Creating a System for the Intentional Use of Digital Learning
The latest generation of edtech has obvious appeal: whether the goal is to differentiate instruction, personalize learning, analyze data, or provide engaging content, it seems that there is a new tool or app nearly every day of the week that can creatively destruct previous educational paradigms in favor of an entirely new approach.
Does that sound too good to be true? It probably is. The history of edtech is a checkered one: every generation of tech innovation—from film strips in the postwar era to VHS tapes in the 1980s—promised to revolutionize instruction. And the end result of so many revolutions is jaded teachers who are tired of constantly revamping their curriculum and approach to keep up with the latest edtech advances. So it is wise to recognize the limits of edtech. Here are four suggestions for creating a system for the intentional use of digital learning:
First, one key is buy-in from all stakeholders. This includes parents, who may be uncomfortable with extra screen time for their children. This unease is a fortuitous barrier to entry for dubious edtech. So if you can’t convince the parents that it is worth it, that is a good sign that it isn’t a well-planned use of digital learning.
A second key is to be sure that instructional objectives—not edtech—are driving the decision making. Edtech should always be thought of as a tool to be used to reach another goal and not an end in itself. This seems obvious, but a large number of teachers can attest to technology programs that were wasted because it wasn’t clear exactly what they were supposed to be used for.
Third, be prepared to look closely at the research. Solid evidence is a key for the intentional use of digital learning, but in the edtech sector, it is surprisingly hard to come by. One problem is that the exceedingly fast life cycle of most edtech products makes quality research difficult to do; another problem is that the financial incentives of edtech purveyors means that much of the research that does exist needs careful evaluation.
Fourth, remember that some of the most important skills that students need to succeed in the future—the social and emotional skills such as collaboration and leadership—require ample face-to-face interaction. Regardless of its other benefits, edtech needs to take a back seat to the development of these skills in some contexts.