Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Thursday, November 3, 2016

why you should read Audrey Watters

For anyone who wants to understand the complex and ever-shifting relations between technology and education, especially higher education, in America, the one truly indispensable figure is Audrey Watters, who writes at Hack Education. Her most recent post exemplifies why her work is so necessary — and why far, far more people should pay attention to it.

Here’s what makes Watters unique: She writes about technocrats who hope and promise to transform education, which of course a great many people do, but she writers about these matters with the eye of a folklorist — which is her academic training. She writes,

I’m not terribly concerned about the accuracy of the predictions about the future of education technology that the Horizon Report has made over the last decade. But I do wonder how these stories influence decision-making across campuses.

What might these predictions – this history of the future – tell us about the wishful thinking surrounding education technology and about the direction that the people the New Media Consortium views as “experts” want the future to take. What can we learn about the future by looking at the history of our imagining about education’s future? What role does powerful ed-tech storytelling (also known as marketing) play in shaping that future? Because remember: to predict the future is to control it – to attempt to control the story, to attempt to control what comes to pass.

See, the technological-prophecy complex is a kind of culture, and like all cultures it tells stories. It accumulates lore. Watters is brilliant at noticing what that lore says and teaches — and, perhaps even more important, what it doesn't say, what it declines to look at, what it strategically forgets.

The people using technology to “hack education” are always trying to distract us from the presence of the little man behind the curtain. Audrey Watters is stubbornly insistent on pulling back that curtain. You should read her stuff, starting with this new post.

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