Digital Tools Will Not Magically Transform Your School; You Must Do the Work

The field of educational technology is something like the Wild West: there is great promise, enormous opportunity, and a lot of chaos. The bottom line is that edtech will not work magic. There are three main reasons for this.

The actual data on student outcomes for tech-infused instructional approaches is somewhat disappointing. In many cases, the returns on edtech are minimal—or even negative. This perhaps seems shocking on its face, but a deeper dive into the research suggests some reasons for this. One reason is that lower-order thinking skills are the easiest to present and assess in an edtech context, so those are often the items that are focused on.

Of course, the quest to develop students requires a much greater emphasis on higher-order thinking skills, which are still much trickier to present and, especially, to assess without human intervention. Additionally, some research evidence shows that one of the key factors underlying student achievement is the relationship that develops between the teacher and the student. Obviously, if edtech is an impediment to that relationship, the edtech tool may limit or even harm student achievement.

Students—even digital natives—still need to be taught by humans. This seems obvious, but too many stakeholders seem to be relying on the assumption that anything a human teacher can do can be done better by an app. But a careful analysis of the current state of edtech shows that there is a fatal flaw in thinking that tech tools can replace teachers. The flaw is that it assumes that students find edtech inherently motivating. But why would this be the case? Sure, students might seem to spend all of their time on their smartphones, but they aren’t watching algebra videos on them on their own time.

The assumption that they would find algebra videos interesting just because they find music videos interesting is not rational, once it is examined carefully. Did 1960s children enjoy watching videos of history professors on their black and white TVs just because they enjoyed watching cartoons on those TVs? In other words, edtech enthusiasts may not be paying enough attention to the difference between engagement with a platform and engagement with certain kinds of content.

Finally, every generation of new edtech brings a wave of teacher inertia and even backlash. And it is no wonder: if you have been in the classroom for twenty years, you have probably had to sit through a professional development on using VHS tapes in the classroom. If you are feeling a bit jaded and resistant to the latest edtech “miracle,” that’s understandable.

For all of these reasons, no edtech purveyor can think of edtech as a simple solution. It still requires student engagement, strong student-teacher relationships, and teacher buy-in to the project.

Choose your Reaction!