School & District Management

Why Tech Isn’t Transforming Teaching: 10 Key Stories From Education Week

By Benjamin Herold — June 25, 2019 4 min read
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Jason Johnson has been in education for 20 years, working as a teacher, technology director, curriculum director, and now as the chief financial officer for Oklahoma’s 2,800-student Pryor Public Schools.

He’s seen a tremendous focus on buying technology. But making sure it’s effective and being used well? Not so much.

“I think that conversation is not happening,” Johnson said at the annual conference of the International Society for Technology in Education, being held here. “There’s a lot of pressure on administrators to say they have the technology. But there’s not as much preparation for them to know that just buying things and handing them out to teachers is not going to make a change.”

That recurring experience is what brought Johnson to an ISTE presentation by Education Week assistant managing editor Kevin Bushweller. Titled “Why Technology Is Not Transforming Teaching,” the session drew well over 100 educators, administrators, and ed-tech workers from around the country.

Here are 10 stories that formed the basis of Bushweller’s presentation:

1. Why Ed Tech Is Not Transforming How Teachers Teach

This 2015 Education Week story generated tremendous reaction. Why?

The K-12 field needs less of a “rah-rah” approach to discussing ed tech, said presentation attendee Brennen Gee, who works in product development for software developer Canvas.

“We often work within a framework that we don’t question,” Gee said. “Sometimes we’re too focused on designing tech for the existing framework, rather than challenging that framework.”

2. How Teachers Use Ed Tech: 8 Research Studies You Need to Know

These seminal studies have formed the foundation of much of Education Week’s technology coverage for the past five years. Among the most significant: Larry Cuban’s “Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice,” where he describes schools and teachers adapting potentially innovative technologies to fit their established ways of doing things.

3. What Principals Really Think About Tech

Central to Bushweller’s presentation were original surveys conducted by the Education Week Research Center. For our 2018 Technology Counts report, for example, we found that while school principals generally support trends like personalized learning, “the majority were also worried that the overuse of technology could lead to students spending too much time in isolation,” Bushweller said.

4. Ed-Tech Supporters Promise Innovations That Can Transform Schools. Educators Aren’t Seeing the Impact.

The Education Week Research Center found similar sentiments among teachers. Well under half of classroom educators surveyed, for example, said they feel supported by their schools to take risks and try new approaches with classroom technologies.

5. Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft Battle for K-12 Market

There’s a strong argument to be made that “classroom innovation has suffered because of the omnipresence of these companies” in the K-12 market, Bushweller said, citing the perspective of Hal Friedlander of the Technology for Education Consortium in this 2017 story from EdWeek Market Brief.

6. Poor Students Face Digital Divide in How Teachers Learn to Use Tech

One of the biggest barriers to more effective classroom technology integration is the paucity of high-quality professional development, especially in poor schools. This 2017 story highlights the technology-training gap between two schools in the Pittsburgh, Pa., region.

7. Hard Lessons Learned in Ambitious L.A. iPad Initiative

“Poor ed-tech decisions at the top” are also a big reason why technology’s classroom impact is often limited, Bushweller said.

Exhibit A: the Los Angeles Unified School District’s disastrous 1-to-1 iPad initiative, which devolved into widespread confusion, an FBI investigation, and a series of resignations by top district leaders.

Such cautionary tales are important for the K-12 field to remember, especially amid the hype and cheerleading that are often pervasive at a conference like ISTE.

As educators, “we hear all these amazing ideas, but then we go back to our classrooms and face the reality of trying to implement them with our kids,” said Christine Jackson, a 6th grade science teacher at Texas’s Spring Branch ISD.

“I like hearing the pragmatic side.”

8. K-12 Districts Wasting Millions By Not Using Purchased Software

It’d be hard to be less pragmatic than spending big bucks on ed tech and digital tools—then not even using them.

But it’s a big problem in K-12, as Education Week Market Brief has been reporting.

“The usage of those tools is often disturbingly low,” Bushweller said.

9. How These 4 Educators Are Using Ed Tech to Transform Their Teaching

There are, of course, bright spots. These teacher profiles for this year’s Technology Counts report show how teachers are using digital tools to improve communications with parents, engage students, differentiate instruction, and meet the needs of students with disabilities.

10. The Kids Are Right: School Is Boring

The bottom line from Bushweller’s ISTE presentation? The kids are right, he said. School is boring. And the best uses of technology are often those that tap into kids’ passions and connect them to the rapidly changing world beyond school walls.

Photo: Students at Ridgeview Middle School in Gaithersburg, Md. work on Chromebooks.--T.J. Kirkpatrick for Education Week

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.