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Do We Really Need “Educational” Technology?

It’s spring so, as with most years, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about TSIP.

For those of you from outside Virginia, TSIP is the Technology Standards for Instructional Personnel, a legislative requirement for all teachers enacted about ten years ago.

Everyone with a teaching license must complete the TSIP requirements, either during their first year in the state or in order to renew their license.

Unfortunately, the requirements haven’t changed in a decade and generally conform to what a college advisor called the “inoculation theory of professional development”: you need it, you get it, you never have to bother with it again.

One shot and you’re done.

My thinking on the whole TSIP concept today just happens to coincides with a call from ISTE and other organizations for people to blog and/or tweet about the lack of any ed tech funding in the proposed federal budget.

However, I’m not entirely sure that’s necessarily a bad idea.

I’m willing to bet that most of the half billion dollars allocated this year had very little impact on instruction anyway.

Most likely it was spent at the state or district level to buy expensive packages from educational conglomerates like Pearson (along with plenty of consultants, of course), promising “solutions” to whatever problem is at the top of your list.

But more to the point, I wonder if there’s really a need for “educational” technology anymore?

Does the artificial classification of hardware, software, web applications and the rest as “instructional” (with the inevitable conclusion that rest of the stuff is not) just get in the way of the basic idea that almost any technology could be used for learning?

And does the process also gives some in our profession the cover necessary to ignore anything considered “non-instructional”?

You know, all that tech the kids play with when they’re not with us or when we’re not looking.

We say we want students to be able to communicate and collaborate, to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, and to become creative and innovative in their work.

Do we really need special “edtech” to make that happen?

Or just a better understanding of how people in the real world are using all kinds of technology to improve their personal skills in all those areas and how to help our students learn to do the same.

Maybe, just like our tech standards that linger from the previous century, the whole concept of “educational technology” is outdated and obsolete.


  1. John Martin

    My grandest memory in graduate coursework for a PhD in Ed Tech was realizing that the canoe paddle I used at the summer camp I help run was a prime piece of educational technology. Almost as good as the pencil in some ways.

  2. Doug Levin


    I think skepticism and critical self-reflection is good for those of us associated with ‘educational technology,’ but I think you’ve got some facts wrong about the public policy issue before us. First of all, the program was funded at $100 million in FY10 (its lowest level ever), down from a $650 million investment in ARRA. The Administration has asked Congress to eliminate the program for FY11 and in ESEA Reauthorization at the same time it has released and is promoting a new National Broadband Plan and a New National Educational Technology Plan. A wide coalition of education organizations is seeking $500 million for the edtech program in FY11 from Congress instead.

    Note that the Administration is touting programs like i3 as a replacement/substitute (which just received almost 1,700 applications for what we expect to be about 80 awards nationwide: federal government to district). Recall that every state participates in the existing edtech program and many districts as well. How it rolls out out within a state or district is a function of local context, but we have many examples of well-thought out, forward-leaning and effective programs (in contrast to your anecdote). We don’t have anything against i3 per se, but it is a funny replacement strategy if its goal is to ensure equity and innovation at scale within a state (especially since the program will not continue after this one cycle unless Congress grants that to the Administration in ESEA Reauthorization or via some other legislative sleight of hand).

    There are no serious arguments with your thesis that educational technology as such should be more integrated into the fabric of K-12 policy and practice. And, yet I think it hard to argue with the fact that we have made huge strides in a very short time in K-12, especially when compared to the pace of adoption of other innovations in schools. We do still have miles to go and a very big upside.

    We believe that the program and funding stream is vital to support the necessary state and local leadership for the use of technology in education and to support a continued emphasis on teacher professional development. There is no other reliable, dedicated funding stream for this work and we are convinced in today’s economic climate that what educational technology leadership and support staff we have today will be very much at risk (i.e., losing their jobs) if it goes away. Instead, we believe we need to be fostering state and district and school educational technology leadership and teacher knowledge and skills – as well as making investments in the infrastructure we need to address the challenges before us.

    You can read more about the program, our view of it, and find examples of some of what it has funded on our site at: http://www.setda.org/web/guest/2010NationalTrends

    Hope you are well!

    My best,


  3. John Hendron

    There is some truth to this idea. The TSIPs are kind of silly, yet, I know there are teachers in Virginia who don’t “pass” them the first time around (what this means is also curious, since each district/division can tailor the test to their infrastructure). I can ask “Where’s the USB port on your computer?” No clue… but folks do know where the printer plug fits.

    That aside, we need quality instruction. I believe “quality” means that we are using technology – both the kinds available and home and only in school. Yet, there’s a lot of expertise to be had between knowing how to work an iPod and how to focus technology on solving instructional challenges in your particular subject.

    So, yes, in this day we still need educational technology folks. But we ought to see now that our days are numbered. The optimist will see that the role will fade, the better we get at what we do.

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