these trends toward big tech and surveillance capitalism. Given more urgency with Instructure’s recent sale for $2 billion to a private equity group, she makes the case that this “new normal” is not inevitable in higher education. Laura calls for us to resist, research, regulate and reimagine how we use technology.
As an example she refers to Laura Kalbag and Aral Balkan’s “Small Technology” framework. Their focus is on simple, private, and personal tools built by people for people. This is part of a larger movement towards simple tools built outside the commercial enterprise which has sprung up in a variety of places under a variety of names. Knight Lab’s projects are a variety of tools oriented towards empowering people to make better content online. Individuals are creating tools that are being used by many individuals and universities. Alan Levine has produced a large number of WordPress-based SPLOTs (simplest possible online learning tool) over the last 5 years. Martin Hawksey’s TAGs Aggregator has put data privacy and analysis in the hands of thousands.
With or without a particular name these tiny, targeted tools are being built to solve problems, build better content, and protect student privacy. As such, they implement a pedagogy of care (Bali, 2015), focusing on the needs of the teacher and students using the technology. Instead of fitting learning activities, assessments and other resources into the learning management system or virtual learning environment, educators can help choose or build a tiny tool for a very specific purpose. These tools are often hosted on the university’s IT infrastructure ensuring privacy and GDPR compliance.
In the United States, one advocate for the use of tiny targeted tools is Virginia Commonwealth University. In the European context, Karlstad University, Sweden, has taken on the approach as part of their externally financed open online course development projects.
At both institutes, small tools have been used for a wide range of purposes across a wide range of disciplines. They have been used to help identify plants using a dichotomous key and to replace Google+ for building community conversations in a multi-institutional online course. Small Technology authoring patterns offer the ability to create structure and guidance while students are in the process of creating content. This guidance in media res leads to an engaged acquisition of knowledge and the potential for its immediate application. The options for tiny tools are endless.
This presentation will expand on this philosophy, point to powerful examples, promote frameworks for building, and advocate for increased collaboration on these tools from educators. Now is the time to make sure these concepts, tools, and their specific applications are being shared in our community. We have built a website at https://splot.tools/ to document and share the work being done. Examples and tools can be submitted by anyone.
Bali, M. (2015). Pedagogy of Care — Gone Massive. [online] hybridpedagogy.org Available at: https://hybridpedagogy.org/pedagogy-of-care-gone-massive/ [Accessed 30 Jan. 2020]
Czerniewicz, L. (2019). Czerniewicz oeb keynote 28 nov 2019. [online] Slideshare.net. Available at: https://www.slideshare.net/laura_Cz/czerniewicz-oeb-keynote-28-nov-2019 [Accessed 8 Dec. 2019].
Kalbag, L. and Balkan, A. (2019). Small Technology Foundation – Home. [online] Small-tech.org. Available at: https://small-tech.org/ [Accessed 8 Dec. 2019].
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