By Mike Lawrence, CEO, CUE
Anyone who listened to music in the 90’s will recall when bands like Nirvana that had been labeled “alternative rock” suddenly became hugely popular. Top 40 stations started featuring underground bands, distorted guitar riffs and angry young performers in their daily rotations. The “grunge” sound coming out of the Pacific Northwest with its edgy, rebellious lyrics took over the airwaves, concert halls, and eventually defined a generation. “Alternative” had gone mainstream.
I’m noticing a similar shift within education around technology. The number of nonprofit organizations, for-profit enterprises, educational start-ups publications, policy makers, and traditional schools and universities launching educational technology efforts has risen exponentially in the last decade. The interesting thing—and a telltale sign that it’s gone mainstream—is that many don’t identify themselves as “Ed Tech.” They use words and phrases such as “educational innovation,” “future of education,” “modernizing schools,” “redefining learning,” and, of course, “school reform” to describe their efforts.
But at its core, all of these efforts link to the work that CUE members and many other Ed Tech pioneers have been doing for over 30 years! What’s changed is that these endeavors have recently passed a crucial tipping point wherein the public imagination has been captured by the potential of technology to transform teaching and learning in ways that we could only have dreamed of in CUE’s early years. This tectonic shift has occurred so swiftly and dramatically that we no longer really even have to say “educational technology”, we can just call it “education”!
Here’s the proof: it used to be the case that for technology or innovation to be brought up in educational meetings, someone with “technology” in their title needed to be present. Now, at nearly every meeting, administrators, parents, teachers—someone—will inevitably ask how technology might make the task at hand easier, more impactful for learning, more affordable, or just faster to accomplish.
I’m increasingly getting calls from educators (and some non-educators) who are hoping to incorporate technology and who have no previous experience in using innovative educational tools. They have very different ways of phrasing their requests, often using words that are wildly different from what experienced Ed Tech leaders use on a day-to-day basis. They’re new to our world, and their behavior is awkward as they attempt to navigate what they see as a brand new approach to education. It’s a whole different kind of newbie for CUE—not an insider trying to follow a known path, but an outsider looking in, trying to understand where to start.
This presents us with an extraordinary opportunity—while we may be tempted to scoff at or mock these newcomers for their clunky attempts to adapt to innovative educational approaches, we must instead welcome and guide them along a path towards understanding how these tools can enhance student success. To do this, we will have to subtly shift our use of language and terminology to remain accessible for those in need of our expertise, whether they are seeking it or not. We need to embrace their language for the work we do—and reach out to them, rather than waiting to be approached. For if we sit back and wait, and fail to engage, it’s likely that we may succeed in our efforts to remain “alternative” and miss the wave of public support driving the mainstream adoption of educational technology.
CUE leaders are proactively reaching out as we look at new ways to present our organization’s brand in the years ahead. Part of this effort is the recently re-launched Internet TV show, Infinite Thinking Machine (ITM), which consciously avoids using the word “technology” whenever possible. Our hope is that the show, which was recently nominated as Best Educational Web Series by the International Academy of Web Television, will appeal to a broad audience looking to inspire innovation and creativity in education—and help continue the trend of making Ed Tech mainstream.
The Winter OnCUE issue explores one of the major shifts in learning that has accelerated the mainstreaming of Ed Tech. Blended Learning has gone from being a subtopic within the broader online learning movement to becoming a major effort in its own right. CUE keynote speaker and author Michael Horn recently identified its massive growth as the driving factor in the overall rise in online education. Enjoy our deep dive into blended learning in the Winter issue of OnCUE and be sure to check out our Blend Baby Blend episode posted on our blog or at Infinite Thinking Machine!
Mike Lawrence, Executive Director Computer-Using Educators (CUE)