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Why I Am Not Enthusiastic About Ed Tech

By John Warner, 6/29/17

The edtech industry would be wise to take John Warner’s critique seriously.

The way that John thinks about the edtech industry is, I would argue, representative of how many (if not most) educators think.

Even those among us -- such as myself -- who look at the edtech industry more positively would have a hard time arguing that this industry has done a good job in building trust among educators.

Among the sins of the edtech industry I’d count:

  • A failure to consistently support educators, especially non-tenure track / tenured faculty (the majority of all professors).
  • Silence as state level support for public postsecondary education erodes.
  • A tendency to uncritically buy into the “disruption narrative," comparing the work of educators (and the colleges in which they work) to other industries that have been reshaped by digital technology.
  • A generally uncritical stance towards the impact of edtech investments on educational outcomes, and a history of over-promising results.
  • A failure to demonstrate a deep understanding of the cultural norms and structures in which postsecondary educators work, as well as a lack of empathy for faculty (of all ranks) who are working in increasingly difficult conditions.

Critiques such as Warner’s are opportunities. Opportunities to engage in a constructive dialogue. Opportunities to differentiate your company by recognizing that there is a gap between faculty and the edtech industry.

What would happen if a company in the edtech industry created a space specifically around listening to faculty concerns?

Can we imagine a convening where the goal was to get the voice of critical edtech observers heard?

My sense of the edtech industry is that it is made up of people - people not unlike the academic critics of the industry. These edtech industry people got into the business primarily because they want to play a role in changing higher ed for the better.

The truth is that edtech is not a very good business. If the goal was only profit, then there are much easier industries to work in.

Rather, my sense is that most people working in edtech industry jobs see their companies as forces for positive change. They believe in the power of their platforms, services, and solutions to assist schools and faculty - and to ultimately help students.

Somehow, however, the intentions of the people in the edtech industry and the perceptions of most faculty have become disconnected.

Edtech leaders mostly don’t recognize themselves in the critiques of their industry. They are at a loss to understand why they are perceived so negatively, especially when they have devoted so much of their lives to making higher ed better.

If I worked for an established edtech business or and edtech startup, I’d be figuring out how to engage with folks like John Warner. That may be a difficult goal to reach - as the John Warner’s of the world will not be rolled.  They will sniff out any attempts to put public relations over real conversation.  Lack of transparency, openness, and humility will end the conversation before it begins.

How can we have this dialogue?

Where can we bring edtech industry leaders and leading edtech critics together to listen to and learn from one another?


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