Educators Identify ‘Good Guys/Bad Guys’ in How Schools Use Ed Tech

Associate Editor

Austin, Texas

Educational technology, by itself, is neither good nor bad—but how it gets used in the classroom could land anywhere in that range of values, a group of teachers and instructional technologists agreed at SXSWedu here this week.

In a workshop about how educators evaluate ed-tech, two presenters chose a “Wild West” theme as the framework for the discussion.

Geoff Stead, the executive vice president for didactics of Babbel, a language learning app based in Germany, and Evelina Galaczi, the head of research strategy at Cambridge Assessment English, in England, asked about 150 educators attending their workshop to weigh in on “the bad guys—who or what are they?” and “the good guys.”

Respondents did not name names for the conversation about the bad guys, but they shared their experiences and opinions about what makes ed-tech difficult to implement.

Common culprits were an overabundance of ed-tech choices, the cost of products, data privacy and security issues, and the lack of professional development in how to use it. Other concerns voiced about the technology, and how schools deploy it, included:

  • The rate of change in products, so teachers must relearn aspects of a tool—even when it’s just an upgrade.
  • It takes time to see results. While product innovations occur every three to six months, it can take much longer to measure the results in a classroom.
  • School decisionmakers are divorced from users of the product.
  • After taking the time to learn a tool, teachers don’t know whether it will be funded next year.
  • District-wide lack of purpose and strategy about the infrastructure, and the lack of buy-in about the importance of using the products, and the absence of professional development.
  • A lack of time, space, and permission to try new things.
  • The need to persuade school leaders and parents of the value.
  • Teachers who see it as a distraction, and fear losing control of their classes.

What makes a “good guy” in ed-tech? Workshop participants cited products that allow teachers the ability to add their own content.

They also talked about digital resources that prompt students to engage in learning more than being “passive consumers.”

And interoperability–the ability of different ed-tech products to connect easily with one another–is important, said the members of the audience who have to make the technology work.

Participants gave examples of favorite educational tools used in their schools. Here, they did “name names,” including:

  • Kahoot!
  • Nearpod
  • Google Suite for Education
  • Canvas
  • Padlet
  • Quizlet

Asked how they identify tools, many said they look to Twitter for recommendations. Others said they use Common Sense Education’s reviews. Cambridge Assessment English has launched a new resource with reviews for products that can be used for language learning on The Digital Teacher website.

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