DeArmond & Gross: It’s Time to Help Teachers Generate and Use Their Own Evidence on Digital Tools
This particular essay, which is the seventh part of an ongoing series, was originally published on The Lens, the blog of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell. The following are essays that have previously been published on :
Lake: Are We Personalizing Learning for the Students Who Need It Most?
"I am lost when it comes to determining which digital resources are good because there are so many available.
Sometimes I try out the tools that my more technologically knowledgeable colleagues use."
From "Teachers Know Best," Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 2015, page 21
When we visit personalized learning (PL) schools, we observe that teachers utilize a wide range of digital tools. They often cycle through these tools quickly, but their decisions on which tools to use are not typically guided by systematic evidence. Instead, teachers rely on advice from their colleagues. While this is understandable, it means that teachers have little guarantee of a tool’s effectiveness, and students often feel like test subjects as teachers experiment with different tools.
Since we know that teachers often seek advice from their professional networks, an important question arises: Can we enhance these networks with more systematic evidence on the quality and impact of digital tools?
Creating a new, extensive database of products or research studies is probably not the answer, as some of these databases already exist. Websites like EdSurge and Common Sense Education, which function like Consumer Reports, cover numerous technology products for various subjects and grade levels. Although organizations such as EdSurge offer a personalized service to assist schools and districts in finding digital tools, many educators do not have access to such support, nor do they have the time to sift through multiple websites to find research-based tools.
Additionally, the K-12 educational technology market is massive and expanding rapidly. Stacey Childress, the CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, recently stated that investments in K-12 technology companies grew from approximately $91 million in 2009 to $643 million in 2014. The research community simply cannot keep up with this exponential growth of companies and digital offerings. Products without any research, let alone rigorous research, will continue to be available and find their way into classrooms.
Moreover, even if rigorous research is conducted, it may overlook a crucial element: the interaction between technology, teachers, pedagogy, and the context in which they all occur. Even if a well-designed randomized trial demonstrates positive impacts of a digital tool, it is still vital to consider how that tool fits into the overall instructional program of classrooms and schools.
Given these circumstances, it may be promising to help teachers, schools, and districts learn how to generate and utilize evidence themselves in order to make informed decisions about digital tools in the classroom. There are already several initiatives, methods, and tools available that can serve as a starting point. Some examples include:
The Proving Ground initiative at Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research, which assists districts and charter school networks in implementing a deliberate, analytical approach to gather and utilize evidence for testing potential systemwide digital tools.
The Ed Tech Rapid Cycle Evaluation (RCE) Coach, developed by Mathematica Policy Research, provides schools and districts with a step-by-step process and tool for evaluating educational technology. The tool guides practitioners through a five-step process, covering everything from planning the evaluation to summarizing the results. (According to program materials, the typical RCE lasts three months from start to finish.)
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has created various resources and hosts an annual summit to help educators and others adopt a problem- and user-centered approach to learning and improvement. This approach leverages rapid testing and networked learning communities to enhance classrooms and schools.
Furthermore, there are also local initiatives emerging. In Colorado, districts facing challenges with personalized learning have come together to form a network to collectively address issues. The regional support agency that coordinates the network guides teachers through a Plan-Do-Study-Act inquiry cycle, focusing on a specific personalized learning problem, with the aim of integrating this analytical process into their daily work.
At this point, we cannot definitively say whether these initiatives, methods, and tools truly yield positive results. However, the fact that teachers desire guidance and information on digital tools within a rapidly changing technological landscape strongly suggests that exploring these and other practice-based approaches to evidence generation would be beneficial for districts and partners.
Your task is to paraphrase the given text using improved vocabulary and natural language while ensuring uniqueness. The resultant text should be written in English. Here is the text to be rephrased: