Is EdTech Still Relevant?

This post is a submission to the OpenBlog challenge #OpenBlog19.

As people who work in the business of supporting educational technology you’d be surprised (and probably a bit disappointed) if we said no EdTech is not still relevant, it’s not. But it’s a question that’s fairly regularly asked. It normally starts along the lines of “But surely everyone …” and is followed by at least one of the following:

  • Knows how to use a computer
  • Has a <insert device of your choice>
  • Understands how to use <insert software / tool of your choice>

Despite the myths of digital natives and ubiquitous device usage, what educational technology requires more than anything is thoughtful planning, and careful consideration. Yes, many of us have multiple devices, yes, we know how to get a list of search results (of varying qualities and usefulness), but do we know how to use what we have to provide high quality learning? Is our student’s attainment linked to technology now? Is attainment the only factor we should be considering?

Those myths can lead us down a Daedulus like labyrinth, so what is the ball of yarn to guide us towards the exit? Well, there are two pieces of research that may help us unravel these questions. Firstly from the U.S Dept. of Education in which their report in 2014 states, “Technology is not a silver bullet and cannot—by itself—produce the benefits we seek in learning”. So does this mean that the presence of technology does not lead to an improved attainment?

A picture of scores and analytics –

Do marks matter?

To further back this up, this study’s research aim was to find, “whether the dependent variable (final marks obtained by the students) and the independent variable (VLE visits) are correlated to each other”. So, does the constant use of likely ubiquitous platform, the VLE, lead to your student’s attaining higher results? Just the abstract provides you with a clue to unravel this one and it reads, “The results showed that the number of VLE visits did not have a direct impact on the final marks obtained by the students.” It shows that visits to the institution’s VLE does not correlate to a student’s attainment. Just imagine all the VLE admins and research projects that look to highlight visit stats quantity and frequency to their VLE as a better student experience. It turns out, more visits may not necessarily equal higher scores!

“number of VLE visits did not have a direct impact on the final marks obtained by the students

Chowdhry, S., Sieler, K., & Alwis, L. (2014). A Study of the Impact of Technology-Enhanced Learning on Student Academic Performance. Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice, 2(3), 3–15

So are we at a dead end for EdTech? Is a pointless medium for learning, should we just go back to pen, paper, slate and blackboards? The use of an iPad in a classroom isn’t of itself educational technology. If the activity its used for isn’t supporting and developing learning; if the use of tech isn’t bringing something that can’t be achieved with pen and paper, then it’s just using the iPad to hit your IT target. After all an e-tablet is just a tablet right?

So are we saying that EdTech should be thrown away into the growing tech waste pile? Well the U.S report (Learning Technology Effectiveness) offers a hint towards the maze’s conclusion, stating,  

“the potential for positive effects when technology is a key ingredient in well-designed learning systems”.

U.S. Department of Education (2014). Learning Technology Effectiveness.
Someone learning at their computer –
Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

Positive effects?

Firstly, it’s pointing out that EdTech may not only be there for the sole purpose of student attainment, it can have other “positive effects”; like the on-boarding of students to a technology-enhanced world that they’re entering, or already in. Secondly, a “well-designed learning system” matches up with the Chowdhry et. al (2014) report stating, “However, for one of the modules there was some correlation between the final marks obtained by the students and the way the modules were structured around the VLE.”. So, the devil is in the design of the learning and not the technology itself.

And this is where we start to consider what these VLE clicks really mean. Are they interactions with high quality learning materials, activities that encourage deep learning and active engagement. Or are they frustrated visits to a module site that contains old materials and broken links in the hope that something will have changed since the last time you looked? Are they evidence of searching the maze for the feedback you thought would come today (but you’re not quite sure because the date of feedback return isn’t on the site). Or do the show that the students have escaped the maze and are heading for daylight of deeper understanding, better marks and above all enthusiasm for learning.

The profession of educational technology is as relevant now, as it was in the early days. Knowing how to send a text, and stream music isn’t the same as understanding how to design a high quality online assessment. And pretending that it is devalues the profession.

Changes forever?

However, are we destined to always come back to the maze’s dead ends with “Technologies that were supposed to change education forever”? Or do we need to say EdTech is dead to progress through this constant educational maze of myths and dead-ends and focus on the learning not the tech.

(Featured image of class with pens and paper from )

Student painting with a VR headset on –

This #OpenBlog19 post was co-written by Kate Wright and Dan Course.

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