What is “Ed-Tech”?

What is “ed-tech”? What do we mean when we talk – or at least, what do I mean when I talk – about education technology?

I’ve been stewing about this a lot this week, in part thanks to a tweet by Bud Hunt:

“Ed-tech isn’t a thing,” he says. It’s merely shorthand for something else.

That could include (and I should note here that I don’t mean to put words into Bud’s mouth): research, reading, writing, collaboration, communication, creation, logic, standardization, compliance, hardware, software, money, policy, privacy, accountability, practice, theory.

“Ed-tech” is often used too as a shorthand for brands: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Pearson, Intel, HP SMART, LEGO, Discovery.

In some cases, “ed-tech” is shorthand for some very cool tech,. In some cases, “education” is just shorthand for a category within a larger app market. Sometimes all this talk about a definition of “ed-tech” prompts a great conversation about what we mean by learning in a mobile, networked world. And sometimes when we talk about “ed-tech,” we’re still talking about crappy tech and crappy education and crappy pedagogy and crappy outcomes.

And at times – particularly lately it seems – when we talk about ed-tech, we are full of an utterly uncritical “OMG WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” as though someone just now figured out that education plus technology could equal the awesome.

What is “Ed-Tech Journalism”?

I’ve been thinking about the definitions of “ed-tech” too in light of all the news I read and write and curate and analyze here. (For those who follow closely, last week I added a new feature to Hack Education that curates other ed-tech analysis and news). This question comes up for me repeatedly over the course of any given week – what should I write about? What should I link to? What should I tweet?

As a self-described “ed-tech writer” (not an “education writer” and not a “tech writer” and yet somehow both and pretty much neither) I do have to ask: what constitutes “ed-tech news”? What do my readers care to read about? What do I care to write about? What analysis should I provide? Who cares?

There were several stories this week that gave me pause as I weighed including them (or not) in my weekly round-up of ed-tech news: the hazing in Florida A&M’s marching band, for example, and the forfeiting of a state championship baseball game because the opposing team had a girl on it. On the surface, these are clearly not ed-tech stories. And yet we can’t seem to talk about hazing and bullying nowadays without talking about their online manifestations (i.e. cyberbullying); nor can we isolate the hostility to girls playing in “boys’ clubs” to just what happens during state championship baseball games. See: brogrammers. See: patriarchy. (For what it’s worth, I included neither in my “This Week in Ed-Tech News” summary.)

I did, however, include a blurb about the Facebook IPO – no doubt the biggest tech story of the week but one that might seem similarly tangential to “ed-tech.” Here’s what I wrote on Hack Education’s “Weekly Ed-Tech Roundup” (slightly edited, I confess):

This is one of those news items that you’re welcome to say “Wait, Audrey. This isn’t education technology.” And you’re right. It’s not. But it still matters: Facebook went public today. So what?

Well, certainly this story matters to Silicon Valley and to the new millionaires and billionaires (and investors and entrepreneurs) this will create. Congratulations. But as Facebook CTO Bret Taylor remarked “Stay focused. Keep shipping.”

Honestly, there are lots of reasons why the FB IPO story matters specifically to education too. It matters because learning is social, and it matters because teens (and you and your mom) use Facebook. It matters because many school districts are saying that teachers cannot use Facebook to reach teens (or, at least students).

It matters that Mark Zuckerberg is part of a larger narrative about dropping out of college as a key to entrepreneurial success. It matters too that the college he bailed on was Harvard. It matters that Harvard claimed no IP rights to what one of its student had built.

It matters that fellow Harvard student and Facebook co-founder Edward Saverin has renounced his U.S. citizenship, ostensibly to avoid paying taxes.

It matters that, when he made his first philanthropic gesture, Zuckerberg donated to the Newark City Schools. It matters that Zuck likes Cory Booker. (I mean this in a totally superhero, Avengers kind of way too.)

The Facebook IPO matters because this company has defined “social networking” and in many ways shapes how we think about our interactions with one another (and with anything you can “like”) online. The Facebook IPO matters because of what it might reveal about the company’s current business strategy now (ads) or in the future (your data).

The Facebook IPO is not an ed-tech story. But I can’t ignore it. Nor should you. Because it is an ed-tech story, for all those reasons I list above and more. It demonstrates too why Bud Hunt’s contention that “ed-tech isn’t a thing” is particularly important. We cannot simply extract the tech from education – nor from social, nor from work.

Ed-Tech Et Al

When I think about ed-tech, I think about:

multiple choice tests
essays (essayer: to try)
lifelong/informal learning
A Liberal Arts Education
cognitive development
local issues
state issues
national issues
global issues

and stuff…

Even though my bio reads "ed-tech writer," I figure I'll cover all of this here at Hack Education as all of this is feels relevant -- not just the things we might label "ed-tech."

Photo credits: Andrés Monroy-Hernández

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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