The pros and cons of edtech and how to overcome limitations

Cosector consider how education technology can help and hinder the learning processes, plus how to overcome issues that can arise


  • Improve long-distance learning

Sarah Singer, programme director of the MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies at the School of Advanced Study (SAS), says tech has opened access to postgraduate study for people who, for financial or other reasons, can’t take a year or two out of their lives to go and live and study on campus in London. Tech capability also allows teachers from across the globe to get involved in the teaching of the course, so the university is not limited to using academics from their institution, and can invite subject experts to teach certain topics.

They also have a student café area where students can discuss non-academic interests, and the tutors have started developing introductory videos which are embedded into each module. These are intended to add a more human face to the distance-learning format. They are also trialling ‘selfie videos’ where students upload a short video of themselves by way of introduction to others on the course.

  • Encouraging student interaction and engagement

Apps like Meetoo incorporate things like live polling into class. Lecturers can also introduce a hashtag and ask students to tweet any questions during the lecture for review towards the end. This encourages realtime interaction with a subject, increasing engagement and removing stigma around asking questions and shyness. You can also invite subject experts to speak to your class via live video, adding an extra level of engagement.

READ MORE: How to make class more interactive with edtech for higher education

  • Digital communication

By introducing edtech into your classroom, students will be interacting via a medium they most likely use in every day life. This will show you are innovative and understand it is important to reflect student needs and expectations . By incorporating apps, social media, and other methods of learning (e.g. encouraging blogging as an assignment for journalism students), you are improving their skillset and making them more employable in an increasingly digital workplace. 

  • Adaptive learning

Several edtech apps (such as quizlet) will react to a student’s learning pace, i.e. increasing or decreasing in difficulty to suit their needs. This provides tailored learning, but also motivation to improve. Gamification of learning is a great way to improve engagement, as it rewards users for participating in measurable activities. Lemontree , for example, measured and rewarded users for tasks such as logging into an e-resource or visiting the library. There was even a leaderboard, which motivated students even further to perform certain kinds of actions as they were in direct competition with one another.


  • Distraction

One of the biggest downsides of edtech, especially in class, is the temptation to use devices for procrastination. It is easy to switch off when you’ve got the internet beckoning for your attention, so lecturers must be wary and make sure their students aren’t taking advantage of a situation that encourages tech usage. A good way to do this is to ask students to close their laptops at certain times.

  • Access

As with long distance courses, some students’ bandwidth or internet access may be limited, so participating in live lectures may put certain students at a disadvantage. However, using screencasts to record these sessions and asking students to write up the main points from the talk may be a way to overcome these limitations. 

  • Deviation

As with any anonymous or open question situation, there’s always someone who will try to deviate from the discussion or find it humorous. This is often harmless and rare but if it becomes a serious issue then removing anonymity or setting rules and consequences for serious or offensive misuse may need to be universally enforced. 

  • Different subjects requiring different edtech

There is not a ‘one size fits all’ for edtech within education. Some students will benefit from blogging as an assignment (e.g. journalism), and others will benefit from flashcard apps where term definition is key (e.g. law). The onus is on the lecturer to discover which would benefit their students the most and integrate it into their teaching, which may take time and several attempts.

However, making lectures more interactive with something like live polling is something every subject can use and benefit from. Perhaps the key is starting small – employing a university-wide tool to begin with, and building upon it further as it becomes a natural part of class.

  • Privacy and security

Putting a focus on tech and using third party apps can be a worry. Is a student’s personal information safe and are they happy to share so much? Jisc reported that FE learners are in fact willing to trade personal information for better grades.

What about student devices? Are they protected securely and can a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy increase risk of cyber security attacks for university networks? Ensuring students are aware of the risk (offering phishing training for example, or even implementing a poster campaign around campus) and putting barriers in place to stop cyber criminals should be enough to minimise the risk. 

There are some barriers to edtech, but it seems they can often be overcome and that the benefits are likely to outweigh any negatives. 

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