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In EdTech, learning comes first.

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Like every attendee at ISTE, Mike Crowley, Assistant Director/MS Head at the International School of Brussels, couldn’t avoid the excited murmurs about a big new launch from Google. So, when it came out that the news was a “locked mode” in Google Forms that prevents students from opening other tabs while taking a quiz or test, Crowley was left aghast. This was the big announcement that had so many at the conference atwitter?

The dissonance between the buzz and the size of the announcement itself led him to write a piece for Medium in which he declared: “EdTech as we currently know it is dead, it’s over. We should retire the phrase right now. If education is to be the target of an industry that has grown increasingly obsessed with standardization, control, automation, and delivery efficiencies, then we must opt out.”

As an EdTech professional, I read this as a pretty stark indictment of the industry direction. Crowley has hit on a critical truth here. Namely, that if we spend all of our focus on the technology itself, we end up with a bunch of slick-looking products that don’t make a big difference in whether students actually do better. Any company that wants to actually improve long-term outcomes has to internalize a single indelible fact: When it comes to EdTech, learning should go first.

The buzz about improvements to Google Forms is understandable. Google has a strong track record of identifying key workflows based on customer feedback and making them smoother, easier, more efficient, and fun on top of it. The logic behind the Forms update is unassailable if we consider that most in-class evaluations are meant to be assessment-as-learning. That is, teachers are likely using that survey to gauge how much students have retained, how much is still confusing, and for which students. As educators, we should remember that if students can “look up” the answer by googling it, then our surveys are probably not that good.


Providing assessment and reflection in an Edtech environment.

There are many ways to design assessment-as-learning activities in the classroom, for example: ask problem-resolution or reflective questions that require basic knowledge to come up with the right answer. If we need students to retain facts and we are trying to verify they have the fundamentals we can set a time-limit, so students run out of time if they are looking for too many answers; or we can provide multiple opportunities to take an assessment, let students self-monitor their understanding and review the lesson’s material themselves before making another attempt until they achieve the desired mastery levels.

Exciting as tools are, they are just that. Regardless of how great they sound or how well they work in a demo environment, they have to fit into a learning-centric approach to education. Learning-centric means tools don’t just exist. Instead, they each contribute in a discrete way to a cycle of improvement that has been designed with the student squarely at the center.

You’ve figured out a high-tech way to prevent cheating on tests. Great. What now?


When tech is king, that’s the end of it, job done. But in a learning-centric environment, it’s just the beginning.

  • We can ask the students to design the tests for the lessons and take each other’s tests versions;
  • Then have them give each other feedback about whether their quizzes were testing for deeper learning, and we can use results to inform next steps in a learning path.
  • We can support that path with diverse resources, consult the learner in the process of designing the next steps and build multimedia assignments that require student productivity or that best fit the learners’ needs.
  • We can communicate directly with the students when they have an issue and let them take ownership by creating their own groups.

They might choose to collaborate on a Google Doc, and we would want that process to be as seamless as possible, but the important thing is that they have voice and choice in the learning process, and the focus is not which tool they use to do it.

It’s a whole lot of fun to get jazzed up about the next shiny thing. But the important thing is to focus some of that excitement on what educators and students can do with it.


*Beatriz Arnillas is a senior education advisor to itslearning, Inc., and the former director of education technology for Houston Independent School District. She was recognized with the IMS Global 2018 William H. (Bill) Graves Leadership in 2018.
To learn more about how our new features and improvements support learning-centric environment, visit BTS 2018