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It’s time once again for my annual review of “the year in education technology,” something I’ve done since 2010. Tomorrow I’ll launch the seventh edition of this massive, maniacal undertaking.

This year feels different, perhaps because it’s the first time that I end the year knowing the new one will bring us a new President, one with quite different goals than the current administration’s. Things feel quite uncertain moving forward, despite all the certainty one can supposedly muster from looking back – from looking at the near-term or long-term history and trends. I’m feeling quite tentative about whether or not the insights that I might be able to glean about the year will have much relevance for the business and politics of education technology under Trump. I’m quite frightened that some of the “worst case scenarios” I’ve imagined for education technology – the normalization of surveillance, algorithmic bias, privatization, radical individualization – are poised to be the new reality.

This year feels different too than the previous years in which I’ve written these reviews because education technology – as an industry – sort of floundered in 2016, as I think my series will show. Investment dollars were down, if nothing else. I suppose some analysts would argue education technology, as an industry, “matured” this year – young startup founders were replaced by old white men as chief executives, young startups were acquired by old, established corporations. But all in all, there just isn’t much to speak of this year when it comes to spectacular “innovation” (whatever you take that to mean). Or even when it comes to remarkable “failure” – which I gather we’re supposed to praise these days.

This year’s “Top Ed-Tech Trends” are mostly the same as previous years’, despite marketing efforts to hype certain (largely consumer) products – 3D printing, virtual reality, Pokemon Go, and so on. I’ve written before about “ed-tech’s zombie ideas” – about how monstrous ideas are repeatedly revived – and this year was no different.

We could ask, I suppose, why ed-tech might be in the doldrums – why no sweeping “revolution” despite all the investment and all the enthusiasm. (We can debate what that revolution would look like: institutional change, improved test scores, more or less job security?) Has education technology, or digital technology more broadly, simply become banal as it has become ubiquitous?

And yet, this moment feels anything if banal. Here we are with a President-Elect – a reality TV star – who has been supported by white nationalists, the KKK, Wikileaks, trolls, and Peter Thiel, who election was facilitated through a massive misinformation campaign spread virally through Facebook. Education technology, and again digital technology more broadly, might not be the progressive, democratizing force that some promised. Go figure.

So we must, I think, look at the more insidious ways in which various technologies are slowly altering our notions of knowledge, expertise, and education (as practices, as institutions, as systems) – and ask who’s invested in the various futures that education technology purports to offer.

A Note on Methodology


Each Friday, I gather all the education and education technology and technology-related news into one article. (I also gather articles that I read about the same topics for a newsletter that I send out each Saturday.) Each month, I calculate all the venture capital investment that’s gone into education technology, noting who’s invested, the type of company, and so on. It’s from these weekly and monthly reports that I start to build my analysis. I listen to stories. I follow the money, and I follow the press releases. I try to verify the wild, wild claims. I look for patterns. It’s based on these patterns that I choose the ten of my “Top Ed-Tech Trends.”

They’re not all “trends,” really. They’re categories. But I’ve purposefully called this series “trends” because I like to imagine it helps defang some of the bulleted list of crap that other publications churn out, claiming that this or that product is going to “change everything” about how we teach and learn.

Education Technology Criticism


A note on the lenses through which I analyze ed-tech: History. Ideology. Labor. Power. Rhetoric. Ethics. Narrative. Networks. Humanities. Culture. Anti-racism. I guess I’ll add anti-fascism from here on out, just to be really clear.

Earlier this fall, Sara M. Watson published a lengthy piece for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, “Toward a Constructive Technology Criticism.” Even though the opening paragraphs that spoke of “loom-smashing Luddites and told-you-so Cassandras,” I didn’t see much of myself in her description of the “technology criticism landscape,” despite the years now that I’ve been a landscaper. Watson’s suggestions for a “constructive technology criticism”: surface ideologies. Ask better questions. Offer alternatives. Be realistic. Be precise. Be generous.

Seven years and hundreds of thousands of words reviewing what’s happening to and through education technology is as generous I can be right now, I think.

Here’s what I’ve written in previous years. You can decide for yourself with how much my criticism has been heeded (hell, even acknowledged):

The Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2015


The Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2014


The Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2013


The Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2012


The Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2011


The Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2010


Icon credits: The Noun Project

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Audrey Watters


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