Educational Technology in the Trenches

This program is so simple, a five-year-old child could use it. Someone fetch me a five-year-old child.

As students returned to the classroom this Fall (2021), they brought with them a slew of habits around remote education. As in, where is the site in which education happens?

Classroom teachers, having gamely shoveled their professional identities into Zoom and Google Classroom, sighed in relief. In my experience, people don’t become K-12 teachers because they love their subject and just want to talk about the Byzantine Empire all day. It’s because they love to form those relationships with students that allow for and enable learning. Educators want to see “ah-ha!” moments and personal growth and achievement. Not just subject mastery, but the ability to learn and teach oneself.

And that’s hard in a Zoom lecture or breakout room. Those places are distant. They work best at continuing existing relationships, not building new ones.

Every subject area keeps trying to find some way to leverage tech. In English, we have interactive exercises. We have attempts to collaborate in shared documents. Science tries to simulate experiments, hoping that the concepts stick even without the smoke and guts.

The simplest and most sticky trends I have seen in technology for the classroom:

  • Video Chat (Zoom etc), of course

  • Learning Management Systems, and their little sister, Google Classroom

  • Online research—which is a set of skills more than a breakthrough technology

  • Quizzes and “judges” like programming puzzle tests. Produce something that will find the correct answer for a large set of questions, and we can programmatically evaluate that.

  • Classroom activities with a screen and buttons, like Kahoot

What do you see missing from my list? What do you wish would become mainstream?

We had a lot of other dreams of technology’s effect on education. It worked in The Diamond Age. Why won’t it work here?

There are thriving collections of paid and free video lessons to teach you how to create a website, pass a tech support certification exam, and hack your kernel. I can almost stand to watch someone show me how to change a belt in a motor. But most of these video courses, especially for technology skills, just make no sense to me. Am I old, or do I just read and comprehend more quickly than I hear a lecture?

My biggest personal experiments centered around Interactive Fiction—developing literacy in reading with agency online, and writing complex choose-your-own stories.

But I feel like Ed Tech has yet to manifest. Where is the transformative change to our habitual education routine? Will the pandemic shake enough kids loose from old habits that we’ll finally have room to crack the egg?

What am I missing?