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Category: education business Page 1 of 12

EdTech Seal of Approval

When I was a kid, some products would prominently display in their ads the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval”, awarded by the magazine of the same name. I don’t remember ever reading any fine print explaining how they earned that label, but the implication was that this item was better in some way than the one next to it on the store shelf.1

Cheat Bots Are Coming

Rogot writing 1581551791

Yet another tech wrinkle in the cheating economy: artificial intelligence that writes term papers.

According to EdSurge, always a reliable source,1 a “growing number of companies” offer students “an algorithm that writes term papers for them based on chosen keywords”.

Don’t Teach Tools

Tinker Toy Windmill

An Education Week listicle “interview” with the CEO of ISTE popped into one of my feeds recently, and with the title “5 Big Ed-Tech Problems to Solve in 2020”, it seemed instantly forgettable.

But one point he made caught my attention, that we need to completely “rethink teacher prep for technology”. 

Instead, teachers could earn an endorsement or certification from say, Microsoft, Google, or Apple. “There’s good things about all their software. But at the same time it comes in with the assumption that all of the problems you need to address as a teacher can be solved by their software. And that’s a problem, and frankly, it’s a conflict of interest.”1

He said that a teacher would never say they were a “Houghton-Mifflin teacher, I only use textbooks by Houghton-Mifflin.  Give me a break. Immediately, there were would be a conflict of interest. But because of this vacuum, we haven’t had another option in technology. … We’ve had superintendents reaching out to us saying ‘please, help with this. We need something that is from a nonprofit organization, that is completely tool neutral.”

Of course, this is an opportunity for him to promote the new ISTE certification programs, but still, good point.

It’s also a problem that likely won’t be solved in 2020 since it’s been around almost from the day we first began bringing computers into schools.

Back when I was first starting we ran classes for teachers with titles like “Clarisworks Fundamentals”, “Intermediate Excel”, and “Powerpoint Basics”. Emphasis on the mechanics of using the software rather than helping students become better writers using a word processor or better communications skills using a computer. And that approach served as a model for teaching students.

The theory was that a person needed to learn the skills of working the device and software before they could understand them as instructional and learning tools. Things haven’t changed much over the years (decades?), as evidenced not only by the inclusion on this list, but also by the online workshops offered for current products like Google Drive.

From experience I know this is a model for professional development that’s relatively easy to design and present, even if it’s totally wrong.

As Culatta notes, concentrating on specific products also locks teachers (and, by extension, their students) into a particular brand, to the advantage of the company, rather than helping them understand the broader concepts of using computing devices as learning and creative tools.

I can’t speak to the quality of ISTE’s certification programs or whether they will actually solve the problem. But maybe it can slow the flood of corporate certification programs now sloshing around the edtech business.


Maybe someone else can make a connection but, for right now, the featured image has nothing to do with the topic of this post. It’s just a favorite from a recent trip.

1. This has a feeling of biting the hand that feeds you. Or at least nibbling a little. But credit to him for at least saying it.

Free Comes With a Cost

IMG_2161

This article, with the provocative title Google’s got our kids, is about a year old, but the message is still one that every educator needs to understand. Especially if you’ve turned your classroom over to Google’s Classroom.

The author, a teacher who uses Google products with her students, makes the point that, although GSuite for Education and their other free or super-cheap products can be beneficial to schools and teachers, we also need to remember that the company has motives that are different from “normal” education vendors.

Unlike textbook publishers, Google has a “very strong interest not only in training the workforce of the future in G Suite, but also in forming positive and powerful brand associations in the minds of its littlest consumers”. Most of those kids sitting in front of a Chromebook running Google’s browser are too young to understand brand marketing.

Google’s “Be Internet Awesome” curriculum is another great example of the company selling itself to kids, specifically delivering the “message that Google is a trustworthy arbiter of online safety and privacy”.

The irony of a curriculum that teaches kids how to safeguard their privacy online yet is produced by a company known for its less-than-transparent use of personal data is a little on the nose, but the explicit lessons in Be Internet Awesome are too basic to be objectionable.

