Are We Witnessing the Golden Age of Edtech?
Imagine the classroom of the 1980s. If the school district was reasonably wealthy, there might have been a television and a VHS player. The teacher might have had a personal computer, although there was no Internet access and functionality was largely limited to spreadsheets and word processing. Perhaps the school had one computer lab with a few software programs.
While some American classrooms might still look like that 1980s classroom, the majority are rather different: there might be five iPads, or there might be one-to-one Chromebooks, and there is probably a projector screen attached to the teacher’s laptop. For virtually any topic that the teacher might want to teach—whether that be the end of the Victorian era or how a pendulum works—he or she can instantly access a free video.
Given that reality, it is easy to imagine that we are witnessing the golden age of edtech. But there are three reasons to think that this may in fact not be the case:
First, it would be hard to argue that coming years won’t see more innovation. Educators can expect, for example, the quality of VR to improve. This will make it possible to engage students in innovative ways, such as virtual field trips to all places and times, not to mention exploring cells and atoms—from the inside.
Second, support materials will proliferate. For example, Google Expedition offers free guided VR experiences designed specifically for classrooms. But supplemental materials are somewhat sparse since the platform is relatively new. It’s easy to imagine that, as time goes on, more teachers will use it and will develop their own lesson plans and activities to accompany it, which will make Expeditions even better to use.
Third, hopefully the edtech fever will break. It’s understandable that teachers, parents, and students are enamored with everything digital, but it is nonetheless the case that recent research on edtech applications such as on massive online open courses (MOOCs) and virtual charter schools has, depressingly, shown that students in those environments are not only not excelling, but they aren’t even making as much progress as students using traditional instructional methods.
In other words, not everything digital is gold. Rather, all stakeholders in the educational sphere need to be careful to vet every technology—and they can’t rely too heavily on research data from edtech purveyors since it is often of dubious quality.
In short, there is reason to believe that, when it comes to edtech, the best is yet to come.