In the last few years, we’ve seen a seismic shift in education as new technology has played an increasingly prominent role in our classrooms. From interactive apps and virtual reality to cloud-based collaboration software and remote learning – we’ve previously written about how these new tools are transforming the educational experience for teachers and students across the globe.
But progress can be a double-edged sword and alongside the opportunities, advances in EdTech are also creating challenges and throwing up important questions. Whether it’s data privacy, the future role of educators or the potential for social exclusion; parents, teachers and students are wrestling with these challenges.
As a technology company that’s focused on building better digital experiences, we are too.
The 5 biggest challenges facing EdTech
It’s clear that EdTech is changing education for the better. Indeed one study showed that the vast majority of educators (8 in 10) strongly believe that digital tools offer significant value in classrooms.
But alongside the progress, there are also concerns.
So in today’s blog, we thought we’d explore some of these concerns, looking at the key challenges surrounding EdTech and what we can do to overcome them to ensure that technology has a positive impact.
The impact on social skills
As we’ve seen in other areas of society the widespread adoption of digital technology, like social media, has led to negative impacts. Whether it’s child development or mental health, the downsides of this technology have been well-publicised in recent years.
So it’s perhaps understandable that students, teachers and parents are worried that the rising use of technology in the classroom could have similar unforeseen consequences.
There are concerns that spending more time in front of screens could be harmful, or that the use of EdTech might lead to less real-world interaction between students, negatively impacting the development of vital social skills. These are of course valid and it’s vital that as we develop digital tools for the classroom we ensure that we take these into account.
It’s also important to remember that the purpose of these tools isn’t to replace social interaction in the classroom but to build on it. Technology is here to help us enhance the learning experience, and if used correctly it can actually help to create more opportunities for students to interact and positively collaborate with their peers.
What role will teachers play in the classroom of the future?
Another concern for educators is whether the rise of EdTech will make their role, as we know it, redundant. The worry is that as digital tools become more sophisticated, teachers will be reduced to nothing more than a facilitator, someone who is there to troubleshoot while the technology delivers a customised curriculum and insight into students’ performance.
This perception could in turn make educators resistant to change, as they’re reluctant to implement technology because they fear it will negatively impact their jobs.
As a consultancy that works closely with educators, we appreciate where these concerns come from. That’s why we make it our mission to not only develop great digital tools but help educators to understand how they can utilise them in their lessons.
For us, the goal of Education Technology is not to replace the role that teachers play, but ultimately enhance it.
Put simply, there’s no technology in the world that can recreate the kind of dynamic and engaging experience that only teachers can offer. But there are tools that can make their lives easier, help streamline processes and allow them to better support students. The key is to involve educators in the development of new tools and technology, not try to replace them with it.
Accommodating all learners
One of the biggest hurdles that EdTech faces is the perception that it doesn’t support all learning styles. Because people think that content is delivered through a tablet or laptop there are fears that new digital tools and technologies only cater to read-and-response learners, potentially alienating students who learn differently, such as those who do better with auditory or kinaesthetic techniques.
In reality, however, there’s already a growing toolkit of technologies from VR to gamification, that are designed to deliver a more complete learning experience for everyone, no matter what their learning style.
It’s not just students with different abilities that there are concerns about. There are worries that the growing prevalence of learning management systems could also negatively impact students who don’t have the means to use these digital tools at home. This would obviously create an imbalance between those students who have access to technology away from the classroom and those who don’t. As a technology consultancy, one of the reasons we began working in this sector was to try and make education more equitable and impactful, not less so. Technology should open up opportunities, not close them off. That’s why through proper research, design and testing we’re building technology that’s inclusive of everyone.
For years now teachers have been policing the use of digital devices such as mobile phones in the classroom. So if we’re moving into a world where students are actively encouraged to use laptops and tablets there are understandable concerns over their potential misuse.
In reality, this is an issue that teachers have faced for a long time. Students will always find a way to distract themselves, and whether it’s passing physical notes or virtual ones, educators will, unfortunately, have to police this. The increasing use of student engagement tools will no doubt make this more complicated, but as we’ve seen with the growing use of the internet in educational settings it’s not an insurmountable issue, just a modern twist on an age-old problem.
Every technology has the potential to be misused, the key when it comes to EdTech is to address these concerns during the development phase. By being aware of potential misuse, those of us who are building these technologies can help create better products that engage learners so they don’t get distracted in the first place. It’s about understanding not only the technology itself but how it will be used, so that we can add tangible benefits to both teachers and students.
Concerns surrounding data and surveillance
Given how much of our existence we now lead online, data privacy has become a key concern in just about every area of modern life. It’s even more critical when it comes to handling the personal information of students, especially when those students are children.
So as educational institutions begin to adopt assessment tools that can collect and monitor information in unprecedented ways, questions have understandably arisen about the use of that data and the potential for it to be misused. And it’s not just about privacy. In the educational environment, there are unique concerns over the potential for surveillance too. For example, if future lessons are conducted digitally, what’s to stop parents from monitoring those lessons or demanding access to data that could cause conflict with teachers? Beyond the ethics of use, there are also challenges when it comes to defining the correct application of data within education. The adoption of EdTech enables us to analyse student progress and performance like never before. But in a world where everything can be quantified, ranked and graded – should we be reducing something as nuanced and complex as education to data alone?
We know that this data can be extremely beneficial in educational environments. But in order to improve the educational experience we can’t just give people the means to collect this data, we need to teach them how to use it. Only then will we truly be able to ensure that it is being used both ethically and effectively.
Overcoming the challenges
As with all technological advancements, the adoption of EdTech into our classrooms will not be clear-cut. Over time, lines will be blurred and the boundaries of acceptance will be tested. But through this process, lessons will be learned and context and balance will be achieved.
Everyone from students and teachers to tech companies and us (the people who help you create it) has a role to play in this. The question “Will this benefit learners?” needs to be front and centre. We have the ability to shape what the future of EdTech looks like and govern how it will impact our learners and classrooms. It’s no longer a case of if the classroom will change, but when. EdTech is here to stay. That’s why it’s vital we don’t just build technology for technology’s sake, but develop the tools that teachers and learners (our users) need to build a better educational experience.
What challenges are you facing? Let us know.