Filling the Gap Between 'Ed' and 'Tech'
Many thanks to Steve Sofronas (@SSofronas) for this guest post. Steve is currently an EdM candidate in the Technology, Innovation, and Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Previously, he was a foreign language teacher in the Hamilton-Wenham, MA and Lynn, MA school districts.
We live in a time of unprecedented technological advances that affect our lives in extraordinary ways. Never before has access to information been so widely available. These changes have generated large-scale (and well publicized) philosophical questions about how we educate our students to best prepare them for an uncertain future. While there is no shortage of discourse about creating innovators through our educational systems, very little has changed in the way educators approach their craft given the tools that are available to them. Outside of schools, however, technology-based companies—among many others—are well known and often praised for their out-of-the-box thinking and innovative practices. Some of the products created by this kind of thinking have fundamentally changed the way we function on a daily basis. While the majority of leaders in these companies are products of our long-held traditional educational system, it is probably fair to say that their current work and the kind of thinking it requires is far different from those that were required of them in schools.
Large Scale Change—Scaling Up
In the vast majority of our schools, a significant disconnect still exists between what is happening in innovative companies that drive our economy and what teachers and students experience on the ground. Even with more schools continuing to integrate technology into daily practice, the tendency is to use technology as a tool to support the largely didactic nature of traditional education. Meanwhile, educational technology companies have followed the market and rushed in to design new products, many of which address traditional education practices rather than innovative approaches. Will these products help schools redefine the way they approach teaching and learning? Or will they help perpetuate the current system by making it easier for educators to teach the way they were taught? When pondering these questions, it is interesting to note that many of the most innovative educators pass up "pure ed-tech tools" in favor products that were not designed solely for educational purposes.
If we are serious about addressing these issues, it is critical to facilitate communication between educators and edtech developers. Both groups have a vested interest in providing the best educational experiences for students and teachers through pedagogy and practice or through design and development. However, despite a few well-publicized collaborations, these groups rarely work together and lack a clear understanding of how the other works.
Reflecting on my own experience as a classroom teacher, I struggled to break into the world of edtech. It was not until I became a master's candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education that I was granted the time, space, and, frankly, the respect needed to make these important connections. Yet in the interviews I have conducted with educators and edtech developers, the resounding response has been that this kind of collaboration would be beneficial to both parties.
Educators and ed-tech companies have, or should have, a symbiotic relationship. It is becoming increasingly evident that the educator cannot function to the best of her ability without integrating technology into her practice, but simply integrating pre-fabricated tools into classrooms is becoming increasingly difficult as the market becomes saturated. Many educators do not have the time or the resources to parse through the options available to them when making important decisions that will affect their students, increasing the need to make products more relevant and user-friendly to educators.
What would happen if we identified groups of highly motivated educators (including classroom teachers, technology integrators, and administrators) to work with edtech developers in the design of their products? The promise of experiencing a unique brand of professional development that not only recognizes their value but also stimulates their curiosity would likely prove far more enticing than more traditional PD formats being deployed in most school districts. Meanwhile, edtech developers, particularly those in early stages, would obtain relevant, just-in-time feedback from their target audience—educators working in the field. By allowing developers to work with expert educators on high impact problems, there is a potential to produce more significant, widespread impact and innovation in the education space.
The high impact goal of this kind of experience would be for participants to transfer what they learn to their roles in education and/or educational technology. A good start might be framing our ideas around the question Strike and Posner address when discussing conceptual change: "Why consider alternatives to a view they hold when they are unconvinced of the inadequacy of their conceptions." (Strike and Posner, 219) This question has deep roots in educational circles. If we are to succeed in achieving conceptual change, we must be able to prove that by adopting a new conception, we will be able to better interpret experiences and solve problems.
The table below outlines how Strike and Posner's conditions for conceptual change might play out in a professional development workshop bringing educators and edtech developers together to co-design solutions for educational problems.
(Strike and Posner, 1985)
It is clear that telling educators and educational technology professionals that there is a better way will not take us very far. The learning challenge we face in this type experience is conveying this message effectively, but almost subversively, by showing what is possible with collaboration of experts in different fields. This has not happened to the extent that it could. The question we need to ask ourselves though is simple: "Why not?"
diSessa, A. (2006). A history of conceptual change research: Threads and fault lines. In R.K. Sawyer (Ed.) The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences, Chp. 16 (pp. 265-282). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Ed Tech Developer's Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved April 4, 2016, from http://tech.ed.gov/files/2015/04/Developer-Toolkit.pdf
K-12 Education. (n.d.). Retrieved April 05, 2016, from http://www.gatesfoundation.org/What-We-Do/US-Program/K-12-Education
Strike, K. A., & Posner, G. J. (1985). A conceptual change view of learning and understanding. In L. H. T. West & A. L. Pines (Eds.), Cognitive structure and conceptual change (pp. 211-231). New York: Academic Press