The Tortoise and the Hare: An EdTech Tale

What’s taking the education technology revolution so long?

GUEST COLUMN | by Leslie Tyler

CREDIT Edulastic imageWith another school year starting, we again hear the conventional story about new (and improved) technology will help revolutionize education, as it has everything else from watching movies to hailing a cab. But according to Mary Meeker’s 2015 Internet Trends Report, the Internet is just beginning to impact education, standing at just 25 percent of ultimate impact, way behind the consumer sector (100 percent), about even with Health Care.

What is taking the education technology revolution so long? Why is adoption so slow?

Passing the First Few Milestones

For many years, the accepted answer was money — or lack thereof. But in 2013, schools and districts spent $13 billion on classroom hardware, up 10 percent from the prior year and not

In education, technology adoption is more like a process than an event. Teachers try new things, share with colleagues and improve based on experience.

including software, digital curriculum or staff costs. Educators also have many choices of products: the EdSurge EdTech Index currently contains 1,607 edtech tools. In fact, the data indicate that technology has already penetrated deeply into K-12 schools. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that 7 years ago, schools on average had 1 computer for every 3 students. While these devices are by no means equally distributed, It seems edtech has mostly crossed the chasm of adoption.

What Happened to the Revolution?

Because consumer products enjoy faster and faster adoption cycles, we have come to expect rapid adoption and spread of technological innovation: a “revolution.” In less than 10 years, for example, smartphones surpassed the sales numbers computers took 30 years to reach.

The problem is that this theory of technology adoption, devised by Everett Rogers does not fit education very well. It assumes that purchase or “adoption” of a technology or product is the ultimate goal. In education, it is just the first step.

The Right Race Course

In education, technology adoption is more like a process than an event. Teachers try new things, share with colleagues and improve based on experience. At our company, we support educators who are deep in this work for their own schools — creating digital lessons, learning experiences and assessments. It is not easy or fast.

The schools and districts we work with who experience the most success have processes that resemble the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM). This model features six progressive stages of interaction with a technology or tool. The stages are remarkably similar to Bloom’s Taxonomy, starting with simple awareness and moving to creating something original.

Tortoise Technology Adoption: A Winning Strategy

We have seen districts successfully adopt technology and support teachers in changing their practice by moving through these CBAM-like stages. Instead of making “adoption” of a technology their goal, these schools aim to learn about a technology and improve their practice as they integrate it. Sometimes technology doesn’t work out for a variety of reasons, and this model will help weed those out:

Stage 1: Awareness (I would like to know more about it)

  • Encourage teacher experimentation with new EdTech tools and new ways of using existing tools. For example, we have seen especially enthusiastic teachers try tools intended for businesses like Slack and Trello. Sometimes teachers tweet us with hacks for Edulastic assessments that we hadn’t thought of, such as embedding slideshares and Google docs into questions.
  • Set up an environment where teachers can share information about tools they have heard of or are using, such as a show and tell at a regular staff meeting.

Stage 2: Personal (How will I incorporate this into my practice)

  • Set up pilot programs with clear learning goals when introducing new tools to teachers.
  • Provide “bite sized” training with real-world applications for their classes. For example, we demonstrate how to create an Edulastic assessment, then the teachers try it before the next training step.

Stage 3: Effectiveness (How will this impact my students)

  • When setting up a pilot with a new tool, establish how you are going to know whether it’s working up front.
  • Set aside time for teachers involved in the pilot to share their experiences with effectiveness for their students.

Stage 4: Evaluation and Refocusing (How might we make this work better)

The last stage of a pilot program is critical and unfortunately the most often skipped. Learning what worked and what did not, will not happen without reflection and sharing ideas for improvement.

To Be Continued…

The education technology story is far from finished: each subsequent chapter will feature new technologies and tools. Thus we cannot measure our adoption success simply in number of devices purchased or percentage of time students spend online. We must develop the capacity to test, evaluate and incorporate new technologies and methods, and use them to adapt our practice. At such a steady pace, the tortoise is sure to win the race.

Leslie Tyler is Vice President of Marketing at Edulastic, a platform for personalized formative assessment for K-12 students, teachers and school districts.


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