Why do edtech folk react badly to scepticism? Part 1: Vested interest

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“It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.” Upton Sinclair.

I’m sceptical about the benefits of ‘edtech’. This is, I think, a legitimate position to hold. It doesn’t make me a Luddite: I’m enthusiastic about the advantages generally of technology, I’m just not so sure about the ways in which ‘edtech’ is sold to schools.

Since writing this piece on my exasperation with the way iPads are fetishised in education I’ve been inundated with edtech folk pointing out what an idiot I am.

Now obviously enough, I’m not that surprised. When somebody criticises something in which you have a vested interested it’s very hard to remain dispassionate. And this is the problem: vested interest is a very predictable route to bias. Just to be clear, a vested interest is defined as “a ​strong ​personal ​interest in something because you could get an ​advantage from it”.

Here’s a selection of the Twitter profiles of some of those who have been quick to point out why I am wrong to be sceptical of edtech:

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Anything stand out? All of them identify as an Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE). Now, I’m not for a moment suggesting a public affiliation with the US tech giant makes these people in any way corrupt. I’m certainly not suggesting a direct financial interest in pushing Apple products to schools, But I am suggesting that publicly identifying with a corporation whose interests only the most naive would believe were not motivated by those of capital means that it’s difficult to maintain any kind of neutrality. I only know one of them personally but I’m sure all of them are perfectly reasonable and pleasant when not discussing criticisms of Apple products.

When I pointed out the problem with identifying oneself as an ADE, I was told this betrayed my complete lack of understanding of the ADE programme. So I thought I’d have a look on the website; this is what Apple say:

Apple Distinguished Educators (ADEs) are part of a global community of education leaders recognised for doing amazing things with Apple technology in and out of the classroom. They explore new ideas, seek new paths and embrace new opportunities. That includes working with each other — and with Apple — to bring the freshest, most innovative ideas to students everywhere.

Right, so this appears to be a way for Apple to recognise teachers who do “amazing things” with Apple products. You can imagine the boardroom conversations:


So, what do ADEs actually do?

ADEs advise Apple on integrating technology into learning environments — and share their expertise with other educators and policy makers. They author original content about their work. They advocate the use of Apple products that help engage students in new ways. And they are ambassadors of innovation, participating in and presenting at education events around the world. Being part of the ADE community is much more than an honour — it’s an opportunity to make a difference.

This indicates that the role of ADEs is to find the best ways to help Apple sell tech to schools. There’s not even a pretence that any of this might raise students’ achievement, it’s all about helping “engage students”. The problem with engagement as a primary aim is that it might even be in conflict with achievement.

There’s also the suggestion that the “honour” of being an ADE might result in lucrative opportunities for self-promotion whilst “presenting at education events around the world.”

Unsurprisingly, in order to register an interest in becoming an ADE you need to sign in with your Apple ID. Luckily, what with me being a sucker for Apple’s marketing, I happen to have one.

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This takes you to a page where you can either apply to become an ADE, sign in to the members area or, if you’re an Ethics Officer or Supervisor, complete an ethics form. (Naturally enough, I was unable to find out what the ethics form entailed, but if anyone knows I’d be very interested to find out more.)

Sadly, the computer said no, and I was unable to discover anything about the application process:

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That’s all the information Apple provide about the ADE programme.

But let’s imagine I’d been able to apply and got accepted. What then? How, if I’m going around advocating “the use of Apple products that help engage students in new ways” am I going to remain no partisan? What if, for instance I though the new kit from Samsung or Microsoft was better than the Apple products I was advocating? Would I feel able to say so? How would Apple react if I advocated someone else’s products?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. This is not an attack on Apple or on the ADE programme which for all I know might be entirely free from self-interest, but I struggle to believe that anyone who publicly identifies themselves with a technology corporation, whether it’s Apple, Google, Toshiba, or anyone else, can be expected to have anything like an objective view on that company’s products and services. And I think the rest of us ought to view their technological pronouncements with a healthy dose of scepticism.

In Parts 2 and 3 I discuss how confirmation bias and the sunk cost fallacy affect the edtech debate.

  • I really like this proportionate, reasoned response from Tom Riley
  • There’s also this on ADEs from James Theobald

73 Responses to Why do edtech folk react badly to scepticism? Part 1: Vested interest

  1. Claire says:

    Maybe these are the ones to quickly point out a difference in opinion to your own because they are successful users of tech in the classroom, who are actually very passionate about trying new things and supporting and personalising the learning for their students, hence their ability to be proactive in the search for their own cpd through whatever means they wish. They’ve seen the impact in their classrooms above and beyond students ‘having fun’. The hard evidence they have speaks for itself, so why be sceptical about their views? If I was one of those educators, I’d be offended right now.

    • fish64 says:

      Wouldn’t you accept that Apple educators have a vested interest in saying how wonderful edtech is? They’re hardly going to admit to it if they discover that it is not as effective as they hoped. Do they confuse engagement with achievement? Also might their “evidence” be susceptible to the Hawthorne effect? These are all valid questions.And before I am accused of being a Luddite, I do use edtech in lessons, but, following the advice of Dan Willingham, I am always conscious of the need for my students to be thinking about the right things in my lessons, ie whatever it is I am trying to teach them, rather than the technology itself.

    • David Didau says:

      I’m sure they don’t need you to be offended on their behalf 🙂

      My problem is with this: “They’ve seen the impact in their classrooms above and beyond students ‘having fun’. The hard evidence they have speaks for itself.”

      They don’t have any ‘hard evidence’. All they have is the evidence that iPads (or whatever) work for them. This is dubious at best.

