What Can K12 Schools Do to Get the Most Out of Ed Tech?
All of a sudden, ed tech is everywhere, and it seems like the possibilities are stunning. But a quick consideration of the history of educational trends leads thoughtful people to the conclusion that not everything that falls under the banner of “ed tech” will actually result in improved student outcomes. Here are some things that K12 schools can do to get the most out of ed tech:
First, remember that tech is a tool, never a goal. Only adopt technology if it is a better route to reaching an independent goal than a non-tech route would be. It can be hard to avoid the allure of new and “fun” tech products, but student achievement depends on making wise choices. For example, many students—particularly those from disadvantaged communities—suffer a slump in their reading ability in the fourth grade, despite the fact that their reading progress was similar to their peers in earlier grades.
Researchers have discovered that this slump is because some students lack the vocabulary—particularly for academic and abstract words—that they need to know to progress in their reading. Useful ed tech would help students to develop their vocabulary. That kind of an approach would put the appropriate goal (developing vocabulary)—and not the fun and flash of ed tech—in the driver’s seat in decision making.
Second, educators need to realize that the burden of vetting materials is higher for edtech products than for traditional instructional materials. Most traditional textbook publishers have extensive systems in place for reviewing and assessing their materials. In comparison, many ed tech companies are almost entirely focused on the technology and only minimally focused on the content.
In the face of tight budgets and tight deadlines, they may have skimped on the subject matter specialists, curriculum developers, and educational psychologists that are required to ensure that instructional materials will meet the needs of all students. This puts an added burden on the school or teacher who is choosing ed tech materials—they can no longer assume that this part of the vetting will be done for them. Ed tech companies may not be prepared—or willing—to make these investments.
Third, schools need to be careful that ed tech encourages higher-order thinking skills. Unfortunately, it is much easier to design ed tech that teaches, practices, and assesses the lowest levels of thinking skills; this means that higher-level skills are often left neglected.