What Role Will EdTech Play?
The digital age that we live in today has allowed companies and individuals to cure countless woes throughout society. Facebook has made reconnecting with high school friends easier and more feasible. Uber and Lyft have pushed overpriced taxi services to innovate through stiff competition. Amazon and eBay have transformed Christmas shopping into an activity that you can conduct at your kitchen table in your pajamas. If there is a situation that a lot of people are unhappy with, chances are there is a company or startup working to alleviate the situation.
A prime example of this is the education industry. Between 1999 to 2012, the number of students enrolled in US charter schools increased from 700,000 to 4,200,000. The number of charter schools in high-poverty areas increased by 31% during the same time period. As more Americans are looking for educational alternatives for their children, it’s no surprise that EdTech is proliferating at a faster rate than ever before.
In 2014, venture capital funding for EdTech companies came close to $2 billion. Silicon Valley is funneling vast amounts of money into the educational space through these startups. This monetary backing has established legitimacy to Edtech. But what is the role of educational technology for students? Is EdTech a cure-all that will ease the load that public schools have to bear? Is it simply a supplemental tool to aid users in their academic endeavors, or perhaps something in between? Worse than that, is it just another passing fad?
Different companies have dissimilar answers to this question. Salman Khan is leading the charge at Khan Academy to help entire schools to “flip their classrooms.” This means that students learn lesson plans after school as homework, and use class time to ask their teacher and their peers questions and do practice problems. Khan Academy is altering the curriculums of entire school districts, so their company views EdTech as a powerful, monumental, and culturally disruptive tool.
Other companies exhibit EdTech’s role a little differently. For instance, both EdX and Coursera are the market leaders regarding MOOC’s (massive open online course), which offer users a competitive edge in the professional world by enabling them to take classes from top-tier universities. The classes are either free or relatively cheap, and reward the user with a final grade and a certificate upon completion.
Another example are teacher-helper tools that make classroom instruction run a little smoother for teachers. Remind.com allows teachers to communicate with their students and student’s parent via text message without exchanging actual phone numbers. Clever.com houses all of a student’s educational apps on a single landing page with just one password and username.
Other companies consult school districts on how to integrate educational technology without losing teacher-student interaction, student performance, etc. Tom Vander Ark and his colleagues at Getting Smart, an educational consulting firm, are pushing this idea into fruition by championing “blended learning” (education in which at least a portion of it is done via digitally). Schools and districts around the country are already practicing blended learning and have been featured in magazines like EdSurge for doing so. Milpitas High School and Hillsdale High School, which are, unsurprisingly, located in the Silicon Valley, are two of the most noteworthy examples of these blended public schools.
But educational technology goes back much further than the internet-based companies we are familiar with today. In the 1960s, Dartmouth’s user-friendly BASIC programming language was the hot craze. In the 1970’s it was the Commodore PET and Apple II (both are PC’s) that gained widespread attention in the educational realm. In the 1980’s, educational software and games became popular; while the internet boom of the 1990’s made internet connection in public schools the primary concern for educational technology. In a crude way, EdTech has always been hanging around us.
At WriteLab, our pedagogy and personalized revision process allow teachers to spend less time proofreading essays and more time interacting with their students. We are also geared towards helping students with their holistic writing process. By using our software, we hope to increase the confidence of our users in their writing, both academic and non-academic.
Today, newer companies, VC funding, and widespread usage have solidified the legitimacy of EdTech not just as an educational tool but as a viable marketplace. The issue now becomes deciding which model will become the predominant one for these companies and future startups. Will the role be easing the teacher’s workload, flipping the educational paradigm completely, or something in between? It will be exciting to witness how this market evolves over time, who the “winners” will be, and how education on a global scale will be effected.