Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

The Trouble with Time-Limited Discussion of eLearning

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i went to an event today where there was a panel discussion about the potential of eLearning for Egypt. The panelists gave me optimism but it was also frustrating. I am not writing this post with snarky intentions… I totally understand that given 10 minutes to say all you know about eLearning is nowhere near enough to dig deep and into the nuances. But still. Discussions such as these can bring out really problematic issues.

But let me start with the positives (also known as claims I agree with philosophically), and interleave my critiques):

  1. Several on the panel highlighted that abundance of info in the internet means we should not focus eLearning efforts on content. Yay. However, a couple of others on the panel did initiatives that were very content-centric. Moreover, none of the panelists highlighted e ptoential imperialism of content that is mostly Anglophonic and Western.
  2. Several on the panel highlighted the need for teachers to become facilitators and that learners of all ages could be independent learners, particularly since younger generations learned technology intuitively. However, no one mentioned the need to develop digital skills and critical literacies – to find the right material and to evaluate its credibility
  3. Someone mentioned gaming as a way kids learned to socialoze virtually. No one mentioned social media
  4. Even though some panelists talked about eLearning and blended learning as if it were one monolithic thing, others were critical of this generalization and called for insertion of context (this was not done with enough depth, but time was limited)

Now the bigger criticisms (and these were of the audience as well as the panelists):

  1. Equating MOOCs with online learning. As if there wer no other model of online learning before
  2. Assuming eLearning is not social
  3. Generally utopian view of eLearning – if only we could do it well, it would solve many of our educational problems.
  4. Assuming access = outcomes. That giving students tablets and improving internet infrastructure are key. The details of how this access would improve learning is not discussed. No mention of inequalities. Beyond poverty, gender is a huge issue in Egypt in terms of access to tech.

Again, it’s entirely possible this whole conversation just needed a full day instead of 90 minutes. Brevity in panels lends itself to sweeping statements and unsubstantiated claims. I hope to connect with many of those who were on the panel to discuss further.

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