The Rapidly Evolving Role of Technology in Education
Educational technology has always played a disproportionately large role in the budget and policy space. New technology developments get the headlines and right now districts are feverishly spending gobs of money on pieces of technology they could not afford prior to this year’s windfall.
However, wise educators are being a bit more circumspect about this movement. For years, schools just needed to get everyone “Smart Boards” or tablets, and then everything would be good. The pandemic demonstrated in a very visible way what the research had been telling us for a long time: technology is not the difference maker. As schools across the country quickly pivoted to getting students online, we saw a massive shift in school funding toward technology and the results could not be more underwhelming.
This is not to say that we should eschew technology and become Luddites. We know that technology is valuable, especially regarding equity of access. However, what has become more clear is that teaching is far more valuable than technology.
As schools and districts look at how to move forward with these Federal dollars associated with pandemic relief, they will be far better served spending that money on substantive and sustainable efforts to improve the quality of instruction that happens for students, rather than purchasing hardware or software that will be obsolete in 30 to 40 months.
The past 18 months gave us an unprecedented look at a variety of conditions that affect student learning. While it will take researchers much more time to parse all that data, it is already clear that technology had a satisficing role in education — meaning access was necessary, and lack of access was detrimental. It was the human aspect of education that is emerging as the difference maker. Teachers who had students make gains found ways to connect with their students and developed new pedagogies.
As this picture becomes more clear, savvy educators will begin to use technology in the way it is most effective: as a tool to enhance, not replace, quality teaching. At present, the mad dash of spending is resulting in a massive cash flow to EdTech companies that will quickly dissipate. Or not. It is of course entirely possible that school and district leaders will continue to chase the possibility of a tech solution and keep their teachers on the back bench of their spending priorities. Let’s hope not.
Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important.
– Bill Gates