Throughout history, there have been prospectors for gold, oil, and many other commodities. In 2015, the rush will be for a market share in educational technology.
It’s important to note there are organizations devoted to promoting learning for free. The two that quickly come to mind are Khan Academy and Gooru. Helping students and educators at no cost is an extremely noble endeavor, and I hope Khan and Gooru thrive during the upcoming year.
However, for most who have tossed their hats into the fray, it’s a fact that they’ve gotta hustle if they wanna make a dollar. On one hand, I have a lot of respect for companies such as Edmodo, Illuminate Education, LearnZillion, and the many other entities who are hustling for a foothold in districts across the nation. They’re all fulfilling niches that may very well be needed as schools adopt personal devices for students. On the other hand, if I worked for a company that wanted to service school districts, I would feel constant unease due to the fact that educators usually want (or need) services for free, and districts are continually looking for the cheapest alternative–many times at the expense of quality.
But, as we all know, there’s high risk in all business endeavors. I’ve stated the obvious in the above paragraph, but it’s a good way to frame an educational technology conversation in which the following three questions are discussed:
1. For what purpose does an educational technology company exist?
2. What do schools and districts need?
3. What do teachers need in their classrooms?
These questions may seem simple, but their answers are fraught with a high degree of complexity. Too often school districts follow sales representatives down a rabbit hole that leads to nothing but unused products and wasted money. To compound this reality, many companies are trying to find success through a grass roots campaign of making their services free for teachers but not free at a school and district level. This creates a disunited educator base where every teacher finds her favorite platform and fights for its adoption because it’s the ‘right’ choice.
I’d like to address the three above questions. It’ll be an incomplete analysis, but at least it’s a start in the edutech dialogue.
For what purpose does an educational technology company exist?
All great organizations have members who are introspective and want to exist in order to bring value in a field in which their services are needed. It’s also important for school districts to ask what the purpose is for a service. Finding a product’s necessity is only possible after a district has already answered many important questions, such as: Do we want fully digital curriculum? What, exactly, is a learning management system (LMS)? Do we want our LMS to house student information, take attendance, function as a grade book, and contain district made curriculum? Does the same LMS need to perform all these functions? Is there a difference between an LMS at the school and district level compared with the classroom level? (I’d answer with a resounding ‘yes’ to this last question–more on that in a bit.)
A district can probably grasp why an educational technology company exists, but it’s hard to figure out if the service is necessary, which leads me to the second question:
What do schools and districts really need?
At a school or district level, the technological services most in need are on four fronts: how to house digital curriculum, how to track student performance on formative assessments, attendance, and a grade book. (I will leave out programs used by payroll and special services, mainly because I’m not familiar with these divisions.)
Digital curriculum: To the chagrin of many, digital curriculum is coming. Districts need to figure out whether they will continue the traditional textbook adoption or transfer to a service that provides content in a web-based solution. Also, will districts create their own curriculum and publish it with the web 2.0 tools that are available for free, or will they pay for curriculum that is created by an outside company?
Student performance: The importance of formative assessments within education may be unparalleled, and it would behoove the school or district that promotes this type of checking for understanding by finding a service that not only assesses students quickly and efficiently, but also provides teachers and principals with easily discernible data that can drive instruction. There’s a lot of wasted PLC hours every school year, and a way to gauge whether or not students are learning is in high demand (or at least should be).
Attendance and grade book: These two are much more straightforward than how to solve the digital curriculum and gauging student performance quandaries. The hard questions lie in how students will be assessed, especially when studies show that grades hinder student learning. (Feedback, on the other hand, it extremely important and not the same as a traditional grade.)
Schools and districts have their work cut out for them. There are no easy answers, but fortunately, I think the answer for what’s needed in the classroom is a lot easier to solve.
What do teachers really need in their classrooms?
Simply put, they need ‘digital infrastructure’. What I mean is teachers need a way to assign assignments digitally, collect assignments digitally, flip the classroom with video, and administer efficient common formative assessments with an LMS that provides easily discernible data for student achievement. So, if you’re a teacher who’s wondering what’s needed in an LMS, follow this checklist:
- Does the LMS assign assignments easily?
- Does the LMS collect assignments easily?
- Can you provide the students with links to videos–especially videos that can be watched at home?
- Can you administer common formative assessments easily and share data painlessly with colleagues during your PLC meetings?
If there is a ‘no’ to any of these question, look for another LMS.
This post barely scratches the surface for what’s facing districts, schools, and teachers in regard to educational technology. Nevertheless, the questions posed are necessary when evaluating nascent services that are attempting to capitalize on 1:1 devices trickling into classrooms. There’s a lot at stake, and as always, we need to offer more questions than answers before making big decisions regarding how students will learn and produce work in 2015 and beyond.