Why ‘Edtech’ Should Make Learning Delightfully Unpredictable

Movers and Shakers

Why ‘Edtech’ Should Make Learning Delightfully Unpredictable

Educators talk gadgets and learning at Florida's biggest edtech gathering

By Katrina Stevens     Feb 4, 2014

Why ‘Edtech’ Should Make Learning Delightfully Unpredictable

Who would take kids to a “pencil lab”? Sometimes edtech focuses too much on making what we're already doing faster, instead of re-imagining what could be possible. It’s also time to make sure that edtech is focused on the “education” part not just the technology, argues Chris Lehmann, founder and principal of Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.

At the recent FETC held in Orlando, the third largest US edtech conference, behind ISTE and TCEA, more than 8,500 educators from all 50 states and 40 countries soldiered through torrential downpours to gather in sessions that--though heavily focused on mobile technology--had learning at the core.

Plenty of hardware was evident: sessions focused on choosing the right mobile device for schools, strategies for implementation and coordinating mobile devices, and managing hardware and digital content. Out of the 428 companies exhibiting, the most talked about company was Google with the addition of digital books to Google Play for Education, the new professional development platform Google for Education Center, and new Samsung, Toshiba and Lenovo devices.

But the educators kept it real--and focused on the learners.

Keynote speakers Lehmann and Rushton Hurley, founder and executive director, New Vista for Learning, highlighted that students and learning should be the focus of all decisions about educational technology. We may be making “school reform harder than it needs to be,” suggested Lehmann. Educators know what “good” learning looks like; technology should be empowering students, not distracting them. “Technology provides us amazing tools to make John Dewey’s vision come true--at speed,” argues Lehmann.

“We should aim for complexity, not complicated,” also cautions Lehmann, when talking about project-based learning. “If teachers receive 30 projects that all look the same, that’s a recipe not a project.” Lehmann further links inquiry-based learning with a culture of care. Ask students “what do you think? How do you feel? What do you need?” The end result isn’t the project, it’s the learning and the student.

Lehmann also argues that teachers have lost their voice in education. “Educators have lost control of our own language,” argues Lehmann. “We teach, we don’t ‘deliver’ instruction.” Lehmann further challenges all educators to shift their language from “I teach math” to “I teach students math.” Children should never be the implied object of their education.

Hurley picked up similar themes of remembering that the point of technology is to empower students and teachers to create and learn. If you’re in need of a good cry, this self-created video of a student with autism sharing his desire for one friend will get you there. Hurley featured the video to remind us of the power of technology to give voice to a student who struggles with communicating effectively. Hurley also generously shared an additional set of free tools and resources. Crowd favorites were Narrable and Photo Pin.

“‘Boring’ really means that students find school predictable,” challenges Hurley. “Let’s be unexpected.” He also worries that “we are so focused on the right answer that we’re not leaving room for a great answer.” He echoed themes from throughout the conference on needing to give students the time and freedom to play if we want to develop 21st century thinkers and citizens.

Hurley challenged all superintendents: “How many superintendents say you have my permission to innovate wildly? What could happen?” Lehmann echoed that challenge to educators: “Imagine: What’s the worst consequence of your best idea?”

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