Ed tech hype never takes a break

While we were taking a break from blogging earlier this year, the hype that accompanies K-12 educational technology continued apace. This has left us a bit backlogged in pointing out stories that create unrealistic expectations about the current extent, and future promise, of technology in K-12 schools. In the interest of catching up we’ll note two such stories in this post.

First, great news if you’re a student in Rhode Island, which will “become the first state to make instruction in every one of its schools individualized (emphasis added).” How? By, in part, spending $2 million. If you’re keeping score, that amounts to about:

  • $30,300 per district in the state.
  • $6500 per school
  • $125 per teacher
  •  $14 per student.

(District, school, teacher, and student numbers are from the state website.)

What can a school do with $6500, or $125 per teacher, or $14 per student? Maybe some combination of buying a learning management system license along with acquiring some math or ELA software, or conducting some very limited professional development, or putting about 20 computers on carts or in labs. Each of these can be useful. None alone is close to transformative, or nearly enough to individualize instruction across a school at this level of funding.

To be clear, Rhode Island appears to be focused on using technology well, and two million well-spent dollars can certainly help. But that level of effort is not going to produce an impact in all, or even most, of its schools. Lazy reporting that suggests otherwise feeds the hype, which will soon descend into the trough of disillusionment, which will sap the will of educators, legislators, and parents to continue the effort to improve student outcomes using technology.

No worries, though, because virtual reality will pick up the slack. It is poised to “soar” worldwide, including in North America, according to a short report in Education Week titled “Immersive Tech, Virtual Reality Market to Soar Worldwide, New Analysis Predicts.”

Ed Week is basing its article on a release from Future Source Consulting. Future Source predicts that by 2021, 83 million students will be accessing virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality content on head-mounted devices. The website doesn’t say how many of these students will be in North America, but the Ed Week article mentions North America as a key market based on communications with the report’s author.

Do these numbers seem realistic? Maybe, if read closely, because the Ed Week article includes this critical point:

“In Futuresource’s analysis, individuals are counted as users of virtual reality or other immersive technologies if they’re using those tools for even a short period of time—such as just 10 minutes, once a year, said Ben Davis, a Futuresource analyst and co-author of the report, in an e-mail.” (emphasis added)

Ten minutes, once per year. By that definition, because of my time experimenting with virtual reality while wandering the exhibit hall at ISTE, I am a current VR user.

Perhaps this is useful data for the companies thinking about VR as a line of business. But in terms of impact on students, this information tells us nothing useful. Kudos to Ed Week reporter Sean Cavanaugh for digging into the study definitions, and raising the 10 minute nugget in the article. Shame on Ed Week’s headline writer for leading with the headline that will leave too many people with the mistaken impression that if their school isn’t full of students running around with VR headsets in a few years, they’re doing something wrong.