The fast-growing Ed Tech industry raised close to $2 billion in investment in 2015, and even more since. If they raised that much in investment, they clearly assume they will receive many more times that from purchases by school systems.
But do our kids really need dedicated educational technology? (By that I mean software and hardware built specifically for teachers, students and administrators to use in their schools and classrooms.) Or are we wasting our money? I strongly believe we are, and that most of the spending on dedicated ed tech, both in the US and around the world, is money almost completely wasted.
“Don’t kids need technology in this day and age?” you might ask. The answer is they absolutely do—but not technology dedicated to the outmoded way in which we have been doing education. Yes, kids need to master using all the tools now at their disposal for useful purposes— from the Internet, to word processing, to spreadsheets, to databases and apps that do a variety of tasks important in work and life. But they do NOT need special-purpose, custom-built educational tools to do this — just the opposite. It is the general-purpose tools available to all—mostly free—that kids need to learn to bend to their own purposes, be they learning, recording, accomplishing, analyzing, or anything else. We do not need to spoon-feed today’s kids special “educational” technology, we need to show them why and how to use the technology they have.
That is less true, though, for the generation that came before—which comprises almost all today’s teachers and educational administrators. Vendors, noting that teachers, in general, are less comfortable adapting general-purpose tools to their needs, have built them special-purpose “easy to use” educational tools. These include tools with content (that can all be found for free in other forms on the internet), administrative tools (that can be easily built or open-sourced, often by students) and testing tools (most of which we don’t actually need.) Supposedly it helps these adults teach, and it often adds layers of the security many of the adults–typical of their generation—think are important. But many teachers reject these dedicated tools: Why use technology to do something you have been doing very well without it for decades?
The solution is not to spend billions on new, dedicated technology; it is to learn to help kids use the technology more and more of them have (and that we can provide when they don’t.)
We are fast moving away from “content providing” as our primary means of schooling, and where we do need it, free apps like Khan Academy are available. To prepare kids for further education and for life, kids can now build their own portfolios, as well as work with all the real-world technologies they already have access to.
So what technology SHOULD schools (and the governments and people who support schools), be investing in? The answer is infrastructure. In order to do all they are capable of with technology, kids need fast, widely available broadband. They need terabytes of storage for every kid in the cloud. They need up-to-date devices. Most adults neither need nor make full use of the latest technology—our kids do. Schools should be giving instructions to parents to buy the newest devices for their kids, taking the older generation for themselves as a “hand-me-up.”
And we must require all our kids, as students, to use the technologies they have access to in positive ways. But not by showing them how we would do it, but rather giving them—or, better, letting them set for themselves—appropriate goals, and letting them find and employ the most powerful technologies they have access to to reach them.