Monday, March 18, 2013

The problem with Ed Tech

The news that google is discontinuing Google.Reader has got me thinking. My reaction was not unlike that of many other users: anger, frustration, shock, dismay, etc. Some folks made viral videos that do an excellent job of capturing the emotion, others have even started a petition to get google to reconsider their decision... something that I signed, but with no misconceptions that it's going to do anything.

If you have been reading my previous posts, you see that I rely on google.reader to manage my student blogs; the 'bundle' function is essential for passing around folders of blogs, and the 'subscribe' button makes it manageable for teachers to use. Losing these functions will make me have to figure out how to restructure our entire blogging initiative.

But what really gets me frustrated is how this exposes a serious flaw with Educational Technology, and something that we must address clearly in order to truly leverage technology tools in education.

Teachers don't like too much change. I commented on this in a previous post, and my thesis was not because they are lazy or resistant....quite the opposite. Teachers have to manage such an overwhelming amount of things that they NEED consistency and they need to adopt change at THEIR pace. In my experience, most would prefer to stay with an outdated tool that works, and embellish the lessons around it, rather than update to the most modern version and have to rebuild their activities and support documents. This is entirely reasonable.

However, this is the exact opposite of the technology landscape. In their efforts to capture market shares, and to continually enhance their offerings, developers and providers like Google are constantly revamping their products: tools such as Instagram are changing their usage protocols or merging with social media that have prohibitions on underage use, useful things like google.reader go away, google.sites gets wonky, google changes their platform to 'google plus' with a whole host of new skills to learn (see the pattern evolving here, google?), youtube decides to restrict access to videos from outside the US, or change their codec so download programs like keepvid no longer work, links in blogs become broken, java stops working on Mac, Ning stops being free, Cisco kills FlipCam, etc.

Teachers do not live to learn new tech, and even those who don't mind troubleshooting find that, over time, the constraints of having to continually rebuild lesson plans because of obsolete technology tools are too burdensome. The result is that Rule #1 gets broken: The Tech Has To Work. Having to continually revisit old ground, patch problems, redevelop lesson plans for new tools, and reinvent the wheel does nothing to facilitate using technology in teaching....unless the lesson is in how to use technology (which it rarely ever is).

So what's the future for this? Will Educational Technology become a flash-in-the-pan the surge of use of Video Laser Disks in the 70s, only to fade into history as tried and true methods continue to reign? Or will these program and software developers stop chasing new markets and refuse leveraged buyouts from big companies so they continue to provide stable services for users?

Since educational use is such a small part of the tech market, my expectation is not that they will provide stable services. What that means for the future of Ed Tech remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure....nothing is for certain except change itself. And that is not always a good thing.