Skip to main content

NEPC Talks Education: Not So Fast: Critically Assessing Ed Tech During COVID-19

BOULDER, CO (November 17, 2020) – In this month’s episode of the NEPC Talks Education podcast, NEPC Researcher Christopher Saldaña interviews Dr. Ben Williamson, a Chancellor’s fellow at the Centre for Research in Digital Education and the Edinburgh Futures Institute. Williamson’s research examines how digital technologies, science, and data intersect with education policy and governance. He is the author of Big Data in Education: The Digital Future of Learning, Policy and Practice and the co-author of Commercialisation and Privatisation in/of Education in the Context of Covid-19.

Saldaña and Williamson discuss why it is important for educational researchers and educational policymakers to view critically the implementation of educational technology (ed tech) in schools, especially as schools adopt more ed tech to cope with the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Williamson argues that although other fields, like media studies or digital sociology, have published studies showing the ill effects of technology on, for example, politics and discrimination, the field of education has yet to produce a critical mass of studies examining the potentially significant effect of ed tech on teaching and learning.

Williamson argues that one reason for this lack of research might be because the ed tech industry benefits from influential and well-funded advocates who silence critics. For example, Williamson explains that the ed tech industry is a multi-sector, multibillion dollar industry that includes international technology firms such as Google, Microsoft and Apple, global intergovernmental organizations such as the OECD and UNESCO, major philanthropic foundations like the Gates Foundation, profit-seeking, grant-making entities such as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and educational content producers such as Pearson.

Dr. Williamson recommends that researchers examine the side effects associated with a growing ed tech sector and increased presence of technology in schools, including how this might exacerbate issues related to the digital divide and the privatization and commercialization of K-12 public schools. Williamson also encourages teachers unions to critically evaluate how the technology adopted by schools in which their members teach affects their ability to teach and their students’ ability to learn.

A new NEPC Talks Education podcast episode, hosted by Christopher Saldaña, will be released each month from September through May. 

Don’t worry if you miss a month. All episodes are archived on the NEPC website and can be found here.

NEPC podcast episodes are also available on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher, under the title NEPC Talks Education. Subscribe and follow!

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: