Want Better Educational Technology? Consider Putting Teachers in Charge
Using technology in the classroom is a given for most teachers today. In fact, a 2017 study conducted by MidAmerica Nazerene University in Kansas found that more than 70 percent of surveyed teachers said their students “use tablets or laptops daily.” An even higher number—86 percent—reported having Wi-Fi access in their classrooms, a figure that is backed up by other studies. Of course, this doesn’t mean the presence of technology is an automatically wonderful thing. For example, a majority of teachers surveyed by MidAmerica Nazarene University reported that students’ personal smartphones were sometimes an unwelcome piece of classroom technology, causing “tension and disruptions.”
Why do teachers shy away from edtech?
Beyond the smartphone issue, many teachers have reported confusion and uncertainty over how best to use technology with students. In 2018, Anne Glasel published a post on Medium that listed six reasons why teachers shy away from using educational technology (frequently referred to as edtech). Excluding a lack of funding—which Glasel acknowledged was likely an issue for nearly every school community—here is a rundown of the main reasons that teachers are hesitant to adopt new technology, based on Glasel's informal research:
- Lack of support. Some teachers are more comfortable and/or excited about using technology to change up how they deliver lessons and work with students than others. A gap in enthusiasm or comfort can affect the rate at which a school embraces new technological tools.
- Lack of training and knowledge. According to Glasel, adopting new programs or tech devices can often be quite easy—but getting adequate training on how to use these most effectively is another matter. If teachers have previously had bad experiences associated with being left in the dark, they may be less willing to take a chance on new technology the next time around.
- Lack of proper planning. When a school or teacher agrees to try out a new edtech product, being provided with specific ideas—and, according to Glasel, even lesson plans—will help them make the best use of the device, program, or app. As Glasel phrased it, “a little push, inspiration, and guidance from the supplier” could make a world of difference.
- Lack of purpose. Marketing pitches might work well for edtech investors, but teachers are often a tougher audience, with many resisting technology because they want to “know and understand why the product is good and easy to use.” After all, why should they adopt a new product if its purpose and value is not clear? According to Glasel, edtech companies eager to get ahead of the competition would do well to make sure teachers’ questions and concerns are taken seriously upfront.
- Lack of control. Screens signify a loss of control for teachers who may fear not being able to effectively monitor and manage what students are doing in class. Also, Glasel pointed out that teachers sometimes lack confidence when navigating tech in front of their “digital-native” students.
- Lack of infrastructure. Teachers who wish to adopt more computer- and internet-based tools may come up against the challenge of a poor or slow internet connection at school, which could add a layer of hassle to any lesson plan that relies too heavily on access to websites or other online work.
Written from a marketing vantage point, Glasel's piece is intended to wake up decision-makers at edtech companies who believe they have a good product or device to offer but may not be fully aware of the obstacles faced by teachers—particularly those associated with incorporating new products into the classroom or managing evolving expectations about how they should be working with students.
Can teachers "do it better"?
Some observers believe that this is why teachers should be the driving force behind new edtech developments. Indeed, investor Vikas Pota—who is part of the team behind the Global Teacher Prize—recently wrote about the phenomenon of “teacher-preneurs” in a guest column for the online resource EdTech Digest. After describing the “growing trend” of teacher-led edtech companies as a “potential solution to the impasse afflicting educational technology,” Pota opined that the aforementioned impasse comes from the unrealized promise of edtech—namely, that it fails to deliver despite a pressing need for innovation and robust financial backing.
Echoing the tone of Glasel’s Medium post, Pota put teachers squarely in the middle of this dilemma, noting that “educators are all too often left out of the picture by the current norms of the [edtech] sector” despite the fact that teachers' involvement in technological development and implementation is likely the “key ingredient that could make a huge difference.” Elaborating on this point, Pota explained:
Designers and developers often miss failings that would be obvious to those on the front line. By contrast, teachers know firsthand what students need, and what they themselves need as educators—a crucial element in the design process. They also understand the distinction between a superficial innovation and one that will actually help pupils, and they know how the education sector works from the inside.
Going on to highlight the stories of two teachers-turned-inventors, Pota detailed how these individuals took problems that arose from their time in the classroom and developed edtech products in response: a math lesson-planning aid and a tool designed to help English language learners. Indeed, Pota's new joint-venture, Tmrw Digital, aims to tap into educators’ expertise when it comes to edtech.
Another EdTech Digest piece—a profile of Pota—noted that the investor's long-term goal is to put teaching and learning “at the heart of edtech.” After all, access to all the technology in the world is no good unless it is useful to the people it's actually intended to help. Or, as EdTech Digest writer Alice Bonasio put it:
The crux of the matter is that market research does not equate to educational research, and as long as the measures of success for edtech remain the same as those for other tech sectors (such as user numbers or licencing/subscription/advertising profits) instead of learning outcomes, then their impact will be limited.
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