With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
On Edtech’s Role in the Classroom

When I first shared with friends that my new title at LEAP Innovations was Edtech Programs Manager, I received some incredulous looks.

“You? Technology?”

“But you hate when people are always on their phones.”

Their confusion was not surprising. For years, my friends had heard me complain about the hours our generation spends on devices and social media, about our ever-diminishing quality interpersonal time, about the effects on mental and emotional health that such disconnect can have. I have always been worried about the pitfalls of technology when it’s not used thoughtfully, in moderation and with intention, and given the many concerns right now about technology’s role in the classroom, the position felt a strange fit. In my role at LEAP, though, I don’t ignore technology’s potential pitfalls but rather draw upon them for energy and urgency in my work. They drive my determination to make sure the specific needs of teachers and students are the basis of all innovative changes in classrooms.

This is why we call edtech products “tools” at LEAP—we regard them as tools on teachers’ tool belts, resources that, like any others, educators can use if they find them to support more engaging, properly challenging, personalized learning. We know that students need to be understood as individuals to get the education experiences they deserve, and that teachers all across the country are overburdened. Edtech, of course, can offer amazing support in these areas—but for it to do so, its implementation has to begin and end with listening.

This means, first, listening to teachers and adapting to their classrooms’ needs. Context is everything in education, and a tool that works wonders in one classroom is not guaranteed to work in another. This is why successful introduction of a tool, just like successful teaching, starts with a detailed understanding of the situation and people at hand. Before you ask whether a tool will be a good fit in a classroom, you need to ask about the needs, strengths and interests of the real-world people inside it. And the listening doesn’t doesn’t stop here: after you introduce a tool, you need to listen to what the results are saying—be it in the form of objective or subjective data—and adapt if they’re not pointing toward a positive difference in the classroom. An innovative change cannot be regarded as inherent proof of success—it is only a way of achieving it.

At LEAP, we strive to work only with edtech partners who place the same premium on context and listening that we do, and I’m filled with gratitude and optimism whenever I remember all the edtech partners of ours who truly do.

Often, the edtech partners I speak with are former educators themselves. In our conversations, it quickly becomes clear that, for as much as they believe in it, technology is rarely what motivates them on a daily basis. Because far more than functionality, they want to talk about how difficult it is for students to work toward goals they didn’t help set themselves, or to stay engaged during lessons that don’t meet their skill or interest levels. And far more often than price points, they bring up how hard it is for educators to plan lessons, grade assignments and give each of their students the vital personal attention they need while still somehow maintaining a semblance of work-life balance.

They talk, in other words, about the challenges students and teachers face in their classrooms, and how we can best work to help them in their specific contexts. And as the Edtech Programs Manager at LEAP, that’s what I want to talk about too.

Susan Liu is the Edtech Programs Manager at LEAP Innovations. She recently shared her predictions for 2019 edtech trends in a piece by eSchool News.