      I’ve written about the problem here: http://www.learningspy.co.uk/leadership/it-works-for-me-the-problem-with-teachers-judgement/

      • C_ADE says:

        Interesting that you’re not publishing all comments David… selecist approach isn’t what I’d expect from you

        • David Didau says:

          Which comments do you think I’m not publishing? The only time I have ever not published a comment is when its either been personally offensive or after a warning that a reader’s comments are going off topic.

          It may be that comments are in moderation. If a commenter hasn’t made a comment on my blog before I have to approve it before it shows up. This is pretty standard on most blog sites.

    • ian batten says:

      Precisely the same argument was used to support Brain Gym: that it was working for its proponents, that their anecdote constituted evidence and that anyone who said otherwise was being offensive. How did that work out, again?

      • Paul Hartzer says:

        Except there’s at least more logic to “using a computer to randomly generate problems to be solved will give students additional useful practice without creating more labor for the teacher” than there is to “massaging your earlobes will make you hear better”.

        I’m personally not going to claim that teaching always goes better with tablets, but at least it’s not an on-its-face-silly argument like Brain Gym is.

  2. I am with Claire on this one. I usually enjoy and am challenged by your writing, but this whole thing reads like an extended and dubious ad hominem, right down to the bit where you sughest that they only care about pushing product because they don’t say achievement and instead mention engagement. I get that you think engagement is problematic, but it isn’t so problematic that it is clearly a sham idea useful only for pushing product. It reminds me of how US Republicans like to count the number of times Obama uses a specific phrase (like Islamic terrorism) in a speech and then complain that lack of usage means he is soft on security

    Not your best effort.

    • David Didau says:

      Hi Brett

      You think Apple are interested in improving students’ attainment? If so, it’s curious that they don’t mention that anywhere. That isn’t an ad hominem argument – I’m very clear to say that i’m not accusing these teachers of anything other than vested interest. I’m concerned by the uncritical enthusiasm we seem to have for corporate branding in education. You don’t think that’s a reasonable stance to take?

      • Paul Hartzer says:

        Apple *does* have a corporate interest in developing competent programmers, which in turn depends on having competent mathematicians who are comfortable with technology. And while many Corporate Juggernauts don’t tend to think that far down the line (at least a decade, if you’re targeting middle schoolers), Apple does tend to play the long game more than others.

        Their FIRST interest is in breeding dependence on their product, certainly. Microsoft plays the same game, and is fairly open about it (Microsoft gives away certain programming software to college students and, now, avocationalists in order to maintain market dominance so that commercial programming houses will pay for licenses). But I do think that both Apple and Microsoft are also interested in boosting student attainment, if only for the cynical goal of having competent programmers in 2025.

  3. manyanaed says:

    Fine post for me. Is someone who is wedded to any educational idea, such as the value of edtech, likely to be impartial when considering evidence? Yes, it probably does. And if you are in a club, such as distinguished educator, are you more or less likely to be impartial? Yes, it probably does.

    And if you criticise the quality of the evidence and are not part of the club does that mean that you are anti edtech? Nope, probably not.

    Recognise your partiality. Don’t deny that you are biassed and recognise that those who are not so tied , who are not distinguished educations related to any type of fruit, may just be a voice calling for some greater degree of sense and a less passionate defence of edtech.

    When you have the research evidence that attends to the learning gains and does not simply use the assertions of those Apple, or any other system, believers that edtech is great for learning then let that be subject to scrutiny.

    Also think about what you mean by engagement and don’t simply assume that means a child will be learning effectively. It probably depends on whether they are engaging with the hard thinking needed for learning. Also don’t assume I am advocating disengaged as a learning driver.

  4. Craig says:

    I think you are asking some valid questions. I read the Twitter stream in question and there was so much potential for a great debate about edtech and how tech corporations participate in stealth marketing. However, much like your other posts, your style of writing is so utterly condescending and patronizing that perhaps you have accomplished what you really set out to be…controversial. Perhaps that’s were you vested interest lies?

    • David Didau says:

      What about my writing do you feel is condescending & patronising? I certainly haven’t set out with the intention of being either of those things so some specific critique would be useful.

      On the subject of my vested interest – I guess I do have an interest in being provocative. I make my living out of challenging assumptions and uncritical acceptance of dubious assumptions. But I’m not selling anything other than myself and I’m not in hoc to anyone!

      • Kapitza says:

        Don’t you sell books?

        • David Didau says:

          Yeah. Ones I’ve written. 2 of the 3 are quite good 🙂

          • Kapitza says:

            I’ve not read any, but I’m sure they are!

            Do you not think you have a financially driven vested interest?

          • Kapitza says:

            Are you suggesting that critics of your view are driven by an assumed influential vested interest, but your views are immune to any bias from your own very clear vested interest?

          • David Didau says:

            What do you think my clear vested interest is? Selling my books? Haha!

          • Paul Hartzer says:

            What do you think the vested interest of most ADEs is? If they’re an established educator in a school that can afford to maintain Apple products, and they’re in the US, they’re almost certainly in a unionized school, probably tenured or close to it, and ergo locked in a contract where raises depend entirely on how long they’ve been in the district. How would ADE status change compensation for such teachers?

            Sure, there are some that are jockeying for the lecture circuit, which is very lucrative, but I would think most are making even less off their ADE status than most authors make off their books.

            Am I missing some financial honeypot?

          • Kapitza says:

            @David Yeah I guess that’s what I was thinking! Your books, talks and so forth.

            Presumably you would sell more books and talks on your educational ideas, if your ideas were viewed as critical and unbiased in their nature? Therefore you have an interest in protecting the validity of your ideas and would inform your bias… no?

