Carnegie Mellon University
December 15, 2021

Reich Delivers 2021 Simon Distinguished Lecture

By Caroline Sheedy

 Justin Reich of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology gave the 2021 Simon Distinguished Lecture to an in-person and virtual audience at Carnegie Mellon University in November.

 The talk, “Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can't Transform Education,” examined the long history of technology’s role in education and offered insights on the future of learning. Reich argued that despite many attempts, education technology has never sweepingly transformed schools.

“The field of education has had a bunch of voices enthusiastically telling us that we’re right on the cusp of a powerful transformation in learning. That new online tools are going to radically reconfigure what’s possible in schools,” Reich said.

But instead of relying on tech, Reich thinks we should tinker with solutions to familiar challenges educators frequently encounter.

 “Every technology solution is a human development problem. There is no way to improve teaching and learning just by downloading apps onto people’s phones and computers, as we’ve seen so vividly over the last couple of years,” he said. “There are powerful things that new technologies can do, but they are only as powerful as the communities who support their use, as the resources, the professional learning, the coaching we provide to teachers, provosts, superintendents, department heads, parents, families and other kinds of stakeholders in education.”

Richard Scheines, the Bess Family Dean of the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and Simon Initiative faculty lead, moderated a discussion after the lecture. He began the discussion by asking Reich how use of the technology during the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated or shaped the way teachers are adopting technological solutions. 

“Everyone is having a different pandemic,” Reich said. “If you talk with people where internet access was really weak, the last couple of years has been a disaster and getting away from technology as soon as you can is a priority for reengaging with students. In other places, folks have found it incredibly empowering to find new strategies, new techniques.” Reich said.

The Simon Distinguished Lecture invites leading scholars to discuss the future of education and learning engineering. It is part of the University Lecture Series.