#EdTech Introductions, Part One

EdTech Introductions

Hello, my Name is #EdTech

Educational technology, or EdTech, is a long running component of education, but how would one recognize it today? Allow me to make some EdTech Introductions.

The Marketplace

It isn’t just educational companies from which schools purchase anymore, and it isn’t just the school purchasing. Individual teachers are purchasing for their classrooms, and classroom digital subscriptions are likely a portion of those purchases.

Educational Technology companies market to individual teachers in the same ways that individual teachers are now able to sell as an individual or launch a start-up. “Eduprenuers” are found at the intersection of traditional education and the Silicon Valley mindset. Teachers are increasing players in #EdTech start-up culture.

Not everything has a monetary cost though now-a-days, at least not at first. Freemium services are a recent development in online subscriptions for educators. Freemium services provide free access at the base level, but promote an upgrade to a school-wide or district-wide service for a fee. Schoology, for example, realizes that while offering a product for free to teachers can build user-ship, the sustainability of its business depends on selling enterprise contracts to schools and districts. EdWeek, 2012. Sometimes the freemium service changes terms on users and then requests money or teachers face restrictions, such as with Evernote in 2016.

The Hardware

When you imagine the screens students stare at in a classroom you are likely to imagine a few options. Either a large projection on a wall, a large TV, or a smaller personal device held in the students hands. The progression of large display (grouping projection and TVs together) to 1:1 technology mirrors the trend toward personalizing education – large to small. The current trend is to move interaction from one static location in the classroom which is teacher-dominated to the place where(ever) the student is – both physically and in the curriculum. Interaction drives at the student and many claim to personalize it for each student.

Large Displays

The idea of introducing Interactive WhiteBoards (IWBs) into classrooms started in the United Kingdom/Australia more than a decade ago. Promethean is currently introducing a product aimed on the moving target which is #EdTech. Classflow. This product aims to take advantage of the devices in the hands of students in the form of an app which supports the current Promethean “flipcharts.” While the company still sells the large, costly, teacher-centric IWBs, they are branching out toward the trend of more personalization. Check out my related post on IWBs. Relegating the IWB to (hopefully) the side of teaching, the current fate of the less expensive chalk/whiteboards of years past.

The 1:1 Movement

What is held in those student hands? The war of devices seems to be at the tablet level. Android devices and Apple devices each maintain proprietary App Stores which can generate additional revenue after the initial purchase. Chromebooks from Google are also gaining a place in the hands of our students with only browsers these devices are quick to start and easy to manage. Watch for the Tablet vs. Chromebook battle to resolve itself in one of several ways. EIther by school/district-EdTech company alliances, or grade level/range norms based on developmental readiness for each device, and/or districts either all-in on 1:1 (and choosing for their students) or all-out, going entirely BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) to save on costly maintenance/replacement.

The Software

EdTech software is rarely locally installed, not open to importing students accounts, or limited to running on only one operating system anymore. EdTech companies have figured out how to be generative in creating revenue. Educational Technologies are sources of increasing revenue, from brand new Open Educational Resources (OER) to behemoths such as Learning Management Systems. The smart EdTech company is leveraging the success and/or novelty of another EdTech to gain market share.


Software is not a local install any longer, with one license tied to one machine. Subscription services have replaced most site licenses and even companies who still offer old-school licensing are glad to sell you space in their clouds to host it.

Logging in is increasingly easier for both educators and students. Companies such a Google, who offer free services to education via Google Apps For Education (GAFE), allow sign-in to an increasing array of sites. Companies such as Clever charge the EdTech company, not schools, to log your students into those EdTech softwares. A brilliant resource for districts and a great model for EdTech companies to make money off the marketplace, not just schools.

If there is a proprietary system left in your system, it is likely the Student Information System (SIS), with it’s students data and ability to generate funding from the state it is likely to change last. But even the days of a stand along SIS might be coming to an end with companies like LearnSprout. Check out my related post on How to Work around a Clumsy SIS.

Device Agnostic

The old days where you had to decide if you wanted the PC or Mac version if the software are disappearing. Some softwares still differentiate, but a rapidly decreasing number. In the days of student Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and as schools accumulate generations of devices (often different devices over time) it is increasingly important that delivered content/services have to work on a variety of devices. The cloud enables this and the variety of devices demand it.

Subscription Services

EdTech companies are making subscriptions easier to consume, but also reserving the ability to turn those streams of services on and off through subscription services. It is an setting which makes tablets and Chromebooks possible when the content/service can be delivered to our students online.

Open Educational Resources (OER)

Sometimes the software is free. Sometimes the Open Educational Resources (OERs) are shared without cost between educational entities. And you may already be using them with your students. If the build of the software is designed to be as open as possible, critique the ability to use an OER deeply and with other paid or OER programs. But if you find one that is good enough to help you teach content, that might not matter to you. Look at OpenEd of CK12.

Learning Management System (LMS)

While the LMS goes back decades and was originally a Higher education product, it has great traction in the K-12 arena now. A typical LMS is most often independent of content, but provides the scaffolding of the classroom functions – turning in assignments, tracking grades, broadcasting content, grouping students. As sophistication and accessibility extended into K-12 more features were added and altered to fit the different demands of K-12 versus higher-ed students. Privacy concerns, integration with K-12 student information systems, and the availability/integration of juvenile content were increasingly addressed. Some of the older LMSs just added on to their existing product to accommodate K-12, some newer LMSs built for that environment – which accounts for the diverse preferences between the two tiers of offered LMSs. Older systems like Blackboard appeal to Higher-ed where newer systems like Canvas appeal to K-12.

