Let’s Forget EdTech in 2013

I want to propose something crazy: I think we talk too much about education technology. I'm guilty of it, and it's been weighing on me over Christmas break. Maybe I'm projecting some of my concerns out there, but let me explain a little bit.

2012 seemed like an edtech explosion to me. Every week, I would hear about some new tool that lets teachers and students do this or that, which is great. But all of the focus was on how the tool will revolutionize or change your teaching. The problem I have with this is that too many people are falling into the trap of trying to teach to the tool, rather than using the tool to teach.

There is a major distinction that needs to be made: pedagogy must be the focus of any teacher improvement plan. What is our philosophy of teaching and learning? How do we approach instruction and assessment? What content is important? How will we work with students to support learning? Then, at the point where we are supporting learning, when the ground work has been laid, we can begin to look into technology. I am saying this as a confessed non-practicer (at least consistently) of the workflow.

I've fallen into the trap of seeing something awesome and trying to squeeze it into the class for the sake of using it. There is no lower connection for me, so meaningful use doesn't translate to the classroom space.

What I'm hoping to see (and participate in) are blog posts and articles that walk readers through the process of choosing a tool. What goals are you trying to accomplish? How does that tie into your learning process in the big picture? How are students supported? How is your process supported? How did that tool meet or not meet those goals?

We've got the resources and we've got the product reviews. It's time to start putting them to better work together.

19 thoughts on “Let’s Forget EdTech in 2013

  1. Guest says:

    I am not sure I completely agree with you on this one. Yes, I felt 2012 was the year of “Top 10 Tools You Must Use Now” and I know I saw at least one that said “Top Tools to make you a more effective teacher”, but I believe that this is the fault of the person gullible enough to believe the title. When I am choosing a new type of technology, I am trying to find something that replaces a traditional technique that is not only updated, but also is not preparing my students to be successful in the future. Should this mean we shouldn’t talk about edtech? No. I think we just need to change HOW we talk about it. Edtech should be chosen because it helps streamline the teaching process, improves student retention/understanding of the material, and reaches the students at their level. Maybe more teachers need to use their blogs to talk more about how they are using technology and why they are doing it that way. A lot of us (me included) talk about how we feel about what is going on in education. Maybe 2013 can be the year to showcase the fantastic things we and our students are doing. Just a thought.

    • Marc, I think we’re talking about the same thing, I’m just using a little more hyperbole to make a point :-)

      Most conversations I have go something like, “Have you tried [product X]? It’s so awesome because kids [complete task Y].” There isn’t anything that improves the method the person uses, the meaning students get from it, or the application of the skills thereof. I agree 100% that edtech is here to stay, but rather than filling out our BINGO tech cards to showcase, we build deeper conversations around how those things are being used to improve teaching and learning.

      • Ben says:

        Brian Bennett

        No hyperbole at all, you’re spot on with the rally cry about forgetting “edtech” in the same manner that we should all stop using “digital natives”. You’ve simply reached the plateau, or critical mass if you will, of what you needed to know about educational uses of technology before moving along the continuum/rubric of “what do I really need to know”. Many people get stuck in the “share/cheerlead/overdose” stage of personal growth, and that’s alright. They’re the cheerleaders and explorers, the people who are always going to repost the “Top 15 Apps You MUST Teach With” posts. They keep the waters churning.

        It sounds like rom this post that you’re starting to identify with a different group of individuals, or recognize within yourself, that maybe the cheerleaders and sharers aren’t the group you identify with anymore. Perhaps you’ll start down the road of more careful introspection, but wherever you find yourself, it sounds like you’ve taken a few positive first steps; you may come off as sounding a bit more grumpy or luddite-like, but it will help you stay focused on the pedagogy, not just the tech.


        Brian isn’t saying let’s not talk about EdTech, he’s saying let’s not talk about EdTech as thought it’s both the “magic bullet” we need and treating it as thought it’s where we start having conversations about teaching.

        • Thanks for your thoughts, Ben. Honestly, I think some of this stemmed from our discussions about mainstream education blogging as a whole. A lot of links and citations are to short, introductory pieces rather than longer, reflective writing. I’m hoping to begin a pattern of change personally that will lead me to the next step in my development.

  2. I am guilty of showcasing tools, but it’s been under the assumption that most teachers are keeping sound pedagogy in mind and choosing the tool that works best for their students and their learning. I know that’s not always the case, but I think your call for posts that show how to choose a tool on the teacher’s part is a good idea. I also think that posts related to how we can help students choose their own edtech tools for learning might be something worth reading as well. Thanks for a post that made me think.

