Navigating EdTech’s Constant Evolution
As technology changes, so does the edtech solution
by Dr. Rod Berger
Alex Inman is the president of Educational Collaborators, an edtech consulting and PD firm that he founded in 2006. He will be part of three different sessions at the 2019 Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) from January 27th through the 30th at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, presenting with fellow edtech gurus such as Matt Harris and Susan Bearden.
We talked about the seismic changes he’s seen in his over three decades in education, from his 20 years as a teacher to the last 12 years as a leading edtech consultant. We also discussed the digital strategies and technological tactics that work in implementing a successful edtech solution not just in the classroom, but in the school’s culture itself.
People forget that while tablet computers were invented in 2002 by Microsoft, it wasn’t until Steve Jobs and Apple introduced the iPad in 2010 that the tablet market took off. With the advent of the Chromebook in 2011 and the aggressive marketing soon targeted to school systems by Apple, Microsoft and Google, among many others, curriculum content creators started writing innovative programs and the edtech universe seemed to dramatically shift on a weekly basis. And right in the middle to help make sense of it all was Educational Collaborators.
As school mainframes consecutively gave way to networks, digital textbooks and app-based curricula, Alex and his team found that the questions school districts, principals, and teachers asked evolved and shifted as well. As technology got cheaper, more sophisticated and user-friendly, the focus moved away from concerns about bandwidth, cost of use, efficiency, and how to avoid theft. “We started crafting the questions for the school clients and the tech companies selling to them because they weren’t asking the right questions or offering the right solutions,” Alex says. “They were asking lots of logistics questions associated with technology when the questions should have been about getting that return on your investment in terms of digital literacy, growth, and learning.”
Part of EC’s consulting process is simply asking teachers, “What does success look like?” They tell teachers and principals to imagine they are walking down the hallway five years from now looking into the classroom, how would they describe that success? “We say, describe it like your ninth-grade English teacher makes you describe it. In that kind of detail. What does it sound like? What does it look like? Where is the teacher? Where are the students? Where are the devices? What are the devices being used for?” Alex says it’s a hard question for them to answer, much harder than they realize. “It really brings it into focus for them when you ask them to describe it in detail,” he says. From there, Alex and his team ask them to start thinking backward and walk them through tracing the path back to where they are now, so they can figure out what they need to do to get to that place of success.
One of the biggest issues Alex sees in the edtech field right now is the hesitation of school districts to spend their hard-fought budgets on an edtech solution that’s going to continually change and upgrade. So many administrations and decision-making boards and committees still envision a technology that will be a one-time purchase and be in place for at least a decade or more, when recent history teaches us that upgrades to devices are a constant routine. Edtech is the same, Alex warns. No product or device can stay in business if they're not constantly updating both the software and the hardware to meet security and user needs. That simple fact is now forcing schools to start thinking about how they are creating systems from the ground up, as well as affecting their decisions on purchases, professional development, implementation, evaluation, and budgeting to accommodate the constant evolution.
Alex says the crucial part for success is to keep the young teachers in the loop. “I think that every educator has something to contribute and I believe that we are all better each time we contribute,” Alex says. When it comes to committees and boards investigating possible new solutions, the senior teachers always get the leadership positions, but Alex always suggests putting young leaders in charge and tasking the experienced teachers to mentor them. Have the wisdom on the committee, but don't put it in charge of the committee.
“Schools that do that grow so much faster than those who don't,” Alex smiles. “I am a big proponent of supporting progressive young educators because staying stagnant isn't an option anymore.”
About Alex Inman
Alex Inman is the founder of Educational Collaborators (EC), a global edtech consulting and PD firm. EC is a partner of companies such as Google, Microsoft, Lenovo, HP, CDWG, Best Buy, and others. A 20-year veteran of schools, Alex has been a classroom teacher, edtech coordinator, and CIO. His work has earned IBM’s Top Innovators Program and a ComputerWorld Laureate distinction. Alex has spoken at many international, national, and regional conferences and has facilitated workshops on general technology planning, laptop program planning, professional development, and open source technologies. In 2012, The National School Board Association named Alex one of the “20 to Watch” on their annual list of national education leaders.
You can follow Alex Inman on Twitter.
Alex Inman will be a presenter for three sessions at the 2019 Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) from January 27th-30th in Orlando, Florida. The conference will bring together thousands of educators and technology leaders for an intensive, highly collaborative exploration of new technologies, best practices, and pressing issues. Registration is now open.
Alex will be presenting at the following sessions: