George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Boy sitting at end of a couch working on a tablet

We are constantly hearing about how some piece of new tech will transform teaching and learning in the classroom. We believe that if something is shiny, new, and slick, it will inevitably be good for the classroom. In other words, we believe that technology will solve the ills of the 21st-century classroom. This can, however, lead to blind adoption or ill-planned implementation.

Remember QR codes, those fun black-and-white squares that were going to revolutionize the classroom? Or Google Glass? How about how One Laptop Per Child was going to bring digital literacy to the masses in the Third World? These initiatives were built on the myth of "cool" and the myth of good intentions.

There are three common myths when it comes to edtech tools:

1. If it's cool, it will engage kids, and teachers will use it.

Many schools budget thousands of dollars to install interactive whiteboards (IWBs) in their classrooms. They definitely have the "cool" factor, but whether kids are excited about them and whether teachers use them is still not clear. What is clear is that IWBs are costly and require extensive professional development for successful implementation. Without this training, teachers tend to use these expensive tools as "glorified chalkboards," or worse, not at all. Research also shows that effective use of IWBs is a reflection of effective teaching and doesn't necessarily make a "bad" teacher better.

2. If it works really well and is really slick to use, it must be good for the classroom.

Just this past year, the widely popular Class Dojo, which has been celebrated for its ease of use and slick interface, was criticized for the way it handled student information. The company has since agreed to delete all user data after one year, and has signed the Student Privacy Pledge along with a number of edtech companies. Many schools and districts are now scrutinizing some of the tools they use in the classroom due to the concerns of parents over how much of their children's data is being made available to companies and what these companies are doing with the data.

In addition, many edtech companies get really excited about a slick tool they have built, only to find that it does not match the needs of teachers in the classroom and/or that it solves a problem no one actually has.

3. If the intention behind the product is good, then it can only do good in the classroom.

In both examples given, the companies involved set out with the best intentions. IWB companies did not set out to create the world's most expensive chalkboard, and Class Dojo did not set out to create a tool that mismanaged student information. Most edtech companies have the best intentions and sincerely hope that their product will improve teaching and learning in the classroom. However, these good intentions do not mean that a tool will be effective in the classroom or that the product will truly meet the needs of the classroom.

When bringing any new technology into the classroom, it's important that we don’t fall for the myth that something shiny and new will be a good bet for our students' education. We must do our homework on what the underlying costs (both financial and others) are, and what the responsibilities of the school, company, teacher, and families should be when we want to bring a tech tool into the classroom.

Please share your thoughts on these or additional edtech myths in the comments section below.

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Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Design/Broadcast Media teacher

Completely agree, Mary Beth! I've seen teachers start class blogs for their students, but not assign any work on it. They seem to think that just because it is a blog (shiny fun tech!), the students will flock to it and write on their own. Yes, blogging is an excellent way to engage kids in writing, but thinking kids will know how to use it appropriately (and will choose to do so on their own) assigns far more power to technology than it deserves. As with any other teaching strategy or curriculum or fad, what matters the most is the teacher preparing the best lessons and finding the best ways to engage kids in learning. Technology is no more magical than whiteboards were when they replaced our dusty chalkboards.

James Rice's picture

Content is the most important feature for teachers and schools. Content must be created to work on multiple platforms. Just using Edtech without proper content is useless. If we have great content - then schools or teachers can simply use the Edtech that they feel most comfortable with.

CarolynNicole's picture

Let us not forget LA Unified's iPad debacle. Technology will not fix core problems in education. If education isn't valued in the home & made a priority, no amount of technology will correct the problem. We're still asking students to do work no matter what the platform. Reading on a iPad is still reading, research on a computer is still research, and a lecture using a Smart Board is still a lecture.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Great post (as usual) Mary Beth. I think the crucial thing in education is, far too often, these products are designed by people who are developers first, and educators second (if at all). Imagine if it was reversed?

Farah Najam's picture
Farah Najam
Teacher Trainer and write on education

It is frequently cited rationale for introducing technology was to excite motivation and self-esteem. Through either personal experience or a review of the literature, many innovators sensed the dramatic effects that technology can have on students' interest in class activities and their sense of their own capabilities.

Gloria Mitchell's picture
Gloria Mitchell
Middle school teacher

Good post. Sometimes adult observers are impressed by how excited students are to have a new piece of tech. We think they're engaged by the technology, but it may very well be that they're excited about a novel experience (and that once the novelty wears off, it will become a lot less interesting).

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

Yes, Karen, there are some amazing EdTech tools out there that really make a difference in teaching and learning. We should not forget that!

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

Interesting points about self-esteem and excitement, Gloria and Farah. Excitement is good, but does not always lead to learning, and I agree that the "wow" factor diminishes each time a kid uses the tool. It's like a Christmas present. It's new and exciting until February when the kid is ready for something new.

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

Keith, some of the best tools come from former teachers who know the ins and outs of life in the classroom.

Carolyn, James and Laura, I think you speak to the importance of purpose. Learning and content is what should guide the way for sure!

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Design/Broadcast Media teacher

Although the "wow" factor over the device might diminish, what we ask them to DO with the device can continue to inspire "wow." It's all about pedagogy and planning.

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