    • I have done the same, Terie, writing about how a particular tool made class awesome that day. But, I neglected to write about how it was used, what prep work was involved, what our context was, etc. I think part of the problem is that bloggers (myself included) write for the person on-the-go…reading short bursts of insight that may or may not translate personally. I want to be more reflective in my writing, which means longer pieces, but in the end, they’re more useful.

  3. MadLibrarian says:

    I agree very much with what you’ve written here, largely because I’ve been saying some version of this for a very long time: that our students do NOT need the Top 10 Tech Tools du jour, most of which are, frankly, a waste of time, but the kind of deep reading and critical thinking skills that serve them no matter where they go in life, no matter what kinds of technologies they encounter.

    Often in education, we have this crazy “all or nothing” mentality–in this case, either we’re going to use all the latest tech, all the time, or we are obviously some weird Luddites who want to go back to the one-room schoolhouse.

    I gave a talk about this last month to tech educators in New Jersey. It’s called “An Angel Packs a Suitcase,” and it asks how we, as educators, can prepare students for a future that none of us can predict. See if you agree: http://wp.me/p1sOOF-kF

  4. Wendy says:

    I somewhat agree as well….I think it is all in balance. I think it’s important to learn and share new tools, so that way when I or a colleague have a lesson planned and need a tool to support it I already have something to try or can find something that works better than a tool I already use. I compare it to medicine(maybe not the best comparison), but comes from my experience. I needed to have surgery, and the doctor completed the procedure with traditional tools, unfortunately with unsuccessful results. My new surgeon completed the procedure with a new tool with amazing results.
    I do agree that we need to share more about the process, selection of tools, and the reflection and lessons learned. I do agree that so many(including myself) fall into the trap of finding something cool and using it because it’s cool, not because it’s really is the best way to facilitate learning. That and the idea that there is one tool that is perfect…it should all be based on pedagogy and the present learners.
    Loved this post….really got me thinking. It has also motivated me to share more of the process and reflection, which I often keep to myself

    • Thanks for the reply, Wendy. I think the doctor analogy is fantastic, but I would also add that I would want surgeon number 2 to talk with surgeon number 1 about not only what they used, but HOW they used it. Greater meaning is in our demonstration of action, which is what I hope to do more consistently as well.

  5. Thanks for adding your thoughts, Julie. I agree with the “all-or-nothing” mentality, but I think that is also a part of Western culture. We want the newest things, all the time, and that bleeds over into our work. I’m not saying new things can’t help, rather that I want more information and discussion on HOW they can help us.

    Thanks for including the link to your talk. I’ll listen to it over lunch today.

  6. Peter Jory says:

    Hi Brian,
    As someone charged with moving this type of learning forward I am one of those people who does constantly retweet and favourite these articles about the latest and greatest tools in the hope that they will be adopted and used effectively in some future classroom environment. However, this is going to be a long and challenging road for many reasons. Twitter and all of these online blogs cater to a more tech literate group of people for sure, a small percentage of teachers really. There is pretty big continuum out there in regard to even basic tech skills and how they are taught and supported, let alone how the skills and tools might apply to instructional practice and learning.

    I am pleased to see interest out there though, and there looks to be some pretty big uptake on our district plan to provide devices with the caveat of mandatory training attached. This will move things forward, but for many we are starting at the beginning. This is how you turn it on, this is how you manage your files, then here are some tools, then we can get back to the why, and then we can put people together to tinker and collaborate and plan meaningful projects for and with our kids. And we are very fortunate to even be able to talk about supplying an iPad or laptop! Most are not even close.

    My real hope is that over the next few years we are able to support a growing comfort with technology that creates a context where teachers can hand more control of learning over to students, then act more as mentors and facilitators. Comfort with tech will be an important part of providing options for our students, but there is a long, long way to go before even basic tech skills are are the norm.

    All that being said (man, I need to stop using that expression) I could not agree more about the importance of pedagogy, and how we need to focus on that and keep coming back to where the tech really fits in to instruction and learning, and where it is just a shinier and more expensive penny.

    I’m still going to retweet the lists though.


    • Peter, I really appreciate the voice you brought to this conversation. I’m actually moving into the realm of instructional technology coach part time next semester, and I’m wrestling with the same problem.

      I definitely think it’s valid to say to someone new to the conversation, “Think about trying [TOOL] to do this with your class.” A lot of times, it really is just sharing basic, structured ideas for teachers. But, would you not agree that the real deep learning in your position comes when teachers begin to make deeper instructional connections? I want the same thing for my students…we need to see connections between the basics (try this tool) and meaningful use (integrating rather than exposing).

