EdTech – is it a "thing"?

This post originally appeared in my Chasing Life’s Lilies Blog.

Last night, I had the privilege of being a panelist for the General Assembly and Teach For America event (EdTech – Taking Stock and Forging Ahead) at Austin’s WeWork Co-working Space.

Prior to attending, we were asked to rate our opinion on five different questions. During the event, the audience was polled on those same questions and we were asked to explain our opinions.

Each time I present or engage in conversation with other educators, I am filled with new questions and arguments. Last night was no exception.

The premise was on EdTech. As the conversation moved forward, it was clear we all have different views of what EdTech is. Is it a business? Is it a way of thinking? Is it a subject? Is it a set of tools? Frankly, I don’t know. And, that’s why I don’t think it should be a “thing.”

In every area, there is the mainstream and there are the innovators. Within education, EdTech were the innovators to me. However, the idea of EdTech is no longer new. It should not be considered another pathway. Rather, it is mainstream, regardless of whether or not it is fully integrated. Though we don’t all have SmartPhones, it would be unusual to say that SmartPhones were not mainstream. EdTech as a pathway is education.

As a business, edtech has been around for a while and will probably continue to be a “thing” for a while. We use technology for our infrastructure and what better name for it than – educational technology.

We do need to get away from the idea that EdTech is tools. Or, maybe it is…If it is, then we need to get away from EdTech. I’ll admit that I’ve been that company girl. I jumped into various company-given certifications immediately, partly because I love a challenge, but also because I was excited about a product. That was five years ago, though. Now, I’m excited about ideas. I believe in ideas, thinking processes, and pedagogy as the means for change. The technology will fit into those thinking processes. Unfortunately, when I attend conferences and when I listen to others, I hear tools mentioned. I don’t see as much on thinking processes. I see limited information on how to change the way we ask students to think. We forget that technology is already there. It continues to change. As it changes, the way we interact with it changes. The way we need to think about it changes. Yet, we continue to teach the same thought processes. This is what we need to focus on.

Companies like Google have created services on some of these thought processes. In fact, Google offers a computational thinking course that is completely free. There are Maker Faires across the globe. There are even maker schools – or design-based schools. These thought processes do exist in schools, but they are limited. Rather than focusing on these processes, we look for tools to fix them.

There is a huge push for computer science in schools. And, I am one of the ones trying to making computer science and STEAM programs available to more students. However, last night, my boyfriend who has a computer science degree and is a Web Developer for a living, told the panel audience that he is not a supporter of making computer science mandatory for all students. Several gasped at the “absurdity” of his statement. His point – not everyone loves it. You could argue that not everyone loves science or English, but they are required to take it. But, instead of making it a separate course – another thing to find time for – integrate the principals of computer science, the thought processes behind it, into other classes. Use computational thinking methods in English; in history. What are the reasons making it mandatory? Can they be solved by integrating it into the curriculum, by changing the way we think?

There is no tool that will solve it all. There, I said it. There is no magic tool. Last night, I brought up my belief that it is the pedagogy that surrounds education that glues it together. So, an audience member asked if there was a tool I’d recommend for easing the demand of teachers in pedagogy. My answer – no. We need to stop looking for tools to fix education. We need to look at educators, parents, students. We need to ask who is making the tools? Are we adopting tools that have been created for us and then, figuring out how to use them in the classroom? Or, are we making solutions for our needs?

This is a hazy area. I’m a Google Ninja (or Google Nerd – probably the latter), but I admit that they are a company. They created a product and I found a way to use it in the classroom. They need educators to survive (GAFE does, at least). Yes, they are responsive to teacher requests, but they are the ones who developed it. Educators fit it into the curriculum. We need to provide more support to grassroots change. The more we ask educators to take a product and fit it into their curriculum, the more we make this about tools and not about people.

My former girls coding club decided they were not satisfied with the girls coding programs around the globe. So, they made their own non-profit and are now providing training to area elementary schools. This is a needs-based edtech company. They have a need and they are providing support for it. One trend is classroom teachers moving out of the classroom to train for edtech companies or start their own. And, while this is needed for the best training, they can also lose relevancy. So, who do we look to – we look to our students. What are the needs they have? Let’s support those needs.

Another audience member brought up a point I’ve noticed after switching to a private school this year. At first, I was shocked by the lack of technology at my private school. I thought they would be in abundance. But, they were not. The focus is different than that of the previous schools I worked at. Disparity in income – disparity in how tech is used. His point – lower-income schools throw a lot more technology at students in a consumption-manner than higher-income students. At first, I disagreed because my private school is lacking in technology. But, after thinking – I believe the difference is not in the tools; it’s in the community. At my current school, many students come from households where the parents are heavily involved in their education. The parents understand the technology and the material their children bring home. In lower-income schools, this is not always the case. Parents may be working more, which makes them less involved. They may also not know how to use technology in creative ways. Most students have access to a SmartPhone at home – regardless of income – but in lower-income homes, the devices are used in a consumption manner far more frequently. Therefore, when those students enter school, they are lacking the creative thinking that goes with those devices. This is the backbone of the disparity. We need to find more ways to support communities.

So, is EdTech a “thing”? What is it? Our communities have advanced enough to where EdTech is just education. We are not all there yet, for sure. However, that doesn’t mean that it is not education. Even though we have not all caught up, there is no denying that it is not a necessary part of the education umbrella. So, rather than treating it as separate, let’s accept it. Let’s change our way of thinking. Let’s work on the pedagogy and focus on humans.

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