            How you act in response to you interests and bias is a different story, but to assert that other’s arguments are driven by vested interests, whilst not acknowledging your own, seems unbalanced?

            In terms of the topic of debate, I think it is very important to be aware of the ulterior motives of tech corporations – like you have pointed out – but to rubbish any view that comes from someone with an apple logo next to their name, because they have an apple logo next to their name, seems a little baby and bath water like.

            Like others have mentioned, I would have thought that if you were a teacher interested in developing edutech for educational reasons, it would seem useful to draw on any available resources. This doesn’t mean that you’re signed up to capitalist domination and your actions are henceforth driven by this!

          • David Didau says:

            What makes you think I don’t acknowledge my biases?

            And just to be clear I’m not “a teacher interested in developing edutech for educational reasons”, I’m a teacher interested in students becoming cleverer. Edtech seems pretty much by the by

          • Kapitza says:

            I guess the comment “What do you think my clear vested interest is? Selling my books? Haha!” suggests that selling books is not acknowledged as a vested interest, and by correllery, cannot inform any bias.

            I meant ‘you’ in the general sense of the word. That would have been a pretty quick turn around if you had become a teacher interested in developing edtech!

            Completely agree with you – I’m interested in students becoming cleverer. I just think we should be exploring edtech and the technological advances it brings to communication and information fully before placing limits on its use in education.

          • Kapitza says:


  5. David says:

    Google does the same thing: https://edutrainingcenter.withgoogle.com/certification
    We had one of these people in our building telling us the glories of The Google. Our IT person was VERY upset when we asked questions undermining his presentation.

    This business model, btw, is something used by companies like Lululemon (one of those yoga-style clothes retailers in the US): “Many of New York’s most-sought-after yoga teachers are Lululemon “ambassadors.” These ambassadors, usually yoga teachers with a big following, but sometimes triathletes or runners, are recruited in a target city before a store opens. They are outfitted in Lulu and thus spread the gospel to the customers. Though they aren’t paid, ambassadors are featured prominently on bulletin boards in the stores, lending the company credibility as a part of the “community.”” http://nymag.com/shopping/features/58082/index1.html

    To me, it’s kind of sad that teachers would be involved in any corporation’s marketing scheme.

  6. Tom Burkard says:

    What an amazing response. But then I can understand that people are very sensitive about any suggestion that they are being used by a major corporation.

    I’ve never had a problem with advocating commercial products that I think are useful. I’ve long recommended Jolly Phonics, and I’m perfectly happy to admit that I know both the publisher and the authors personally. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

    However, my experience trying to start a free school left me with an extremely bad impression of the ed tech industry and its marketing methods. Had we opened, we would have been forced to buy vast amounts of kit we repeatedly said we didn’t want. As Larry Cuban argues, teachers are hardly ever consulted about major purchases of hardware, and not often about software. Joe Nutt, who worked for the UK’s major producer of educational software until fairly recently, quit because he saw that most of what was being produced had minimal academic content. This doesn’t mean that ed tech doesn’t have a lot to offer, but rather that the commercial interests of producers almost invariably trumps the needs of teachers. It may well be that the ADE programme has a lot to offer, but I’m a lot more impressed when people explain in concrete terms about how it enables them to teach, rather than describing it as a transformative experience. Anyone who’s been in education for any length of time has seen dozens, if not hundreds, of extravagantly hyped programmes that have subsequently disappeared without anyone noticing.

  7. Mr. Fatta says:

    There was huge iPad/Apple debacle within the Los Angeles Unified School District which is still being hashed out. The FBI is looking into weather Apple and Pearson received preferential treatment in the district’s procurement of the devices.

  8. Paul Hartzer says:

    Disclosure: I have no vested interest in EdTech whatsoever. I firmly hold by the Common Core standard of using technology *appropriately*, which doesn’t mean pushing it into corners where it doesn’t belong.

    That said, I think there may be some chicken-egg argumentation going on here; put more academically, correlation does not imply causation.

    I get you point, and I agree with the general point about vested interests. However, I think it’s worth pointing out, as others have already done, that it’s possible that at least some ADEs *became* ADEs because they were already enamored with Apple products and already had a strong passion that iPads and such were a powerful force for the classroom. If their evangelism pre-dated their ADE status, why shouldn’t they then be acknowledged by Apple? You appear to be suggesting that someone who is so passionate about Apple products that Apple has blessed them should be disqualified from having a credible position on EdTech.

    Again, I get your point. If a particular position is *only* held by, say, ADEs (or the Microsoft equivalent, or whatever), then it certainly does look suspicious. Certainly if there’s some educational venue in which an iPad will cure pedagogical cancer and reverse the effects of pedagogical Alzheimer’s, then there ought to be iPad champions who are *not* ADEs. But that doesn’t mean that ADEs shouldn’t themselves be credible in their passionate support?

    • David Didau says:

      I’m sure that’s true of all ADEs – I can’t imagine any of them needed much persuasion 🙂

      So should we expect food tech teachers to become Smeg Distinguished Educators or PE teachers to have some sort of Nike badge? Maybe I as an English teacher could become a Penguin Teacher and evangelise about the merits of one publishing house over all the others?

      • Paul Hartzer says:

        Given how “smeg” was interpreted by this ‘Merkan, I’m concerned that somebody actually created a company in Europe involved with food products call Smeg. Because, um, in the States, um, … just google it. 😉

      • Paul Hartzer says:

        And now for a serious comment (well, my attempt at one):

        There are some exceptions, but I find Apple Evangelicals generally obnoxious as a species. Given the price of an iPad compared to an Android tab, I just don’t see the ROI. So I’m not surprised that many of them would wear their pretty little badge on their lapels and let everyone know the Ghost of Steve Jobs smiles upon them.

