Frank Catalano’s 2015 Personal Statement: Harnessing the Power of...

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Frank Catalano’s 2015 Personal Statement: Harnessing the Power of Information

By Frank Catalano (Columnist)     Dec 22, 2014

Frank Catalano’s 2015 Personal Statement: Harnessing the Power of Information

This article is part of the collection: EdSurge 2015 Personal Statements.

Editor’s Note: ‘Tis the trendy season for trends, to reflect on 2014 and to make bold predictions about what next year may hold. This year, we asked thought leaders to share their outlooks on education, but with a twist. They have to frame their thoughts as a response to some of the finest college application essay prompts--yes, the very same ones that high school seniors are feverishly working on now!

Here’s what Frank Catalano, edtech analyst and consulting strategist, had to say.

Why are you here and not somewhere else?

Perhaps more importantly, why do I stay? Because, three careers in, I still believe in the power of information and its ideal outcome, education, for learners of all ages.

I almost quit the edtech industry in 2014. The frustrations I cited with hype and hysteria a year ago from the cheerleaders, paranoids and dogmatists haven’t ebbed. Education technology is going through a difficult time, if you believe (as I do) that there is no bright-shiny quick fix to the various problems, perceived and real, in our K-12 and higher education systems.

In the short term, technology's role in education will be as different as the students, teachers and schools it supports. But it will have an increasing role, one that began slowly with Oregon Trail four decades ago. It's a role that needs to be assumed and applied with intelligence.

In the long term, after a foundation layer of enabling technology is put into place, it will be the day-to-day interactions of learners and educators with an available edtech presence--one they take for granted--that will provide potential for education practice to be fully transformed.

And that is where good information plays a critical part in education. Not just “information" as curriculum for students or professional development for teachers or data for dashboards. But clear information that passes between the companies, organizations and parents involved in education.

That's where I sit. In the middle. I'm not a professional educator. Although I have no formal training in psychometrics or pedagogy, I can do something that many with those degrees cannot.

I can explain the crap out of it. To pretty much anyone. In a way that they will understand.

In today's superheated, polarized environment about education in which edtech is frequently used as a stalking horse for other issues, I think that's a responsibility too often lost in parroted talking points, distorted and selective “facts,” and appeals to fear and emotion. It is one of the few reasons I remain in edtech, because clear, concise information is still in too short a supply.

I learned that skill in my first career, when I was a full-time journalist for a dozen years. It was pounded into me that good information is key to maintenance of a democracy. One of my beats was health and science, distilling papers in scientific and medical journals and the utterances of scientists into plain English without dumbing them down.

My second career was marketing in the then-new personal computer industry. Good marketers had to inform and educate before they could entice. A smart company wanted a customer who knew what he or she was buying so they not only would come back, but would be knowledgeable enough to explain it to others.

When I shifted into my third career in education technology, information--and even many products--was bad. (I simply had to compare the user experience and functionality to consumer counterparts.) My job was to clearly explain and then market without overpromising, first working behind the scenes to improve the product.

Though 20 years have passed and I’ve since added the role of industry analyst (including writing for GeekWire, EdSurge and MindShift), I'd say the information part of that equation--in explaining what technology can do to support education in the short term, with the vision of what it might do in the long term--is needed more than ever. Companies should never overpromise or obfuscate, and should stay focused on what is unique, believable and true.

Whether one distributes it through marketing or journalism, solid information about education technology, including what it is or is not appropriate for, and what is required or prohibited for its proper implementation, is vital. Especially now that talk of technology in education discussions, like curly hair on a humid day, seems to fill all available space.

Because education is not "all about the kids." It is, like journalism done properly, all about our society.

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