School may be out for summer, but the EdTech debate continues. Depending on your perspective, EdTech impact is on the rise and should be heralded or EdTech has missed the mark and should be sent to detention. Either way, the educational technology market — and indeed our schools, educators and students — have come a long way since the days when “the dog ate my homework” was a popular excuse.   

Or have they?

Here’s a look at what’s new in EdTech. You can decide for yourself whether to celebrate or drop out.

How to Research Like a Librarian

Bias has long been a challenge for educators. It starts with the curriculum choices themselves, but then continues with the lesson plans and books chosen to fulfill curriculum. Topics are covered through an author’s view, and then through the prism of a teacher’s perspective.

School-related research assignments benefit from a broader spectrum of thought. In the past, research projects often meant guidance from a librarian, but now more often are subject to the filters of search engines like Google. In her article, "EdTech Applications that are Transforming Teaching and Learning," Mae Rice points out that, “Google's algorithm prioritizes user engagement and retention, which means it often acts more as echo chamber than fact checker. The same goes for other search engines.”

Just as a librarian’s purpose is to objectively help find relevant materials, educational technology while relying heavily on the internet, has the distinct advantage over pure search engines of being created specifically to educate. While eliminating bias may be impossible — after all even our librarians of old must have had some bias — a range of technology choices now offer help from gov-maintained ERIC to filter avoiding DuckDuckGo to metasearch engine DogPile that let’s you Go Fetch! [Disclaimer: I found these by searching on Google, but when I also searched on DogPile I found DuckDuckGo.]

Related Article: Higher Education's Unique Digital Workplace Challenges

Giving Students and Teachers New Tools

The EdTech market is estimated at $8 billion and growing, with some highly creative tools on the best of compilations; including: ABCmouse Mastering Math from the Cool Tool Awards, Ramps to Reading and SkateKids that cultivate early readers in an immersive environment, and ProWritingAid that helps students upgrade the quality of their writing assignments with an app that is a “grammar guru, style editor, and writing mentor in one package.”

In fact, the list of EdTech for reading, writing, and 'rithmetic is a long one, but other tools will help students build their skills.

When you consider the technology possibilities for education, additive manufacturing is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. But 3-D printing technology has enormous educational potential to teach coding and problem-solving skills in the classroom. As Erika Gimbel noted in "The Resurgence of 3-D Printers in Modern Learning Environments," the strength of modeling and printers is to bring educational concepts to life, building practical skills such as problem-solving, creative coding and design.

As Rebecca Buckoff said in "4 Steps to Create a Strong 3-D Printing Program," while it can be difficult to discern a fad from a future classroom staple, bringing this technology to the classroom creates opportunities for students to learn critical skills limited only by their imagination: “Young students gain a real-world learning experience with geometry and measurement and develop spatial awareness through the use of computer-aided design (CAD) software. Older students can use 3-D printing for applied physics and design.”

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: SVAcademy Counters Tech's Diversity Problem With Education and Mentorship 

The Most Important Challenge

Whether you are a technology enthusiast or not, the most challenging issue in education is teaching students how to learn.

EdTech can help students become self-directed learners through engaging material, appropriate and immediate feedback, and personalized instruction capability that extends a teacher’s one-to-many classroom abilities to one-to-one experiences. And what better way to connect with students than through gamification? Dreambox for example uses game-like interfaces that respond to student choices in real time to deliver adaptive math instruction. The Dreambox K-8 math curriculum provides corrective drills in response to mistakes and then moves on to new concepts when students display mastery.

The Aim of EdTech

All agree that the aim of EdTech is to improve educational outcomes, a worthy objective that includes using technology to improve teaching and learning processes. To what end? Well some believe to therefore improve the performance of the education system. This is where the debate still rages. As Mike Crowley writes in "Google, ISTE, and the Death of EdTech": “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.”

So, the best lesson is that technology alone cannot solve our education challenges.

Case in point, the inspiring Study Pro that is focused on the areas of Executive Function and ADHD Coaching because “Some students just need to LEARN how to learn.”  While the goal of the Study Pro is to improve academic performance and technology is applied to that end, the work with the student is designed to internalize a personalized structure for learning:

“As they grow to understand their learning strengths and weaknesses, to manage time and schedules, to master key study strategies and to effectively prepare for and take tests, they evolve into individuals who are self-aware, confident and competent in their ability to champion their own success.”

Perhaps if we just keep this goal in mind, the debate will be over.

Author’s Note: I studied to be a teacher, receiving my dual Masters in Mathematics and Education from Syracuse University. While I have since spent the majority of my time in the corporate environment, my admiration remains for those dedicated educators who make such a difference in student lives.

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