Beware of the shiny objects!

Posted by Eric Ludwig at 8/12/2016 9:54:38 AM

The NPR Education team ran an article yesterday summarizing recent research on the connection between technology and learning.  In short, a number of recent studies have found that increased technology usage does not necessarily lead to increased learning.  Contrary to conventional tech-laden wisdom, researchers discovered that more technology was, in some cases, linked to a decline in student achievement and performance. 

If you follow traditional educational news media and venture capital funding, you might be inclined to believe that educational technology was keeping our classrooms and campuses afloat.  Innovation and disruption will revolutionize how we teach and learn, or so the narrative goes.  In 2015 alone, nearly $2 billion flowed into the coffers of US edtech companies. 


Yet, for all of this investment, what have we gained?  If we can demonstrate a non-existent (or negative) relationship between the very technology that we trumpet and the student learning that we strive for, where does that leave us?  As NPR importantly notes, there are a number of factors contributing to these findings:


  • Poor planning and integration: look no further than the LAUSD's disastrous purchase and rollout of iPads and the ensuing fallout.  Many institutions are ill-equipped to deal with an immediate influx of new hardware and software.  They do not have the technical support staff to handle the inevitable technical hiccups and required maintenance, they do not have the project managers to see the project from initial funding to completion, they do not have the instructional support staff to ensure that faculty, staff, and students are sufficiently prepared to use the technology in a manner that encourages deeper learning and robust, rigorous assessment.
  • Poor incentivization:  the funding carrot, often tied to standardized test scores for K12 districts, can fuel poor short-term decision making.  Quick fixes generally do not exist.  Shiny new objects might temporarily distract us from an insidious structural issue impacting student learning.
  • Poor training and support:  whether it is a new learning management system, a new student information system, a new assessment platform, or a new multimedia lab, institutions often do not invest the resources and time necessary to train their faculty  on the why and the how.  Likewise, schools must be prepared to support their students at every turn, particularly online and blended learners.
  • Poor instruction:  no amount of technology can obscure poor teaching, poor instructional planning, or poor curriculum design.


Many K12 districts and higher education institutions are hamstrung by budgeting crises, enrollment shortfalls, and unforeseen externalities.  Regardless of learning modality, institutions must address these shortcomings to see results. And even then, we might not see the commensurate gains we have mistakenly associated with technological innovation in educational spaces.  

Educational institutions must be leery of drinking the edtech elixir: it is enticing, potent, and ubiquitous, yet expensive, dangerous, and ultimately unsatisfying on its own.  It would be hazardous and foolhardy to make it the cornerstone of your daily nourishment.  

Back to School!

Posted by Christine Dereberry at 8/4/2016 9:55:33 AM

As a kid that wanted to grow up and be a teacher, my summers were spent playing school so back to school time was very exciting for me. I used to love picking up my school supply list and making the trip to the store for notebooks, pencils and spirals, oh my. The only part I did dislike was the clothes shopping.  Now my own children look forward to picking out their school supplies but my dislike has changed from the clothes shopping to writing the check. We all hope these supplies will be put to good use and will aid in the important process of learning. Our college students, while they may not have a school supply list, do go out and buy supplies and they too want the supplies to be put to good use.

My job at the university is to help instructors effectively teach online. Our learning management system, Canvas, supplies a variety of tools to help instructors design effective and purposeful learning experiences for our students. Our adoption of Canvas has gone well and the majority of our instructors do use Canvas to support learning regardless of the delivery method. We’ve had Canvas for two years and for the instructor who has been here since we adopted Canvas, they’ve learned what they want to do in Canvas and the number of training requests I receive are minimal. So how do we keep the momentum of learning a real thing for our students if the momentum seems to have stalled for additional professional development requests regarding how to use Canvas?   

Is incentivizing the answer or badges or professional development credits towards promotion, rank, and tenure? What about mandatory professional development or learning goals for instructors that are tied to pay? How about enrolling all instructors in a sample course that they are required to attend? Are instructors motivated by a certificate which says they are qualified to teach online? 

In my humble opinion, the answer to what makes someone want to invest their time and effort in learning the skills needed to create a course that offers students an exceptional learning experience really comes down to two things: the person loves learning and they themselves have a constant desire to keep learning because they enjoy the challenge and/or the person remembers what it was like to have to suffer through an awful class that was boring, was a waste of their time and resulted in no new learning or skills. If you put both of these ideas together, I believe that inside of each of us is that kid who is excited for school to start and is ready with their supplies. When we look at our courses through the lens of the student, then the time and effort required is arbitrary because the desire is there to make a great learning experience for the student. So, who is ready to come to training?