Google, ISTE, and the Death of EdTech

ISTE ‘18 was all abuzz with imminent news of a major announcement from Google. This, the Google foot soldiers proclaimed, was going to be the most transformative thing to happen Google Classroom since its launch. Word over at the Blogger’s Cafe – where ID tracking was in full flow – was that this was going to be huge. And why not, when one considers that this was the annual showcase of EdTech and the lofty goals of the host organization: “ISTE sets a bold vision for education transformation … to accelerate the use of technology to solve tough problems and inspire innovation. Our worldwide network believes in the potential technology holds to transform teaching and learning.”

When the launch was announced, I was aghast. The big news was “locked mode” in Google Forms and, bizarrely, this news created quite an excited stir. The locked function permits teachers to eliminate distractions while students are taking an online quiz or test by preventing them from opening other windows and tabs. It also prevents students from performing an internet search. So much for empowerment. What, one must ask, is the tough problem being solved here that inspires innovation? Prohibiting students from cheating on traditional assessments using expensive tech tools to perform very basic 20th century tasks is the new transformation.

All week, the ISTE Expo Hall gushed with predictions that Artificial Intelligence will automate the traditional classroom. Auto-grading is now a thing. Marketeers touted emerging tools to help students study smarter, by enabling them to memorise more information faster. Ultimately, though, the Big News, like Google Classroom, is the proliferation of software that allows teachers to monitor and keep students on-task. The lofty ambitions for education were summed up thus. Make tradition more efficient. Stop bored students from cheating on mindless, low-level assessments. Deliver content like Windows 98 is the next big thing. New tools. Old thinking. Systems, not learners.

Make no mistake about it. EdTech as we currently know it is dead, it’s over. We should retire the phrase right now. If education is to be the target of an industry that has grown increasingly obsessed with standardization, control, automation, and delivery efficiencies, then we must opt out. This is not to say that we should abandon digital tools in the classroom. Far from it. I am very much an advocate for learning environments that provide learners with opportunities to do things that will enhance deep learning and provide students with the potential to do real, meaningful work, not simply mimic it. But this approach to learning needs to reside with the individual learner in mind, not with an industrial mindset that is driven by a desire to impose efficiency and control solutions on all. This is what EdTech has increasingly become now and it’s dead to me after ISTE. Let’s imagine what learning can be, not how we can run it to scale with organizational and industry needs driving the agenda.

Forget EdTech. Learning is about learners and this includes learning with digital and other possibilities, not solutions. Learning should be by design, not product. Learners first.

#EdTechisDead #LearnersFirst