I’ve been involved in a few projects recently that have made me consider what my approach actually is to ed tech. One way of thinking about this is to try the thought experiment of imagining you are in charge of a fund procuring ed tech (or if you prefer, responsible for an ed tech budget at your institution). What would be your principles or criteria be for determining which ones to fund?
Given developments over the past ten years I’ve mixed in a fair bit of criticism into my initial ed tech solutionism, but I think the resulting mix might be getting towards a pragmatic approach to what usefully works. So here’s an attempt at defining my approach:
Treat them like research – have definite research questions or hypotheses. Then you will know whether it has achieved it.
Consider social impacts – where does this tech come from? What will be the impact on students and educators? Technology does not exist in a social vacuum.
Track the data implications – who owns the data, what data does it generate?
Avoid hype – as soon as anyone mentions disruption, revolution, transformation, etc walk out the door. These terms are usually a disguise for not having a clear, testable (and therefore falsifiable) benefit.
Focus on achievable goals within a year – related to the above, if the tech is capable of an improvement then it should be demonstrable within a year. It may be modest at this stage.
Avoid inverse investment scrutiny – ed tech often suffers from an inverse scrutiny problem. If you want to do something small scale and experimental with one class you have to justify every aspect. If you want to invest millions then vague goals and rhetoric are sufficient. Flip this round – small scale experiment should be lightweight and without some of the constraints I’m listing here. Just see what happens. Large scale investment needs to be clear what it is doing and why.
Have a clear audience who will benefit – not some vague utopian dream, or a one off TEDX type anecdote about a whiz kid in a village in a developing country, but a clear benefit for a particular group. And then test whether it is true.
Give educators agency – generally educators like, you know, educating, and tools that help them do that and help their students will receive more enthusiasm. Indeed making educators enthusiastic (again) is often one of the biggest benefits of ed tech. So tech that reduces their role or makes teaching less worthwhile is losing from the start. And on a related note…
Talk in educational terms – students are not customers or data points. Learning is not a transaction. We are not Uberfying education. Ed tech projects should communicate in a language that is meaningful to students and educators.
Address scalability and reproducibility – with lots of investment and attention we can all get an improvement, or a shiny product. Will that effect still be there five years from now and across different students? Caveat to this – if you are targeting a very specific group then it doesn’t need to be applicable to all learners, just not a one off.
Appreciate student diversity – not all learners are the same. What works for some will be despised by others, what is easy for this student will be a barrier to one with a different set of needs, and what is helpful in one place is interfering in another. Which brings me onto the next point –
Avoid technological panacea – a range of tools and approaches will be required for different students, disciplines, functions, etc.
Don’t buy black boxes or alchemy – any solution that basically has a “magic happens here” box in it, means that either they are conning you or that there is stuff happening in there that you need to understand.
There is some overlap in these, and even a bit of contradiction – scalability matters for some projects but less so for small scale investments. But this list would give you a more realistic, impactful focus on ed tech that has tangible benefits I feel.