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Education Technology is Booming, But Is Everyone On Board?

photo by superkimbo via Flickr 

With new technology often comes a set of new and unprecedented problems. In regard to this rule of thumb, the arena of education has seen no exemption.

Education technology, or “ed tech,” though trumpeted amongst many as a new and progressive chapter in classrooms around the world, has also spawned its fair share of debates.

Newer technologies like smartboards, tablets, and even Google Glass have become a topic of particular interest amongst educators, parents, and businesspeople alike–further amplifying education technology from a buzz to a full-blown tremor. Exemplifying just how big ed tech really is, venture capitalists Softbank Capital have recently invested $6 million into EdCast (an online education startup) in a predictable but profound vote of confidence.

So, if ed tech has garnered so much praise from big business, educators, and students, what is there to debate? Below are some common arguments and qualms which populate the ed tech movement.

  • Ed tech has furthered the gap between well-funded and struggling schools

Ed tech skeptics argue that “The digital divide,” as some refer to it as, may further expand the gap between the academic haves and have-nots. This argument centers around a disparity between technology, but more intrinsically, a rift in funding.

Schools with a network of wealthy donors and supplementation from federal or state grants are allotted the technological resources which many educators and administrators believe are integral to their students’ success, while lesser funded (often public) schools stagnate without access to the same backing. Lacking access to simple tools like computers, many schools feel they are simply falling behind.

  • Too much emphasis on ed tech is muddling the foundational problems of our education systems

In this argument, skeptics argue that because of ed tech, schools and business put undue emphasis on the implementation of technology in hopes of improving test scores and optimizing performance amongst students (to the detriment of the loftier concepts of “human dignity” and critical thinking)

Forbes columnist and author Jordan Shapiro posits that just because we can implement technology into schools, doesn’t necessarily mean we should. In his critique, Shaprio goes on to note that ed tech has shone a business-like light onto education–further distorting the line between the corporate and academic spheres.

In his column, Shapiro declares:

“The very notion of education as an industry is problematic. School is about transmitting values and principles from one generation to the next, not skillfully organizing labor toward productivity”

  • Ed tech is ill-equipped to handle the social obstacles inherent to education

Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, have been arguably the hottest item in the prospecting of ed tech’s future. Despite the hype, some skeptics have grown disillusioned with the promise platforms like Coursea and EdX were once thought to deliver.

Stanford Professor Paul Franz, after researching ed tech for his doctorate, is now among these skeptics. In a twitter exposition Franz detailed why MOOCs and ed tech startups like Coursea have not, and may never, deliver the results we desire.

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What’s it all about?

Though ed tech presents some new and challenging problems to the modern school system, even skeptics might admit it would be egregious to disregard technological innovation in the classroom altogether.

MOOCs, though far from a miracle solution, offer troves of tantalizing possibilities for curious minds which might otherwise be excluded from important learning opportunities.

Games and apps may often engage students more than an anachronistic textbook or a tangential lecture.

What is truly key to academia, students, and ed tech developers, regardless of their ideological stance on education technology, isn’t merely conforming to the trends of technology, but rather plotting a course along the way.

We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?
James Pero