Has EdTech Truly Changed Teaching and Learning?

A recent article finds that meaningful technology integration that transforms how students learn remains an exception rather than the rule. But a number of leading schools in Pittsburgh can serve as models for a brighter future.

Today’s classrooms might be filled with computers, smartphones, and tablets, but that does not mean teaching and learning have been transformed. So says a recent Education Week article, “Why EdTech Is Not Transforming How Teachers Teach.”

Edtech proponents (and companies) predicted technology would help teachers give students control of their own learning, connect them to the world beyond the classroom walls, and turn them into creators rather than simply consumers of media and technology. Education Week finds much of that utopic vision is unrealized.

For the most part, EdWeek writes, educational technology is most often adopted to make teachers’ work more efficient—not to change the dynamics of the classroom.

But the article also discusses the root causes for why meaningful technology integration continues to be such a difficult challenge:

Researchers have found, for example, that even innovative teachers can be heavily affected by pressure to conform to more traditional instructional styles, with a teacher as the focal point for the classroom. Newer teachers inclined to use technology in their classrooms can also be deterred by experienced teachers who feel differently.

And the current test-based accountability system isn’t exactly supporting the transition to student-centered, technology-driven instruction, said Ms. [Wendy] Drexler of ISTE. “We’re telling teachers that the key thing that is important is that students in your classroom achieve, and we’re defining achievement by how they do on [standardized] tests,” she said. “That’s not going to change behavior.”

 Perhaps the most obvious—and overlooked—barrier to effective edtech use is that totally changing the way you do your job takes a ton of time and work.

Despite the slow pace of change, there are many teachers who are doing amazing work integrating technology into their classrooms in ways that impact learning. And there are a number of teachers doing that here in Pittsburgh, where technology is just part of the educational innovation happening in schools and informal learning spaces.

Edutopia recently highlighted Hampton High School in Allison, Pennsylvania, just north of Pittsburgh, for the way educators have tapped all kinds of technology to engage students. For a trigonometry “assessment,” teachers created an activity called “Disaster Mission Relief.” Students in one room took the role of air traffic controllers with cellphones and headsets, giving “pilots” in the school gym directions using angles to tell them where to go next. Everybody on each team received the same grade, encouraging collaboration and teamwork.

Hands-on learning with technology is about to become more widespread throughout the region. The Allegheny Intermediate Unit recently announced 28 STEAM grants, totaling $530,000, which will fund projects and spaces that integrate educational technology in ways that go far beyond simple use of tablets and projectors. (STEAM stands for the fusion of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics in the classroom.)

For example, Montour High School in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, plans to use its STEAM grant for a Virtual Immersion Lab created with a type of virtual reality computer called zSpace. While wearing 3D glasses, students will be able to pick apart organs and pieces of complex human anatomy that appear to float in midair.

But as the EdWeek story pointed out, those pockets of innovation do not mean change is widespread.

That’s one reason we created the Remake Learning Playbook. The recently released playbook focuses on the successes and lessons learned in building Pittsburgh’s learning innovation ecosystem. Through a network of more than 100 schools, museums, libraries, afterschool programs, community centers, higher education institutions, private sector businesses, and philanthropic organizations, educational advocates in the Pittsburgh region are working together to support learning wherever it happens. The playbook is a field guide full of ideas and resources for supporting learning innovation networks like the one here in Pittsburgh. It is filled with practical and actionable information to help other communities build on the Pittsburgh model.

Edtech may not have transformed teaching on a large scale yet. But that does not mean there aren’t early adopters in Pittsburgh and around the country already doing great work and paving the way. Hopefully, with the right support and guidance, these learning opportunities reach all kids soon.





Published July 06, 2015