Over the last 30 years, I’ve worked on national and international projects focusing on the integration of digital technologies in formal learning environments from the preschool to the university level. Many recollections come to mind when I consider the challenges educators face when they start an edtech initiative, especially given the rapid expansion, variety and scope of digital technologies.
In the mid-’80s and early ’90s, the internet and mobile devices were practically nonexistent in school environments, which is why the integration processes involved knowing the devices that appeared on the market and overcoming the fear of using them, often before educational uses had been imagined by others.
I learned computer programming using the Logo language in 1990 when the most sophisticated social technology that educators could use in my country was an ATM. At that time in schools in Costa Rica, tech questions were mostly focused on what educational software to use.
By the mid-’90s with the expansion of the internet, a new challenge was presented to educators: How to take advantage of the network? As never before, education was placed in the arena of potential innovation and with it, there was a need to transform teaching practices. However, the focus was still on technology and not learning.
With the coming of the new millennium, digital technologies were becoming increasingly powerful, small, mobile, personalized and intelligent. We went from desktop computers to laptops, from computers to tablets and phones, from storage disks to cloud services, from disks with applications to online software, from telephone lines to mobile messaging services.
With all these changes, we went from people who took courses to learn how to use applications to self-taught people who were learning by doing, watching videos and sharing in open networks. Again, the educational boom was based in technological novelty, but teaching and learning were still largely unchanged.
Faced with these increasingly profound and rapid transformations, the fundamental issues that concern those of us who work on edtech initiatives are: how to improve the educational process, how to integrate digital technologies so they are learning tools for active and responsible digital citizenship and how to train educators in that context.
Here are the traits of the successful edtech initiatives I’ve observed:
Devices and technologies are perishable, but learning purposes are not. The most successful edtech projects are those that pay special attention to learning purposes and not devices. Technology changes frequently, so the focus must be defining the purposes of learning and plot the route to achieve it.
Educators are trained to feel comfortable. The implementation of an innovation usually falls on the educators, often without their participation in its design or the related decision-making related to it. For best outcomes, educators should be involved in the development of initiatives, receive relevant training and have clear expectations for their work.
Expectations are progressive. Edtech projects should be designed in phases, with clear expectations for the educational institution and educators from the start. The most robust projects include a road map for the entire project so participants understand there’s a process with many steps and that learning and making missteps along the way is OK. Participants should also be able to bring some of their own ideas to the project to ensure buy-in and success.
The project starts with a baseline. Ideally, all edtech projects would start with a baseline that allows participants to know and measure the achievements, results and impacts of the implementation.
Although these traits don’t constitute a recipe and are not exhaustive, they do represent considerations to be taken into account and put into practice when starting an edtech project or evaluating the performance of an already initiated one.