Errors in Innovation and Call-Out Culture of Edtech

This exchange happened at a SMART Global Summit two years ago…

Setting: SMART Exec surrounded by teachers brought in to give feedback on SMART Amp

Exec: So what do you think about Amp? Would you take this back to your school district as a recommendation?

Me: Absolutely not. There’s nothing that this product does that can’t be accomplished with google apps. Why would we pay $7 per student for something that we can already accomplish at zero cost? Frankly, I think that you need to seek input from teachers beyond your core community.

Many other teachers agreed and added to this feedback, until…

Teacher: The only tools that I want in my classroom are SMART. I don’t care what they are and what you make, this is all that I need and I won’t teach without them. I don’t use google or anything else. I only want SMART and I think this tool is awesome!

Me: (Mouth drops to floor, turns head to roll eyes, throws up in mouth,  internally screams nope, vows to never become a zombie to a brand)

Sometimes tech companies get it wrong and too often, we as a collective of educators stick a bit too closely to “brand loyalty” to call them out on it. We stick too closely to our embedded social media norms to use the tool that personally connects us to those creating for our classrooms. We haven’t yet learned how to create a movement that isn’t celebratory but is the right amount of critical to garner change.

…and that saddens me

Let’s do better.

Yesterday, Google released some pretty useful and amazing tools for classrooms as they often do. Forms with images? LOVE! I love the parent notification piece too. It’s just the right mix of “Remind” to get teachers using Classroom, even when kids lack consistent access to devices.

A teacher online said, “now I can stop posting my assignments to my web page. Parents can simply access them from Google Classroom!” For that teacher’s sake, let’s just hope that every parent has a smart phone with messaging. Parents of the flip phone generation…beware! (I know you’re out there flip phoners… especially since so many of our students carry them. Or maybe we’re the only community that needs the FCCs Lifeline for mobile support)

There was one more announcement that from what I heard almost drove a room of “Google Innovators” into cheers and tears of joy at ISTE. Google Classroom now has support for those that are about that worksheet life! Students can now annotate assignments when given a google doc or pdf which technically means that kids can draw digitally, create math/science charts and highlight/markup text.

Teachers that are dying over going digital when they desperately NEED to assign those 30 math problems can do so with confidence because the effort on the part of teachers is minimal. You just have to upload that worksheet!! (So excited when tech companies create pathways for those reluctant to use tech teachers. Pathways that have no end like this make our jobs as support staff awesome!!!)

One more thing…

When students click to annotate and save, the document is converted to a pdf that is no longer editable or collaborative. What that means is that this “innovative release” creates a system where mistakes and ideas are permanent. You can’t re-open the pdf to erase, move text, images…anything. Students have to start all over again or if there is still room on the original page, cross it out and write around. This also creates a brand spanking new pdf! Every edit creates a new PDF that is more non-editable than the last.

Also, this is a completely non-collaborative venture.

…so perfect for those who just needed a bit of “5 years ago” in order to leverage digital tools.

As others online have stated…”This is a start and sometimes teachers need a start!”



Dear Google Classroom Team,

I’ve been far too tough on you through my barrage of memes on twitter. My gosh, it was even lower of me to point out the “how to be more innovative” video that was recently posted on the Google for Work youtube page. Maybe that wasn’t the exact title, but you get the gist. I think that you were honestly trying to create a tool that would enable some annotated creativity (worksheet work really) and yes as Jonathan Rochelle exclaimed in my most favorite twitter exchange of all time…this is one feature that I completely and wholeheartedly disagree with. But to imply that you aren’t innovative is a bit of a stretch.


With that said, I need you to understand that even as you seem completely super human, you too make mistakes. (Let’s go with it that this “one feature” is a first iteration of possibilities, shall we?)

I get that people have been demanding some form of annotation in classroom. What I do not get is why you felt that releasing it in this form of finiteness was great.

Why not lean on what is great about Google Draw and make a mobile interpretation of that? Why for the love of all things “kids need iteration” would you make a tool that says “the first time is the best time”? Why, for the love of “my gosh, we’ve been trying to get teachers to not stick to worksheets as planned” would you make a tool that screams…


And where are the words of others who are speaking in whispers? And yes there are others. They are in my DMs, facebook messages, voxer and texts…but are too afraid/aware of pushback to say it aloud.

What bothers me most is that you will see usage data on this tool and in your space, this will seem like a success…except for that whole part about going against everything that makes google apps awesome. Then again, perhaps this is your stab at inclusivity because all worksheets matter…even those that cannot be erased after iteration 1 but must be started entirely over again for every iteration thereafter.

For Teachers: Alternatives to Google Classroom’s New Annotation Tool 

Please, do not use this feature unless you need a document signed! It’s terrible for anything else. This tool is the equivalent of writing in pen in math class which to be fair was never problematic for me but you get it!

  1. Interactive Google Document ( I’ll even go with hyperdocs here. It’s that real)
  2. Adobe Acrobat (If you must have a PDF, open it in Acrobat. Kids can annotate and type but more importantly, they can always return to this document to make revisions…which is all of what Google’s new tool lacks and it’s important)
  3. On IOS (any drawing app that will will write on an image. Who cares about resolution when you’re grading 135 of these as a high school teacher)
  4. Explain Everything…Here, you can at least make a video! Definitely will be purchasing this for our domain.
  5. Microsoft One Note with the Office Lens App for converting worksheets to images or PDFs.

PS: Before you start screaming about having the ability for kids to include diagrams in their work, please don’t forget that when doing this, the diagram must be done LAST because if they do the diagram before completing their written portion or reflection…they’ll have a PDF of that drawing as a separate document from their other work which makes zero sense when students can use a drawing app on their device instead that they can save as an image and then insert into their very active and collaborative google document.

As a teacher, if you are reading this and not questioning this…I can’t even.

Comments 3

  1. OMG, new vistas in #cannotevenchat . Our district has been pushing Google Classroom pretty hard, but I haven’t had ten consecutive minutes to tinker with it yet. So it is SUPER-HELPFUL to hear about this Annotation tool, because somebody mentioned it to me at a district training but clearly, they hadn’t tried it yet — they were just pushing it!!! ACK!

    So thank you for these thumbnail reviews and ideas about alternatives to crashing into yet more ill-conceived, dead-end, brand-name technologies.

    As a teacher and a recovering tech entrepreneur, techies sometimes give me grief about not being all-digital. Don’t get me wrong; I spent over 25 years pushing the digital envelope. But nowadays I put my students first… not the technology.

    ❤️ you!

    – Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf)

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