Three Lessons Learned From Education Technology Research

School district administrators and principals are inundated with salesmen peddling computers and software packages. Many declare that scientific research proves their wares work. Can they be believed? The researchers at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), an agency in the economics department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, scoured academic journals, the internet and evaluation databases and discovered simplest 113 research on the usage of technology in faculties that had been scientifically rigorous.

 

In the past few years of studies on educational generation has ended in a clearer imaginative and prescient of ways generation can affect teaching and mastering. Today, nearly each college in the United States of America makes use of technology as a part of coaching and mastering and with each kingdom having its personal customized generation program. In the maximum of those colleges, instructors use the era through included activities which might be part of their daily college curriculum. For example, instructional era creates lively surroundings wherein college students not only inquire, however additionally define issues of interest to them. Such a pastime could integrate the subjects of generation, social research, math, technological know-how, and language arts with the opportunity to create scholar-focused interest. Most educational technology professionals agree, however, that technology must be integrated, not as a separate issue or as an as soon as-in-a-even as the mission, but as a tool to promote and increase pupil mastering on a day by day foundation.

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“Education technology is a place in which innovation has outpaced rigorous research,” said Vincent Quan, who runs the North American schooling unit at J-PAL. “We desired to discover all the research and distill the principle lessons so that decision-makers can determine which applications to scale up and invest in.”

To meet JPAL’s high requirements, the look at either had to be a randomized managed trial, in which college students had been randomly decided on to attempt an era and studied along students who didn’t try it, or it needed to be a “regression discontinuity layout,” in which college students with statistically similar test ratings have been studied, however those just under a test-rating threshold tried the era, for instance, and people just above it didn’t. Both varieties of research are pricey and typically take two years or more to behavior — time and money that ed-tech entrepreneurs generally don’t have. Technology can grow to be out of date by the time the effects pop out.

J-PAL threw out some different quasi-experimental studies as it wasn’t confident that the scholars attempting the era weren’t already better attaining or more inspired to analyze than those who didn’t attempt the era. J-PAL also didn’t include observational research, in which ends up were primarily based on trainer surveys of ways tons they idea their college students had discovered. They have a tendency to expose plenty more nice effects. That doesn’t imply the technologies don’t work, it just manner they haven’t been fastidiously examined.

The stop product is an August 2017 working paper, “Education Technology: An Evidence-Based Review,” posted with the aid of the National Bureau of Economic Research with clean tables on which generation improves learning and which doesn’t. I talked with Quan and every other co-author of the paper, Maya Escueta, a graduate scholar at Teachers College, Columbia University (The Hechinger Report is an independently funded unit of Teachers College). Three big subject matters emerged.

1. Computers and net access on my own don’t enhance learning

Handing out laptops, providing excessive-speed net get admission to or buying maximum other styles of hardware doesn’t on its very own raise academic effects. The research indicates that student success doesn’t upward thrust when kids are the use of computer systems more, and it occasionally decreases. The J-PAL researchers did locate that scholars who have computer systems use them extra, and come to be more adept at clicking and typing. It stays an open query whether tech-savvy students could be higher workers inside the future, even supposing they’re not higher students now.

While hardware alone isn’t making children smarter, college students need computer systems and the net to apply the academic software. And some of that does work.

2. Some math software program shows promise

Exactly 29 software program research met J-PAL’s standards and 20 of these confirmed at the least some degree of getting to know development (see desk 2, pp. 30-37). The ones that tended to expose high-quality outcomes were frequently in one subject: math. Rising to the pinnacle were math programs inclusive of SimCalc and ASSISTments. One famous application, DreamBox, showed small gains for college students, as nicely. Only one piece of software program that taught studying, Intelligent Tutoring for the Structure Strategy (ITSS), showed promise, suggesting that it’s far feasible to create correct instructional software program outside of math, but it’s plenty harder.

One commonality of the software that seems to work is that it by some means “personalizes” training. Sometimes college students begin with a pre-test so the computer can determine what they don’t recognize and then sends each student the right classes, or a series of worksheet troubles, to assist fill the gaps. Other times, the laptop ascertains a pupil’s gaps as he works through troubles and makes mistakes, giving personalized remarks. Teachers additionally get information reports to help pinpoint wherein students are struggling.

The J-PAL paper cited that ASSISTments advanced 7th-graders’ math rankings in Maine when college students spent simplest 10 mins a night time at the software, 3 or 4 times a week, as homework. Teachers didn’t change their existing lesson plans or textbooks to include it. Other education software, with the aid of assessment, regularly imposes its personal curriculum or calls for teachers to make essential modifications to the manner they teach.

“We had the heart to expose ourselves” to randomized manage trials, stated Neil Heffernan, the inventor of ASSISTments, and a professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.

Heffernan’s business technique is uncommon within the education technology enterprise. He financed the improvement of this software program with federal funds and offers it away unfastened to schools. The federal authorities, via the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, additionally foot the invoice for the studies to see if his software program improves math education.

Heffernan now has presents to test whether or not the Maine results can be replicated in North Carolina, and whether teachers can be educated on a line to apply the machine throughout the country, mainly in more urban settings. But the effects of these studies gained’t be regarded for some other 4 years, he said.

The more a piece of the software program is studied, the more likely it’s far to get blended results. The most studied software program became Cognitive Tutor, an entire math teaching curriculum that asks college students to spend 40 percent of their elegance time at the computer. The J-PAL researchers located nine rigorous studies of it. Some had been high-quality. Some confirmed no benefits. A 2017 study in 8 U.S. States discovered no benefit in the first yr of implementation, however true consequences inside the 2nd year, while teachers decreased the wide variety of encouraged sports performed throughout the non-computerized a part of magnificence.

Three. Cheap can be effective

Low-cost technological interventions, especially text message reminders, had been fairly powerful with college students and dad and mom. “It’s not necessarily the maximum expensive or complex technology that makes a distinction,” J-PAL’s Quan instructed me. “Even text messages will have a measurable effect on academic effects. It’s now not flashy. Sometimes you don’t want all that flash and gimmick.”

One instance is a examine in San Francisco in which texts reminded mothers to study to their preschoolers. That boosted youngsters’ literacy scores. “We see that texts paintings when it’s a helpful nudge for something that they want to do,” Quan’s colleague, Escueta, stated. “You can’t alternate attitudes with texting.”

This column was written by way of Jill Barshay and produced by way of The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, impartial information corporation centered on inequality and innovation in training.

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