The EdTech Revolution Never Arrived


Two weeks ago, ISTE was deep into its annual conference, what seemingly will be the organization’s final meeting as a stand-alone event.

I wasn’t in Denver to see what was happening and, with the implosion of social media, it has become difficult to follow along with events like this from a distance in something akin to real time.

But between various Twitter-like streams, articles, and blog posts (people still write them), I did locate a few indicators of the current state of instructional technology in this country, and where it’s headed. At least the view according to the attendees at ISTE 2024.

For one thing, much what people posted from the conference centered on the expo floor. But that’s not a surprise. The Expo stopped being a sideshow at ISTE at least a decade ago, as the large vendors have swallowed much of the program as well.

There were plenty of pictures from elaborately decorated booths, selfies with oddly costumed mascots, and lots of hype about new products and updates to existing ones. Along with Best of Show and Top 40 product lists.

I even found one post that called the ISTE Conference “EdTech Disneyland”, and said it was an event that brought together “the greatest hearts and minds in education and technology”. Now that’s some good hype!

Anyway, when it comes to the actual ISTE program, the hot topic in just about every corner of the convention center continued to be artificial intelligence. With that phrase often paired to some variation on the term “revolution”.

Which tells me that too many of the conference organizers and presenters don’t understand the history of their own niche.

No technology in the past half century (which is about how long I’ve been involved in this business) has ever fulfilled the promise to “revolutionize” American schools. 

Remember when we first brought personal computers into the classroom in the early 80’s? They were going to totally upend the concept of school.

Then we started replacing those desktop machines with portable computers and that was also going to disrupt teaching and learning. Maybe even make school obsolete?

Those revolution claims were repeated when we wired classrooms for the internet. And when smartphones started spreading. And we began using tablets. And installed interactive whiteboards (don’t get me started) in every possible space.

Along with plenty of other stuff I’ve forgotten that came and went. All of it was going to be revolutionary.

Now, educators are embracing AI. Even though it’s been less than two years since the first commercial systems were released to the public and it’s still not at all clear, at least to most of us, that the technology actually functions the way the developers claim it is supposed to.

This is not to say we should ignore artificial intelligence as a possible tool for teaching and learning. I’m all in favor of educators and their students experimenting with new technologies. As long as we approach it with our eyes wide open, recognize that this is a very beta product, and accept that this is still very much a trial run.

Consider how tradition-bound and rigidly structured American education is, and hold off on invoking the R word.

After all, those earlier technologies got sucked into the system and, for the most part, were put to use as tools to transmit the same curriculum using roughly the same pedagogy. Very little revolutionizing was allowed to happen.

I keep hoping something will come along to disrupt school. Maybe that will be artificial intelligence. Or whatever is coming next.

The photo is from the 2007 ISTE Conference, one of the earliest in my collection from the annual meetings. That was a year or so after I switched from film and started shooting with a digital camera. This was also the first year Google exhibited at the event. Oh, I forgot to mention how Google Education was going to revolutionize everything.

2 Comments The EdTech Revolution Never Arrived

  1. Ryan Collins

    I presented at a conference in 2023 about EdTech. The first title of the presentation was “Edtech sucks” but the organizers made me change it.

    In it I looked at the history of technology in education. One of the biggest take aways was that it took the pencil 30 years to become common place in the classroom, which I’m sure that it is no coincidence that 30 years is pretty close to the length of a teaching career.

    The edtech revolution never came because changes in school are more along the lines of evolutionary changes, take a long time. Revolutions are too much change for most to handle.

    1. tim

      Having served on the program committee for many conferences, I kinda understand why you were asked to change the title. But I certainly emphasize with the premise.

      Thanks for reading and leaving a comment, Ryan.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.