3 Critiques of EdTech at SXSWedu

Why faculty are right not to trust the edtech industry.

March 7, 2016

This year will be my first to attend SXSWedu. I’m fortunate enough to be on a panel discussion with 3 great colleagues. If you are making your way to Austin this week, I hope to see you at the session.

The overall goal of our session is to talk about how R&D can drive non-incremental change in higher ed.  We will share ideas and examples, but I also plan to use some of my time to make 3 firm (and hopefully provocative) critiques of the edtech industry.

Critique #1 - Faculty Do Not Trust the EdTech Industry:

We should get this fact out on the table. Faculty do not trust edtech.

Most people I who work edtech would be upset to learn that they are not trusted by faculty.  Edtech people understand the technologies and services that they build and sell as assistive. They believe in the role of faculty educators, and think that technology can help faculty do their jobs more efficiently and productively.

The gap between faculty and industry perceptions of edtech is wide - and growing larger.

Critique #2 - Faculty Are Right Not To Trust EdTech:

If the people working in the edtech industry want nothing more than to support the work of faculty, then why are faculty right to be suspicious?

The reason is that the actions of most edtech companies (both established and startups) do not match the beliefs of the people working in these companies.

As individuals, edtech employees will decry public de-funding of postsecondary education. We seldom, if ever, hear about companies taking a stand against support for public colleges and universities.

Individuals working at edtech companies will talk about the impact that individual faculty can have on the lives of learners. Edtech company communications seldom (if ever) include information about the adjunctification of the professoriate. How often do you see an edtech marketing message built around the need to provide faculty with resources, autonomy, and support?

The dominant theme at too many edtech convenings seems to be around an efficiency narrative. Technology is implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) sold as a method to make the work of faculty more productive. Little time is spent articulating the importance of students developing close learning relationships with faculty.

Critique #3 - This Justifiable Lack of Trust Is Bad For Both EdTech and Higher Ed:

The gap between the perceptions of faculty, and the beliefs of edtech people, is bad for both colleges and companies.

Colleges and universities must find a way to address our triple challenges around costs, access, and quality. Collaborations with edtech companies holds the potential to catalyze much needed improvements in student learning and retention.

We can discover higher ed / industry (not-for-profit / for-profiit) partnership models where the interests and goals of both entities are aligned. These partnerships, however, will not develop unless the current transactional nature the defines much of the edtech industry is replaced by something different.

The edtech industry needs to adopt norms and values that are closer to the institutions that they serve. 

The path that the edtech industry must take to gain credibility and trust with faculty is not obvious.  A good place to start might be with some active listening.  What exactly do faculty want and need?  What products, services, and relationships would be most beneficial for faculty in meeting their educational goals?

Edtech industry leaders are going to have to immerse themselves in the public policy discussions around postsecondary education.  It is no longer good enough to sit on the sidelines as funding for our public colleges and universities is decimated.

Edtech leaders need to talk less about the potential of technology, and more the necessity of providing adequate support for our educators and the institutions in which they teach.

How do you feel about the edtech industry?



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