Ed-tech, buzzwords, and processed foods

There are a slew of buzzwords thrown around in the educational technology sphere. As students within the education system, we have to be knowledgeable about and consider what these buzzwords mean for us. For example, the Portobello mushroom omelet I made this morning could be labeled a processed food, but on a deep and integral level, my tasty morning meal isn’t equivalent to the pink mash that gets contorted into a burger at certain fast food chains. Analogously, we cannot accept a few smiley faces and a competition as gamification in our classrooms. Students must look behind the buzzwords and beyond our syllabi, to lend voice to how they want to be taught.

Before I continue, please do not misinterpret my words in any way as a pessimistic view of education technology. It is anything but: I believe that many ed-tech solutions are brilliant from conception to execution. I hope only to ensure that students look upon the solutions with the same critical skepticism they usually reserve for witty retorts.

Adaptive / Personalized:

Personalized learning, or the restructuring of content to be learner-centered and paced, may soon revolutionize the way we obtain knowledge. Exemplary platforms use rigorous statistical models based on years of cumulative research. However, some purveyors of adaptive learning merit a second glance. For example, altering question type after passing a certain threshold of questions correctly answered might seem complicated. But it can be implemented in two lines of code:

if (# questions correct) > threshold

question_type = 2

Is this truly enough to constitute adaptability? I believe that students deserve more than two lines’ worth of effort.


Imagine playing Call of Duty, or Monopoly, or Candy Crush, while seamlessly learning trigonometry concepts. Isn’t that the dream? Gamification may hold the key to motivating and engaging students, while teaching them simultaneously, but think about students: sometimes we can be mischievous. If we can find a way to convince a teacher that our Candy Crush strategies are really algorithms, to get out of a day or so of class, we just might!

Gamification should be executed thoughtfully, after careful consideration of data on learner outcomes. Smiles are wonderful to see in a classroom, but not at the expense of the class. If you don’t want to take my word for it, try the president of Khan Academy:

There are definitely incorrect ways to bring gaming into education. Some people try to hide learning inside of games, as if we can trick children into accidentally learning something. They create arcade-like action games with fancy graphics, but throw in math problems. This may work for first-graders, but older children are too smart to fall for the ruse. They see it for what it really is — a lame attempt at a game.


Blended Learning:

I love being able to view lectures from my dorm room, where I can play simpler sections at 3x speed, and slow the video down as necessary. It has done wonders for my productivity, let alone my sleep schedule.

But this begs the question – why not have the lectures as a prerequisite to something greater during class time? Examples might include a carefully story-boarded class session, a collaborative activity, or a meet-and-greet with experts in the field. Recorded lectures can give students a reason not to come to class, or they can open worlds of opportunity for application of course material.

Ultimately, it all comes down to this: in your classes, don’t settle for greasy pink sludge. The ed-tech that we receive in our classrooms and universities deserves the masterful preparation of filet mignon – medium rare, of course, with a side of educational innovation.

Alan Rozet

Alan Rozet

After life-changing experiences abroad in Argentina and Chile, Alan found that he was all about brains: seeing how they work, and learning how to help others build theirs. On campus, Alan researches social agents, object knowledge, and decision-making, and takes courses exploring neuroanatomy, physiology, and evolutionary psychology, in hopes of understanding our incredible human experience. After graduation, with this perspective in mind, he plans to improve the quality and accessibility of learning experiences worldwide.

Alan is the student director for the Harvard Writing Program’s Writing and Public Service Initiative, which pairs Boston high school students with Harvard undergrads to maximize their opportunities for higher education. Previously, he launched and led a weekday cardio workout campaign at Harvard, drawing dozens of students and faculty every morning to get fit and stay fit. This year, Alan is ready to work passionately in service of students with his fellow stellar Pearson Advisory Board members.