Education technology, or EdTech, is a wide field with various definitions. However, most definitions state that EdTech is the systematic application of scientific knowledge, drawn from communication, education, psychology, sociology, philosophy, artificial intelligence, computer science, and other disciplines, to practical tasks that facilitate learning and increase the performance of educational systems.
While the term “EdTech” brings to mind massively open online courses and Internet-connected portable devices, it has a long history dating back even before the one-room school houses and blackboards of the 19th century. Prominent educational technology has included radios, overhead projectors, filmstrips, videotapes, photocopiers, whiteboards, Scantron sheets for multiple-choice tests, calculators, and the first portable computers.
Edtech in Practice
Education technology can be synchronous or asynchronous. With synchronous learning, students use teleconferencing, chat rooms, and other online tools to exchange ideas and information in real time. Asynchronous technology such as email, blogs, wikis and discussion boards allow students to learn at their own pace and is particularly beneficial for students with special needs who need to learn in a low-stress environment.
Education technology can be self-taught or collaborative. For example, a student can use a computer or similar device to access a CD-ROM or software to complete content linearly at their own pace. Conversely, students can use blogs, social media, wikis, podcasts, cloud-based document portals, and other social software to share and build knowledge.
Education technology can provide benefits to both teachers and students.
Education technology can provide student data and analytics to teachers. Information such as attendance, test performance, English language proficiency, and class participation can tell teachers how students are performing as a class, a subgroup, or as individuals so they can intervene as needed.
Education technology can automate tedious tasks. There are programs available to streamline grading and send messages to students and parents automatically to inform them of a schedule change or classroom update.
Education technology can provide information on a need-to-know basis, which means that students don’t have to sit through classes full of information that they already know. Teachers can then use this information to find knowledge gaps and then target lessons to fill them.
Teachers can struggle to meet the needs of each student, and adaptive learning programs can track a student’s progress to discover what type of learning works best.
Students need to master the tools they need for future education and jobs. Education technology gives students an opportunity to master email, online searches, device troubleshooting, and digital presentations.
Implementing education technology can also have disadvantages.
As with automation and factory workers, educational technology has the potential to go beyond a supporting role and replace teachers completely. As technology takes on more teacher roles, students may have fewer opportunities to interact socially and communicate verbally.
In the flipped classroom method, students view lectures before class to give teachers more time to spend with students. However, not all students have access to education technology outside of the classroom, and while libraries can play a role in filling the gap, some students may not have access to or the ability to use specific software in a library.
In some cases, students may be more tech savvy than teachers and circumvent measures to prevent inappropriate use of technology in class, such as social media. This makes education technology a distraction, rather than a means to facilitate learning.
Future of Edtech
School boards have spent large sums of money on education technology, but devices are becoming obsolete more quickly, and many devices have not delivered on their promise of improving student performance. The future of education technology will depend on better measurement of outcomes and evidence that the technology works as intended.
Also published on Medium.