As we seek to bring more effective technology into the classroom, we have to make sure that the problem we’ve defined aligns with the problem that educators want to solve. Once we’re on the same page, it becomes a lot easier to provide the support that’s required to succeed in this effort; it also gives us more freedom to fail productively along the way.

Teachers and administrators need the right kind of support. That means the right kind of professional development and creating the context for action that makes technology an educational lever. So, I tend to look at technology for the way that it transforms the practice of teaching. Technology can be a stimulus for classroom provocation. In grammatical terms, it’s a verb, not a noun.

There are benefits to personalized learning for teachers and kids that aren’t captured by current standardized testing. If improving those scores are your bottom line, then edtech is probably not the shortest, cheapest path. But if you want to make teaching and learning more authentic, more rewarding and more about genuine competence when it comes to complex tasks, then it’s worth the investment. That investment goes way beyond hardware and software. As I mentioned, you also have to invest in true professional development and in organizational change at the classroom, school and district level.

The metrics that really matter when we’re assessing the changes that technology-enhanced learning stimulates in classrooms are clear — to me, at least. They start with student, teacher and school outcomes. But they must also include the sense of agency, satisfaction and delight between students and teachers. School climate and parental satisfaction matter a lot, too. In fact they are the key factors that, in the political context of public schools, create and reflect legitimacy. Without legitimacy no policy or practice can persist.

If I could make one change that would improve our success in terms of bringing more and better technology into the classroom it would be to stop people from thinking of “scale” as replication of a “proven” model. Instead, I would replace this “proven” model with a robust toolkit for educators, so they can define their problems and seek and test solutions to them. The appropriate technology would be one of many components in this robust toolkit.

Steven Hodas

Practitioner in Residence Center on Reinventing Public Education University of Washington, @stevenhodas

An education technology entrepreneur, Steven Hodas is the Practitioner in Residence at the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education. For the past five years, he has worked closely with numerous early-stage entrepreneurs, investors and accelerators, and launched two companies of his own. From 2012 to 2014, he served as Executive Director of the New York City Department of Education’s Office of Innovation as head of its Ecosystem Initiative, which seeks to foster smart demand and create new modes of problem solving for departments of education. In that capacity, he created the first-ever district software challenges as alternatives to procurement, the first test-bed collaborations between schools and early–stage education technology companies, and the first district API for student and system data. While at NASA, he built the U.S. government’s first public Web site connecting teachers and students with rich scientific resources to support innovative STEM education. He went on to create the Internet’s most popular sites for high school and college students as well as the first large-scale formative assessment and personalized learning platforms for school districts.