What’s Wrong With EdTech?


vancouverfilmschool-stages-of-education-technologyWhat’s Wrong With Education Technology?

by Terry Heick

Mobile applications–or apps–have served an important role in the evolution of what’s possible in a classroom. Libraries and textbooks and teachers have been the traditional portals to information in education. This had many benefits, including a very even, aligned, and uniform learning experience for students.

Like apps, textbooks are solutions to the challenge of organizing content for study. They package curriculum, and allow the teacher to focus on controlling the pace and navigation of the curriculum. But books, while credible and convenient, are also closed, dated, non-fluid, generalized, unengaging, and depend heavily on the reading level of the user.

This is where apps came in. They fractured content into countless interesting fibers, so that “Math” became twenty-four expertly-curated YouTube channels, a gamified and flexible site in the form of the Khan Academy, a twitter account that aggregates interesting math problems and crowdsources solving them, and a smaller handful of adaptive apps that adjust themselves on-the-fly to student performance.

This has been a critical step because it has decentralized and democratized where information comes from. This “opening” of content areas has dozens of consequences, but few are more important than the ability to turn over content creation to actual human beings again.

Take a YouTube channel like Smarter Every Day. (See below.) It’s impossible to create a textbook—or any book—that can match the authenticity, diversity, and engaging nature of these videos. The same goes with Veritasium. Or Exploratorium. Or Duolingo. Or Nova Elements. Or Creatures of Light. It’s incredible.

But a few years into this iPad-led frenzy, the app phase is showing its age. Many apps are mediocre, abandoned, or broken. Some are clear money-grabs with little content area expertise behind them. Others seemed to have been written by people who have either never seen a child in their life, or know nothing about teaching and learning.

Unsurprisingly, this has produced underwhelming results.

Ideally, a “post-app” era in edtech would be characterized by meaningful data integration, authentic and student-centered social collaboration, and genuine mobility in communities native to the learner. Curriculum, assessment, and instruction would communicate seamlessly with one another, and with communities native to the student.

So far, the growth of education technology has been limited, in part, because of missing #edtech leadership at the school, district, and state level. The expertise, experience, and vision is absent–which leads to more purchasing and policies than inspiration and design.

The next phase of education technology should focus then not on the technology, but on areas of convergence between students, communities, content, and technology. This will require a broader scope of vision than we’re used to, but it should yield suitably revised ways of learning strategies (e.g., learning through play), content forms (e.g., apps, YouTube channels), and education goals (truly personal and student-centered learning experiences for every student, every day).

Education is suffering not just from a lack of edtech leadership, but a lack of frameworks and systems that “accept” technology. The next stage of #edtech–and apps can be a big part of this–has to be smarter than the “solutions” we’re currently settling for, or they’re not solutions at all. 

Apps and tablets are only “better” than textbooks and plastic binders if they are part of a system of learning that’s been clean-sheet designed for them to work together.

If we only need content sequenced and packaged for universal consumption, a textbook is miles better than an iPad.

Twitter is no better than a bullhorn if you’re only reaching out to people you already know. 

Content, learning, and technology each must be designed in such a way that they are aware of one another. One “part” works seamlessly to inform and reform the other. It all should be in a constant state of flux and borderline chaos. This makes current education systems–including many large corporations driven by profit and not learning–uncomfortable.

While students gravitate towards it, and many teachers are intrigued, education technology is an alien thing in the average curriculum map or instructional unit. The next era in education technology–an era of adaptivity and convergence–will arrive when this is no longer true.

The question is, can education stomach the disruption?

Image attribution flickr user vancouverfilmschool; The Stages Of Education Technology; What’s Wrong With Education Technology?

  • Melanie Taylor

    Thank you for such a clear and insightful article. The use of ed tech only supports learning when educators and families create functional educational environments addressing all the needs of the students. I agree the plethora of apps makes for confusion. Leadership, please!

  • FC White

    “It’s impossible to create a textbook—or any book—that can match the authenticity, diversity, and engaging nature of these videos.”

    TRANSLATION: “I’m the type of person who does not possess the discipline, nor the intellectual acumen to read an entire book. So, there is NO WAY I’m gonna read some boring book when I can basically Watch More TV by looking at an EPIC video on YouTube instead! Narly man!”

  • http://oncoreeducation.com Scott

    This is exactly why I created Oncore, a classroom instruction app meant to facilitate human relationship. Teachers want tools that help them engage and assess students, tools that facilitate meaningful feedback. When asked if I could use an iPad in the classroom, I initially said no because I’m dubious about gimmicks. But I began to imagine an app built on the solid foundation of what research says leads to learning gains: an app the facilitates interaction with all students, which helps the teacher give feedback and set clear instructional goals, an app that uses data to inform student grouping and helps a teacher know every kid. If you are interested in seeing my project visit oncoreeducation.com.

  • http://edcrunch.org/ Jessie Arora

    Great post. I’m a big believer in the community component and that we have to rethink the goals & delivery to focus more on play and creative problem-solving. I hope more people share this sentiment and together we can shift the #edtech conversation to emphasize improving the learning process and experience, not just ‘outcomes.’