Scott Leslie tweeted this out of his account the other day:

He followed this up by saying that he was looking for evidence or pushback about his idea that the field of edtech has remained largely unchanged over the last two years.

I have to admit that, first off, I was happy to see someone else write this. I’ve been struggling with edtech for a while, feeling that the field was stagnating. But I also often felt that this was just me. A lot of people still seem pretty excited about things so I thought I was just starting to pass into my middle aged, grouchy crumudgeon phase.

But I thought I would give this some honest thought. Here’s what I’m thinking about the last few years of edtech development:

1.) Edtech is not going away, it is, in fact, if anything, more pervasive in how classrooms operate then it was two years ago. Many people have found at least one tool or app they can latch on to and are using in their classrooms. Those people five or eight years ago who called this a passing fad need to find another excuse not to get on board.

2.) There is little doubt that edtech has become an industry that is worth big money. In the last few years we have seen billions of dollars invested in technology for education…

A Challenging Tweet

But…

3.) The majority of this money is going into building tools and apps and software that either reinforces what happens traditionally in classrooms (grade / attendance / behaviour trackers), or gives some classrooms (those who can afford it) access to higher quality content, or is aimed directly at teachers, principals, and central office staff providing no new learning opportunities for students.

So, overall, I would agree with Scott’s tweet. While there is big money flowing into edtech, and there seems to be a continual flow of new apps (just check the education category in the Mac app store for all the confirmation you need on this) and sites that are meant to change classrooms, there have been few new tools being released that are actually significantly changing learning for students.

I would add to Scott’s original thought by saying that I think edtech has splintered into several groups:

A.) Edtech “lite” for people who have have ipads (or what have you) in their classrooms and want to simply grab a few apps to give their kids better information about the body (or astronomy, or algebra, etc) or to help them master their multiplication tables. These are the people the startups love as they are always willing to invest a few dollars into the latest app, and who aren’t terribly concerned when their content isn’t updated regularly as they will move on to something else.

B.) Edtech “central” for administrators, consultants and central office staff who push certain pieces of software, apps or websites down into classrooms. These are generally grade, attendance and skill tracking software which are meant to “enhance accountability” in classrooms and keep senior staff “informed.” This category is loved by companies as this software can run into the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars.

C.) Edtech “DIY” this is the category which has emerged newly over the last few years. While not an app or specific piece of software, it has seen huge growth as a trend. This is the portion of edtech that has driven things such as coding, 3D printers, Arduino, robotics and makerspaces into schools. Incredibly hot and trendy right now, this is a movement to go past edtech lite and get some high tech hands on and brains on time for kids in new ways.

D.) Edtech “Connections” This is the category that I think many of the original edtech bloggers fell into. These people work with a lot of fairly simple platforms that were not necessarily originally developed for education  (WordPress, Flickr, Google docs, RSS, etc) and are used mainly to connect learners with new content, and, more importantly, new people who can supplement their in class learning.

While tools and people may work in more than one category, most of them fit fairly cleanly into one space or another. The other thing that I believe is new (especially very recently) is that we are beginning to understand the effect that technology has on classrooms, teachers, and students more deeply and fully. All technology is not equal. It does not all support learners and learning in the same way. While some seek to revolutionize learning, others cement classrooms and schools into traditional modes of practice quite efficiently.

So I believe that edtech is changing. It is a moving target, a changing field. But I also believe that as educators we need to be careful about chasing shiny objects. Depth and good things are out there, but we need to be prepared to sift the dross from the real gold.

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