It would be somewhat of an understatement to say that the edtech sector has seen unprecedented levels of investment over the past 12 to 18 months. Large parts of those investments have been somewhat misguided, and the quality and benefits often difficult to articulate, much to the chagrin of the venture capital investors.
This is not in any way to be critical of the renewed focus of so much funding towards education, but it does flag a clear lack of any genuine understanding of the needs of modern learners by so many ed start-ups and their investors.
The amount of money that has been committed to the edtech sector in recent times should be cause for celebration, but one would have to be a little concerned at the shallowness of the thinking behind much of that investment, and more than a little worried about the impact that shallowness will have over commitment to the sector beyond this current boom. In the longer term, we obviously want to see sustained ongoing investment in education technology, however, many of the lessons of the late eighties continue to be ignored through the current wave of venture funding, and startups.
The impact of the demise of InBloom and the LAUSD iPad debacle, should in themselves give cause for reflection, let alone the numerous app startups that have trotted out products that have too often been poor imitations of much of the Computer Managed Learning drivel of previous decades. Given the hundreds of millions of dollars that is being fed into developments, it is a pity that more time is not being spent on developing a better understanding of the real needs of our young modern learners and how they learn.
This digitally-rich, abundant world our young people are growing up in is a time for reimagining teaching and learning; for challenging many of our traditional assumptions about where, when, how and what learning takes place, and as such it should be inspiring a new wave of creative energy from educators and companies alike, about what the this emerging technology ubiquity now makes possible.
This is not a time for digitizing current curriculum, or creating factory fodder apps and it is certainly not a time for fantasizing about having even more control over a student’s learning through some hallucinatory vision of assessment.
One would have thought that the LAUSD experience might have caused companies like Pearson et al, to pause and at least reflect on the direction they were heading, but it seems their recent press release, Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment indicates they have in fact been emboldened by it.
This is an “innovation”, like so many before, that alludes to “automated, smarter marking of exams”, personalised learning, and of course the delights of adaptive testing, as if they will be a panacea for all of our learning ills and in turn will drive some fanciful illusion of transformation. The mention that this “new era” will allow for “new digital technologies (that) will minimise opportunities for cheating in exams” reflects just how lazy the thinking is behind the commercial focus here, and makes one seriously wonder how they could be so wrong.
Where is the awareness of the opportunity for agency over learning and the chance to move assessment to the learner? How will such strategies provide a platform for deeper learning, and provide more creative ways for students to develop evidence of their understand of more complex ideas? How will we develop self-directed learners, when we continue to want to direct the learning?
Will what is assessed be more trivial content that can be easily tested, or are investors currently so besotted by notions of data-based decision-making that they are completely ignorant of the real possibilities that digital richness presents for richer, more powerful and relevant learning ? Surely we are not yet again going to squander this opportunity on yet another round of poorly informed investment strategies, that in the medium term will fail to provide any commercial return, but even more importantly will fail our students.
Let’s hope 2015 sees the commercial sector refocus on the realities of the transformed learning environment of our young people. Let’s hope we see less investment around legacy ideas of schooling, and more around our deeper understandings around learning; and let’s hope we can marshall a good part of the massive investment that we want to see continue in education, to drive genuine creativity and innovation that ultimately inspires new thinking, new directions and genuine transformation.
Photo Credit: Eric