EdTech Success Grows From Purpose Not Need or Want

During the early parts of my EdTech career, I was sold a bill of goods. I was told that the post-millennial generation was full of Digital Natives. In fact, I have strong memories of when we threw that term around as a means of acculturating our faculties, parents, and administration to the needs of contemporary students.

Well, it has been a few years and now those Digital Natives are entering the teaching profession. They are bringing with them years of technology use for learning and technology use for productivity. We were told that this lifetime of knowledge would revolutionize the EdTech field because finally a group would just get it and not have to learn it.

Well, that didn’t happen.

Our post-millennial teaching cohort has the same array of skills, attitudes, and aversions held by their predecessors. Some are excellent with integration, while others are fearful to touch a computer in a classroom setting. Yet, all of them are on Facebook or Snapchat, no more than 3 meters away from their mobile phones. They all seem to need or want to use technology in their lives, so shouldn’t they be well suited for EdTech success in the classroom? Is it just me or does this not compute?

Well, it does when you think about it. Technology for learning has never come out need or want. The ways in which young people use technology outside of work or school is around connectivity to others. It’s about a desire to be part of a community or the innate human need to connect with other people. The technology simply provides immediacy and variety of connection to fill those wants and needs. It doesn’t direct or encourage or offer any creative solution to a life problem. This approach to using technology has never (and will never) find a toehold in education.

EdTech Success Grows From Purpose Not Need or Want

Instead, we need to think about purpose. The most successful EdTech initiatives in our short history all share the common thread of purposeful design and execution. Programs and devices have been put in place to take students through a journey towards an end. They were not reactive approaches to deficit or a marketing ploy to get pictures of kids on computers on the school website.

As a colleague at a very successful school once told me, “We don’t implement any technology without a clear purpose.”

The purpose itself can be tricky, but it needs to be at the start and at the heart of any EdTech endeavor. We often talk about expanding the possibilities of learning through access to resources, connectivity with others, and individualization. We want teachers to have the opportunity for transformative pedagogy and increased student learning. We want to build creativity, higher order thinking skills, responsibility, communicative capacity, STEM skills, and digital citizenship.

We hope for increased student achievement, but we don’t hang our hat on it…that is tied to assessment models that don’t account for the skills and competencies we’re building in addition to content knowledge. But, that’s a discussion for another day.

This purpose serves a guiding beacon for your EdTech endeavors. It helps teachers and administrators understand the why and how of a program or a purchase. It provides students a roadmap to learning that helps them take ownership of their experiences. It even provides a means of performance evaluation and KPIs, both of which I am asked for regularly from school boards and administration.

EdTech Success Grows From Purpose Not Need or WantI have found that the most successful EdTech programs have their purpose tight right at the beginning. The teams know it is and can articulate it in an elevator pitch or a five-minute discussion. They are transparent about their purpose and they return to it regularly. It is a part of their strategic and operational DNA.

So, how do you do it? I suggest finding examples of purpose or vision in other schools. Perhaps look online or ping your friends on Twitter for resources. I suggest being collaborative with teachers and administrators so they own the purpose and don’t feel it is dictated to them. I would be prepared for revision throughout the process and know that if your purpose is tied to student learning it will be right, regardless of how many changes come through. And when you have it, print it, post it, and learn to feel comfortable talking about it.

And finally, remember these two things when thinking about purpose:

  1. Teaching and learning wins out over devices and resources every time.
  2. Technology for learning offers potential, not promises.

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