The sound of the stampede to put educational technology (EdTech) in every classroom is deafening. Teachers who don’t thrust students in front of screens are treated with the disdain reserved for smokers or disgraced radio hosts. Meanwhile, teachers who integrate technology into every corner of their classroom are revered and treated like rock stars at conferences.
Unfortunately, the cacophony of EdTech is drowning out the voices of anyone calling for caution or critical analysis. EdTech is an echo chamber, an alternate reality where everyone agrees we need more technology in classrooms and that teachers who aren’t on the EdTech bandwagon are bad. Critical thinking about technology in the classroom is in short supply.
I advocate the use of EdTech, but nothing, not even iPads, are all good. In our rush to embrace digital technology we’ve dismissed some serious issues caused or made worse by the adoption of EdTech.
These are five of the most important reasons to avoid educational technology:
- Privacy and Security: We are on the brink of a serious crisis in student data and privacy. I’m certain the problems highlighted with common classrooms tools Class Dojo and Edmodo are just the tip of the iceberg. There are increasing examples of student data leaks and it’s just a matter of time before a major EdTech company loses student data, in spite of promises about security and privacy (Snapchat anyone?). Author Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger says “Everything in a student’s past will be captured, collected, stored and therefore remembered”. We need to consider who is that data safe with and what will the impact of wide scale data collection be on learning, and more importantly, free speech.
- Branding: A “connected classroom” is a much more corporate environment than an “unconnected classroom”. The US EdTech market is currently worth $30B and will grow to $60B by 2018. That huge market has attracted massive multinationals like Google, Apple and Microsoft, and hundreds of thousands of medium and small companies are also looking for a cut of all that public money. Corporations have always had a place in classrooms before, but never like this. Students rarely knew who published their text books, or made their notebooks, but they’re hyper-aware of who makes the devices they’re using or which search engine teachers tell them to use. Schools and teachers now proudly announce their EdTech brand affiliations! EdTech brings the “branding” of students and classrooms to a whole new level.
- Equity: Research shows that 38% of low-income families don’t have internet access, while only 5% of high income families are “dis-connected”. This significant digital divide affects learning in a multitude of ways. Students from low-income families aren’t exposed to technology and don’t see it used as much, or in the same ways, as students from high income families. Low income students can’t access the same resources outside of school time and only access the internet through school filters. School programs such as BYOD further disadvantage low-income students. EdTech brings the economic divisions in society into the classroom at a level, and in a way, we’ve never seen before.
- Changes To Teaching: Jobs such as factory workers, farm workers, bank tellers, telephone operators and cashiers have all been significantly reduced in number or completely eliminated by technology. Some wonder if teaching could be the next profession eliminated by technology. Many disagree, but there is little doubt that teaching with technology requires different skills than “traditional teaching”. Research shows that experienced teachers are better at teaching with technology than new teachers because they have better developed classroom management skills. Perhaps requiring all teachers, no matter their strengths, to use EdTech isn’t a path to success?
- Poor Technical Infrastructure: The technological infrastructure at schools is generally poor and unable to keep pace with the growth in EdTech. Lessons often stall due to technical failure, and many teachers now prepare two lessons, one with technology and one for when the tech doesn’t work. About half of teachers don’t have enough technology in the schools and half say what tech they do have is out of date (thanks for Tim King for that). I use a “TV Test” to determine how reliable EdTech is. TVs are ubiquitous because they are easy to use and reliable. A TV comes on 99.9% of the time. Is EdTech as reliable and easy to use as a TV? When it is, it will be ready to be a consistent presence in every classroom.
My intent is not to prevent or dissuade educators from using EdTech, but rather to ensure more do so. “Non-techy” teachers are smarter than EdTech advocates give them credit for. They know that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
EdTech isn’t perfect and won’t solve all that ails modern education. It can be useful, but those of us who want to lead schools into a digital future have some work to do. We must address these fundamental issues if we hope to transform learning in schools. Let’s get to it now, before the die is cast, and we’re stuck with yet another profoundly flawed education system.