Ossification and Interoperability
In a recent discussion about the state of Education Technology, the number of ideas coming down the pike, and the realities facing genuine learning innovation- the word “ossification” was used. Not to get too High School debate team here, but Webster’s Dictionary defines “ossification” as:
1a: the natural process of bone formation
1b: the hardening (as of muscular tissue) into a bony substance
2: a mass or particle of ossified tissue
3: a tendency toward or state of being molded into a rigid, conventional, sterile, or unimaginative condition
My imagination brought to life giant lumbering, prehistoric or Lovecraftian behemoths fossilized on a windswept plain. Hulking chitinous carcasses hallowed out and desiccated by eons but still standing as stony misrepresentations of unconquerable stability and strength.
This is the landscape of education technology.
Much like the American Education system, there are no — and have never been — fundamental revolutions to wipe clean the slate. We are in dire need of a biblical deluge that reduces the gargantuan stone gatekeepers to so much dust. America has been stockpiling duct tape and baling wire rather than actual solutions and cobbling together paper mache facades of progress on a system that survives on its own momentum. Education technology has kept apace and offers, despite claims, no real escape from the lurching march through the ruins.
In an era of unprecedented digital literacy and utilization of technology as second nature — education technology does not embrace the potential of change as an agent to make significant differences. Education technology — like most other businesses — is dominated by proprietary fortresses. These fortresses are modeled on the bones of the Jurassic corpses of unfulfilled potential. Progress is relegated to the academic and entrepreneurial realms until it is osmotically absorbed by one company — a new toy that no one can play with unless a knee is bent to the feudal estate.
Education technology is a world of castles when the world is ready for a new dynamic, intuitive, and genuinely progressive architecture.
One needs to look no further than any local elementary school where teachers and students juggle numerous suites of applications and tools to accomplish the basic tasks of an everyday classroom. Throw in the physical limitations of a crumbling educational infrastructure, a lack of genuine support (tech help, design help — take your pick), and the actual demands of content delivery — technology in actual classrooms has become a slapstick pantomime act that creates more roadblocks than on-ramps. And yet — as teachers do, they survive. They make it work.
This is ossification. This is the hardened stalemate between businesses who control the Learning Management Systems, the standardized tests, the decaying textbook & curricular gatekeepers, and Ed Tech companies looking for profit rather than useful solutions. Change is an illusion.
However — like in a galaxy far, far away, there is always hope. There are so many calls for the education world to harness the quarantine required embrace of digital tools, and there are just as many ideas that can be applied.
The key to this unprecedented window of opportunity is interoperability. Interoperability is the opposite and solution to ossification.
Pulling out Webster once again, interoperability is defined as:
The ability of a system (such as a weapons system) to work with or use the parts or equipment of another system.
Ignoring the reference to advanced weapon systems as the chosen obvious description for the term, interoperability means ‘play nice with each other.” In order for educational technology to truly be successful, it needs to be useful. Like Asimov’s basic Laws of Robotics, the governing ideas behind educational technology are should be distilled, basic, and essential:
1. Make it useful and authentic to actual classrooms
2. Provide support and training
3. Make it work with the library of options available so the classroom and student experience is unique (see rule 1).
Interoperability and ossification came from the mouth of Michael Feldstein, of eLiterate.us. His work with various coursework design and the initiatives of Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative (OLI) and Arizona State University’s Center for Education Through eXploration (ETX) is an example of how genuine, useful education technology can operate in the immediate future.
Of course, in a world of business, the reality is strewn with impediments to this idealized vision. Feldstein states:
“institutions are rightfully protective of their respective brands and how their involvement is characterized in various projects. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Each participant has to manage a whole host of intra-institutional concerns that affect when and how they talk about such collaborations publicly.”
These are not cyclopean beasts that cannot be overcome — in fact that is the very mission that I charge education technology to embrace.
Now is not the time to build structures on crumbling foundations, but rather to expose new concepts that embrace change and genuinely allow for innovation. At Maslo.ai, our Education initiatives seek to combine social. and personalized learning, to grow a new generation of learners who know how to tackle big questions. By using Computational Thinking and Socratic Learning alongside our socio-emotional AI Companion, Maslo is building tools students need to develop, real-world 21st Century skills. Our interface focuses on student use and teacher applicability. Our ideas about interaction deviate from didactic established norms and we are actively engaging the concept of interoperability because it just makes sense — not from a business point of view, but from a genuine educational perspective.