        But that’s neither here nor there. My point was just that the pretty little badge on their lapels shouldn’t be a particular litmus either way. So they love Apple products, bully for them. That doesn’t make them experts on EdTech, but it doesn’t make them completely bought-and-sold by Apple either. It’s part of the portfolio of Facts About Them that happens to reveal one of their biases.

        Myself, I’m a fan of Android on tablets and Windows on a computer, but that’s because I’m a mix of cheap and sheeple… cheeple? I’ll support accessible tech when it works, and gladly criticize it when it doesn’t.

        • Paul Luke says:

          First up, I’m not an ADE – though provide edtech leadership within my large primary school. Unashamedly, I cannot speak highly enough of the Apple Ed community and the use of Apple products to support students and educators in successfully using digital tools and resources to enrich learning. In my experience and opinion the Apple digital learning ecosystem does not exist to the same degree with other operating systems / platforms. You mention cheaper Android tablets – interestingly Google has recently pulled the pin on its Google Play edu store.
          Sometimes I wonder whether scepticism is really jealousy in disguise.

          • David Didau says:

            “Sometimes I wonder whether scepticism is really jealousy in disguise.” You think I’m jealous because I’m not endorsed by Apple? Really?

          • Paul Hartzer says:

            I’m of two minds.

            On the one hand, Microsoft and Apple both do great things to support education through technology. On his own, Bill Gates (and his wife) do great things to support education, full stop. I don’t always agree with their strategies, and it’s an unfortunate reality that the Man with the Money have a louder voice in this culture, but I can’t deny that both corporate tech behemoths use some of their power for Good. (Google, in contrast… your criticism is fair. The EdTech on Android is largely third party. There was a cynical drive to get poor districts on Chromebooks, but that did seem to be less about educating tomorrow’s youth and more about trying to leverage a space in the corporate realm.)

            On the other hand, it’s fair to question what their goal is. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for instance, is very generous ‘n’ all, but there are still dictates (be they real or interpreted) about how that money is to be used. As I discussed in other comments, Apple isn’t just in it to make a better world; they want to create a generation who sees Apple products as THE route to productivity. They’ve long been the gold standard for platforms, the Cadillac to Microsoft’s Ford (and Google’s Segway).

            So it’s fair to be skeptical. It’s healthy to be skeptical at all times, but especially when a corporate juggernaut starts giving away product for free-or-low-cost. Perhaps striking an image of a man in a trench coat in the alley behind campus offering the first batch for free is a bit too dark, but if you’re not at all skeptical of why Apple (or Microsoft) is being so generous, that’s problematic in its own right.

            But at the end of the day, teachers need to decide what’s best for students, and if what’s best for students is to use the EdTech despite the potentially nefarious motivations of the Providers, so be it.

            At least Apple and Microsoft have yet to be accused to the blatant money grabs of the PD circuit speakers (such as the materials of the Wongs, Marzano, and Covey).

          • Paul Luke says:

            Interesting that you won’t see Apple as sponsor at any Edtech learning events / conferences eg Edutech. Yet the majority of attendees will be using Apple devices. And generally, ADE’s who do present at these conferences, rarely talk about the tool / device. Mostly they speak passionately about the learning.

          • Paul Hartzer says:

            As the saying goes, “Why pay for the cow when you can get the milk for free?”

            Translation: The cynic in me says that Apple doesn’t feel the need to sponsor because they already have a willing contingent of advertisers doing their work for free.

            Exhibit 1: EdTechTeacher iPad Summit, which is not sponsored by Apple. Because, again, why should they pay money to sponsor an event that has their product name in the title?

            Lest anyone get me wrong: Apple makes excellent educational products. And for many teachers and students, Apple’s portfolio is the right solution. But you’re not going to convince me that the cultish groupthink that’s surrounded Apple for 30 years doesn’t exist.

  9. Graham says:

    Hi, some great debate, keep it up! I think we do need to be cautious of letting Google, Apple and Microsoft getting their grubby mits on education but there are much bigger evils to deal with that make teaching, at times, an undesirable profession. I am sure the likes of Pearson and Macmillan would have done the same if they have thought about it first.

    With regards to Edtech and attainment, it is something I have been reading about recently. What seems to be the most reliable research, I have read so far, has come from these two papers:



    If you have time to read the conclusions you will see it is not a simple argument. It seems highly dependent on the teacher using it and how they implement the technology to improve learning. When taken across many studies there is little evidence that it is better than what a good teacher could do without the use of educational technology. It does, however, have the potential to improve students learning time outside the classroom and also tends to benefit maths and science learners more.

    • Paul Hartzer says:

      Pearson IS active in EdTech (search on: Pearson Realize). I don’t know about MacMillan.

      • Yes but as far as I am aware you can’t be a Pearson educator like Google, Apple and Microsoft. I don’t have a problem with teachers being labelled this way. It just shows they can use these products to fully utilise their benefits.

  10. John Jones says:

    ‘Always remember, you might be wrong’ – great header to your blog and rather apt Mr Learning Spy. I’m an ADE and I had the pleasure of conversing with you today on Twitter and at no point did I see you criticise Apple Products and if you had, frankly I wouldn’t have given two hoots. Both my pupils and I love using iPads, but we also love using Scratch, WordPress, Raspberry Pi, drones, augmented reality and all sorts of other non-Apple products. Simply, where technology allows for amazing things it can help inspire, engage and raise achievement – who made the tech is irrelevant. Of course, any successful technology deployment must be used in conjunction with vision, great planning, assessment and excellent teaching.