Pragmatic as the content is, it also transmits implicit lessons about the Google brand, whose brand colors, icons, and font are slathered over everything from student handouts to classroom posters to, for some reason, paper doll patterns for making your very own Internaut.

I doubt the students, or most of their teachers, get the irony.

In the end, the author admits that Google provides some useful tools, and that even the Be Internet Awesome curriculum “speaks to a real need schools have to prepare students for life in a digital world”.

However, we must understand that that these “free” resources still come with a cost.

The issue isn’t that Google has nothing of value to offer schools — clearly, it has — but rather at what price are we buying it. If it’s too steep we might want to recall lessons from our own educations, not about how to be savvy, polished consumers of technology, but about how to be citizens.


The image is from the Kalamazoo Public Library Flickr account, and is used under a Creative Commons License. Look closely at the screen. The student is viewing a message from a coding activity that incorporates characters from the game Angry Birds. Another example of brand marketing in a “free” educational product.

Investing in EdTech

ISTE Expo

A couple of posts back, I ranted about the ongoing quest for the new in edtech at large conferences. Of course, on the other side of that quest are the many companies developing and marketing their products at events like BETT, FETC, and ISTE.

Related to that, Audrey Watters is someone who does excellent work writing about the big money attempts to “reform” American education and the place of edtech in that process. In a recent essay, Fables of School Reform, she starts with this observation of the results of all that investment.

Over the past five years, more than $13 billion in venture capital has been sunk into education technology startups. But in spite of all the money and political capital pouring into the sprawling ed-tech sector, there’s precious little evidence suggesting that its trademark innovations have done anything to improve teaching and learning.

Extend that timeline back, say thirty years, almost the range in which I’ve been involved in the process of using technology for instruction, and consider all the money and time that’s been expended by schools, governments, and teachers. Can we say it has improved teaching and learning?

A question, not a judgement. One deserving a much more extensive debate.

Anyway, Audrey is excellent at following the threads of education reform through history and in this piece traces the efforts to bring computers into schools back to A National At Risk, the 1983 report that kicked off the modern panic about the American education system. As with so many of the studies that followed, the conclusions were based on test scores (the SAT in this case) and are “wrenched out of historical context”.

She then brings the thread into modern day by visiting the ASU + GSV Summit, “a business of education conference fondly known as ‘Davos in the Desert’” (before moving from Phoenix to San Diego). The New York Times called it “The must-attend event for education technology investors”.

This year featured speakers included such well-known education experts as former Mexican President Vicente Fox, former US president George W. Bush, and… Matthew McConaughey?1 Of course missing from the presenters (and likely the attendees)2 was anyone who could speak with actual experience to the process of teaching and learning.

In addition to the conspicuous absence of education researchers from the “constituencies” served at Davos in the Desert, there was no mention of either students or parents. Indeed, every year (this year’s was its ninth), the ASU+GSV Summit seems to nearly coincide with AERA [American Educational Research Association], an organization that’s been around since the early 1910s. It’s hardly an insignificant scheduling gaffe. If nothing else, the dueling conference schedules tap into a powerful cultural trope, one that’s particularly resonant among Silicon Valley and education reform types: that education experts and expertise aren’t to be trusted, that research is less important than politics, that the “peer review” that matters isn’t the academic version, but rather the sort that drives a typical VC roadshow.

There is much more to Audrey’s experience at the Summit and her observations of the edtech business in general. This post is well worth 20 minutes of your time to read it all. She is also someone you should follow.


The photo shows just a part of the vast Expo floor at the ISTE conference last June in Chicago. ISTE also works very hard to promote the edtech startup business through their Edtech Startup Pavilion and annual Pitch Fest.

1. The speakers at the 2019 event in April include a mix of tech executives, politicians, and celebrities. It’s a very strange brew.

2. With ticket prices starting at $2800, I’m guessing not a lot of teachers attend this conference.

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