The future role of technology in education is clearly hugely important. It makes sense to harness the potential effectiveness of technology when it comes to both communicating concepts and facts to learners, and making them stick. The more interactive angle that technology can bring to the education process can be potentially hugely influential in this regard. The future of technology in education is also inextricably linked to the future needs of the workforce. An increasingly tech-focused world means youngsters need to be taught tech-skills such as programming from a young age and that is impossible if we don’t have more tech in our classrooms.
While the EdTech sector has been generally widely praised for its role in providing innovative digital tools to schools, higher education institutes and students, concerns have also been growing around how effective some of these are. A recent warning was shot across the bows of EdTech by an influential figure in education.
Eva Moskowitz, founder of the Success Academy Charter Schools recently told a room full of 200 EdTech entrepreneurs that she doesn’t believe their products are proving to be the saviour of future education they are often billed as. She believes that this is due to a disconnect between the products the EdTech industry is coming up with and what schools actually need.
The theme raised by Moskowitz was a dominant one at the recent NYEdTech Week. Concerns lie mainly around the fact that while many EdTech products are expensive for schools, very few of them “move the needle in any significant way”, when it comes to improving the education that pupils receive.
Consensus within the education industry, and to some extent EdTech itself, is that new products need to focus on personalised learning. That sentiment was also recently echoed by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Together with wife Priscilla Chan, the pair two years ago established the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, named after the couple’s young son. The foundation’s mission is to advance technology in education.
Zuckerberg, and many of the participants at the NYEdTech Week, are strongly of the opinion that the real future of technology in education will be realised through using it to build an education where each student receives what is in effect one-to-one tuition. The education system can’t afford to employ enough teachers to provide a detailed personalised curriculum for each student, but technology can fill the gap with the support of teachers. Zuckerberg explains:
“Rather than having every student sit in a classroom and listen to a teacher explain the same material at the same pace in the same way regardless of a student’s strengths, learning style and interests, research shows students will perform better if they can learn at their own pace, based on their own interests, and in a style that fits them.”
The main focus of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is investing in the development of personalised learning software and the organisation employs a team of engineers working in this direction.
The other major feedback the education industry had for EdTech as for greater communication when it comes to building technology to help streamline administration processes in education. EdTech companies were told that many of the solutions put forward in this area did not address what educational systems and institutions really need.
Another element to this problem is the risk factor educators face when adopting new education. While many businesses experience issues integrating new technology systems, sometimes finally scrapping them and trying another solution, administrators in education usually don’t have that luxury. That is due to both budget constraints and higher levels of accountability and consequence.
One superintendent of a network of public high schools explained:
“We’re entrusted with people’s children, and it’s hard for me to take a risk, fail and then have to look in the eyes of a father and say, ‘Oh I’m sorry that plan didn’t work for your daughter. It looked cool at the time.”
Contributors to the event suggested that better communication would solve many of the issues around both in-classroom and admin-centric EdTech.
“Have conversation with us about what we need. So many things don’t meet a need we have. Don’t assume you know what our needs are.”