Keeping Up With... The EdTech Surge

This edition of Keeping Up With… was written by Steven J. Bell.

Steven J. Bell is Associate University Librarian at Temple University. Email: bells@temple.edu.

EdTech Explosion

Something significant happened in the educational technology marketplace in 2014. For the first time the amount of venture investing and equity financing of educational technology firms approached the $2 billion mark. Two things are notable. First, the K-16 education technology market receives vast sums of money because entrepreneurs believe the current system is broken and, spurred on by the success of sites such as Kahn Academy, there is a 21st century gold rush to discover the technology solution to which educators will flock. Second, the tidal wave of investment is resulting in a deluge of education technology products that is overwhelming educators. Call it the EdTech Surge.

While the bulk of the surge targets K-12, many of the new technologies are readily adoptable by higher education instructors. For example, Remind was initially designed to give K-12 teachers a convenient way to leverage students’ addiction to text messaging as a way to maintain regular communication – of particular value as new generations of learners avoid traditional e-mail software. Remind is a simple solution that lets students sign up to receive text messages from their teacher, but there is no exchange of phone numbers needed. Remind recently add a live chat function. As more college faculty hear about Remind they are introducing it into their courses in order to send students regular reminders about assignments and due dates, along with motivational messages.

“Optimizing the use of technology in teaching and learning” or some variation on integrating technology into higher education is observed perennially on EDUCAUSE’s Top Ten IT Issues list. The New Media Consortium’s annual Horizon Report regularly features a section on educational technology, and points to the latest trends, such as flipped classrooms or adaptive learning, in which EdTech is expected to change how faculty teach and students learn. With new education technologies being introduced weekly, how can academic librarians, especially those with instruction design and technology responsibilities, stay on top of the latest tools and evaluate them to find the ones that might make a difference? Knowing how to effortlessly keep up with the EdTech Surge can make the difference between riding the crest and being swept under by the waves.

Engaging with EdTech

Librarian-educators know that achieving student learning outcomes requires more than disciplinary and resource expertise.  Understanding how students learn and leveraging educational technology to help them learn effectively are critical skills. Librarian-educators are curious about new techniques that may help them to better activate and engage learners. Discovering EdTech that supports what librarian-educators do in and out of the classroom can supplement and extend our own natural teaching abilities. The key is to experiment, identify EdTech with strong solution potential, give up on those that fail to support educational goals and quickly move on to new possibilities. Here are five thoughts and recommendations:

  • Explore three to five new educational technologies a week. That may sound labor intensive but exploration can be as simple as a website visit, viewing a video tutorial and looking for examples of how the technology is being used. If things look at all promising take the next step to engage with the technology. You should have some sense of the time commitment (e.g. Pear Deck = more, Sli.do = less)
  • EdTech usually falls into one of three categories.  While exploring take note of whether the EdTech is free, freemium or fee. The free version should work well for experimentation but take note of limitations. Screencasting software, for example, is available through various plans. Factors such as recording limits, editing capabilities, distribution and storage rights  may all impact on determining whether free, freemium or fee is the best option.
  • Asking permission versus forgiveness. When it comes to taking time out of your workday to investigate and learn EdTech, go with seeking forgiveness over asking permission.  However, when it comes to exposing someone else’s class to a new EdTech solution, asking for permission over forgiveness is the better route. Confer with instructors in advance and let them know what EdTech you’d like to try with their students. Get the instructor involved.
  • What’s the EdTech community saying? We live in a review society and the world of EdTech is no exception. Part of keeping up with EdTech is connecting with the community of educators and instructional technologists who share their experiences with instructional products. Find out what other experts are saying about EdTech. What tools are getting attention and how do they make a difference? Be aware of product promotion puff pieces.
  • Exploration is good but ask why. Before falling in love with any one EdTech product make sure it serves as the solution to a learning or instructional gap instead of hunting for a problem for which it could serve as a solution. In any event it’s good to know what’s out there and how it works, as you never know when a particular instructional product could become the favored option.