The most recent entrant to Learning Management Systems (LMSs) is Google Classroom; Alice Keeler is the undisputed champion of that LMS with 50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom. Google Classroom is free, like some other newer LMS for individual teachers. However, it might be better described as a “light LMS” as the functions are more limited than complete LMSs. Check with your school or district first to see if they offer a LMS first, before you decide which LMS to use.

The Environment

In this educational technology marketplace, where hardware and software produce interesting scenarios, what is actually happening in our schools, our classrooms?

Learning Asynchronously

Blended Learning is a buzz word, but it generally refers to extending the teaching and learning cycle past the physical constraints of a classroom – both time and place. The amount of content made available online and the path/control of completion is a contested, less settled part of the definition. The basic gist is that you can expect learning to occur outside traditional times and places. Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools is an excellent overview of Blended Learning by Heather Staker and Michael B Horn to start with if you are interested in the state of Blended Learning. The scope of what Blended Learning can look like is vast.

Online teaching and learning is different than blended learning. In a way, it is a simpler, but different way to learn and teach than past generation grew up immersed in. Many states legislate one or more online classes by their graduating high schoolers. Most states offer an online state K-12, 6-12 alternative in which students can participate.

Synchronous, but Apart

If not asynchronous learning, there are still arrangements which might be called Blended Learning. Classrooms completely online, but where students and teachers meet synchronously to demonstrate mastery and move on in an online classroom. While strict definitions such a those from The Christensen Institute insist on a brick and mortar meeting place, many call this synchronous meeting a form of blended learning.

Blended Learning invites creation.
Teachers are creating content. Students are creating content.

Students as Creators

Creation by students can be guided, such as through traditional and/or blended learning classrooms. What amplifies the creativity is the access to technologies that enhance the student products which blended learning learning requires.

An obvious form of original creation is happening in the Maker Movement – independent of blended learning. The Maker Movement is well explained in Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary S. Stager and has resulted in many “Maker Spaces” in schools.

Teachers as Creators

Teachers, not just students, face new roles and opportunities in this new environment.

Before today’s interconnectedness, teachers were locally-sourced. A local educator generally utilizes resources such as face-to-face acquaintances and/or texts in the classroom.

Recently educators search for, curate, and invent digital content of their own. It is worth remembering that pre-Internet those were not the skills which made a great teacher. So, even though available content has changed, great educators might not have changed. Or currently successful teachers do not want to, are not expected to – or do not have the capacity to evolve. It is conceivable that every staff have someone who did not excel with students, but may be exceptional as a creator of educational content.

As budgets shift toward digital subscriptions, textbook purchases are a logical target for the funding source. This will exacerbate the need for digital savvy in teachers. Teachers previously tasked with selecting only from a limited number of static text books are now not only helping in the selection of digital resources, but digital production programs with their limited content creation background and/or instructional design understanding.

The next iteration of teachers includes edtech introductions and high expectations not just by pre-service teaching institutes, but employers of teachers. The career cycle of future educators will be marked by not only learning and pre-existing how to teach, but how to create engaging content, and how to guide participants through pre-created digital content well.

Teachers as Learners

As the scope of teaching expends in this digital era, professional development changes as well. Micro learning opportunities for teachers increase and gain formality while remaining flexible for individual consumption. Traditional companies as well as new, often edtech companies, are rolling out professional learning packages for teacher consumption. The increasing variety, sources, and availability of professional learning available make selection more important, but ironically potentially more fragmented from a school or district perspective.

One way teachers are handling the overwhelming opportunities for professional learning is to select their own outside the school day. This personalized, professional learning can be implemented quickly by teachers as they move between the professional learning and trials of new methods/techniques in their classroom. Districts or schools focused only on their more formal, year-long professional learning programs may easily miss the variables introduced by these ad hoc cycles of professional learning and professional trials individual teachers are introducing to their schools. False negatives and false positives could easily result if two versions of professional learning exist in a school or system – the formal and the informal/teacher-level professional learning. A major goal of the era of educational technology should be to identify and measure all professional learning and effects within a school or system.

Social Media “Connected Educators” What Connected Educators Do Differently by Todd WhitakerJeffrey Zoul, and Jimmy Casas are examples of the transitions the teaching profession is undergoing. And the reactions of these educators to the opportunities and challenges are an exemplar for teachers in transition. What makes this book different is that you can also easily reach these authors everyday through the teacher networks within Twitter. Twitter is the most popular social network for teachers, but pockets of teaching excellence are also pursued on other social networks such as Google+ and Facebook.

EdCamps specifically, or more broadly Unconferences, are an exciting edtech professional learning opportunity for educators recently. The Edcamp Model: Powering Up Professional Learning (Corwin Connected Educators Series) by Kristen Swanson and Kevin Jarrett offers background and future predictions for the EdCamp model. Where teachers, traditionally passive participants in the professional learning now take over their own learning with the help of each other to educate themselves and others about topics they are passionate about.

As more specific facets of the digital era of education become evident to traditional educators new work categories open up to classroom teachers. Online teaching, Instructional Designers, Eduprenaurs are all possible futures for educators as each learns more about him or herself professionally and encounters new ideas via edtech introductions.


If you liked Edtech Introductions, what about #EdTech in the past? Stay tuned for the next in this series.... 
#EdTech Introductions, Calling on the Past.