Ed-Tech Predictions Part II

Guest post by Ray from Match Next


Yesterday I wrote about the question: On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being radical change, and 0 being no change, how different will a typical K-12 classroom look ten years from now due to technology?

As I said, most members of the panel and audience at the LearnLaunch ed-tech conference I participated in last weekend thought somewhere in the 4-6 range, including an expert in tech and its integration into schools and districts across the country, who was on our panel.

My guess: 2.

A year ago I might’ve said 4-6. Two things now hold me back.

First, part of our work at Match Next, our blended learning pilot, has been to research and test ed-tech products. As we’ve begun exploring the ed-tech world, we’ve found far fewer very high-quality products than I anticipated. In fact, based on what we’ve seen, I find it hard to imagine operating an excellent school that relies heavily on technology to drive learning.

We have found a few things that we think help. Like an awesome math-fact memorization program, or Kindles, or a program with a bank of pretty dang good math problems. And we’ll keep our search up. When we find something we like, and as we begin to cautiously try it out with students and integrate it into our lessons, we’ll keep sharing what we learn. But I think we’re a bit further from ed-tech-topia than many think.

The second thing that makes me hesitate at a bolder prediction is that, generally, experts (which I am not) seem to systematically over-predict change in their own fields. I recently heard a Freakonomics podcast (a radio show hosted by the guys who wrote the book by the same name) on this topic. They had some choice examples of studies of experts trying to guess the future:

• In a study of the Wall Street Journal’s Survey of Economic Forecasts, researchers looked at economists who’d successfully predicted either extremely bad or extremely good economic outcomes (eg, a guy who accurately predicted the 2008 housing crash). They found that people who had accurately predicted an extreme outcome were less accurate over time when compared with their less-than-bold predicting peers.

• Another researcher at Penn did a study over the course of 20 years measuring the accuracy of political experts’ predictions about different countries around the world. He gathered about 80,000 predictions from some 300 different experts. They were wrong scarily often. Compared with random guessing - “a little bit better than that but not as much as you might hope.” Compared with an “extrapolation algorithm,” which was “simply a computer programmed to predict ‘no change in current situation,’” they did worse, overall. Yikes. The researcher summed the study up by saying this: experts “think they know more than they do. They were systematically overconfident.”

A final thought on this topic. Larry Cuban, a professor and long-time writer about technology in schools, made an interesting prediction about technology in schools in 1985 that he reviewed a few years back. Here’s his original prediction:

I predict that … in elementary schools where favorable conditions exist, teacher use will increase but seldom exceed more than 10 percent of weekly instructional time [roughly 3 hours a week]. Pulling out students for a 30-to-45-minute period in a computer lab will, I suspect, gain increasing popularity in these schools…. In secondary schools, the dominant pattern of use will be to schedule students into [labs] and one or more elective classes where a score of desk-top computers sit…. In no event would I expect general student use of computers in secondary schools to exceed 5 percent of the weekly time set aside for instruction. I predict no great breakthrough in teacher use patterns at either level of schooling.

In looking back (from 2010) he wrote:

As events unfolded in the next quarter-century, my prediction flat-lined. Access to computers–desktops, laptops, hand-held devices, and interactive white boards–soared. In writing Oversold and Underused; Computers in Classrooms in 2001, I did find higher percentages of students and teachers using computers in preschools, secondary schools, and universities that ruined my 1985 prediction.

Since then hundreds of thousands of students and tens of thousands of teachers across the country have received 1:1 laptops and white boards. In researching classrooms since 2001, again, I have found higher use by teachers and students in both elementary and secondary classrooms. More teachers—my guess is over 30 percent across different districts—use machines for instruction (I include the whole panoply of available high-tech devices) regularly, that is, at least once or more a week. Another 30-40 percent use computers occasionally, that is, at least once or more a month. The remainder of teachers—still a significant minority—hardly ever, if at all–use machines for instruction. This continues to puzzle researchers and policymakers since they know that nearly all teachers have high-tech devices at home.

I’m struck by his intellectual honesty here. Not many people go back to publicly pronounce the falseness of their own predictions. That takes a certain kind of guts and personal accountability that I admire. And it makes me even less sure about any of the tech predictions that anyone makes, especially my own.

Who knows when we’ll see widespread change. For now, our man Andrew will continue his weekly posts about what we’re finding and how we’re using tech here at Match Next.

**Quick note: Andrew’s been out sick, which is why you haven’t heard from him recently. He’s feeling better and will be back posting again early next week, so stay tuned.