A version of this article was originally published on Medium.
There are always new products coming out in the edtech landscape, but somehow a couple software platforms monopolize the industry and are used by teachers everywhere, leaving smaller companies and edtech startups facing an uphill battle.
Some of those big names include Google Classroom in K-12, Blackboard and Canvas learning management systems in higher ed, and across education the once-obscure video software named Zoom became ubiquitous during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, as I’ve navigated K-12 education as a special education teacher for Baltimore City for the last three years, I’ve realized something about the edtech industry: There are too many apps, too many programs, and too much different technology for educators to use in the classroom.
During virtual learning especially, educators were completely inundated with far too many programs to try. I am young, have a master’s degree, and am known for being pretty tech-savvy for a teacher, but there were too many options for which programs to use.
Too many programs serve the exact same purpose
Take two apps that serve very similar purposes as an example: Nearpod and Peardeck. Both are enhancements and add-ons to PowerPoint or Google Slides, and both work well. I have used both, and besides some slight differences, both are really similar. Early on in virtual learning, I used Nearpod and got used to it.
My school, however, purchased a subscription to Peardeck, so I had to switch and get used to a new program. It wasn’t hard—again, they are almost the same thing. Another example is two PDF readers that also feel like they do the same exact thing—Kami and OrbitNote. There are fundamental differences, for sure. But when you teach classes of 30 kids a day and barely have time to eat lunch or go to the bathroom, do you pay attention to those differences? No.
You might ask, ‘Aren’t a lot of choices for educators and administrators a good thing?’ Well, not always. We go through significant decision fatigue and “which edtech program should I use?” is close to the bottom of the list of priorities. I’m sorry. It just is. We will default to what’s familiar, what all our colleagues use, and what’s most available.
Matthew Lynch at The Tech Advocate says smaller edtech companies face an uphill battle, and “limited options from only the wealthiest companies” is not good for having new and innovative voices in the industry. Also, many edtech companies have engineers who don’t have teaching experience or knowledge about pedagogy.
The use of edtech also assumes a classroom has tech access
In an ideal world, every classroom in the world would have access to computers and technology to take advantage of the added opportunities of edtech. But this is not an ideal world. I work in a school with a new building and where a lot of teachers had daily access to computers, but I had to share the computers I could use with other teachers and beg colleagues to share theirs whenever I had a digital assignment do with my students.
For the most part, I had to print worksheets and have students work with pencil and paper—the old-fashioned way.
Plenty of teachers have it worse, too!
Lynch notes that edtech is not equally accessible to all students, and lower-income schools don’t have the same access to edtech as higher-income schools. And an overreliance on edtech can heighten gaps between disadvantaged students and privileged students.
During the pandemic, the term “digital divide” grew very popular, which referred to the gap between those who do and don’t have access to digital technology.
But back to oversaturation—here’s how educators, school leaders and education policymakers can combat the problem of too many programs and a market that bombards educators with too many decisions.
Standardize a couple of essential programs, and stick with them
In education, it’s not uncommon for every year to have new district-wide leadership or some new push from leadership that contradicts the previous year’s push.
What my school did very well was standardizing the use of PearDeck, and rolling out training for the program in professional-development trainings for every teacher. That way, students didn’t have the confusing experience of switching between different programs in each class. Some people might disagree about which app or program to use, but with edtech, continuity is almost always better than too much transition.
Similarly, school districts don’t need the programs that serve functions that are too similar.
Wading through the sea of edtech oversaturation can seem difficult, but it is possible. For the time being, though, marketers in the industry need to chill.
Go to Publisher: EdSurge Articles
Author: Ryan Fan