Remember InBloom, a $100 million initiative, funded largely by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to aggregate student data and learning tools and allow educators to customize teaching?
Or what about Purdue course signs or the Austin Pei degree compass, which were course recommendation tools?
And what happened to Math Centers, Newtons, Google Glass, Coding for All, or the year MOOC?
This history of educational technology is riddled with failures.
Technology fads have appeared and gone regularly marked. Mobile learning, personalized adaptive curricula, and clicks have all been in vogue. Then their 15-minute fame faded and new technology fads came and went, just like the teaching machines and Skinner boxes of previous years.
Educational technologies are not new. In the early 19th century, the blackboard was a new educational technology. But it was the 20th century that brought a lot of innovations in the field of educational technology along with the expectation that it would upend education. Indeed, the introduction of every new communication technology has sparked dreams of revolutionizing education. Radio, films, tapes, television, and computers all hold promise for expanding access, reducing costs, and improving the quality of teaching and learning.
However, although we were told that the technologies were disruptive, transformative, and revolutionary, their impact on pedagogical practice and student performance proved negligible. Far from changing current practices, innovations in educational technology have often enhanced teacher-centred, lecture-based, and rote-based teaching methods.
American society values innovation, and it is not surprising that technology naysayers and skeptics are often ridiculed as both anxieties and impediments to progress. But often their suspicions and suspicions are proven correct.
I have to admit: I’m a tech buff. I am convinced that higher education would do well to change and that technology has an important role to play in this transformation. She also amazed me, often by mistake, with flimflam, hot air, and exaggeration.
So I write as a person hampered by past disappointments. I know firsthand that technology can be used for good or bad. However, as the old irony says, my hope triumphs over experience.
So what are the most promising educational technologies? Only those who help coaches do their jobs better, not dislodge them. These are the technologies that:
- Bring a wealth of educational resources into the classroom.
- Monitor student participation and learning and immediate and timely interventions.
- Provide tools for analysis, visualization and project creation.
- Support active, collaborative and project-based learning.
- Ease of grading and help teachers provide more constructive feedback.
Why didn’t Ed Tech deliver on its promise? The reasons are clear.
1. Because innovators often adopt a poor concept of teaching and learning.
Technology will transmit information. Or automate exercises and practice. Or offer tutorials. Or customize the instructions and individualize them.
But what he fails to do is do what a teacher does: motivate students. Keep students engaged and on track. Scaffold and support student learning. Provide constructive feedback in a timely manner.
2. Because cost-effectiveness, rather than learning, tends to drive innovation.
Despite talk of democratizing quality education or individualizing teaching and learning, much of the motive behind adopting teaching techniques is to reduce teaching costs, and to replace machines or software with the kind of practical support that benefits students the most.
3. Because teachers are not trained to use classroom techniques effectively.
In the absence of training or examples of successful use of classroom techniques, most instructors continue to teach as they have done in the past, through lectures, discussions, questions, and demonstrations.
4. Because the teaching techniques are not in line with the teaching method of most trainers.
Most teaching is didactic and teacher-centered, and involves imparting information and guided discussion. Instructional technologies presuppose very different pedagogical approaches, in which students learn individually, work in groups, or are expected to participate in an activity in the classroom.
5. Because of the lack of compelling evidence that technology actually improves student learning.
Education technologies are often promoted for non-academic reasons: because of hype or an exaggerated belief that exposure to technologies will better prepare graduates for the digital economy. Without empirical evidence of effectiveness, many coaches consider the technology a waste of money at best and a distraction at worst.
6. Because of the gap between what technology promises and what it actually delivers.
Pessimists always over-promise and under-deliver, raising doubts and cynics about the value of technology and the motivations of its advocates. Despite claims to the contrary, there is no significant unmet student demand for more technology-enhanced education or evidence that exposure to educational technology makes graduates more employable and better prepared for the 21st century workplace.
7. Because creating educationally effective techniques is difficult.
High-impact educational technologies often exceed the capacity of a sole innovator. Effective technologies require a group of specialists: in user experience design, software development and evaluation.
After all, the past does not have to dictate the future. Just because technology after technology has gone into the abstract of history, that doesn’t mean technology can’t improve learning.
- Some techniques have worked.
