Imagine a classroom overflowing with educational technology – tablets piled high, laptops scattered across desks, a projector displaying a different program than the interactive whiteboard beside it. Though brimming with potential, this cluttered environment can overwhelm educators and students alike. This is the reality of many classrooms today, but not necessarily in the visible hardware space.  Many in the field are struggling under the invisible weight of a sprawling digital ecosystem of software applications.

How Do We Ease the Burden?

“Easing the Burden on Schools: Five Quality Indicators for EdTech & AI Products” highlights the burden of evaluating this incredible range of educational technology (EdTech) products, and similar concerns arise after implementation. While EdTech offers amazing potential, a free-for-all approach has become counterproductive.

Here’s why we need to reel in our digital ecosystems and prioritize quality over quantity in education:

    • Teacher Overload: Teachers are bombarded with the task of familiarizing themselves with a vast array of EdTech tools, often with limited professional development support. 
    • Data Deluge: The more EdTech products used, the more data is collected. Managing, and making proper use of, this data effectively becomes a significant challenge for schools.  There’s power here, but it’s hard for these systems to fully capitalize on the gold mine of information they have collected.  We need to improve here.
    • Disconnected Learning: In a world of incompatible EdTech, valuable data and learning experiences can become siloed, hindering a holistic view of student progress.
    • Privacy Concerns:  Similarly, we find our data has become fragmented and difficult to track.  This makes student data privacy a real issue facing schools.  There is not enough education about how to properly manage this and the platforms that could help districts do it don’t get the priority focus they need.
    • Focus on Integration, Not Accumulation: Instead of seeking the next shiny tech tool, educators need well-integrated systems that work together seamlessly. This fosters a more streamlined learning environment and reduces the burden on both educators and students.

The Clutter of Software Applications

The sheer number of software applications can create a chaotic and disjointed learning experience. Here’s why reducing software clutter is essential:

    • Complexity in Management: Each software application often requires separate logins, updates, and troubleshooting. This can lead to significant administrative overhead and increased IT support needs.
    • Inconsistent User Experiences: Different applications have varying interfaces and functionalities, making it challenging for teachers and students to develop consistent workflows. This inconsistency can disrupt the learning process and reduce overall efficiency.
    • Training Gaps: With numerous applications in use, providing comprehensive training for each one becomes impractical. Teachers may end up using only a fraction of an application’s potential, or worse, using it incorrectly, leading to suboptimal educational outcomes.
    • Cost Implications: Subscriptions and licensing fees for multiple applications can quickly add up, straining school budgets. It’s crucial to evaluate the return on investment for each tool and consider whether the benefits justify the costs.

Core Tenets for Streamlining EdTech

“Easing the Burden on Schools: Five Quality Indicators for EdTech & AI Products” offers these core tenets to guide a more curated approach to EdTech:

SAFE: Edtech products must establish robust data privacy and security measures to protect student and educator data and safeguard against unauthorized access or data breaches. This includes adhering to industry standards and laws to create a secure learning environment and adopting principles of data minimization (only collecting necessary data), and data transparency (users understand which data are collected for what purpose).

EVIDENCE-BASED: Edtech product design, implementation, and claims of effectiveness need to be grounded in rigorous research and evidence-based practices as specified by the ESSA Tiers of Evidence. Providers should engage in research-driven design, empirical validation, demonstrated effectiveness, and alignment with established educational standards.

INCLUSIVE: Edtech products must prioritize accessibility, inclusivity, and equitable design to ensure they are acceptable to learners from diverse backgrounds and with a broad range of learner variability. This includes ensuring EdTech products are accessible for all learners, do not promote existing stereotypes, create new ones, or prevent students from acquiring accurate information because of biased algorithms.

USABLE: Edtech products must be designed to be easily usable by educators and students to ensure a seamless digital experience. If the product is not easy to use, it creates an unnecessary barrier and educators and students will struggle to use the tool.

INTEROPERABLE: Edtech products must seamlessly connect to other technologies within a school’s digital ecosystem. This is accomplished by adhering to established interoperability standards that ensure secure exchange and allow for the beneficial aggregation of data to inform instruction and personalize learning.

Embracing a Curated and Quality-Driven Approach

With the rapid integration of AI into the educational landscape, the urgency to clean up our EdTech practices has never been greater. AI tools bring transformative potential but also add layers of complexity that can exacerbate the existing clutter if not managed judiciously. Schools must act now to streamline their digital ecosystems, focusing on quality and integration over sheer quantity.

To address the challenges of identifying quality EdTech products, seven leading EdTech organizations—1EdTech, CAST, CoSN, Digital Promise, InnovateEDU, ISTE, and SETDA—have pledged to work together on behalf of educators, product developers, students, and their families. Their collaborative efforts aim to reduce the burden on educators and school leaders by promoting common quality indicators and providing independent quality validations. This partnership promises to identify high-quality EdTech tools at a fraction of the time and cost the current review process requires, ultimately making it easier for schools to navigate the digital Wild West and focus on what truly matters – teaching and learning.

Educators, school leaders, and EdTech developers need to embrace these core tenets and collaborative efforts. By doing so, we can transform our digital ecosystems from a cluttered free-for-all into a well-orchestrated symphony of effective learning tools. Put simply, we need to embrace the best of technology for the task while keeping the classroom focus squarely on learning.

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