The following passage was assigned to us to reflect upon:

How Evaluation of Technology Was Born

Twenty thousand of years ago, Thok was a renowned hunter of dangerous tigers, consistently bringing home meat for the tribe. As his reputation spread, more and more people from surrounding bands came to Thok’s cave for advice on how to hunt successfully, and safely. They would bring him gifts of food, clothing and such, to get him to sit still and answer their endless questions.

Soon Thok realized that it was safer to teach about hunting than it was to hunt, and he was making a better living as well. He stopped hunting, and took up teaching full time.

Years went by. Thok was becoming elderly — over 30 — and a bit infirm. Word of Thok’s wisdom had spread further and further. The crowds were huge. In fact, people at the fringes could no longer hear the great teacher. Thok’s livelihood was at risk, just when he was least able to leave teaching and return to the dangers of hunting.

Perhaps fear was the mother of invention. That very morning Thok had an inspiration. He saw a large banana leaf lying on the ground. Picking it up, he rolled it into a cone, and spoke into the small end of the cone, pointing the large end toward the crowd. It amplified his voice and everyone could hear! Banana leaves were a kind of magic, it was clear. Thus was educational technology born.

But the amazing events of that morning were not yet over. A young cave person, Val, was skeptical about this banana magic. So Val picked up a leaf that Thok had discarded, draped it on top of her head, and walked around that way for the rest of the day. By nightfall, Val had learned absolutely nothing new about hunting. She tossed the leaf aside, and told all her friends that the old man was wrong: Val’s research had demonstrated conclusively that technology had no role in education.

And that’s how the evaluation of educational uses of technology was born.

So how is this story related to EDTECH 505? Connect the story to our course.

Though not a scholar, I am quite skilled in the tradition of the parable, so I question, how deep should I go with this analysis.  The first point that deserves some attention does not necessarily relate to evaluation or this course, but in program design.  How is it that the crowds are getting bigger over time?  Obviously, the knowledge that he is sharing about hunting must not be very useful, if people keep coming back to hear more.  Ideally, once they learn the skills, they should be out applying those skills rather than coming back for another session of the same.  Even if he is presenting various levels of hunting strategies, he can’t address all of these levels in a group of heterogeneous homo-sapiens.    More design and purpose should be developed within the hunting strategies program, and it seems that no one is taking the time to evaluate this.

Now, focusing our attention on evaluation, obviously the banana leaf represents a tool that was used to increase voice projection so that people further back could hear Thok’s wisdom.  However, the perspective of the bystanders is an interesting one. What would their perspective provide for the evaluation process?.  For the people sitting behind him or to the side, they will benefit less from the use of his tool, while the people in the path of the trajectory of voice will benefit the most.  In this parable, the trajectory of voice represents technology trends, but the people that benefit more from it are those that position themselves in the trajectory.  Perhaps this was another missed opportunity for evaluation. 

Though Thok was sharing his knowledge about hunting, the tool that he chose to use added nothing to his ability as a hunter, therefore his audience would have no use for the tool either, at least not for accomplishing the tasks associated with hunting.  Val was only so fortunate that she did not try to kill a saber-tooth tiger with the banana leaf. Val also made the mistake of making a false judgement (or hypothesis) about the use of the tool, which she thought had the ability to transmit knowledge independently of Thok.  Since her premise was based in fallacy, the conclusion of her evaluation is also false. 

This last point relates to the course most by knowing whether you are evaluating a program that uses tools, or testing a hypothesis about the use of tools.  Val apparently did not know that she was testing a hypothesis.  What we can most learn from Val’s mistake is, while doing an evaluation, do not focus so much of our attention on the tool, but rather on the effect of the tool on the participants.