By Scott Kinney
Do you remember the story of Chicken Little? In the updated version of this classic tale that I recently saw an elementary school teacher deliver, Chicken Little read online that the sky is falling. Alarmed, he rushed to tell his friends who all replied, “If it’s on the internet, it must be true!” While the story then continues with predictable consequences, it also kickstarted my thinking on a phenomenon we are currently experiencing in education.
In some corners of the internet I have read articles outlining the failure of EdTech in the COVID era of instruction. Now I am not a “learning loss” or an “unfinished learning” denier but the data is clear that despite the heroic efforts of school systems and caregivers, the impact of the Pandemic on K–12 student learning was significant. However, I reject the premise that edtech failed students during the pandemic. Quite simply, you cannot believe everything you read on the internet.
When the COVID-19 Pandemic struck, school systems across the country made an almost overnight shift to remote learning. While some school systems nationwide have been painstakingly implementing 1:1 initiatives for years, Covid-19 accelerated those efforts. In a matter of weeks the 1:1 model became the rule rather than the exception in K-12 education, and students continued their learning.
The work of the people in our school systems nationwide who set up and implemented the infrastructure that provided children with the means to continue their education remotely was nothing short of courageous. But to think that EdTech alone could bridge the economic and social dislocation our students and teachers experienced during the Pandemic and completely replace the art and science of classroom instruction is fantasy. In short, the Pandemic highlighted both EdTech’s power and limitations.
To begin to overcome those limitations, there are several areas where EdTech can improve. Among those areas are:
The integration of digital resources into a text-based curriculum offers students the opportunity to experience a concept by reading about it, hearing about it, seeing it, and, in some cases, manipulating it. Remember learning about photosynthesis? My experience was reading about it in a textbook and seeing different photos and diagrams. With digital resources like animations and videos, students can see and investigate the process of photosynthesis while reading about it, watching videos on it, listening to podcasts, and even planting virtual trees to watch them grow in VR (Virtual Reality). This multimodal learning strengthens and deepens student understanding of a topic by reinforcing the lesson in multiple formats.
We know that high-quality video alone does not make for engaging digital resources. EdTech needs to improve the quality and number of other digital resources such as e-books, interactives, virtual field trips, infographics, and more. The creation of more and better multimodal resources can help ensure that students have the resources they need to engage with academic topics in several ways.
At one time my Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ accounts were all separate platforms that had separate login portals and credentials. It was time consuming and confusing to switch between platforms to find content I liked, so consequently I rarely used those services. However, once I found a single sign-on solution that provided easy access to these resources I suddenly saw value in the individual platforms.
The proliferation of EdTech resources in the nation’s classrooms has led to just such an issue, but on a larger scale. With so much EdTech at their fingertips, COVID-era educators were overwhelmed with the solutions meant to support them. EdTech providers can do a better job by providing educators more “platform solutions” that centrally locate services in one place and improve interoperability. Just like having all your favorite entertainment resources available through a single sign-on solution, putting all the things teachers and students need to support instruction in one place helps ensure these resources will provide value and return-on-investment.
Think about how many times you have heard, read, and even experienced conversations about the importance of students memorizing their math facts. One of the things we have learned about this type of learning is that it is not about memorization, it is about automaticity—the reflexive, ingrained habits of students that include not only speed and accuracy but also understanding. Because of technology’s adaptive capabilities and accessibility features as well as its ability to gamify learning, we should use it to help students build that automaticity of math facts or fluency in reading.
EdTech can create fun, gamified and accessible learning for students to develop this automaticity in ways that are so much better than some of the outdated practices upon which teachers and students have needed to rely. In addition, technology has the power to show students what they know, how well they know it, and what more they need to practice. The bottom line is that we need to continue to develop and enhance these types of technologies so they align with what we know about the science of learning.
Given that the careers for which we are preparing students continue to evolve daily, it is critical that we bring the real world into the classroom. Technology helps fulfill this necessity. Discovery Education has made bringing the outside world into the classroom its mission. Through virtual field trips that take students behind the scenes to see polar bears in their native habitat to tours of the famous landmarks of Washington D.C. with First Lady Jill Biden to introducing students to the careers of tomorrow with engaging career explorations created in partnership with our Social Impact Partners, we strive to make what is going on in the classroom connect to the outside world.
Discovery Education is working to integrate the lessons learned about the use of EdTech during the Pandemic into our products and services. I encourage my colleagues across the industry to consider both these and the other lessons learned from the use of EdTech during the Pandemic to enhance existing products and build new services. The time is now for us to act. Let us work hard as an industry to ensure that next time Chicken Little is trawling the internet, he does not read about the failure of EdTech.
About the author
Discovery Education’s CEO Scott Kinney has spent more than 25 years supporting the success of all learners through a variety of roles in both public education and the business world.
Prior to his current position, Scott served as Discovery Education’s President of K-12 Education, and before that, he held the role of Senior Vice President of Education Partnerships. During his tenure at Discovery Education, Scott has played a key role in a number of the organization’s innovative initiatives, including the creation of Discovery Education’s professional learning business, the establishment of Discovery Education’s master’s degree in instructional media, and the growth of the company’s award-winning professional learning community, the Discovery Educator Network. Scott regularly consults with high-level education leaders and policymakers and has testified before Congress on the future of learning. An accomplished public speaker and author, Scott has keynoted countless education conferences and has contributed articles and opinion pieces to various education publications.
Before joining Discovery Education, Scott spent 15 years in public education, serving at the school district and regional service center levels. He has also taught undergraduate and graduate classes at the university level and has served on numerous education-focused advisory boards.