    My experience of the ADE program has been one of superlative skill and knowledge acquisition from some of the best teachers and educators I have ever met. I know a lot of the educators you decided to name and shame above personally, and they are all experts in a wide variety of fields. Furthermore, they are people with whom I have been able to ask for advice and share a beer; none of them have ever tried to sell me an iPad. Of course, phones tablets and computers owned by ADE’s tend to be made by Apple, but you don’t have to be an ADE to enjoy Apple products – you as a self confessed ‘sucker for Apple marketing’, know this as well as anyone. In most cases, as Mat pointed out, learning came first and the iPad proved to be a fantastic tool for doing things differently in the classroom and beyond. The reason I have ADE on my Twitter profile is because I’m proud of being part of such a forward thinking and dynamic community of teachers and educators.

    Your assumption that all ADE’s are simply Apple Fanboys who peddle a pro-Apple party line is off the mark and suggests a level of ignorance on the matter. From my experience, ‘Edtech Folk’ don’t react badly to scepticism, however they do act badly to ill-informed, judgemental articles such as your masterpeice above. For example, I’m quite happy to blog when it turns out rival products proved a better fit than those sold by Apple – http://mrjonesict.com/2015/09/03/apple-tv-vs-airserver/ perhaps rather than enlightening the world with your views, you should take more time to read and acknowledge those of others.

    In terms of your comment about ‘lucrative opportunities for self-promotion’ again you’re wide of the mark having never made a penny from it. Indeed, when considering your website is covered in opportunities to buy your (no doubt excellent) books or order your services as a consultant, I find this slightly ironic. Trips to Monte-Carlo don’t come cheap do they?

    Perhaps people should view your educational pronouncements with a dose of scepticism if the main aim of them is to promote your books? I’m sure that’s not the case, but like many ADE’s, I blog about what I do and share my resources for free in the hope that other teachers can benefit from them and adapt them to use in their schools.

    I appreciate technology in classrooms is not everybody’s cup of tea. I also know that amazing teaching and learning happens with or without technology. However, as you pointed out in your article about learning styles, ‘all people learn better when more senses are engaged’, using technology in a considered way is a great way of doing this. If you still need convincing, I can personally recommend some schools that are well worth visiting that use technology, Apple or not, to make a positive difference to learning. However, if you want a discounted iPad, you had better contact Apple directly.

    • David Didau says:

      The sarcasm oozing from your comment is exactly the kind of poor reaction I was writing about. The fact that yuo feel quite so angry and feel the need to aggressively lash out underlines precisely the woeful level of debate its possible to have with so many edtech folk. Badly done.

      • John Jones says:

        I’m not aggressively lashing out, I’m simply addressing your misconceptions and trying, albeit badly in your opinion, to answer some of your questions. Your reply does not even attempt to continue the debate or counter any of the points I made. Poor response.

        • David Didau says:

          If you want to read a decent response from someone whose reasonable way of discoursing I can respect I recommend Tom Riley’s response to my post: newtechtimeline.com/2016/02/20/vestedtech-interests/ …

    • Paul Hartzer says:

      Why would they try to sell you an iPad when you already clearly own one?

      I’ve had multiple educators try to sell me “on” Apple products, because I’m not an Apple user.

  11. Mr Workaday says:

    I found this very shocking, David. Thank you for making me aware of it. I’m a school teacher governor and it is useful to note the extra dimension to EdTech – not just the (absolutely fundamental) question of whether the technology will actually raise attainment, but the parallel question: why this, and not some other tech like it? Why this, and not its freeware equivalent? WHO GOT TO YOU, MAN?

    Sounds obvious, (this is essential in any procurement process, but once the agreement in principle is reached that a tech may be useful, it becomes easy to accept what’s on the table). Anyway, it gave me pause for thought.

    I do think the very fact that Apple-trained teacher-spokespeople strikes so many as uncontroversial is linked to the general teflon-effect that the EdTech movement benefits from. As you point out, if this was going on when libraries or English departments procured books (not just choosing a desired publisher, but openly championing them over cheaper alternatives) it would cause much consternation. The progressive gloss that coats the iPad-in-every-student’s-hands needs to be seen as a function of Apple’s successful brand management, and not as a reality supported by voluminous research.

  12. Hi David,

    I’ve written a post in response to this over on my blog and attempted to answer some of your questions. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.


  13. Ahmed Sheriff says:

    Fantastic read as always!

    A good/ outstanding teacher could engage children with a stick so pretending that the iPad or what ever else will make a huge difference. In the wrong hands, tech is still disengaging because they want to do ‘Mine Craft’ and you’re telling them about coding, which you’re not pedagogically secure with either.

    Which brings me to the other part of the tech, no training comes with it but you are expected to be an expert.

    As Paul said, if it cures pedagogical cancer and Alzheimer’s then, yes, I’m all for it, however, I don’t feel it does currently. I feel it’s bringing on early onset of pedagogical depression because the head is pushing you to use it but you can’t see attainment, which the head is hounding you for!

    But I do agree that a vested interest in a particular product especially ‘Corporate’ will make you strive to see the benefits even if it’s minimal or there isn’t one!

    I’ll now return to my dark room to finish planning this week’s use of iPads.

  14. Paul Hartzer says:

    I wonder if the issue is more what ought to be called “invested interest” rather than “vested interest”. The latter implies that ADEs will experience some notable financial gain from pushing Apple products, but I just don’t see how that’s the case for the vast majority of educators.

