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Right, Not More: Choosing tech born with a purpose

Technology is about an experience. We don’t simply want new features or an aesthetically pleasing user interface. We want technology that augments our work day, social interactions, routine tasks and hobbies.

The best technology revolutionises daily life so much so that it becomes difficult to go back to life without it; we don’t have the time to reuse old ways of doing things.

You can find technology that doesn’t offer an experience quite easily.  Just go to the fifth page of your phone’s app store. Technology that fails to expand and improve our daily lives ends up dying a slow death that begins with poor reviews and ends with little or no developer support. This kind of technology is easy enough to avoid though.

It’s more than just about good and bad, the quality of experience.  It’s about how well it addresses the issues we experience in schools every day. The felt need for technology to continue transforming education can be seen as recently as the DfE’s early April press release regarding its new “EdTech Strategy”.  The identified issues are familiar to those who are or have recently been in the classroom.  We feel the limitations in our daily work, knowing that technology continues to rapidly transform other fields.

However, it isn’t wise to adopt every kind of new technology that comes education’s way.  The last decade has brought a lot of new technology within arm’s length of school staff, students and parents. For every single challenge that schools regularly encounter, there seems to be several new systems, devices or apps claiming to address the issue.  The range of options is appealing too. Anyone who works in education for long is a problem solver by practice if not by nature. I would like to hope that most are open to trying new solutions if given the time and resources. And why not new technological solutions given the promises that have been made? In some instances though, schools have leapt before looking.  The Los Angeles School District iPad fiasco is one that immediately comes to my mind as a U.S. teacher.  Even if the results have not been disastrous, I see many keen schools and educators in a season of pruning. Ultimately, edtech is about fit like so many other thingsWe need the right set of tools rather than a large collection that gets the job done. We need technology born for rather than merely adopted by schools.

I am not sure I would congratulate caution either. Those in education who are relative newcomers to adopting more recent educational technology are now faced with a sea of options.  If schools accept all of the previous stage setting about technology’s potential, their next questions fall along these lines: What technology is available to schools? Will it protect student privacy?  How will teachers and students be able to access it? Ultimately, is it worth the time and budget line item? The task of evaluating myriad options to solve a single problem isn’t necessarily preferable to the backtracking and pruning that early adopters have had to undertake.  There are a lot of questions to answer in a market like edtech.

We may not be pursuing the right line of questioning though - not to achieve the intended result in any case. Broad statements like those in the DfE’s report about the need to reduce marking loads and differentiate for students with additional educational needs are time worn pursuits. They won’t be solved by a “killer app.”  Teachers need more than that. We need something bigger, more versatile.

Are we asking the right questions?

We shouldn’t start with close-ended “what” questions.  When we lead with these type of questions about technology, we are simply walking into the crossfire of a “feature war” between tech companies. GDPR compliance?  Cloud hosting? Android and iOS compatibility? Pricing structure? Available integrations? Schools can easily get caught helping tech companies do their marketing for them.  These questions are critical, but they are inconsequential until we have answered one question:

What kind of technology experience do we want?

When school leaders and teachers have answered this question, it is much more difficult to end up confused by or worse, a casualty of, the “feature war” generated by innovations in edtech.  New technology can be measured against one overarching question:

How well does it provide our staff and students with the desired experience?    

In other words, does your current technology allow you and your students to go a little further every day? I am inviting you to question what kind of experience technology is providing you and your school community.  I will slice the issue a few different ways over the next few posts. Modern learning is messy, but it doesn’t have to be chaotic. The goal is twofold: 1) to offer a framework for evaluating your school’s technology use 2) to provide some processes for maintaining a progressive technology strategy.  For now, I will leave you with what I think are a few of the right kind of questions to be asking:

  • How do we develop an edtech strategy that is rooted in the learning experience and outcomes we promise to students?
  • How do we align our use of edtech with our vision of the learning experience?
  • How do we adopt new edtech without it just becoming window dressing?   

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