The Coming Ed Tech Tidal Wave

Will smart phones eliminate the digital divide? That’s the title of an interview article with Elliot Soloway in The Journal Digital Edition. Here’s a video version of the same content. And finally, here’s his company’s website with a “contact us” tab in the upper right.

I don’t know enough about Soloway to know if he genuinely cares about improving teaching and learning or if he’s simply out to enrich himself.

Of course already extensive cell phone usage among young people is going to increase over time, but that doesn’t mean every K-12 student in the U.S. will be using a cell phone for educational purposes within five years. That’s his claim, but more accurately I suspect it’s his hope because he just happens to have created a company that outfits local districts and schools with personal cellphone learning devices.

Unfortunately, I can’t find anywhere on his website where I can place a bet on his claim. So maybe he’s just blowing smoke. I’d like to put $1k into escrow based on my belief that there will be at least one student somewhere in the U.S. in September of 2015 that isn’t using a cellphone device in their classroom. Maybe a kindergartner at a Waldorf School somewhere in Vermont?

The larger question posed by Soloway’s snake oil is whether more personal technology in the classroom is going to translate into achievement gains. The burden is on the techies to explain why that might be true. Soloway’s argument is extremely weak and only adds to my skepticism that personal technology is a panacea for improving teaching and learning.

An even more pressing question is whether more personal technology in the classroom is going to reduce the achievement gap. Again, the tech zealots have to do a much better job explaining why that might be true than Soloway does in the linked material above.

The achievement gap exists mostly as a result of outside of school factors. Uneven teacher quality also plays a large part. Soloway is silent on both of those essential factors.

Teachers and parents have to be on guard against tech salespeople who are desperate for a chunk of the textbook millions that will be increasingly up for grabs.  Headlines like this, “Georgia State Senator Hopes to Replace Textbooks with iPads” are going to be increasingly common.

At school board and related meetings a healthy skepticism requires us to ask the following types of questions:

• How will the personal technology device you’re selling improve the quality of teaching?

• How will it help students develop 21st century job and citizenship skills and sensibilities?

• Will it reduce the achievement gap? If so, how?

• What unintended negative consequences have you discovered through pilot studies and what are you doing to mitigate those things?

• If our district or school adopts your gadget, how much money does your company and your employees and you stand to make?

• If we adopt your device, what will you do to restrict image advertisement and direct marketing of commercial products to our students?

• If we adopt your device, how can we be assured you won’t try to influence the content of our curriculum?

2 thoughts on “The Coming Ed Tech Tidal Wave

  1. Great piece Ron. I think you struck a nerve for many by pointing out that there is profit-motive behind these tech efforts, which isn’t always a bad thing, but if there is not the research to support the claims then another capitalistic caveat should be out there for everyone – “Buyer Beware”.

    • Thanks Larry. Agreed, profits are fine, I just think that when it comes to private enterprises and public schooling, maximizing margins should not be the primary focus.

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