Since I started working in educational technology, I have wanted to put myself out of business. This is to say, I never wanted “EdTech” to seem like an additive to the educational experience, but rather, threaded seamlessly through the educational ethos and philosophy of every academic institution.
In 2007, I had an opportunity as an English teacher to take over for a newly minted “tech coach” who was leaving the classroom to support and guide educational technology. The “tech coach” position was part of a grant in Pennsylvania called “Classrooms for The Future” that was rolled out by the Rendell administration. This was my first experience with mobile technology implementation and the first time I saw the potential waiting for us at the intersection of instructional design and technology.
The problem with the Classrooms for The Future grant was that it was too heavily focused on hardware and moving technology into the classroom, as opposed to focusing on professional learning for educators. It also did not account for the day to day support that is crucial in the early stages of any major initiative. This is not to say that the the Classroom for the Future grant was a failure, but rather, its priorities were not focused on teaching and learning with technology. Instead, it was providing a lot of fish and not teaching educators and students how to fish.
As technology became more portable and infrastructures more robust, school districts around the country started to see a rise in instructional technology specialist or support positions for technology. I served in this role for four years after my life as an English teacher. I designed my own job description in two districts and provided evidence for why an instructional technology specialist was important to every technology rollout. My focus in professional learning was not to get 100 educators in a room and teach them how to use Google Docs, but rather ask them what they were teaching and then find ways where technology served a meaningful purpose.
It’s been almost a decade since I worked in a Classrooms for the Future Classroom. Since then, I have seen educational technology change and consolidate into powerful, personalized tools. I’ve seen school districts promote teacher leadership in place of overpaying for a high-priced consultant when implementing professional learning for technology. I’ve seen technology specialists move back into the classroom because the school’s professional learning model taught educators how to fish. I’ve seen student agency drive ideas and advise district leaders on new initiatives and ideas. And, I’ve seen static, passive learning burgeon into dynamic learning landscapes painted with a variety of learning endeavors.
The one element that has not evolved entirely is thinking of EdTech as if it is an additive within a learning ecosystem rather than part of the school’s fabric. I’ve made the same argument about digital citizenship. Many schools are still asking why when considering technology implementation, but not focusing on the how. It is no longer necessary to say whether you consider yourself “tech savvy” or not. Essentially, “tech savviness” should be an inherent part of an educator’s educational philosophy because it will be an essential part of every student’s future. This is to say, educators should understand how active use of technology hardware and software should be led by the learning objectives and outcomes as opposed to being front and center in any classroom. And thinking through the question: How do we prepare students to fish and then adapt, modify, and transfer those fishing skills into other spaces?
For years, I have been asked about “What is next in EdTech?” And, “What device do you think is best?” My answers always remained the same. I hope EdTech is no longer a focal point but rather, it’s threaded through the fabric of every school’s ethos and philosophy. I hope educators own EdTech and leverage it to create dynamic learning landscapes. I hope that devices are no longer debated and instead we’re finding ways in which we can prepare educators — both in educator prep programs and with in-house, professional learning — to help students to find the right tool to solve big problems. I hope education conferences stop showcasing vendors and toys and refocus on the educators who are leading the way in designing and creating innovative spaces for exploration and inquiry that may or may not involve technology.
Essentially, let’s stop treating technology and digital tools as if they’re some additive in burgeoning learning ecosystem. Whether we consider ourselves “tech savvy” or “not tech savvy” our entire lives are run and sometimes dictated by algorithms and digital structures. And, this will only evolve further as we progress forward. It is a guarantee that the classroom of today will seem novel to generations five years from now and new technology structures will emerge. But, that doesn’t mean we need to create a Director of Virtual Reality. Instead, find the champion educator in your school and allow him or her to help the school learn how to fish with these new technologies. Educational technology doesn’t have to be a specialized job or an addition to an academic institution, rather, it should be seamlessly threaded through the fabric of every institution of learning and inquiry.