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Framing Indie EdTech

Note: This post is 1 of 3 in a recap of the Indie EdTech Data Summit: The Personal API held at Davidson College. Here is Part 2 and Part 3.

I’m back in Oklahoma after a jam packed weekend at Davidson College for the Indie EdTech Data Summit. The event came together after a joint presentation that Jim Groom and I gave at Stanford’s dLRN Conference on Indie EdTech and a conversation over coffee that Jim and I got to have with both Kristen Eshleman and student Andrew Rikard, both of whom are at Davidson College. Our conversation evolved into how we are starting to think more about how we can add technologies, like the personal API, to students arsenal to further empower them as the rightful owner of their data. Kristen had the great idea to bring together a larger group to discuss personal APIs and Indie EdTech. We brought together 26 people from a handful of institutions (BYU, Oklahoma, Davidson, Georgetown, Virginia Commonweath, and Charles Sturt University) several of which supported the attendance of students. We were also joined by Jim, Tim OwensAlan Levine, Audrey Watters, Kin LaneBen Werdmüllerand Erin Richey.

Alan has already done a great job giving a detailed account of the happenings of the event and I highly recommend folks read that as a primer to some of my thoughts. As I wrote this, I decided to break it up into three posts to make it slightly more digest-able. So consider this a small recap series. It’s hard for me to even attempt to put words to a lot of the thoughts currently swirling in my head, but I have vowed to myself to take a shot in my continually evolving reflection.

The recap will be loosely structured around the three goals Kristen and I set for the gathering:

  1. Continue to define Indie EdTech
  2. Participation in a Personal API Design Sprint to include students from our universities
  3. Build a conversation around the future as well as a funding mechanism for Indie EdTech.

Framing Indie EdTech

Much of the current thinking for Indie has revolved around Audrey Watters and Kin Lane’s who were deeply influencial in concepts like “reclaim your domain” and Reclaim Hosting via a 2013 MIT Conference nicknamed “Reclaim Open” (longer saga here) as well as Jim and my poor attempt to always relate life back to music (#4life). So we first convinced Audrey to come up with her own music analogies. ::grin:: Since Jim brought punk to the table and I took aims at the 2000 Napster narrative, Audrey filled in the gaps with 80s hair metal and Justin Bieber (if someone is willing to commit to talking through hip hop and grunge we should be able to piece together a fully loose historical narrative!).

Where Jim and I focused on how Indie as a somewhat step to freedom in the life cycle of music, Audrey took a critical approach to where technology has sought to perfect commercial music:

Researchers boast they’ve developed an algorithm to predict the probability of whether or not a song would be a top 10 hit – this algorithm did accurately predict the probability of the songs that eventually made the top 10 Billboard Hot Dance/Electronic Songs of 2015. This particular algorithm takes into account things like song length, tempo, key, and “danceability” – whatever the hell that means.

Audrey does an excellent job of tying these promises of predictions to the predictive modeling tools education technology is selling us now.

Pre-packaged sound. Pre-packaged courses. Pre-packaged students.

But there’s good news. There’s an alternative.

Indie means we don’t need millions of dollars, but it does mean we need community. We need a space to be unpredictable, for knowledge to be emergent not algorithmically fed to us. We need intellectual curiosity and serendipity – we need it from scholars and from students.

We moved into a working session with Kin Lane. My expectations here were that we were going to be working with APIs. Kin, has Kin nearly always does, one-upped my expectation by following up with a web resource all about APIs including an incredibly thorough look at APIs from Canvas, Slack, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Google, and more.

I love how Kin packaged and planned this. Rather than saying we are going to use this and that API, he basically said, (not a real quote) “You are your own person with a complex set of technology needs, desires, and use cases. Here’s a library that I’ve validated that they may be relevant to your day-to-day life.”

Yep, that’s indie. Once again, Audrey and Kin are framing Indie EdTech. One part ideological and one part practical. Let’s get started.

Cover photo: By Gemma Garner available via the CC0 license on Unsplash.

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