Edtech: Who Do You Serve?


By: Alex Stubenbort "You may call me Terry, you may call me Jimmy/You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy/You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray/You may call me anything but no matter what you say.

You're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed/You're gonna have to serve somebody,/Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord/But you're gonna have to serve somebody."-Bob Dylan


Throughout the years, educators have been given many titles. In fact, it's become a bit of a joke in teaching circles. Within their classrooms' four walls (and increasingly beyond them) teachers are expected to be academics, counselors, tech specialists, nurses, social activists, and (for lack of a better word) parents. Despite the ever-shrinking accountability measures of parents and guardians, teachers have been on the receiving end of countless tests and measures to assure that they serve this endless list of responsibilities with fidelity. The issue, of course, is that an educator is but one person, and no person can possibly do that many titles justice.

Last night, I comoderated an #EdtechAfterDark chat led by my good friend and colleague Zac Leonard (@MrLeonard8). Due to our chat's general success as of late, many educators have sought out ways to extend the conversation beyond the 10pm-11pm allotted time. One iteration of such a desire comes in the form of a Blab chat. For those of you unfamiliar with Blab, it is a streaming live video app that allows four individually connected devices to broadcast their live footage simultaneously in a four-way split screen that can be viewed by interested parties; these interested parties also have access to a live chat room that is curated just underneath the four-way split screen. This space is often used to air agreement or disdain for the things being discussed by the talking heads above. Needless to say, the potential for such a technology to revolutionize the standard Twitter chat is great. So when the boys of #EdtechAfterDark were propositioned with the idea that one of our chat's PLN members wanted to start a Blab session that ran parallel with our scheduled Twitter chat, we were tickled.

However, upon visiting the Blab discussion last night, I was disheartened by the disappointed response that some of the active members of the discussion had to our Twitter chat. The overarching complaint went something like this, "They (the boys of #EdtechAfterDark) advertise themselves as an 'Edtech' chat, but I struggled to see any tech implications in a chat discussing 'Social Activism'."

This got me thinking about the great, 20th century philosopher/theologian Bob Dylan. In his 1979 hit "Gotta Serve Somebody", Dylan described servitude as an inescapable force that all of mankind operate through and from. No man, woman, or child, Dylan argued, could deny the all-to-human desire to be driven by something or someone. And I tend to agree. Unfortunately, many members of the Edtech community have held the wrong THING in this sacred spot.

If your classroom is a technology-centered classroom, it looks like a scene out of a science fiction movie. Students spend their time augmenting reality and creating the illusion of flight using green screens; teachers monitor behavior using the tap of a screen to communicate to their pupils without ever raising his/her voice; performance data is constantly being collected from student outcomes as computer programs differentiate instruction in accordance with the student's need. To the untrained eye, this classroom is the epitome of 21st century education. The teacher has spent a significant amount of time assuring the class' LMS works seamlessly with its digital portfolio; she has spent countless hours staying up-to-date with the newest and flashiest apps; and she has committed copious amounts of money staying abreast with what's "next" in the Edtech world by attending conference after conference after conference. But there's one problem, in her desire to be latest and greatest, this teacher has placed a Golden Calf at the center of her servitude.

Technology is NOT what we are called to serve as educators; children are. If we lose sight of the person in front of the device due to our infatuation with the device itself, we will fail them emotionally, socially, and academically. Therefore, when talking heads run their mouths about #Edtechafterdark's chat topic and how it had "nothing to do" with technology, I feel comfortable shrugging them off. The most vital piece of the Edtech puzzle is the piece that should be at the center of every educator's heart—their students. If an Edtech chat avoids talking about the child in the name of the newest gadget or buzzword, they've got a mistaken center. As long as we are teachers, we have been called to serve somebody, and kneeling at the alter of Edtech is merely the latest embodiment of following a false prophet.