What is the Most Successful Education Technology of All Time?

An edtech answer to John Warner's edtech question.

September 26, 2017

How can I not take a crack at answering John Warner’s question in his must-read response to the unfortunately headlined Quartz piece, Imagine How Great Universities Could be Without all Those Human Teachers.

This is John’s question: What is the most successful education technology of all time?

The answer to this question is - of course - the educator.

Wait. The educator isn’t a technology. Or are you reducing educators to machines? What are you saying?

To resolve this seeming paradox, you need to know a little bit about how the discipline of educational technology actually works. For those of us working in edtech, as opposed to those investing in or (sometimes) reporting on edtech, the educator has always been (and will always be) at the center of our work.

To steal from John’s excellent piece, edtech people believe in their bones that, "teaching and learning is not a technical problem to be solved, but a social process to be engaged with”.  Ask us what guides our thinking, and we will answer "Education is a process, not a product.”

At this point you are probably thinking, okay - great, but what about all those technologies that we keep hearing about? The learning management systems and the virtual reality headsets, the lecture capture systems and the adaptive learning platforms.

What an edtech person will say (or should say) is that, yes - those are all technologies. But so are classrooms, and chalkboards, and books. A technology is only a tool. A means to an end. 

If you take the time to understand how those working at the intersection of learning and technology actually do their work - the instructional designers and those like them - you will see that only a tiny fraction of that work is technologically focused. The work of people in edtech is almost entirely about education, technology is only the enabler.

The reality is that mainstream of the educational technology field is ardently pro-educator.

When colleges make smart choices about investing in edtech, they are choosing to invest first in educators.

Campus edtech leaders succeed to the extent that we can bring more resources, more attention, more autonomy, more status, and more support to educators.

All of us in the edtech world, however, should be concerned that our discipline continues to be more closely associated with the "hyperinflated futurist bullshit that infects so much ed tech-related journalism” than with the actual work that we do.

There is a large gap between how we understand our educational calling, and how smart and observant educators like John Warner see our work.

How might we close that divide?


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