EdTech as Friend or Foe: Where Do You Stand

It seems that I encounter more columns, blog posts and even tweets that question the value of educational technology.

The gist of the conversation is that edtech companies, the ones that vend everything from traditional learning management systems (LMS) to the latest start-up’s shiny new learning app, are no friend of higher education. While not exactly foes, although that is how some pundits will characterize them, the feeling is that edtech vendors do not have the best interests of learners and educators at heart. Then there is concern over the mantra that edtech will solve all of higher ed’s woes…that it will make it more efficient, more affordable, more effective, etc. When that is the message being sent, well, it’s not surprising that higher ed folks are skeptical or even downright opposed to edtech.

I suppose I take a more balanced approach in viewing edtech at face value, and being less concerned about the motives of vendors or the impact of their products on the future of higher education. Some edtech products offer a strong rationale for why it supports student learning. Personal response systems (clickers), for example, can serve as effective edtech for engaging students, assessing their understanding in real time or offering feedback for instructors.

Depending on how they are used they could add little to the learning process. Which is why another common refrain is that edtech are simply tools that educators have at their disposal. It’s up to the instructor to make the best use of the technology or decide it’s a waste of time.

There are even times, when I am thinking like the author of this essay, “Why I’m Optimistic About the Next Wave of Educational Technology.” Jason Palmer writes, “My bet is that by 2040, our children will look back on this period between 2015 and 2030 in education technology much the same way internet historians look to the period 1995 to 2010 as the birth of the commercial web.” He may be more optimistic than others (he mentions Audrey Watters specifically) who¬†are mistrustful of edtech.

Of course, as a venture capitalist who funds edtech startups, he sees the integration of technology from a different perspective. I would like to think, as Palmer suggests, that the last 20 years of so were a developmental phase that would, quite naturally, have its share of successes and failures – and no doubt those failures would leave educators disillusioned about edtech’s impact on student learning. He suggests that we are embarking a new phase of edtech, which over the next 20 years, will produce the types of positive outcomes and advancements in student learning that we would all hope to achieve with edtech.

As librarians with a penchant for edtech, blended librarians we may be in a good position to work with future edtech products, software and devices, both for our own instruction and to share with our faculty what we are learning from the experience.

Like me, you may be poised to do so with an outlook that is cautiously optimistic.

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