Checking for a positive effect when integrating technology in classroom practice is critical for school improvement and effectiveness. The evaluation of using these new tools in our classrooms should not be an optional “add-on” that may or may not be done rigorously and may or may not be taken seriously by educators and policymakers.
The number of tech-tools/solutions for students is growing. The financial cost for these tools varies from free to substantially high. The time cost is always high because you need to first train educators and then take from precious class time. A risk that is not always appreciated by teachers struggling to deliver a packed curriculum to diverse students.
Finally – the most important cost is the risk of not being effective: This is the cost of a lost opportunity to learn for the students on which these tools are being imposed! This is the cost that is too high to risk without due diligence!
We are now at a point where the evaluation of technology-based instruction should be mandatory when introducing it into a classroom. To date, this kind of practical work has been limited – especially when it comes to the younger grades. I am at a loss when trying to think of any other field where we introduce new tools without rigorous empirical consideration on their effect. So why would it be acceptable in the only field that directly and indirectly affects each and every member of society – education?
This is a bleak picture – and some might argue that there are a lot of studies on the effect of online learning etc. But I am talking about applied research for real-time feedback in context. I am talking about being responsible to all students as educational technology companies release more and more solutions with the promise of increased student success – and little proof!
Despite the bleak reality, there are pockets of responsible professionalism that are emerging. For example,
- The Malawi Ministry of Education, Science and Technology evaluated the effect of using portable interactive learning technology for basic education as a pilot project before scaling up the integration of technology in the education system.
- SRI International conducted an independent evaluation of Rocketship Education’s Use of DreamBox Learning’s Online Mathematics Program
- Marzano Research Laboratory conductd an evaluation of the Promethean ActivClassroom on student academic achievement
It is noteworthy to highlight that there are critique these evaluations. The evaluations and the critiques are important for the community of educators, technology developers, evaluators and policymakers to all engage in examining the effect on student learning. It is only through a collaboration from all these stakeholder that we will ensure the best technological solutions for increasing student success. This was the reminder from SRI as the evaluators reflected on promising findings:
“keep in mind a basic principle of scientific research … Positive results merit continued and even expanded use, but ongoing evaluation is needed to build a body of evidence, especially as interventions are implemented in varied ways.”