Lessons learned from over 3,000 schools.
GUEST COLUMN | by Saad Alam
Over the past few years, teachers, administrators and students have been inundated with technology. Whether it’s from smart phones, social media or iPads— technology is everywhere. As CEO of an education technology company, I typically enter schools where teachers and students are frustrated with technology and unsure how to make what appears to be a “cool product” work for the classroom. However, throughout 2014, I have seen a real change in the behavior toward edtech in schools.
They realize this transition in education is not easy and everyone needs to work together in order to realize its potential for students.
In years past, technology was thought of as an impossible hurdle. Teachers were up against strict school districts that questioned the value of such improvements and instructors were still a little shaky on how to exactly teach new products to students without taking away valuable class time. In 2014, technology became kind of cool. Previously, a teacher who wanted to implement technology in the classroom was seen as a bit of a maverick, sometimes looked at differently than the rest of the teachers. However, with the acceptance of BYOD, laser-fast adoption for Google, and really good tech products, the tide is beginning to turn. No longer are the teachers using technology seen as misfits; now they’re the ushers of change to their entire school systems.
Teachers have seen a lot of changes in their classrooms with the introduction of Common Core. They are still uneasy with many of these new standards, but are seeing that edtech can help classrooms adapt to Common Core more easily. Edtech is forcing teachers to be uncomfortable and get comfortable with technology. It’s been fun walking into some of the over 3,000 schools that use our product and watching teachers, who may have been burned by edtech in the past, determined to change their behaviors for the sake of efficiency — but more because their students are simply no longer engaged with traditional methods.
The first real digital generation is starting to grow from learning the alphabet, to simple addition using technology. And rather than being zombies as some may have predicted, students are proving to impress. I recently stepped into a third-grade classroom and found that, within three weeks, they went from writing paragraphs to full-blown research papers that most high school students struggle to complete. They can grasp new things quickly and really find technology cool for learning purposes.
Edtech has also allowed teachers to give each student a customized education experience. Many products are letting teachers monitor every single student’s performance on exams, assignments and papers. This lets them see where a child might struggle and exactly where the teacher can improve upon those weaknesses. In 2014, instead of complaints from teachers on the integration of a particular product in the classroom, I heard, “Can I really do this without leaving my desk?”
This year was the first that I saw administrators shifting their attitude in purchasing new edtech products. Instead of making a buying decision in a silo and watching a product pushed onto a teaching staff, they are giving decision-making authority to their teachers. We take this to mean that administrators are beginning to trust their teachers more, but more importantly, they realize this transition in education is not easy and everyone needs to work together in order to realize its potential for students.
Part of the reason why I think there have been such huge strides (that will only grow in 2015), is that many products are becoming smarter. No longer does a teacher have to buy into seven different products to perform tasks in the classroom. They can do it all on one platform. The biggest reason why administrators and districts were adverse to edtech was cost. They couldn’t buy just one product; they had to buy several to work on all levels — and, within budgets, that wasn’t possible. Now, edtech is becoming more efficient and cheaper for schools to partake in. The next hurdle to overcome will be in professional development and support. The companies who can do this best will be able to make the largest impact in outcomes.
In 2014, I saw some very exciting movement across America to work with technology in the classroom. I am hopeful that this change is in full swing for 2015. We are living through a real revolution, and it’s working — just give it a little time. The benefits and marvels are just around the corner.
Saad Alam is CEO of Citelighter, a writing platform for K-20. He has worked on the ground and received daily feedback from over 3,000 schools during the past year.