That edtech bubble

March 26, 2013 § 2 Comments

I have attended a number of education events in the past weeks and, although I wonder whether it is becoming just another buzz word that we all acknowledge grimly or accept without question, we are supposedly in an “edtech bubble”. I agree that there are so many new developments in this space. And yes, there are so many new entrepreneurs and idea-generators who are seeing this surge and realising there must be something to it. However, and subsequently, whilst there are so many real needs in this space and, indeed, so many people who so firmly believe in improving education for our kids, there are also those who are evaluating their next move based on the dollar signs associated with this market.

There are a number of major problems that I see both with the existence of  an edtech bubble:

  • In building tools using the incredible technologies available- apps for expensive devices, interactive web technologies, interconnected systems- we are running the very real risk of leaving a huge number of students behind (e.g. the 42% of Canadian schools that have inadequate access and 46% of American teachers who claim their students have insufficient school access to the internet). If we are serious about finding solutions for problems within the education space, then we need to be real about the current situation. Not every school has reliable internet, not every family has the money to spend on one certain kind of device, certainly not every home has an internet connection for syncing into the cloud (the Pew research shows that, in the U.S, for example, teachers state that only 18% of students have sufficient home access). This isn’t necessarily being reflected in what is being designed for the education market with more marketable, scalable and arguably profitable web-based applications and platforms dominating the space. I worry that, whilst we should be leading and demanding change in the education space so that we can give our students the best chance, we are concurrently excluding almost half of our entire student bodies. Designing almost for an education world we wish existed but not reflecting what the students need right now to get them there.
  • Making edtech the current development destination for so many who see the sheer monetary size of this market could potentially be a dangerous waste of resources. I am the first to say that our education policies, decisions and procedures need an overhaul and relying on the old systems and structures of ministries is not necessarily the way we are going to see the change we need. However, as all of us in education know, this truly is a market like no other. Merely hoping that a principle that worked elsewhere will be transferrable, not having spent the time with kids, in classrooms, talking to teachers, trying to teach with the developed product cannot be the best way of meeting our students where they are and helping teachers guide the learning paths of their students.

The other side of this coin is whether or not, by continually buzzing about an edtech bubble, we are propagating an idea that has almost negative connotations – perhaps to the detriment of our ability to be taken seriously in an industry that prides itself on being based on empirical research and tradition.

In a speech I attended this morning at the CoSN conference, Lord David Puttnam  discussed changes in education. He described the world’s best surgeon at the start of last century and how, despite his abundant talent and knowledge, he would be lost in an operating room in the current age because of the extreme advances in technology. Comparatively, a teacher from the same era could still manage in today’s classrooms. Either this means our educators from a century ago were far ahead of the curve, or, as I am more inclined to believable, this means our educators and education institutions have not been able to change at the same rate as the world around them: something so many are now working to change.

I am glad for the awareness the need for advances in edtech inclusion in classrooms is getting on a global scale. At the same time, though, I hope that we can make the most out of this ‘edtech bubble’ and focus on using our best talents to create the best products to produce the best results for the educators and students who need them

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