(Looking Back and Looking Forward looks at the articles and posts I found interesting from the previous week, along with reflections about how the trends they point to might shape my thinking about education and technology.)
We’ve reached that time of year in education news where we’re directly “in-between” the end of the previous year and the beginning of a new one. This is otherwise known as downtime in education and education technology news. This also means it’s a perfect time to bring up some news I have not written about in the last few weeks.
It all started when well-known edtech writer Audrey Watters announced that she would no longer be covering the beat. She was giving up the mantle of “ed-tech’s Cassandra.” The announcement prompted a host of thoughts and opinions about edtech, including posts by Jim Groom, Tom Woodward, Adam Croom, Anne-Marie Scott, Ben Werdmüller, and Alan Levine.
Reading through these reflections, it’s easy to spot the inherent frustration of innovators and early adopters who fell in love with ideas and possibilities for transformation, only to see them inevitably appropriated by commercial interests.
While I’ve certainly experienced this disillusionment in my own career, my views about educational technology and it purposes have evolved significantly. If someone were to ask me today about the value of edtech, I would say that its value lies in four areas:
- As a tool for helping maximize knowledge acquisition in specific learning environments
- As a tool for scaling and delivering educational opportunities to resource-poor regions
- As a tool for providing affordable learning solutions
- A tool for helping teachers/instructors make the best use of their specific gifts/talents to help students gain understanding and acquire wisdom.
Note that I use the word “tool” as opposed to “a solution” or “the solution.” In addition, I am careful to say “a” tool and not “the” tool.
There are some things technology can do better and more consistently than humans. There are many ways in which edtech can allow human instructors to focus their efforts more meaningfully. They are abundant opportunities to use educational technology to serve hard-to-reach audiences.
But it’s still only a tool. Tools evolve and even become obsolete.
Tools can be used correctly or incorrectly.
To paraphrase/restate, “A map is not the territory. An edtech tool is not the learning solution it serves. An edtech company is not its original promise.”
Elsewhere, I expect to see continuing scrutiny around OPM business models in higher ed, as well as ongoing news about the value/perceived value of colleges and universities. By the way, the latter is now replacing what was formerly the annual deluge of articles in August about textbook costs.
Finally, I do think Michael Feldstein is onto something in his latest Argos posts about the importance of “engagement” in higher education learning (Part 1 and Part 2). And I agree that “the current EdTech ecosystem almost forces educators working with technology to spend much of their time on low-value work and makes it hard for them to focus on high-value work that would keep students more engaged with learning.”
Back to my personal beliefs about the purposes of educational technology. “A tool for helping teachers/instructors make the best use of their specific gifts/talents to help students hain understanding and acquire wisdom.”