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Educators Must Take the Lead to Stop Ed-Tech Scaremongering

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This post is a summary of what I was trying to get across in my in my 1-in-3 Presentation at ISTE this morning. The format called for educators to share one technology integration tip in three minutes. My tip revolved around the importance of educators sharing their stories about how they see digital resources positively impacting their students.

It is a common experience for me to come across an article or blog post second-guessing the use of technology due to the harm that it could cause students. I have no problem with questions surrounding the successful use of resources to support learning. In fact, I think we need to encourage these conversations and have them transparently so our stakeholders understand why and how these resources will be implemented. However, my frustration level peaks when I read about technology resources being dismissed by those who have little to no personal experience with their implementation in schools.

Back in January for instance, I opened The New York Times and read an op-ed titled "Can Students Have too Much Tech?" that was big on skepticism, but light on substance. The author, a developmental psychologist with zero years of experience in K-12 schools, was pessimistic about technology in classrooms.

The author devoted nearly a quarter of the piece to a study done by a pair of Duke economists over a decade ago that talked about a program where students were provided computers to use at home. In addition, she referenced the failure of the One Laptop Per Child project, which was designed to help children without access to teachers learn. Yet the conclusions of this piece were directed at technology in classrooms with an implication that schools are misguided in their focus on investing in this area.  

Another misleading article published by The Washington Post in April 2014 was titled "Serious Reading Takes a Hit From Online Scanning and Skimming, Researchers Say." The amazing thing about this piece was that it was actually a researcher sharing her opinions about digital reading with no actual research involved. These concerns about scaremongering and imbalance in the national dialogue about technology in education are not new. I have ranted previously here and here about "research" on the the negative implications that some people warn about in regards to e-reading. How is it that these articles get headlines and draw people's attention while peer-reviewed studies that show some benefits from e-reading remain absent from the dialogue? Why isn't anyone talking about Ofra Korat's research indicating improved comprehension and vocabulary acquisition from e-reading?

There are significant questions for the education community at play in regards to technology integration. Generally, I feel we are allowing scaremongering around technology in education, along with underappreciation of the evidence of success in ed tech. The naysayers are driving the national narrative, even though advocates for blended learning have plenty of compelling evidence!  

How can we change the tide in this conversation?

In my district, Burlington Public Schools, we host a blog on which we share success stories and ed-tech learnings, and we also host regional events to support sharing by educators. But I don't pretend that school district blogs and teacher meetups alone can change the problematic national dialogue around technology in education. Educators need to raise our voices. I am not saying that we have all of the answers about the outcomes from technology in education—positive or negative. Additional quality research by impartial parties is needed, and the education community should continue to push ed-tech companies for well-executed efficacy studies done by reputable parties like SRI and Teachers' College, to expand the insights.

Still, the conversation seems imbalanced right now, because the fears get too much of the airtime. We need to challenge the media—both the education press and the national publications—to cover success stories in ed tech. We need to ask the media, and our peers, to put a critical eye on the coverage in our space. And as educators, we also need to make sure that we share success stories widely, and not merely with the teacher across the hall or the school district down the road, so that we accelerate the velocity of insight in our profession. As thousands of passionate educators convene in Philadelphia this week for ISTE, I hope we are all talking about how we can exert more influence on the national narrative. 

I dream of a day when educators control the narrative surrounding education...

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