    But it’s human nature to be supportive or even evangelical about things that have involved a significant PREVIOUS investment. If, as an educator, you have invested your personal money into getting the more expensive Apple products, and you have invested your personal time to develop an understanding of the software options, you’re likely to be threatened by someone telling you that you’ve wasted those limited resources. This can certainly be true for anyone for any position, but the larger the investment, the larger the need to prove that it was a valuable investment in the first place.

    And again, this can apply to anyone, not just ADEs. I have an invested interest in GeoGebra over Geometer’s Sketchpad, for instance, even though GeoGebra is free. I know how to use it very well; I’ve tried GS and didn’t like it. So I get uncomfortable when I’m pushed to use GS.

  15. K Love says:

    A great and provocative article. Nicely done!

    Are there still people that believe, like it or not, technology will not be central to education in a not too distant future? How can this not be the case? Should schools ignore change and ask students to surrender devices at the door?

    I sincerely feel your time would be better spent working with these passionate educators rather than enticing them into debate through deliberate and quite obvious antagonism. How much research, other than the visit to Apple/Google websites that you mention, have you done into this area of significant and rapid development? One would assume/hope it is more than just what is mentioned.

    It is a seriously flawed argument to mention any financial motive when all ADEs remain in school. This sentiment would be better placed at the door of those that make a living from marketing themselves to institutions as experts (in any field), charging vast sums of money for the privilege of having them benefit from their wisdom endorsed by none other than… their own ego? Does this have greater currency than endorsement from one/both of the world’s biggest brands?

    • Paul Hartzer says:

      Actually, at most of the schools I’ve taught at (urban charters), schools do effectively demand students surrender devices at the door. Another problem involving Edtech (albeit not the fault of the technology itself) is that, overall, it’s creating a greater economic rift. Even if they can get grants for free devices, poor schools struggle with maintenance, sufficient wireless access, and proper IT departments, and administrators are focused on how cell phones can be abused (cheating, being off-task, etc.) than on how they can effectively augment education. So, any visible cell phones are to be confiscated, and the Chromebook carts are full of computers that may or may not work.

      • K Love says:

        Stating “schools do effectively demand students surrender devices at the door” is not reason for doing so. Is it? From what I have gathered, one reason for this is not due to lack of learning power associated with devices; rather a lack of understanding of how to maximise their potential due to lack of training opportunities. Maybe, maybe not.

        In response to my original post, do you envisage a future in which technology will not be central to education? Does anyone? If the answer is no, then surely someone with a passion and skills for its integration should be welcomed. I know there are schools that pay “experts” a lot of money to embed literacy across the curriculum and this is excellent – a noble cause. However, should schools that want to do the same with technology be criticised/questioned?

        Regardless of any endorsement from Apple/other, these are distinguished educators that have invested huge amounts of time/energy into the field of EdTech. All have said that the goal of EdTech is not the technology. The goal of EdTech is better learning outcomes. Is that not a common goal for all?

  16. David, My only comment is that you asked for good reasons to use a tablet in the classroom and that I gave you a number of reasons that I feel benefit students from personal experience alongside others mentioned above. I totally get that people are divided when it comes to Edtech. Im sure that ADEs were not the only ones to respond to your original blog post. You seemed to be slightly confused by the ADE Program and I will arrange for an ethics form to be shared with you to highlight what we as ADEs gain from the program.

  17. mat6453 says:

    So a response to the criticism.
    I am proud to be recognised for the work I have done. I would have been equally proud of my own school or Local Authority had done but sadly that never happened.
    As I replied in earlier messages to you, I used something in my lessons (I was a PE teacher) that supported the students to achieve more in their lessons. Yes, at times this was to ensure they were more engaged but as I developed my own pedagogy it also showed that it was having an impact on students attainment. In most cases it was the fact that it was giving a voice to students that struggled to express their knowledge in traditional ways. Most of the students felt a lot more engaged with education and many stayed on that might have quit at 16. These ‘successes’ are what I am proud of. That Apple recognise it is s bonus, it means someone has acknowledged what I have done. They receive nothing from me except for me sharing things I have done that have made a difference. I rarely talk about Apple products and actually started looking at free tools that would help students.
    All that I do is rooted in making sure children succeed and any hint that I do it for anything else is offensive and shows a lack of interest or knowledge in me as a teacher.
    I have said before how inspired I have been by hearing you talk, SOLO taxonomy was the first thing I heard you talk about, but then you seemed to turn your opinion around quite quickly on that one.
    I for one am saddened that this turned into a personal attack when it is clear and I except whole heartedly that everyone has their own opinion. Teaching is teaching and some tools work with some and not with others.
    Hopefully further, more clarified debate can happen in the future. I do urge you to try to explore the ADE programme however to fully understand those that are involved in it, though some may seek the ‘badge’ many that I know just use it to share new ideas, and not all are tech orientated.

    • David Didau says:

      I’m sorry you feel my scepticism is a “personal attack” and that any attempt to, even “a hint” that you may be the victim of a bias ‘is offensive”. I’m not criticising you or any other ADE, but I accept it’s hard to accept that when one’s vested interests are under threat.
      Your comments about SOLO seem to suggest you think there’s something suspicious about changing one’s mind. I wrote this in response to that idea: http://www.learningspy.co.uk/featured/lack-courage-convictions/
      I’m not saying I’m right or you’re wrong, but I do think I have the right to question what you believe and while you have the right to feel affronted by that, I would ask you to at least consider the possibility that you may be mistaken.

