President  Obama speaks with a student as he visits a classroom at Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Maryland, on February 4, 2014, before speaking detailing progress toward his ConnectED goal of connecting 99 percent of students to next-generation broadband and wireless technology within five years. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Technology, says Gene Levinson, should serve  teachers, students and parents — not the other way around. Levinson is a research scientist, STEM educator and chief executive officer of the SmartNoter social enterprise, which offers a free iOS app that allows students and their parents to download modules developed by teachers to help them learn a broad range of courses. Here are five questions that Levinson says educators should ask about education technology, along with other information about what education technology companies should — and shouldn’t — do. This post, which I am publishing with Levinson’s permission, appeared on his LinkedIn page.

 

 

By Gene Levinson

Dedicated teachers who care about the kids they teach are rightly suspicious of “educational reform” initiatives led by people who have no teaching experience. Companies claiming to motivate kids, help them to learn and gain deep understanding, improve critical thinking skills or instill lasting knowledge and real-world applicable know-how should pass certain tests. Here are five questions teachers should ask about education technology:

1. Does the ed tech company put kids before profits?

2. Was the company founded by experienced teachers who care about kids, have first-hand knowledge of the problems that confront teachers in classrooms, and who offer new ways to solve these problems?

3. Does the company listen to real classroom teachers, and collaborate with them to scientifically study and improve the effectiveness of their products (rather than just market them)?

4. Does the company offer innovative solutions that motivate kids to explore, love learning, and incrementally improve by reviewing mistakes? Are the delivery vehicles accessible, inexpensive, and easy to use? (Or, does the company focus instead on standards, testing, data collection, and superficial judgements of teachers?)

5. Is the company centered around high-quality content, prepared by experienced teachers, that promote deep-learning strategies and critical thinking? (Or, does the company offer unreliable content that is confusing and that fosters superficial rote memorization, without genuine and lasting comprehension)?

 

The proliferation of companies hoping to profit from the boom in education technology has produced both our best and our worst hopes for helping kids to learn, both now and in the future.  Technology should serve the teachers, students and parents, rather than the other way around.

Ed Tech companies should:

  1. generate and integrate large amounts of content prepared by teachers, with constant incremental improvement based on feedback from end users
  2. save teachers time
  3. make it easier for teachers to focus on do what they do best
  4. reduce paperwork
  5. encourage students to be proactive and complete their assignments
  6. help each student recognize and learn from his or her mistakes
  7. deliver customized content based on detailed individual feedback from the performance of each student
  8. provide fun learning tools and games that engage and motivate students
  9. create active explorations and quests that challenge students
  10. go beyond linear textbooks to produce searchable, granular, cross-referenced, accessible content
  11. create interactive user experiences that encourage critical thinking

Ed Tech companies should NOT:

  1. promote standardized, one-size-fits-all content
  2. create user-hostile, complex technology with ridiculous technical learning curves that lead to disuse by both teachers and students
  3. focus on gimmicks rather than quality content
  4. produce more technology than actual content
  5. recycle content from the Internet without vetting by content-matter experts (i.e. teachers)
  6. focus on testing
  7. manipulate teachers to gather data
  8. interfere with mentoring of peers by and for teachers
  9. dictate to teachers how to run their own classrooms or what to teach
  10. bypass teachers in vetting company products
  11. bypass teachers in selling company products