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EDDL 5101 Blog Post Week 1: The Forgotten and Hidden History of Ed-Tech ( On Purpose )

  1. Make an argument for or against one of the main propositions supported by either Bates or Watters. Try to bring evidence to bear in your argument (don’t just make this an “I think” argument).

The Forgotten and Hidden History of Ed-Tech  : On Purpose

One of the main arguments proposed by Watters was in the second segment based off a keynote speech titled “Un-Fathomable: The Hidden History of Ed-Tech” which was originally delivered on June 18th, 2014 at CETIS in Bolton, UK.

What Watters is trying to argue is that there is a lack of knowledge and recognition of the true history of educational technology and computing technology in general. Because of this failure to acknowledge BOTH the successes and failures in educational technology over history, it presents an ideology “that the past is irrelevant, that the past is a monolithic block of brokenness…”

Watters continues in the keynote explaining that this ideology was very present during a conference titled “Building the Digital Institution: Technological Innovation in Universities and Colleges”. During this conference MIT was given credit for offering the first online course, and Watters argues throughout this keynote that MIT was, and is, one or the universities that “consistently gets credit for innovation”.

Another example presented by Watters in the keynote is with Khan Academy. Khan academy was founded by Salman Khan, who is also a graduate of MIT and founded the academy in 2006. Khan Academy released a video in 2012 on “The History of Education” in partnership Michael Noer (a writer with Forbes). In this eleven-minute video Watters argues that a large segment of the history of technology is “skipped over” as the video jumps from 1892 all the way to the invention of the internet (mid to late nineties). Watters argues that because they passed over so many important events over 100 years that:

“this isn’t simply a matter of forgetting history – the history of technology or the history of education or the history of ed-tech. It’s not simply a matter of ignoring it. It’s a rewriting of history, whether you see it as activist or accidental.”

Watters is trying to show us that powerful institutions such as MIT and successful start-ups like Khan Academy have the ability to shape the way we understand history. They are trying to tell us that other schools “haven’t been involved in the development or deployment of computers or the Internet, for example, is laughably incorrect. It’s an inaccurate, incomplete history of computing technology, not simply an inaccurate history of ed-tech.”


As a “regular teacher” who does not have a solid foundation on the history of education, technology, computing, and ed-tech, if I were to attend that conference or watch that video put on by Khan Academy I would probably take what they are saying at face value. Is it because MIT is a powerful institution? Is it because Khan Academy has become a powerful force in education? Probably. Watters ensures through the keynote speech that we do not forget some of the contributions to education, ed-tech, and computing that MIT and Khan Academy are choosing to leave out of “their” history:

“Take the ILLIAC I, the first von Neumann architecture computer owned by an American university, built in 1952 at the University of Illinois.”

“Or take PLATO, a computer-based education system, sometimes credited as the first piece of educational computing software, built on the University of Illinois’ ILLIAC machine in 1960.”

Other omissions in educational history by MIT and other Ivy League institutions include:

Fathom opened in 2000 and closed in 2003.

AllLearn opened in 2001 and closed in 2006.

UKeU opened in 2003 and closed in 2004.

Watters goes on to explain that MIT and Harvard invested in “edX” in 2012 which is an online learning platform that is based off the developments of Fathom, AllLearn, and UKeU: three important developments in the history of education and technology that powerful institutions are failing to mention or recognize. This is because they do not fit into their narrative – that they invented it first. Fathom, AllLearn, and UKeU were online courses from the dotcom era that WERE NOT developed by top IVY League schools like MIT, Columbia, Stanford, and Yale (yet their platforms Coursera, FutureLearn, edX are similar and came after). Although Fathom, AllLearn, and UKeU failed Watters is showing us that they still paved the way for these powerful institutions and deserve recognition in the history of education and technology.

As Watters has tried to argue in this keynote, “there’s a fascinating and important history of education technology that is largely forgotten, that is largely hidden. It’s overlooked for a number of reasons, some of which is wrapped up in the ideologies I’ve already alluded to.”

As mentioned above, I believe most educators would take what MIT and Khan Academy are selling at face-value, that they were the main contributors to some of the breakthroughs in education and technology in the internet era, and they fail to mention other successes and failures that come before them because they are not here today (and also because these successes and failures were from other institutions). What they fail to mention is that their successes (and the successes of other launches from Ivy League schools), would not have been possible without the efforts of other universities in the past. That is why Watters is correct in the assertion that these powerful institutions are pushing the ideology that the past is irrelevant (because they are only telling partial truths) when in truth the contributions of the past is what helped them succeed and needs to be recognized and acknowledged when talking about the history of education and technology.

EDDL5101_W1_Watters_2014.pdf (

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