Navigating the Surge

Keeping up, whether it’s about higher education, librarianship or EdTech, requires a well thought out personalized professional development strategy.  The challenge for librarian-educators is choosing the information sources that best suit their needs for staying abreast of the latest developments in the EdTech world. Here are several recommended resources:

  • edSurge: At the risk of being inundated, edSurge offers two free newsletters, Innovate and Instruct, that report the EdTech industry news. From company information to product reports to opinion pieces, edSurge has the field well covered. It tends to lean more toward K-12 but higher education is not ignored. For those new to it a good starting point is the last few years of Top Ten S’Cool Tools.
  • Edudemic: Likewise geared to a K-12 audience, Edudemic offers articles about the intersection of education and technology. Many of them cover tech tools and apps for different learning applications. You can sign up for a daily news alert.
  • MERLOT Grapevine:  Less frequent but more specific to higher education, Grapevine will report on emerging technologies. In general, academic librarians should be familiar with MERLOT as a resource for discovering peer-review instructional technology. It is a must-check repository when assisting faculty to identify openly available learning technology.
  • EdTech Higher Ed: Twitter is another rich source for following EdTech specialists. This one is a good starting point. Their annual list of EdTech blogs will help to identify others worth following.
  • Duke Center for Instruction Technology: The CIT Blog is another source directed to college and university educators. The posts are a mix of reports about new technology tools and recommendations for how to implement those tools in the classroom.  Its occasional but informative posts are highly manageable.
  • The Teaching Professor: Not specifically an EdTech source but rather a practical newsletter offering faculty-written pieces on what works when it comes to higher education instruction. Many of the articles do discuss using technology in the classroom. Definitely worth looking into the site license option as a way to promote better instruction methods to faculty.

Other possibilities for keeping up with EdTech include Edtech Digest, Campus Technology, EdTech Times, and Edutopia. Designer Librarian offered a good post on “5 Ways to Follow EdTech Trends” that adds sources from professional associations such as ISTE and AECT – and don’t forget EDUCAUSE. 

Mystery Boxes

One of my favorite Ted Talks is J.J. Abrams talking about mystery boxes. In his talk, Abrams shares the story of the mystery box that, as a youth, he purchased at a magic store. The mystery box contained a treasure trove of undisclosed magic tricks. Abrams never opened it. He held on to it as a symbol of the power of mystery. He states “Mystery is the catalyst for imagination…maybe there are times when mystery is more important than knowledge.” When it comes to EdTech and blending our librarianship and instructional technology skills, Abrams words speak volumes because it is the drive to unravel the mystery of how to best leverage technology to enhance learning that should drive us, as academic librarians, to explore, experiment and discover all that the EdTech world has to offer. Doing so will ultimately benefit our faculty colleagues and their students – and it just may position academic librarians as instructional technology leaders on their campuses.

Additional Reading

Center for Digital Education. Effective Instructional Tools for an Evolving Learning Landscape. Folsome, CA : eRepublic, 2015. Retrieved at: https://afd34ee8b0806295b5a7-9fbee7de8d51db511b5de86d75069107.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/CDE15_Special_Report_Q1.pdf

Bell, Steven. “Left Behind by the EdTech Surge” From the Bell Tower February 9, 2014. Retrieved at: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2014/02/opinion/steven-bell/left-behind-by-the-edtech-surge-peer-to-peer-review/#_

Bell, Steven and John Shank. “The Blended Librarian: A Blueprint for Redefining the Teaching and Learning Role of Academic Librarians.” College &Research Libraries News July/August 2004. Retrieved at: http://crln.acrl.org/content/65/7/372.full.pdf

Steven Bell’s EdTech Bookmarks (at DIIGO). https://www.diigo.com/search?adSScope=my&what=edtech&snapshot=no