Working in learning technology, or education technology (EdTech), is changing as our understanding of technology develops. We have become more aware not only of the potential of technological innovation, but also of what it takes to scale up this innovation. From use in small-scale pilot programs or individual classrooms to applications for all students.
Expansion requires not only infrastructure and technical capabilities, but also trained personnel. Most importantly, we must continue to question whether learning technology truly offers benefits for all students. We know that technology has enormous potential, but we now have decades of research and practice to build on as we move forward in our professional practice. Beyond advocacy and toward a more reflective and critical perspective, a perspective that will allow us to address some of the complex questions around ethics, inclusion, equality, and privacy.
What is EdTech?
EdTech (an acronym for "education" and "technology") refers to hardware and software designed to enhance teacher-led learning in classrooms and improve educational outcomes for students. EdTech is still in the early stages of its development, but it shows promise as a way to customize the curriculum. It allows to increase a student's skill level by introducing and reinforcing new content at a pace the student can handle. Classroom tablets, interactive projection screens and whiteboards, online content delivery, and MOOCs are examples of EdTech.
The goal of EdTech is to improve student outcomes, improve individualized education, and reduce the teaching burden on instructors. While many praise technology in the classroom, others fear that it is impersonal and may lead to the collection and tracking of data from both students and instructors.
EdTech can be a contentious topic. There is concern that EdTech is an attempt to phase out certain assignments in class as a way to cut costs. The creators of EdTech emphasize the improvement potential of the software, freeing the teacher from trying to teach the average classroom and moving into a facilitator role. With time constraints, it is difficult for a teacher to teach according to the curriculum, catch up with lower-level students, and still keep the best in the class engaged in their work.
By automating the ability assessment and difficulty setting, EdTech can potentially lead to better results for individual students and the class as a whole. Technology in the classroom experienced two waves of implementation. The first was the introduction of current hardware into the classroom. Inevitably, the conversation has turned to getting the software to better coordinate and utilize all the hardware. Many of them are cloud-based and based on educational research. In this way, algorithms can be established on how slow or fast a student should progress through different learning objectives.
It is clear that EdTech can work. There are success stories in classrooms, districts, and regions around the world. But when educational technology doesn't work properly, it can cause major problems. A World Bank study looking at educational technology policymaking found that the adoption of failed technology can disrupt teaching, consume too much teacher time, and raise concerns about data privacy.
The researchers speak of the lack of independent evidence, which means that it is difficult to know which technology, applications and systems are effective and which are not. Developers talk about highly localized acquisitions, which means that it is difficult to scale a successful technology or make a profit. And teachers are often excited about technology but disappointed by an inadequate system or their own lack of training.
Most developers will never have the opportunity to test their products close to the scale necessary to establish their true effectiveness. Schools and local authorities that buy EdTech have little or no independent information about the products they buy. Few products stand up to the scrutiny of independent randomized control trials or other trials based on good qualitative research.
Importance of scrutiny
Scrutiny is important. In cases where independent trials have been conducted, a mixed picture of the efficacy of even some of the most popular and widely available products has been presented. It is clear that many products work. The World Bank has also pointed to a number of success stories, amid mixed results on learning outcomes for educational technology in general. Today's EdTech cannot automate learning. But it can improve good teachers.
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