Does edtech need a cheerleader?


Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a worrisome trend in the education community– the rise of the edtech cheerleader. I’m not talking about the teacherbloggers who are the first to integrate the trendiest of tech tools into their lesson plans (that’s another post.) I’m not talking about the teachers who champion technology in ways that extend archaic, ineffective practices in the classroom. I’m not even talking about the teachers pre-writing blog posts about how their tech-infused lessons before the lesson ever takes place (that’s another post). And in case you’re wondering, I’m not even talking about a few recent Techcrunch-y additions to the edtech blogging market. (That one’s a shocker, I know!)

I am talking about the cottage industry of blogs, sites, and educators-turned-personal-brands who have popped up and who claim to be all about improving education. They seem harmless– teacher’s best friend! OMG, soooo many resources!– and every day there’s another educator demystifying technology in the classroom and sharing resources (read: copy-pasting marketing materials and images from edtech sites to their blogs) without sharing a single reflective thought about how a classroom really works.

These sites and the people building their brands around education technology pose as teachers’ aides when at the end of they day, they are anything but. They are in the business of marketing themselves and their sites though they frequently offer ideas and tools that have been poorly (if at all) vetted for use in a classroom. They know that teachers will share almost anything packaged as a “resource” or “PD” or a tool that could possibly help anyone if they just click through and see it. They take advantage of a community that shares with the hope that their resources, links, and tools might help another teacher in need, knowing that that community is so grateful to get anything that few will ever think twice before retweeting, reblogging, reposting, and resharing.

These sites and teacherblogs are usually monetized through ad revenue, loaded with SEO-friendly content (read: endless links of lists), and exist for no other goal than to earn clicks, pageviews and shares while shouting edtech’s name from the rooftops. Others do nothing but post PR drivel and consistently churn out shiny new press releases with words like “personalized” and “adaptive” and “Common Core” and “RIGOR!” yet earn endless shares (OMG! Engagement!) from educators across the Twittersphere.

And at best, their content is a recycled, copied, or repackaged, or aggregated version of something they’ve ripped off another blog. More often than not, these sites do not create their own content, and instead rely on free content or scraping freely available content from established educators or other members of their audience that helps keep overhead low. Many educators accept the “exposure” graciously and are thrilled, thrilled, thrilled that someone has showered them without recognition.

It’s a problem, and as a recovering edtech marketer, sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who sees it.

By definition, there is one major flaw to cheerleading– its participants can watch a game at play, but must cheer their team no matter what its performance or behavior. Cheerleaders cannot call out player misconduct done by anyone on their home team, and more often than not ignore unsportsmanlike behavior committed right in front of their faces, often blaming it on the opposing team. If someone on Team Edtech (read: companies building edtech) commits unsportsmanlike conduct, therefore, this cottage industry of cheerleaders still supports the home team anyway.

The problem with edtech cheerleaders is this: they’re on the sidelines and cheering– but education isn’t a sport. Education, is, however a high stakes system that is incredibly rife with inequality, a high stakes system that plays a role in determining the future of every single student in this country.

It’s an unbelievably unfairly adjudicated system (see: standardized testing, teacher evaluation) that is severely underfunded (those in the most need have the least resources), and its pressures lead administrators + tech coordinators to commit many, many a sin in the name of results. So many administrators adopt a tool– sponsored by Team Edtech, naturally— because it can raise a test score, not because it can improve the quality of learning that goes on within a school’s walls.

And given the spread of Team Edtech’s content and “cheer,” some days they appear to be winning something what should never, ever be a game at all.

What edtech needs isn’t a cheerleader, a PR Pep Rallies disguised as a Connected Educator month, or its own holiday that celebrates Digital Learning by promoting tools that do anything but aid learning in the classroom. It doesn’t need to be cloaked in buzzwords (rigor, anyone?), or to have its halls plastered with cutesy “Chicken Soup for the Edtech Soul” quotes laid over stock images that are favorited and retweeted until kingdom come as inspiration for teachers to commit tech-fueled teaching sins without real learning goals in mind.

What education and education technology need are real, pragmatic voices — advocates and proponents who will use their voices to transform the current flock of mostly useless crap into technology that can will enhance learning in the classroom. And those voices need to call it like they see it and share honest reflections that aren’t influenced by sponsorships, by thinktanks, PR campaigns, award programs, or anything else.

If we’re going to fix the mess we’re in, we need advocates who will push for better, more secure, safer, more accessible tech with content that truly aligns to the standards by which teachers and students are judged. The critical thinking and the hard work we need to do to fix the education mess doesn’t happen when we’re distracted by aimless applause of cheerleaders, pom-poms, bows, banners and social media glitter– it happens when we connect, when we share our experiences, and when we extend the communities to which we belong online into our lives and continue to connect on a local and grassroots level.

Taking the first few steps is easy… educators, I know you can do it. All you have to do to start is this: think (about the value of what you’re sharing, and where it comes from) before you tweet.


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