Most obvious is the humble chalkboard, which was first introduced at West Point in the early 19th century, and emphasized the value of visualization, especially when used to illustrate the process of solving a problem or organizing a complex subject.
Educators readily adopt techniques that improve students’ learning or ability to function.
It is no accident that the educational technologies that have been widely adopted – such as today’s PowerPoint slides, LCD projectors, whiteboards or learning management systems – have really contributed to improving student learning and have represented indisputable improvements over the tools that have replaced: the trumpet book, mimeo Or a paper grade book. These technologies were adopted precisely because they made it easier for teachers to set up classrooms, engage students, monitor learning, and perform their administrative tasks—because they were seen as pedagogically beneficial, not because they were imposed from the top down.
- Technologies can have a transformative effect, increase student learning and participation, and improve pedagogical practice.
But if technologies are to have a “revolutionary” impact, we need to think as a tool that can solve the problems we face in the classroom.
Let me explain the ways in which I find technology useful:
Technology can be diagnostic.
It can provide the teacher and student with accurate, real-time insights into student engagement and understanding of core course material and identify areas of confusion and misunderstanding.
Technology can prompt mid-cycle correction and intervention of students in a timely manner as necessary.
I am a staunch advocate of information boards: confronting the teacher and the student and both. Dashboards can reveal the time students spend on the course website, identify questions that students find difficult or confusing, or map student progress. Dashboards can motivate students and prompt teachers to rethink their teaching methods and to reach students who are off track.
Technology can lower the cost of study materials.
I am referring not only to OER, OER, such as those offered by OpenStax, which can replace costly textbooks, but to interactive courseware developed by a teacher or publisher, which combines the features of a textbook, rich multimedia, and wealth From educational resources, data banks, lessons, activities, and assessments.
Technology can personalize the learning experience.
Aside from MOOCs, there has been nothing more technical than exaggerating the customized and adaptable courseware. But just because the technology is overselling doesn’t mean it was a bad idea. Many students need a more personalized and personalized learning experience that identifies gaps in their knowledge, makes recommendations on what to study next, offers tutorials to address confusions, and provides an opportunity to practice skills – all at an appropriate pace and with personalized content that the student finds compelling.
Technology can bring educational resources that were previously inaccessible to the classroom.
Whether these are primary sources including letters, diaries, and other personal papers, visual resources, such as advertisements, artwork, maps or photographs, or data sources, such as census records or voting returns, we now have an unparalleled opportunity to allow students to work with the sources they Professionals do it.
Technology can transform learning into a more active process.
Here, I think of tools that allow students to comment on and analyze text, manipulate and visualize data, map concepts, causation or networks, and create projects. I have found technology to be particularly useful in giving students ways to organize, analyze, and present information and data.
Technology can facilitate learning and team-based collaboration.
Collaboration and communication tools can connect students with their classmates, but also with those outside the classroom. Research projects and collaborative presentations can be implemented remotely and even asynchronously. Connected learning may include guest lecturers, practicing professionals, and alumni, among others. These tools can also bring fieldwork or clinicians into the classroom.
Technology can create immersive learning environments.
Whether these are virtual worlds (such as Second Life) or virtual reconstructions of current locations (such as ancient Rome, a medieval cathedral or the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893), these digital environments provide opportunities for role-playing, collaboration, exploration, problem-solving and life experience. Indirectly in a radically different context. Non-hazardous environments can also address issues with performance anxiety and stereotype threat.
Technology can build skills.
Technology can help students master basic skills by providing exercises and simulations. Because technology never tires or gets annoyed, it can take care of more repetitive aspects of teaching and learning.
Education, of course, is not just a matter of imparting information. Nor is it just a matter of practice. In most cases, it requires social interaction, scaffolding, feedback, and yes, human contact, and it needs a teacher who can tailor a lesson according to students’ interests, prep and skill level.
Technology cannot successfully replace teachers, especially not at the undergraduate level. But it can help make education more equitable and transform learners into investigators, analysts, and creators. Can provide the tools students need to analyze and comment on texts and data; Create dynamic and interactive maps, timelines and locations; management of bibliographic information; Organize research materials. Laboratory experiment simulation. Create rich media narratives.
It amazes me as the educational revolution we need.
Stephen Mintz is Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.