      I still retweet some lists because of some of the same reasons you wrote about. I’m arguing, though, for the established, it’s time to begin sharing deeper uses of some of these tools.

  7. Audrey says:

    Brian, you are the last person I would have expected to hear this from, but I have to say, I am relieved to read this. I often feel overwhelmed by all the new stuff, and usually chalk it up to my age. But during my career, it’s been a kind of cat-and-mouse game between the pedagogy and the tech. Sometimes I have heard about the tech just as I needed whatever it was offering, like smartboards, for example, or google forms. But other times the tech has offered something I hadn’t even thought of, like getting kids to blog. It reminds me of this post I read a while ago, which also helped me de-stress and focus on one thing at a time: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2011/03/bring-me-stuff-thats-dead-please.html.

    Thanks for your usual great post!

  8. Brenda says:

    I’d like to enter this conversation and ask what I know will be a controversial question. What is this “sound pedagogy” so often referred to in these conversations? Isn’t Edtech throwing a wrench into this idea that we know what to teach and when to teach it? All the new flashy technology tools are an avenue to a whole new way for education where students direct the learning. The creative and innovative thinking inspired by students is pretty exciting. I know we’re not there just yet. However, I believe strongly that is a direction we owe it to our students to take. The path is pretty foggy right now, so at least putting sophisticated tools into the hands of students as much as possible might be a way to light that path.

    And, I’ll add that I also agree with a lot of what has been said especially in the initial post. I think most inolved in this conversation are a whole lot more grounded than me. I just think that since technology changes so rapidly I am reluctant to wait and plan out too much for its use because opportunities can be missed.

    Just my two cents . . .

    • Brenda, you’re asking the essential question here. I labored over that particular statement because I know how ambiguous “sound pedagogy” is. There are plenty of new styles of teaching that are all valid in their own right, and no single method is perfect.

      I suppose what I meant by the statement is that the tool goes deep into the learning cycle in one way or another. For example, we’re using [tool] because it allows me to gather information about student misconceptions that can then be addressed later in the cycle. There are multiple tools that could carry out that job, and they’re using the tool at a deep level. I think the caution I’m asking for is that we stop saying [TOOL] will make your class better just for using it. I want to know how trained, professional educators are using the tool in their preparation and execution of learning programs.

      I also want to begin sharing that way.

      • Brenda says:

        Yes, wow, great additions above to your original post. I see what you are saying and I really agree. We (teachers) should be having those discussions regarding how the tech helps you go deeper, engages, enhances innovation and creativity, etc. Love the idea that we can begin doing better sharing that way.

        Thanks for the inspiration, and the conversation!

    • Ben says:

      Sound pedagogy should be based around leaner’s narrating their learning, sharing mistakes and new concepts that they’ve discovered, and then curating their learning through some process of reflection. There’s an excellent talk by Gardner Campbell that basically sums up what most of the learning process can be boiled down to (http://youtu.be/lelmXaSibrc).

      EdTech does absolutely nothing to throw a wrench into that. If anything, it only amplifies effectively pedagogical practice in which a dialogue occurs between teacher and learner, and among the learners as a community. The “wrench” that you speak of disrupting teaching practice are the traditional methods of practice which have led us away from effectively communicating with one another in a shared learning environment; lecturing, didactic one-sided learning models, and students “discovering” new concepts through rote memorization.

      I agree with you in that we should amplify the excitement and interests that students bring to the classroom, but I also agree with Brian in that all of these new tools aren’t the solutions, it’s the time and structure you build into your learning environment that lets this energy become a part of learning. The tools are merely there as a media through which the students can express themselves, and while that’s terribly important, it’s all for naught if you’re just jumping from one “exciting” tool to the next without regard for the structure of the learning process.

  9. […] look to the piece. I’m not going to do a “how to” on this one, although Brian Bennett might chastise me for it. Instead, I’ll link to my previous “What’s Inside Ben Rimes” poster that I […]

  10. Niels Jakob Pasgaard says:

    Thanks for this post – I totally agree, that pedagogy must determine which tool to choose – no tool is great for every form of teaching – different tools should be used when needed. This Is excactly what I’m trying to focus on on my own website http://www.edidaktik.dk/en, where I present a pedagogical framework for assessment of digital learning tools – I have chosen to distinguish between a monological, a dialogical and a polyphonic form of teaching in the framework. Maybe you’ll find it useful?

    – Niels Jakob

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