Rukuku At Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools Show And Tell

On December 4, I had the honor of showing Rukuku’s toolset at Kevin Kelly‘s first ever Cool Tools show and tell.
bl3I like to think of Rukuku as a tool for customizing one’s education, and that makes it a Cool Tool as defined by Kevin Kelly in his latest book Cool Tools: A Catalog Of Possibilities “A cool tool is … Anything useful that increases learning, empowers individuals, does work that matters, is either the best, or the cheapest, or the only thing that works.”


And check out the very cool Styrobot, which Kevin Kelly made together with his son.


If you have an hour and a half to kill, here’ s the recording of the Google Hangout broadcast:


In the previous installment, I discussed a selection of hurdles faced by the education world in the viability, effectiveness and adoption of new technologies. Here at Rukuku, though, we’re optimists. To us, that doesn’t mean crossing our fingers and hoping everything turns out okay. Instead, we recognize that for every problem, there exists an array of intelligent, creative, and occasionally, downright awesome solutions. As it pertains to tech and learning, a few examples follow. Some are uncontroversial, others are mutually exclusive, and many are subject to lively, opinionated discussion based on one’s political or social viewpoint.

Policy solutions. In our political discourse, the primary rhetorical tools have recently become beating each other over the head with vapid talking points and just generally yelling at everything. That is quite unfortunate, because there is a serious, level-headed discussion to be had on the subject of technology and our (failing) education system. A sober discussion on the topic might go something like this. Those favoring robust federal involvement in our schools and universities may say that more funding is needed, technology should be introduced into resistant systems with incentives and pressure, the system should be made more efficient and equitable (perhaps through subsidies for disadvantaged students and locales), and accountability should be increased. Deficit hawks and decentralists might retort that the right solutions are to give localities and institutions more leeway, stop constraining them with one-size-fits-all federal standards, and diminish what they believe to be the entrenched, change-resistant behemoth of an educational bureaucracy that we have created over the last couple of decades.

Natural market processes and innovation. Whatever your views on policy happen to be, anyone who has taken an introductory Economics class probably knows that peaceful, lawful competition among innovative producers results in ever-improving products and services at ever-lower prices. If you are a child of the era when the personal computer was an exorbitantly expensive, fantastically slow, nauseatingly beige, boxy monstrosity, you know this very well. The computers of today are enormously better, faster, and more functional than their counterparts of ten or 15 years ago. Despite that, the average price of personal computer equipment fell an astounding ninety percent between 1998 and 2009. The introduction of the tech revolution into education will be no different. In the last post, we placed special emphasis on socioeconomic factors causing disparities in the quality of learning. To be sure, this problem exists, and is serious. But in the face of the unrelenting innovation machine, it’s also temporary. Technologies are very rapidly becoming more accessible and more equitable for people of all backgrounds. If the demand exists (and it sure does), the innovators will always respond. To end with a small but shameless plug: Rukuku strives to be among those innovators.

There are so many reasons to look forward to solving the educational problems of the modern age.

Who’s aboard?

Source for stats.

Technological problems in education

While the rapid introduction of new technology into the world of education brings many obvious benefits, it’s worth noting that it creates a host of new problems. An overview of some of the most discussed issues follows.

Cost and socioeconomic disparity. As alluded to in the previous post, the cost of adopting new technologies can be prohibitively high, especially for economically disadvantaged students and locales. The ubiquitous iPad, for example, will set you back at least $500. The fear, then, is that technology could widen the socioeconomic education gap because the quality of education for students of affluent backgrounds, or those that attend cash-rich schools and universities, will skyrocket ahead, while that of their poorer counterparts languishes in mediocrity.

Resistance to the adoption of tech by educators. This problem stems from a very simple set of circumstances. Much of the faculty, both at schools and at universities, is not technologically savvy. The primary reason for this is pretty obvious: the only kind of Blackboard your 60-year old history professor knew when he was growing up was the kind that gave him chalk allergies and occasionally made dreadful screeching noises. Without ever having seen the benefits of new advances convincingly demonstrated, many educators either ignore or actively resist introducing technology into the classroom.

Red tape and institutional resistance. Resistance from bureaucracy is nothing new. Smaller and more autonomous institutions have had an easier time transitioning to new methods of learning; unfortunately, bringing change to a big public education system is like rolling a giant boulder up a hill. It shows: as late as 2010, over a third of US schools still did not have internet access.

Technology as a distraction. Many educators and schools are concerned that introducing iPads, computers, and internet access into the classroom will facilitate students’ knowledge of Farmville rather than science and math. It’s hard to argue with this one; anyone who has sat in the back of a college lecture hall knows that this is a valid concern. By the way, if this is an issue for you, check out our procrastination post.

Lack of research on the effectiveness of particular technologies. Because much of the technology we use in education is so new, there is no conclusive, thorough, peer-reviewed research on its effectiveness.

These concerns are legitimate and serious, and rightly invite robust discussion among stakeholders in education. However, here at Rukuku, we know a couple of things for sure. The problems are not insurmountable, and solving them will only reinforce a very exciting expectation: that technological advancement holds the promise for vast improvements in teaching and learning.

In the next installment, I’ll be discussing the various solutions to the problems outlined here, as well as the very exciting prospects for education in the near future.

[sources for this article: 1, 2, 3]

*Edit 02.03.12: fixed faulty link.