Blaming EdTech for Failures It Can’t Solve

There was an interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Why Technology Will Never Fix Education“. The author, Kentara Toyama, suggests that because MOOCs have many dropouts, that technology will never help to improve education. I found this to be a rather shortsighted conclusion to make where they is ample evidence to the contrary. Yes, you can make a good point that educational technology will fail if it’s just thrown at educators with little training or support. That may be why many enrollees do not finish their MOOC – because there is little support that keeps the student connected to the course. That said, many students only take the part of a MOOC that interests them; they never intended to complete the course.

Here’s what I had to say in my comment to the article:

Using MOOCs as the primary example of educational technology and then concluding that technology won’t fix what’s wrong with education – because many people fail to finish the courses (conveniently ignoring any research demonstrating the benefits many participants derive from attending the segments of courses of interest to them) – ignores the educational value of technology when appropriately applied by well trained and supported educators. Has anyone ever claimed that the point of educational technology is to fix basic systemic problems such as income and educational inequality?

In the hands of a motivated and supported educator, technology can prove to help students achieve gains in learning. The author, for example, completely ignores the possibilities of gamification to serve as a motivator to encourage students to commit more time and effort to course material. I have no doubt that educational technologists and the faculty who do get results with all types of technologies (clickers, social media, OER, interactive tutorials, etc) could provide many examples of good outcomes achieved with learning technology.

If there is a false promise of educational technology it’s that just throwing lots of money into shiny new toys and then expecting front-line educators to figure out how to use them will get the intended results. That approach and mentality will always be a formula for failure. I think we know, and so does Toyama, that we can and are doing better than that with educational technology.


By comparison, take a look at another article published on the same day over at Inside Higher Ed. “From the Ground Up” profiles a new effort at the University of Cincinnati to use educational technology to develop a learning ecosystem. It’s a much more thoughtful approach to identifying and choosing appropriate educational technology.

What are you seeing on your campus? Is there still a debate about educational technology and whether it can make a difference for student learning? What about in your library? How is educational technology being used to improve student learning. I like this idea of creating a learning ecosystem. Perhaps that can serve as a model for how we select and support educational technology in our libraries.

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