May 15, 2015 mgoudz

Emerging Tech: The Case for More Test Kitchens

By Mike Goudzwaard
This piece was originally published on Instructional Design at Dartmouth on May 15, 2015.

Recently, I attended the Online Learning Consortium’s (OLC) Emerging Technologies for Online Learning International Symposium (ET4Online). As I arrived in Dallas, I wondered what sort of technologies are “emerging” for online, blended, and face-to-face learning. Would sessions all be held in some virtual reality holodeck? By many appearances, ET4Online was a typical edtech conference with sessions, keynote addresses and the ubiquitous vendor hall, all infused with regular doses of caffeine and sugar. I soon found that there was no holodeck session, however ET4Online distinguishes itself in three important ways:

1) Test Kitchens and Test Cooks:

In the middle of the vendor displays, there was a small presentation area and tables full of tech gadgets. There were virtual reality goggles (Occulus VR) to use with a smart phone, shape puzzles with visual and musical feedback as you progressed, a 3D hand-held scanner, and many tablets and devices.

Test Chefs

The test kitchen was a haven away from the sales pitches of vendors and the prepared speeches of presenters. There were recipe cards lying around on tables with simple descriptions, ingredient lists, and baking instructions to create reflective video assignments, engaging slide deck presentations and other interactive media (such as Sizzling Presentations with Haiku Deck). You might call the test kitchen a maker space, but whether you’re a maker, baker, or teacher, having a place to experiment, dive deep, question and create is important at a conference.  Master Test Chef, Robbie Melton,  brings an inquiry approach to tech cooking.  I’m not the expert on every gadget, but I’m interested to see what you can create with it.

2) Blended Communities of Practice:

As you might expect of a conference about online learning, there were some virtual attendees participating in the conference from around the world. One emergent property of the community was #ET4Buddy, pairing up people attending in Dallas with virtual attendees to share their questions and experiences over video chat.

ET4 Buddies @giuliaforsythe @Bali_Maha @rjhogue

Maha Bali (@Bali_Maha) presented on a Women in EdTech panel from Cairo, Egypt and was, possibly the most active curator of the conference on Twitter. As a result of rich experiences I could see ET4Online attendees having, I decided to attend OLC’s Blended Learning conference virtually and try becoming a “buddy” attending from my kitchen.

3) Messy Sessions and Dangerous Encounters (teachers vs. vendors):

I attended a session on “messy learning”, experiences that embrace emergence through experimentation and dialogue. I recently heard this described as agile teaching. I think all teaching is agile, otherwise it’s just information flow.


The Teacher Tank session, based on the TV show, Shark Tank, invited vendors to pitch their product to a panel of four educators and the audience who voted on their favorite pitches. There was some “mess” in that the problem(s) being solved were not exactly clear to the vendors or the audience. More on that later. 

ET4Online ended with an un-conference, which provided a venue to process, reflect, and integrate some of the experiences of the three days into future work and thinking. As a result, I’m now involved with a group re-thinking the innovation track for vendors and educators and how we might build a collaborative problem-based Solution Tank at OLC’s new combined online and blended conference, OLC Innovate 2016.

Here are my enduring and emerging questions from ET4Online:

How might our learning spaces and workspaces be more like Robbie’s Test Kitchen? Let’s wonder, play, and observe.

How do we span distance between the Dartmouth classroom, the soccer field, and the café in Vienna to build blended learning communities?

How do we plan for “messy learning”  that embraces emergent properties of the learning process?

– Mike Goudzwaard (@mgoudz)