What Didn’t Happen in Edtech in 2013

Movers and Shakers

What Didn’t Happen in Edtech in 2013

Four CEOs share thoughts on what we can do better in 2014

By Dr. Jim Lewis     Dec 26, 2013

What Didn’t Happen in Edtech in 2013

This article is part of the collection: EdSurge 2014 Outlooks.

This year marked a very noticeable surge in technology investment and innovation in education--what I call “innovestment"--which plays an important role in stimulating a sector that is traditionally behind the innovation adoption curve.

But many promised outcomes, such as greater strategic use of social media, mobile devices, personalized learning technology, and improved national assessment results, did not meet full expectations.

There is still a long ways to go to radically improve education, and while 2013 may not have delivered on all of its promises, there were important lessons learned that can guide entrepreneurs and educators. Recently, I asked three CEOs--Jessie Woolley-Wilson (Dreambox Learning), Prasad Ram (Gooru), and Tyler Bosmeny (Clever) to share where 2013 fell short--and how we can do better in 2014.

Jessie Woolley-Wilson, Dreambox Learning:

  • Embracing “edtech” means more than purchasing the latest whizzbang tablet for every student and deciding what to do with them afterwards. In order to harness the potential of education technology, thorough planning, investment from all parties involved and solid execution are requirements.
  • There is a massive difference between ‘art of the possible’ innovation in education and mere content or lesson plan digitization. Despite the incredible potential for digital technology to help students, many early-stage digital education products simply digitize decades-old lessons and practices. It’s not only education that must be modernized, but lesson plans, resources, and the ability to “study” with global peer groups, across any device connected to the Internet.
  • Too many educational practices and technologies require the student to be passive, isolated learners, versus active, self-inspired and collaborative in their learning. More teacher expertise and student input are needed to create a more interactive learning experience.
  • Common Core State Standards have not yet been implemented nationwide and is hitting bumps in many states. Critics are saying standards are too tough. But if we don’t toughen up and surpass those standards, what will happen to our nation’s socioeconomic standing?

Prasad Ram, Gooru:

  • "Big-data" and "adaptive learning" remain buzzwords. The industry has come to realize that it takes a lot more infrastructure and design to deliver on these high, game-changing expectations. There are a few areas in math where we've made some progress, but for the bulk of our K-12 topics, we have much ground to cover.
  • We don't have well-established, comprehensive mobile solutions for learning. The number of students with smartphones continues to grow, but we are not providing a successful, intuitive and personalized learning solution. Why not? We owe them a social, viral learning experience that can rival Instagram and Snapchat and mobile gaming.
  • Videos are still dominating the "engaging resource" format. If pictures are worth 1,000 words, then videos are worth 10,000 or more--but it's time we put the video craze to rest. As much as students love videos, they lack interaction and constant engagement for learning. We need more of the stimulating and effective resources like PHeT Simulations as one example.
  • We talk about personalized learning, but what about personalizing and scaling continuing education and best practices for teachers? We need to focus more on giving them the tools, resources, community support and training to help them create better learning experiences for students.
  • Improvements in learning outcomes fell short in 2013. We have many non-trivial challenges, starting with how to properly assess 21st century skills (creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking). With a very large data corpus paired with teacher input, we should be able to identify proxies as markers of 21st century learning skills.

Tyler Bosmeny, Clever

  • Computer science education: 9 out of 10 schools don't offer their students a single class on computer programming. And in over 30 states, those classes don't count towards graduation requirements? How can this be? Learning to use technology should no longer be treated as an after school “club” activity. We have a long way to go to ensure that any student has the opportunity to learn to code.
  • Relief for teachers! We see time and time again where new classroom technology just creates more work for teachers, not less. This needs to change if "edtech" is going to meaningfully see mainstream adoption and improve student achievement at a national scale.

And here are my thoughts on what we didn’t see in 2013:

  • Parents in the learning loop: We talk so much about getting this key stakeholder to the table of accountability for student achievement, but a lot of what we still deliver in edtech is a one-way digital representation of the same information your parents and grandparents got in the 20th century: report cards, permission slips, class schedules.
  • Connecting capability: All industry providers from big to small need to realize we’re moving to an era where educators will begin to demand open interoperability to support effective teaching and learning practices, and move away from point solutions that hold student data hostage.
  • Data as headlights instead of tail lights: State longitudinal systems envisioned and marketed to impact learning did nothing of the sort because they were designed to do autopsies of data that compare and contrast districts at a macro level. These marvelous(-ly expensive) machines can add up all sorts of data after the fact, but where’s the data that helps that teacher make that decision on that day and for that student in the classroom?
  • Educators leading the revolution: The industry still sometimes tries to force technology that solves problems “somewhere else” into classrooms. Too few solutions are being built with the patience it takes to thoughtfully communicate with educators and learn their obstacles so that the technology supports the natural process of teaching and learning.

Looking ahead

Teachers have and will continue to be the most important change agents in modernizing education, and new technology needs to be the wind at their back, not in their faces. I hope next year will bring about better collaboration and transparency, particularly around assessment standards, funding, curriculum, instruction and best practices. Everyone--entrepreneurs, educators, investors--need to get together and share our learnings, successes and defeats.

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