All the cool kids are blogging about the EdTech angst, including some Reclaimers. The discussion all started with Audrey Watters’s post on the end of Hack Education and her stepping away from edtech. I, like many others, have followed Audrey’s work for a while, and that work has played a pretty big role in demonstrating to me the value of a critical perspective of technology in my field of choice, edtech, from an early point in my career.

From that announcement has sprouted lots of blogging on the state of edtech (as well as blogging about the blogging about the state of edtech). I’m collecting a list of posts I’ve come across here, as well as links to when some of the posts were referenced in Stephen Downes’s OLDaily (represented by 🐦). A better writer would, you know, contextually link to things 🤷🏻‍♂️. I’ll do some of that, but I also like a good list of links, so here it is:

As Jim says, the blogsphere is hot, and it’s pretty cool to look at the list above and see so much discussion in this little community. Is this what blogging in 2008 was like?

I’m Not Okay (I Promise)

I can’t help it, but thinking of the mid-to-late-aughts and “angst” reminds me of emo/pop punk music I listened to in high school and middle school, stuff that by the end of high school I would have been ashamed to admit I once liked. Now, as an adult entering his 30s, I enjoy revisiting it with the help of equal amounts nostalgia and tongue-in-cheek-ness.

Oh yeah, I’m talking about My Chemical Romance.1

I’d consider myself an optimistic person, but that optimism survived (was forged in the flames of?) high school, teenage hormones, feeling like an outsider, low-self esteem, and the ridiculous thought that only I felt this particular way. In many ways, this brand of pop-punk-emo-alt-rock2 helped (I think) as an outlet.

All of this has little point other than to say, “hey um, my blog post has a theme and a soundtrack, so that’s fun,” and to explain the mood I’m in while writing. I’d typically not throw my 2 cents in on stuff like this, even though I care a lot about it, because I think what I have to say is said better by the people in the posts linked above, but here we go.

So Long & Goodnight

A lot of the discussion has been around some variation of the question, “is edtech dead?” which Audrey never technically asked nor answered, but is a natural one given the content of her original post:

For a long, long time, if anyone asked me if there was any ed-tech I liked — and I would get this question a lot, often asked as though it was some sort of “gotcha” — I’d reply in a heartbeat, “Desmos.”


Now that the company has been acquired, I don’t have an answer when someone asks me that “gotcha” question. You got me: “Nope. There’s not a goddamn thing.” And that certainly means it’s time for me to step away from ed-tech for good.

I understand that the type of edtech that Audrey is referring to here is part of a bigger industry and isn’t MY edtech, but it still touches a nerve if you happen to work at a small edtech company, like Reclaim. I think this is where Jim’s coming from in his first post, Is Edtech Dead?

Am I working in a Reclaim bubble? I remain very much compelled by the work we do in this “dead” field, and I have not abandoned all hope just yet.

In my opinion, the best edtech is the kind that operates in an exploratory space, but one that is not driven by investor priorities, an idea that Jim digs into in his follow-up:

There are a lot of edtechs, in the true sense of that word for me, that have willingly resisted the lure of exchanging cachet for cash. Folks who continue to good work, edtechs that I deeply respect who reside far from the maddening crowd of the financials of firms that have little to no interest in the transformative power of augmenting teaching and learning—despite the claims they make. Edtech as an approach that is exploratory, experimental, and creative, not to mention generous and unbolted to the logic of licensing and litigation. That’s my edtech, and I like it.

Then Alan Levine points out in the comments and in his own post the difference between Edtech (capital E) and edtech (lower-case E):

There you go, you had to come here to find out that the Edtech [capitalized] is really the Devil. And for all you give the Edtech in terms of data, patterns, attention, cash, the convenience given inevitably falls short. There are no refunds on souls.

Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that big-money Edtech is not actually going anywhere anytime soon, but if it is, I’ll be happy to say so long to capital E Edtech.

Have you heard the news that you’re dead? No one ever had much nice to say

Early pandemic, when faculty were scrambling to “pivot,” many folks supporting faculty in higher ed (including myself) were saying some or all of these things to anyone that would listen:

  • there will be a lot more online teaching during the pandemic and post-pandemic
  • an abrupt shift to online teaching is going to be really hard on faculty and students
  • creating good online learning experiences takes time and care to design properly
  • emergency pandemic online classes are about the worst first exposure to online learning that anyone could imagine
  • people that were skeptical or on the fence on online learning are only going to come out of this with a more negative view of online learning especially if this is their first/only exposure
  • because of the above points, it’s likely the outside perception of online learning is going to take one step forward and two steps back

From my point of view, most of these predictions unfortunately held up, and were complicated further by the particular brand of techno-solutionism sold by capital E Edtech. It led some orgnizations to double down on spending for these kinds of tools instead of doubling down on supporting students, faculty, and staff.

This particular bit of Martin Weller’s post on the place many edtechs found themselves in post-pandemic struck home with me:

And then when it was all over, there was a big parade to thank them. Well, no. They were chastised in the media for online education being on a par with stealing from the charity box outside a sweet shop. And many found that post-pandemic their views were not respected, but instead met with a ‘thanks, but now we’ve seen how important it is, we’re going to put a proper executive in charge’ approach (not at the OU I should hasten to add, just things I’ve picked up anecdotally). That kind of stuff can get a person down.

The post-pandemic feeling of “yeah, we’ve seen your online learning, and don’t want it” is/was real. I’ve seen and helped many teachers take pandemic lemons and make pandemic lemonade, but sometimes it’s the naysayers that stick with you.

So paint it black and take it back, Let’s shout it loud and clear

So where does that leave us? Is it just doom and gloom? Well, it might not come through clearly amidst my rambling in this post, but I’m generally optimistic. Ultimately, my optimism (as always) stems from people doing the good work out there, students advocating for themselves and their learning needs, teachers continuously refining their practice, and technologists pushing boundaries and enabling new learning experiences in thoughtful and unique ways. At SNC I got to do that work alongside people who demonstrated to me what it means to be student-centered, and the importance of critical edtech. Now at Reclaim it’s been energizing to be part of a company that was built on those values, and to work with edtechs around the world who are trying to enable transformative teaching and learning. It’s hard not for me to feel energized when I see some of the cool things people are doing on the open web.

Spreading this brand of optimism happens person-to-person, I think, and done right it can be infectious. So share what you’re working on, and fire up your blog machine. Oh, and make sure you have a fully stocked RSS reader3 to keep up!

  1. and bands like them, I guess. ↩︎

  2. In general, it’s a pandering sub-genre that knew its audience. At least MCR feels pretty self-aware and self-deprecating with its album concepts that perhaps unsurprisingly feel like they were ripped from a comic book. ↩︎

  3. If you are new to RSS, I really like Joe Murphy’s post as an introduction. It’s a couple years old but still really good. I like to use Feedbin for its excellent web reader and newsletter collecting features, but you can self-host stuff like FreshRSS or Tiny Tiny RSS, or use free options like Feedly! ↩︎