Learning and Technology: Filling a Pail, Lighting a Fire

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

Plutarch, On Listening
Christopher CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

There are basically two pedagogical approaches when it comes to teaching and learning: Lighting a fire or filling a pail. They go back at least two millennia when Plutarch first wrote about this idea in his essay “On Listening”. Until today, public education as well as edtech approaches can be broken down into these two concepts.

Social Constructivism – The Fire

The people in lighting-the-fire camp adhere to John Dewey (1859-1952): “I believe that education, therefore is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.” Learning is socially situated and knowledge is constructed through interaction with others. A person constructs a new understanding based on prior understanding in the context of learning communities. Researchers label this idea as social constructivism.

Instructionism – The Pail

Filling the pail comes with measuring whether it is still half-empty or starting to fill up. Edward L. Thorndike (1874-1949) believed that learning could be precisely observed and measured. He was an early developer and advocate of standardized tests, textbooks, and intelligence testing. You might label this standardized approach to teaching and learning as instructionism.

New technologies, old pedagogies

Public schools as well as any new learning technology that occurred in the 20th and 21st century just improvised on one of these ideas. They rarely innovate on the fundamentals and more often than not they follow in the footsteps of Thorndike. Maybe the best way to think about it would be a combination of these two approaches. One where the pail is filled and the fire is lit. And most importantly one where the fire will not be extinguished with the pail.

Further Reading:


Edkimo Web-Integration

Here is a quick demo of how the Edkimo-Code-Snippet can work on your homepage. It’s an easy way for Edkimo Premium users to integrate an online feedback system to their blog or homepage to gather feedback from their visitors.

We at Edkimo have kept the code very simple – it’s plain HTML, it respects your participants’ privacy and should automatically integrate in your own design. Once you have published the HTML snippet to your website, your visitors just need to enter a Feedback code to open the right survey or a shared results page. Just try it out with one of our demo codes e.g. “wolke” or “edkimo” to answer a survey or show the results.

The web integration looks like this

Edkimo survey

Edkimo results

Here are the code snippets

The code that you can copy and paste looks like this:

<h2>Edkimo survey</h2>
<label>Feedback code</label>
<form action="https://app.edkimo.com/api/surveys/redirect/feedback" method="POST">
<input required="required" type="string" name="code" value="" placeholder="Feedback code or TAN" autocapitalize="none" autocorrect="off" minlength="4" autocomplete="off">
<button type="submit">Open Edkimo survey</button>
<h2>Edkimo results</h2>
<label>Results code</label>
<form action="https://app.edkimo.com/api/surveys/redirect/results" method="POST">
<input required="required" type="string" name="code" value="" placeholder="Results code" autocapitalize="none" autocorrect="off" minlength="4" autocomplete="off">
<button type="submit">Open Edkimo results</button>

ClassDojo, Growth Mindset, and Edvertisement(!)


From the very beginning, I have had my doubts about ClassDojo’s approach and their understanding of teaching, learning and schools. The ClassDojo app is basically a tool for labeling and tracking student behavior with cute, game-like characters. Let’s say: extrinsic motivation at its best (or worst). ClassDojo is for free and has received over $10m in venture funding. Of course, they had their privacy issues before.

Today I have learned about their new so called “Big Ideas” series: K-12 “teaching material” about the “growth mindset”. Let’s try to ignore the dilemma how ClassDojo’s approach (extrinsic motivation) goes together with a growth mindset (growth mindset people are motivated by intrinsic motives and are hardly ever by extrinsic ones).

“Big Ideas” is nothing more than a pure advertising campaign addressed to parents (take-home questions) and teachers (discussion guide). The whole thing is disguised as teaching material (PDF downloads and a five episode video series starring the class dojo characters).

Did they just invent the category of EDVERTISEMENT?


classdojo big ideas series growth mindset critique
Screenshot of ClassDojo’s “Big Ideas series”.


Three Times Edtech in Berlin


I work in Edtech and I live in Berlin. At the moment this is an exciting combination. We have lots of conferences, barcamps, and meetups going on here to discuss with people who want push things forward. Last December was especially packed with three parallel events, that made the choice very hard.

(1) Te(a)chology by Meet’n’Learn @ Impact Hub

teachology meetnlearn berlin impact hub

Web: meetup.com/teachology

When: December 3, 2015
Where: Impact Hub, Berlin
Event: One-day meetup

Te(a)chology is a place where EdTech entrepreneurs and Edtech enthusiasts come together to make an impact.” This series of events started in Munich to bring together startups, students, teachers, and professors to explore the intersection of education and technology and create new synergies. The Berlin event was hosted by Meet’n’Learn, an online platform that matches tutors with students and has graduated from Telefonica’s Wayra incubator.

Unfortunately I have heard too late about this event and had already booked my tickets for #ExcitingEDU. Otherwise this would have been my first choice! Fortunately, I could meet Jessica who organized the meetup a couple of days later. We had a lively discussion about startups, learning and edtech.

(2) OEB 2015 – Online Educa Berlin

OEB 2015 berlin

Web: online-educa.com

When: December 2 – 4, 2015
Where: Hotel InterContinental, Berlin
Event: 3-day conference

OEB is the classique edtech event, the oldest and the biggest one of its sort in Berlin. It was launched in 1995! Every year it attracts about 2000 learning professionals from over 100 countries. OEB is more of a business style conference for decision-makers from the education, business and government sectors. The problem was that ticket prices of nearly 1000 Euro are definitely incompatible of the price range of a bootstrapped, lean startup. I’d really like to go to this event in one of the next years.

(3) ExcitingEDU Teacher Congress


Web: lehrerkongress.excitingedu.de

When: December 3-4, 2015
Where: Kalkscheune, Berlin
Event: Learn lab for teachers and conference

I do no longer work as a classroom teacher. So I couldn’t take part in the learnlab on Thursday. This quite innovative format was reserved for “real” teachers who implement technology-based approaches in their everyday teaching. They could show and test their tech approaches with students of the Heinrich-von-Stephan reform school in Berlin. A friend of mine who works there as a teacher really liked this new style of collaborative teacher training and inspiration.

The teacher conference is where I finally ended up last December in Berlin. I met a lot of colleagues from the edtech scene. It’s the small crowd who knows each other online from #edchatDE or offline from several educamps.

Hopefully next year the organizers will better coordinate their event calendars. The two smaller events might join forces. And who knows, maybe OEB will lower ticket prices one day. I will come.