The Coin of the Realm

I’ve been working in the Educational Technology field for the last fifteen years or so. To me, the EdTech field is a pretty broad umbrella, encompassing online learning, classroom technologies, emergent areas of innovation and all sorts of cool devices. As someone who used to teach a subject (high school physics) that didn’t change substantively in 200 years, it’s wild to work in a field that is constantly undergoing change and development.

While the EdTech field is constantly changing, the primary voices and leaders also seems to change. Figures who seemed to play a critical role a decade ago now have been replaced by new voices with new ideas. As I’ve navigated the field, however, I’ve noticed some interesting (and concerning) aspects of these leading voices. Often they’re gifted writers and presenters who can inspire people to try new things. I won’t list specific people or anything, but if you’ve attended an EdTech conference and been inspired by the presenter, chances are, I’m talking about him or her. Or if you know some cool acronym or catchy term that some EdTech leader developed, I’m probably talking about that person, too.

To be clear, I’m not against the fact that these leaders inspire educators to try new things. As teachers, we should constantly examine our practices and look for new ways to reach our students and help them learn. My concern doesn’t come from the inspirations that these EdTech leaders offer, but the evidence (or lack of evidence) that they provide in support of their innovations. If you work in the EdTech field, go to your bookshelf and pull down one of the books written by those inspiring leaders. Check out the references and citations they provide. I know there are a number of these popular EdTech books that don’t offer a single citation or reference in support of the innovation they’re promoting. That’s the same for some well-known technology integration frameworks and some new pedagogical approaches. They’re promoting these new technologies and innovations without any solid supporting evidence. To me, that’s troubling.

When I point this out to some of my EdTech colleagues, their response is typically “But it makes sense.” While this may be true, whether an instructional technique or educational technology “makes sense” or not shouldn’t influence our decision making. Instead of looking for explanations and innovations that fit our worldview, we should look for evidence to inform our choices. I recognize that may be tough for some innovations since the technology typically outpaces the research by several years. That shouldn’t deter us from trying to make evidence-based instructional decisions, however. It should be our charge as educators and it should be the practice that we model to our students.

As educators, we argue for the importance for critical thinking skills and push our students to make evidence-based arguments. Evidence should be the coin of the realm in education, not just for our students but us as well. And that means challenging EdTech leaders to do a better job of providing it for the innovations they promote. To me, that just makes sense.

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