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Can Edtech Find Its Way?
2019-01-07 15:58:05
Liza Tan

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Photo by: Highways England via Flickr

Educational Technology can be the way of the future for teachers and schools.  

The worlds’ first “teaching machine” was built in 1953 believe it or not, when B.F.Skinner made a visit to his daughters' math class.Skinner, who was a Harvard psychologist at the time saw something he thought should be fixed in the teacher/student learning process, so he went home and built the teaching machine within a few days.   

*Burrhus Frederic Skinner (March 20, 1904 – August 18, 1990), commonly known as B.F.Skinner, was an American psychologist, behaviorist, author, inventor, and social philosopher.He was the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University from 1958 until his retirement in 1974.

Skinner saw that his daughter and her classmates were all learning at the same pace, while most of them were at different skill levels and speeds.  His machine attempted to allow for each individual to work at their own speed.  

During the 60’s you could find many gadgets like Skinner’s floating around as they were even pushed by door to door salesman at the time.  However, after just a few years the teaching machines became scarce.  

Ever since that time edtech or education technology has seen many attempts at replicating Skinner’s idea in one form or another, but much to no avail.  Computers have pretty much seeped into every aspect of our lives although education seems to be a piece that is lagging behind the rest.  It should be said that it’s not entirely edtech’s fault.  Teachers’ unions are partly to blame for this-as well as conservative or old-school ways of thinking and teaching.  Lastly, the efficacy of edtech is largely unproven as of yet.   

Currently, innovators inspired by B.F.Skinner are trying to break through the barrier and prove the long-term skeptics to be wrong.  Schools everywhere in the world are now using software to “personalize” and “streamline” the learning process.  This updated venture is being funded by people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.  This proves to be very promising if edtech can stay out of its own way this time around and facilitate human teachers not try to overshadow them.  If edtech succeeds in doing so millions of children who are held back by idle classes or brought down by the herd will be able to accelerate their learning at a more personal pace allowing for a higher ceiling for knowledge and intellectual growth.  

One At A Time

Basic knowledge of reading, math, and science is only attained by 1/4 of secondary school children in what are considered poor countries.  Moreover, 30% of teens fall below proficiency levels in at least one of the basic subjects in mainly rich countries of the OECD (The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development is an intergovernmental economic organization with 35 member countries, founded in 1960 to stimulate economic progress and world trade.)  

Those numbers have been pretty much the same for the last 15 years.  During this time billions have been spent inputting IT in schools all over the world.  By the year 2012, in rich countries, there was one computer for every two students.  In Australia, there were, even more, computers than students.  A 2010 study from Portugal cited that schools with slow broadband and a ban on sites such as YouTube had better results than high-tech ones.  What this does is show severe mismanagement of the technology and funding.  


The paramount issue here is how will and how should edtech be used.  Frankly, we have seen that all of the money in the world-Gates and Zuckerberg combined can’t help the matter if the implementation isn’t right.

Made to order learning one-way edtech will be successful.  Ever since Aristotle parents with money have hired teachers for their offspring to gain knowledge.Proponents in Stockholm and Sao Paulo believe edtech can put individual attention within reach of all pupils, while American schools are welcoming edtech into the classroom the most, as 1/3 of students are in a school which has vowed to use the “personalized, digital learning” model.  

Facebook engineers wrote a digital learning software free of charge and offered it to Summit Public School district as a test model.  Currently, that particular software is being copied by hundreds of school districts.  

Open Your Mind

Photo by: NEC via Flickr

Edtech can reach its peak potential for facilitating learning all over the world, but only if teachers welcome it wholeheartedly.  Proof should be made evident and teachers are right to be skeptical, however, it can’t be blind skepticism.  Close- mindedness has no place whatsoever where learning is concerned.Skinner referred to those opposing technology in education as a “shame” back in 1984, and hopefully, for the sake of millions of children history won’t repeat itself this time around.

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