      • mat6453 says:

        I certainly do David, I for one share ideas and am more than happy to be shot down for my views, if things work in my classroom that is good enough for me, if someone else benefits then that is a bonus.
        I suppose the difference is, I can say that I find the things you do are useful and helpful to my practice, you seem unable to accept that I may have done something that had an impact because you are sceptical of technology.
        Many of my lessons have no technology in them at all, I am open to new ideas all the time.

        • David Didau says:

          Just because I’m sceptical about the use of technology doesn’t mean I think it’s always bad. And it’s not that I don’t accept what you do might have an impact, I just don’t know what you do.

          One of the things I’m most sceptical about is when people say that things work in their classroom. My response is always, how do you measure that? The answers are rarely edifying.

          • mat6453 says:

            Fair enough, do that leaves two options.
            First, you could take the time to find out what I do, I blog, not very often but try to share.
            Second, the successes are usually sensitive to individuals and although I’d love to share them I want to keep those successes private.
            I have shared success with my own child’s development, confidence etc and even shared results from my own trial at what impact iPads might have in a school.
            If I had waited for evidence of your use of SOLO before I tried it, I may never have tried it, the fact that I went with an idea, without evidence is what makes me s good teacher, happy to try things, happy to fail and try again.
            At least this feels like a chance to properly put my side across

          • David Didau says:

            There’s an interesting (and common) assumption there: good teachers try out new ideas. I’m not at all sure that’s true. If you had waited for evidence on SOLO your students *might* have been better off but we’ll never know. I first wrote about the idea that maybe we should stop teachers doing ‘good things’ in 2011: http://www.learningspy.co.uk/training/should-we-stop-doing-good-things/

          • mat6453 says:

            Thanks, I’ll take that as another dismissive attach on myself as a teacher, because I try things to help my students.

          • David Didau says:

            It’s very depressing that you choose to take questioning as an attack.

          • mat6453 says:

            I find it a shame that you choose the politicians response and ignore what I wrote about evidence or looking at what I do and instead pick on something that leads to more of your writing. A vested interest in self promotion possibly?

          • David Didau says:

            I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about.

  18. TheTechRabbi says:

    David, I am sure there is a middle ground where everyone can agree that the iPad, or any multi functional device is not a magical recipe for learning and achievement. With that said, brands aside, there is something powerful about the mobility, versatility, and “sharability” of products produced by whichever tablet you fancy. If we are still convincing ourselves that essay writing, internet research, and powerpoint slide presentations are the forefront of technology’s role in education then the possibility of having a healthy debate are slim. There isn’t a single industry professional today that we would allow to service our needs that doesn’t use current technology in some capacity. This includes medical professionals, auto mechanics, sales clerks, etc, yet in school we are ok with continuing the status quo, doubting technology role, and still focusing on 20th century achievement such as memorization, rote processing, and low level thinking.

    I should note, I am an Apple Distinguished Educator, and will be speaking with 2 other ADE’s at SXSWedu about the “Myth of the Magical Device”.

    I will say, that it is a dangerous road to “dismiss” the value of engagement in an all or nothing attempt to ensure that student achievement is increased.

    I think you have some great things to share, although I strongly disagree with how you have responded to criticism from others.

    As educators we are supposed to encourage healthy debate. This is because we teach our students to criticize ideas and not the people sharing them (within limits of course, like everything, so please don’t use an extreme example to make a point.)

    I think that this is an important conversation but it goes beyond brands and corporate education programs. Its about how and what we view technology role in our everyday lives including our ability to learning.

    All the best,

    Michael Cohen

    • wiltwhatman says:

      Hi Michael,

      I don;t doubt you are an honest broker for technology (and I guess at times against it). I don;t doubt that you’ve found tablet technology to be useful, of have found things you can leverage to your advantage in terms of your teaching.

      I don’t think that because you are an advocate for apple tech you are necessarily biased. Though I do think it unwise for an educator to openly back, put their name to and implicitly endorse a corporation as education providers and platform suppliers.

      What I do take issue with is the sense that. Well. The medium isn’t the thing. The medium is not the key to excellence in education. It;s not the message. It;s not the answer, or key. It;s not going to revolutionise learners, learning, good teaching or retention.

      Pretty much all the research indicates that the pedagogy, the quality of teaching is the thing, and the medium, as long s it;s not actively meditating against learning, has little or no effect.

      Pretty much every major study done one a one laptop/tablet per child program tends to show no change in outcomes. One laptop per child recent;ly spent the guts of 200 million dollars in Peru for what appears to be no effect.

      Implementing a one tablet per child program is incredibly expensive. If the best research is showing that the medium is not key, and the opportunity cost in education of spending hundreds of millions on devices that don’t deliver significant improvements is a large opportunoty cost, then how can we justify the spend in a resource poor context.

      There’s also the ethical question. We are delivering students into ecosystems that will fight tooth and nail to retain them there. While harvesting their data, claiming all sorts of rights over their content, and exercising all sorts of control over what they make, see, watch, learn and do.

      There’s lots of things that positively impact on learning is large. Paying teachers more. After school lego clubs. Adequate nutrition. Good training, whatever that means. Birth weight, and pregnancy nutrition. Good quality preschools. All proven winners. All needing funding to have their effect.

      An Ipad is a medium with a limited effect that is denying, through expensive opportunity cost, the possibility of more meaningful interventions, supports and experiences, from occuring. And it;s doing so to boost company profits.

