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Cool Job: Ed-tech expert

It's no wonder that Steve Hargadon pursued a career in education technology -- he's been around educators his whole life. As the son of a college dean, and someone who has periodically home-schooled his own children, Hargadon is a perfect fit for the industry.

In 2007, Hargadon married his love of education with his love of social networking when he created Classroom 2.0 -- a social network for educators that gave teachers a place to share ideas at a time when the Web lacked a meeting place for those in education. In addition, Hargadon is an expert in Open Source software that is used for education and he hosts a weekly podcast on education technology, where he interviews leaders in the field.

Was there an experience or a teacher that you had in school that led you to pursue a career in education technology?

No, but upon reflection my interest in Open Source Software in education had more to do with wanting to bring that ethos into education than an actual interest in the programs. The collaborative, authentic, peer-oriented learning in the Open Source community is a great model for how learning can take place. My FutureofEducation.com interview series, with over 300 interviews so far, started by my interviewing some of the significant figures in the Open Source world and talking about the connection with education -- which was interesting because most of them did their most significant learning outside of traditional schooling.

What have been some of your favorite accomplishments in the field of education technology?

I think both Classroom 2.0 and my virtual worldwide events have had a significant impact on educators having opportunities to become significant contributors to the professional development of each other, and to the larger dialogue on education and reform. I have about 100,000 members in the networks, and annually get about 100,000 attendee logins at my events. While the impact may not be as broad, I will say I'm particularly proud of my FutureofEducation.com interview series for being a place of thoughtful dialogue on issues of significance to education, and has drawn both big-name and deep-in-the-trenches guests.

What are your opinions about the current state of educational technology?

I think we're having two parallel, but separate, conversations about educational technology. One is the significant way in which social technologies have opened the door to re-introducing social learning pedagogies, and are inviting new and expanded ways to re-think our learning models. The other is a focus on the size, scale, and data potentials that computer and Web technologies are enabling, but which to me often end up being solutions looking for problems to solve.

My dad has a saying: "In the absence of being able to measure what is meaningful, we give too much meaning to what we can measure." Yes, we can create online courses which bring in tens of thousands of attendees, and we can gather incredible amounts of data around their participation, but if you think about your own most engaging learning experiences, they typically have little to do with scale or data, but have to do with relationships, trust, being challenged, and other very human experiences that reflect the non-linear and social nature of how we become engaged learners. There is a significant difference between seeing the output of education as the transmission of facts and information, and seeing education as the process of building self-directed learners, and the two trends in education technology reflect those two viewpoints.

What are the current challenges in the field?

Being able to resist the temptation to jump on the bandwagon of some of the new "movements," like purchasing huge quantities of consumer-level devices, without a deeper understanding of the theories of teaching and learning. It's exciting to watch the development of new technologies, and some of them will undoubtedly change our perceptions of teaching and learning, but treating education as a business marketplace seriously overshadows the more important conversations and processes of how and what is best for students.

How do these challenges affect the education system and student learning?

Time, money, and focus spent on solving technology issues is time, money, and focus arguably not spent on creating healthy learners. For example, if my measurement for food creation and consumption is caloric output and profit, then McDonald's is a great model: centralized control, standardized food, available everywhere, low-cost labor, and high profits. But if I want a culture with a variety of foods, with individual attention and passion around their preparation, and valuable employment for the community, then caloric output and profit don't even begin to define the output. And more importantly, don't begin to define the conditions we would create to encourage a healthy and nutritious food culture. Right now our language around education and technology is more about the control, standardization, and profitability than it is around the health and nutrition, and that has an impact on what students experience every day.

Fun Facts About Steve Hargadon

What did you eat for breakfast?

Cold cereal and almond milk.

Which day of the week is your favorite?

Friday, because every Friday I'm holding an "education conversation" in a different city and am loving the experience.

Which day of the week is your least favorite?

Don't have one.

What was the first job you ever had?

Worked for my dad punching computer cards.

What makes you angry?

Professional un-generosity. People who act as though someone has to lose for them to win.

What makes you joyful?

Generosity. People who have discovered their ability to succeed by helping others.

If you could have any job, other than your own, what would it be?

Anything that gave me an ability to make a difference in the lives of others.

If you had the time and the money to study anything at all, what would you choose?

I'm doing it.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A policeman.

Can money bring you happiness?

Yes, if used to help others.