The EdTech Conundrum

Imagine you were the CEO of a brand new EdTech start up with a brand new device that was ready to revolutionize education. (Or at least so your marketing team would have us believe.)

You unrolled your plan to get your device into the hands of students and put it into action. So, here’s my first question. What are your indicators of success? Profit? Devices sold? Number of districts implementing your device? Number of teachers implementing your device? These all seem fairly reasonable.

Do you know what almost certainly wouldn’t be one of your indicators of success? The degree to which your device is improving student outcomes.

So, let’s bring in an article: Education Week’s Popularity of Ed Tech Not Necessarily Linked To Product’s Impact. In which author Benjamin Herold builds a case that there is a fundamental conflict between the traits of Ed Tech that best sell and the traits of Ed Tech that best impact student achievement.

Among the traits that sold best, according to the article, “a promise of cost savings for schools, no requirements for face-to-face training, and an ability to be easily integrated into existing teaching and learning practices.” That is, light on financial commitment, light on PD, and light on classroom disruption.

It’s tough to argue with cost, but the latter two start to expose a weakness that are probably contributing directly to why these EdTech innovations aren’t having that much of an impact: They aren’t innovating. If you are integrating devices that don’t require educators to update what they do in the classroom, then don’t expect for any significant changes in learning outcomes.

The author, quoting Andrew Calkins, adds “Practitioners [in traditional schools] find it easier to adopt technology tools that readily fit within their existing models,” Calkins said. “That’s why tools and platforms that demand a lesser degree of disruption might have found greater purchase in the marketplace.”

It is easier, more comfortable, and less stressful on people and resources to integrate tools that integrate into existing school systems, traditions and practices. But this is fundamentally problematic in school communities where existing systems, traditions and practices had reached their capacity for student achievement. If the systems are working as well as they are going to work, then a tool that makes the system function better isn’t what’s needed. What’s needed is a new system.

And that’s a much tougher sell. And it probably explains why we continue to be somewhat disappointed with the way our technology is faring within our desire to improvement. This is why frameworks like SAMR serve such a valuable purpose. They provide structure and language to the act of transitioning from one educational paradigm to another. This highest level of SAMR doesn’t force a particular type of classroom action or behavior, but simply asks the educator to consider what is possible now that wasn’t possible before the technology was available.

And this becomes the ultimate value of the technology and it also explains why we’ve had such a difficult time having our hopes realized. Technology has the potential to fundamentally restructure the way our schools function. And unfortunately, we won’t see the value of some of these tools until we let them do just that.

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One thought on “The EdTech Conundrum

  1. Andrew, here I am reading your blog and then I get to the third paragraph in this post and I’m like “PREACH IT!”. Just thought you should know that you had an Amen section at my kitchen table this morning.

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