What Does Technology in Education Look Like?

That is the billion dollar question. Actually, it’s the multi-billion dollar question. According to the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), the non-hardware educational technology market is worth $7.5 billion. Throw in hardware, like NewsCorps Amplify tablet, and the educational technology market is through the roof. The problem is what the hell does it look like?

The best example I can give happened to me this year. While teaching my class on D.C. History, we were discussing home rule. (A quick background, Article I Section 8, Clause 17 gave Congress exclusive jurisdiction over Washington. Less then 15 years later, this issue became a problem for the people living in DC. They could not vote for President nor have a Representative in Congress. Basically, they had no say in the rules process). The students were given quotes from the early 1800’s and had to identify the author’s position and then analyze the author’s argument. The discussion was very lively with strong comparisons of D.C. government to the students’ lack of ability to affect rules in the school. My assistant principal was observing this lesson, and I thought I would receive rather high scores for the fantastic discussion.

In the debriefing, one critique she had was incorporating technology into the lesson. I responded that there was no need for technology in the lesson. Her response was that I could have put the quotes on a PowerPoint or something rather than just have the kids looking at a sheet of paper on their desk. I responded that that’s using PowerPoint for no apparent reason. We went back and forth on the topic. I ended up with not quite the review I had expected. When discussing the situation with my (also a teacher) wife, she thought I should have said pencil and paper is also a technology. Putting the quotes on a PowerPoint wouldn’t change or improve the content.

Too often I think people want teachers to use technology for flash and glitter. I’m in favor of practical application of technology. Cool graphics on a PowerPoint doesn’t make a lesson better. I want to use technology where it makes sense and actually improves the delivery and content of the lesson, not just to make something shiny.

The next era in Ed tech is going to be Learning Analytic software. While attending a Brookings Institute forum on the topic (where I think I was the only teacher in the room, but that is a discussion for another day), developers and education policy wonks discussed software that tracks mouse movement, clicks, and learning retention that could quantify when a student learns what subject best at what time of day. Hardware development is also expanding. The Amplify tablet is specifically marketed at the education market.

To a teacher in the classroom, all that is years down the line. Technology for a teacher today is programs like Adobe, Anki, Socrative, Google Apps, and others. Or capitalizing on smartphones in our students’ pockets, instead of just banning it like several schools I’ve worked for do. That’s what I mean when I think about technology in the classroom.

Power On!