Technology Entrepreneurs Cannot Be Allowed to Drive Education

A child looks through a VR headset. The image is tinted blue.
Photo by Giu Vicente on Unsplash

I feel like the title here is self-evident, and yet we keep seeming to circle back to having to learn it over again. Today’s absurdist example is the guy who invented the Oculus (the VR headset thing) who seems to think people would want a VR headset that literally, actually kills you if you die in the game. If you’re like, “Why would anyone ever want this?” — good instincts. Surely no one would. And indeed, it’s possibly related to the in-world timeline of an animé series about the same concept. But let’s be clear on one thing: the guy who invented the Oculus has thought through how a VR helmet could murder you and has a prototype hanging on his wall. Tech Bros, man. These people are sociopaths.

It makes me think about a lot of EdTech, honestly — these feature rollouts for more and more and more and more surveillance that no one actually asked for. Great, I get to know what time my learner usually opens their word processor. I never asked for this, and no one is teaching me how to use this data. Sure, it’s not a VR helmet that kills you, but it opens the door to potential bias. And again, much like the opportunity (?) to die inside a game, it’s not something anyone actually asked for.

Meta just got legs and this guy wants to take your head off.

Virtual Reality has been the “next big thing” in Educational Technologies for as long as I’ve been in the discipline and longer, and most of it is really bad. Like, the number of times I have seen the most straight-ahead lecture replicated, but I don’t know, we’re in space now, and we’re all supposed to pretend its innovative. If I could VR my way into a Magic-School-Bus-style fieldtrip, you could probably talk me into it. But investing in a VR headset so some guy can lecture at me, but from a cloud? Nah.

It feels like the educational equivalent of making fetch happen.

I actually kind of want to channel my inner Audrey Watters here to reflect on how positively Skinnerian this whole thing sounds. Someone somewhere is building a VR headset that shocks a kid if they close their eyes for too long. You know I’m right.

Anyway, while Joe Oculus there was explaining why I should pay him money to very literally explode my brain for me, I got to thinking about how much power we give technology entrepreneurs in education when they are walking around saying ideas like this with their whole chests. Like. I don’t understand why we don’t look at stories like this and laugh these folks out of the room when they offer us engagement clickers that also take attendance (I didn’t ask) or a productivity score for every student (I didn’t ask) or an AI-graded essay tool (why am I asking students to write an essay I don’t want to read, exactly?). Over and over again, the pitches show that there are never any educators in the room.

Get these doofuses out of the room where we’re trying to do the teaching and learning.

No one wants to die in real life if they die in the game. Literally no one asked for this.

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