eSchool News recently featured an article titled “Educators report low confidence in ed-tech research.” A key quote:

Only 24 percent of surveyed educators say they believe ed-tech vendors are well-equipped to conduct reliable ed-tech research–and just 10 percent believe the same for media organizations.

I do not find this surprising and, indeed, find it a little reassuring. When I was a teacher and an administrator, I tended to lump ed-tech into two categories:

  • Productivity / efficiency. In other words, the technology helped me do my job better, faster, and with less work.
  • Academic improvement. The technology improved student academic performance over time.

(The two categories can be related and tied to each other.)

The first category is easy to prove. After learning the new technology, I basically track my efficiency.

The second category is notoriously tricky to prove because there are so many variables in learning – even learning with a technology tool!

For example, last year my old district implemented an ed-tech program for math and reading. The program was pretty solid. The execution of the program was interesting.

I would walk into one classroom and the teacher would work the room. Kids, their Chromebooks open and headphones jacked in, focused on the activities on hand and the teacher quickly responded to questions, off task behaviors, and intervention needs.

The classroom next door featured the teacher sitting behind their desk grading papers. Students mindlessly clicked away at the program. When lost, they’d just stare at the screen.

The key variable here is the teacher (the teacher is always a key variable), not necessarily the program.

Remember, technology is a tool. A tool is controlled by someone.

Research by vendors and media tend to focus on the successful use of an edtech product. This makes sense, given the nature of a business (would Blackboard publish research showing their product actually hurt academic growth?). Skepticism is warranted.

My Go To

I’m an empirical guy. I love meta-analysis and thoughtful debates (shout out to John Hattie). I want research and really don’t mind if the research is sponsored by a vendor (just know I’m going be extra skeptical). I WOULD like to see more publicly sponsored research, but understand budget constraints.

In the end, nothing beats a (non-endorsed) recommendation from a super star educator. When I read and see how some of my heroes use certain edTech tools, I’m more likely to use the tool or investigate the tool.