Lies, damned lies, and the debunking of edtech fads

You will not have been able to miss the news over the past week or so that tablets are on their way out. The most quotable quote was “Even Apple is acknowledging that the “iPads in education” fad is coming to an end.” which manages to diss the two tech bête noirs of the edu-twitterati, Apple and Tablets whilst using a favoured word, “fad”. The only way to better this would be to add the word “zealots” in there somewhere. Anywhere.

Of course, all I’ve now done is to show what a touchy edtech zealot I am by getting upset at the evidence showing how misguided I am to even make the merest suggestion that using technology might provide some assistance to learners. I mean, the evidence is very clear isn’t it? Big survey showing that teachers and students prefer laptops to tablets (which should have been the first warning sign for those promoting this evidence) and continuing evidence of falling numbers of tablets coming into education.

Except, dear reader, its not as simple as that. When it comes to education, evidence and electronics (sorry) it rarely is.

Lets look more closely at the “evidence” that sparked all the commentary:

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That’s got to be conclusive, right? 90% of teachers. I mean, there’s bound to be a few iPad zealots who wouldn’t give them up, so that’s as close to 100% as you’re going to get. And 74% of students? You’d think it would be difficult to get that conclusive a result unless you bribed the respondents in some way to provide the answers you wanted.

And, lo and behold, when we look more closely, that’s exactly what did happen.

The offer was quite simply this. Do you want to keep your free iPad or do you want to replace it with a free MacBook Air? Do you want to keep your free $300 device or do you want a free $1,000 device?

Anyone trying to suggest this amounts to any sort of fair, unbiased survey clearly doesn’t understand the meaning of the words fair or unbiased. This survey (like most of its kind) provides no evidence that anyone else can rely on for decision making of any kind.

Look even more closely and you’ll see that the issues here are the traditional ones that lie at the heart of many failed project, tech or otherwise. Lack of consultation, poor planning and non-existent training.


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“If we had known…” Seriously, this guy is a policy director?

What’s more helpful is to look at what is actually happening in schools. The best information we have in this regard is the annual BESA survey, which looks at what schools are actually doing. Their last review in June 2015 was based on a survey of 632 UK schools (335 primary, 297 secondary), making it rather more reliable an indicator of what is really happening than the survey referenced above (which appears to have surveyed a grand total of two schools). It suggests that the number of schools making use of tablets increased from below 60% to over 70% in that year and that the number of tablets in use in UK schools was expected to increase from 721,000 to over 946,000 by the end of this year. Indeed 44% of the respondents suggested that it was their aim to have one tablet per child by 2020.

So my advice is to always look at what is actually happening before you believe evidence that is put in front of you. Look particularly carefully at evidence that fits neatly with, and supports your biases. And remember the golden rule, if it looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t. True, that is.