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Why We Need to Create More Inclusive Edtech

By Maria Burns, CEO 7 Generation Games

For decades now, technology has been heralded as the savior of K12 struggles, yet when it comes to academic performance, little has changed. And for all the discussions about the impact of COVID-19 on student learning, this was the case long before the pandemic upended back-to-back school years.

As we – as a society – work to address improving student learning, it’s also a time to reassess and progress.

Teaching is most effective when it’s done in context, allowing students to see the direct connection between the content and their actual lives. EdTech not only needs to meet the needs of, but reflect the realities of students. And it has the power and potential to do so.

But to do so, edtech needs to be accessible in every meaning of the word. That means creating technology that runs in students’ communities, including their homes. It’s why we’ve tested our software from one-room school houses in the Andes to students’ homes on the Navajo Nation reservation. It means leveraging advances in programming that enable us to create leveled content that meets individual students where they’re at instead of where standards say they “should be.”

There needs to be content that reflects students’ daily lives and their communities. Creating characters or problem sets that look like them and sound like them and take place in places where they live. And you have to mean it because kids are far more perceptive than they’re often given credit for. They will see through performative inclusion before they even get past the login screen. For us, that’s meant creating a game about Chilean history that aligns to Chile’s national math curriculum in Chilean Spanish, then turning around and adapting elements of that same product to create a game about Dakota culture and present day applications of U.S. Common Core math standards at a powwow using voiceovers from kids in that tribal community.

Dakota Game maze
Chile Game Maze

Technology makes that possible. It allows us ways to not only help close gaps, but to build bridges when it comes to applying learning to real life. Edtech can play a powerful role in creating “lightbulb moments,” when learning clicks and there’s that aha! that teachers strive to impart.

However, at the same time, technology is only as good as those who are creating it make it. The vast majority of technology is made by a small group of people. The same goes for commercial K12 curriculum. And yet, we turn around and put it in classrooms and wonder why so many learners are still struggling.

For far too long, education has been seen by the tech industry as valuable, but not lucrative. It’s far easier to create a one-size fits most solution. As we’ve seen, it’s also far less effective. And because no one wants to pour money into something that’s shown to be minimally effective – unless, maybe it’s got buzzwords like NFT or crypto attached to it – it creates a vicious cycle.

To empower educators and learners, edtech needs to include them. At 7 Generation Games, we realized the impact of our technology could be far greater if we tried to do that instead of adding more curriculum into an already crowded classroom space. Because we know that edtech is not a zero-sum game, we hope others will see the same.

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Maria Burns Ortiz – CEO 7 Generation Games

Maria Burns Ortiz is co-founder and CEO of 7 Generation Games, which develops educational video games and the tools to make them through its 7 Gen Blocks platform. She has led 7 Generation Games from concept to award-winning company, backed by funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institutes of Health and Start-Up Chile. She is also NY Times best-selling author.