      • TheTechRabbi says:

        My previous comment seems to be misunderstood. When I said that technology use is not a magical recipe for learning, it was to imply that there are other factors, most of which you outlined in your response. I did not mention pedagogy, curriculum redesign, and other external factors explicitly since I assumed that we are all education professionals. I don’t think any serious educator would claim that technology without any of the above is anything more than a paperweight.

        I appreciate what you shared in your response, notably the failings of 1 laptop per child style programs That is because technology without a purpose is not sustainable. Not even pedagogy and high paid doctorate level educators can successfully support student learning with tools when there is no purpose behind their use.

        Now if your purpose is to digitize worksheets and textbooks (which 90% of all published research that I have read on effective technology seems to describe) then why would you expect anything more than the same results? It evens out because some students do worse due to technology issues and others excel, but only to the level of non digital success point.

        What needs to happen in addition to using technology to enhance learning experiences, is that those experiences need to evolve.

        As I said before, there is very little value given the age of information in memorization and regurgitating back information through work that is exactly the same as the 20 other students in the class.

        Now this is philosophical discussion but what about practical and meaningful learning? How do you do it without technology or with a non name brand device?

        Here is a small booklet I published on how to leverage digital publications to support student’s facilitation of learning.


        Its a shameless plug, but it is a concrete strategy that allows for teachings to focus on meaningful learning. In your response you put a significant emphasis on teachers and what they do. Is it about them, or is about how they empower and inspire students to discover and explore as they guide, facilitate, and support their development?

        Although it was published by a ADE in the iTunes store using an iPad, it actually is device agnostic allowing for it to be used as a guide for any learning experience that can benefit from multi touch book publishing software and and understand of how to scaffold student facilitation.

        • wiltwhatman says:

          Hi Rabbi,

          thanks for the detailed response.

          You talk a lot about the purpose of technology. And about the assumption that educators don;t argue for technology for technologies sake, and don;t divorce technology application from sound pedagogy.

          I’d disagree with the second part. Lot’s of educators, edupreneurs and philanthropists who argue for tech in teaching take a bells and whistles approach. The disruption narrative in edtech is one major one. Bill Gates is another. lots of connectivist/netwrroked learner advocates. Lots of one device per child advocates.Lots of limited or no guidance constructivists. Mitra.

          Give kids devices, and freedom, and watch the learning revolution take place. Stop hgetting in the way. Shift happens. Schools destroy creativity. So give them a device and let them get on with it…

          I;m not laying that narrative at your door. But I am making the pijnt that if we assume edtech advocates in general have sound pedagogy and implemetation built into their programs, then we are in for a rude awakening. Sebastian Thrun and the pivot spring to mind.

          I’d also argue that lots of expensive edtech experimnets that have had a purpose have failed. Thrun again. His purpose was to revolutionjse education with tech, outperform face to face learning for remedial and at risk students, and provode access to education to all. Faii. Coursera, tryoing to provide education to the masses as a right not a privilege? 7% completion rates. One to one laptops and Mitra’s hole in the wall? All purposeful. All expensive. All not really working that well.

          The deal comes down to this, Technology can be used well in education. It needs to be well deployed. And the gains are modest. And that needs to be stacked up against what we could do with the money if we were to spend it on other things that have an effect. For example, running afterschool clubs in lego has a robust effect on math scores for kids from deprived socio economic contexts. Large enough to level the playing field with richer students. The effect lasts up to college.

          There’s a bigger effect than you;ll get from using a tablet. And the cost is going to be cheaper than a one to one tablet program,e.

  19. Mike Forder says:

    I came across your post at a perfect time. I’ve been reflecting on the degree to which I should share what a technology can be used for in teaching. On one hand concrete examples can help to reduce the ambiguity of a new tool but on the other hand it can seem as if instructors are being mandated to use a tool in a very specific manner. Your Apple example is a reminder to keep the focus on the learning goals. It is far too easy to be tempted to let it serve as a highlight of what work you have done in the classroom. I’m looking forward to part II.

  20. wiltwhatman says:


    I’m an apple sceptic. cynic even. Especially in contexts, like education, where resources are relatively scarce, need is often high, and opportunity costs are often ignored. And signing up with apple, or google, to cheerlead their technologies seems … potentially a conflict of interest.

    But I gotta say this.

    You’ve written a book with the byline indicating everything people know about education might be wrong. You speak at conferences, and gain access to opportunities as a debunker, sceptic, and general awkward squad platoon commander. You have a reputation for taking sceptical potshots that is part and parcel of your personal publicity machine – thanks for alkl that by the way. The content, insights and resources are hugely appreciated.

    Isn’t a lot of what you are saying about apple educators applicable by the more cynical amongst us to you?

    You have a vested interested in the sceptical bordering on cynical. If apple fanteachers are semi pro believers, does that make you a professional cynic?

    Love the blog by the way.

  21. […] Part 1 I explored the concept of vested interest and how it could lead us to make decisions and react in […]

  22. […] Didau’s blog post discussing the impartiality of edtech experts: Why do edtech folk respond badly to skepticism? – […]

  23. […] exploring why asking questions about education technology provokes such an egregious responses. In Part 1 I wrote about vested interest and in Part 2 I addressed confirmation bias. The focus of this third […]

  24. […] not always so lucky. Indeed, as we have many of our rushes of pumping blood initiated by organizations whose first interest is themselves, not student outcomes, they’re usually not the types to correct us when we’ve gone wrong (and they’ve […]

  25. […] wrote a 3 part exploration of how and why true believers in the power of digital technology to transform education take it […]

  26. […] as cynics. Anyone casting a critical eye at the idea of Lego promoting play based learning or Apple using teachers in stealth marketing campaigns is held up as a ‘drain’ where all true believers ought to be […]

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