What impact does the pencil have on learning?

Should we expect, as educators, that the technology used in schools has robust reliable research that demonstrates the impact it has on learning before we implement it?

This post is a response to an article that featured in EdSurge on 17 July 2017. You can read the full article here. The article refers to findings from a working group looking into edtech efficacy. The lead researcher is quoted as saying the following:

“Having a lot of research evidence, like the type demanded by the feds, was cool but not essential [for education establishments]. I found that to be pretty surprising and a little bit troubling.”

Dr Michael Kennedy

Is it troubling? Should we be surprised that educational establishments are not trawling research before implementing educational technology (edtech) strategies? If we start with an analogy. When pencils are ordered, it is not underpinned by research about the impact pencils have been proved to have on learning. However, we should expect that the learning taking place that involves the pencil does. For example, in kindergarten or early years we might expect pencils to be favoured over pens for handwriting to enable learners to correct their writing and fail without fear more easily than with ink. Educators should be aware of robust research regarding learning reading and write to inform the curriculum, which in turn helps them place orders for equipment to support the curriculum.

Here, a learning approach is supported by appropriate resources. In the edtech world it seems too often the resources are purchased and the learning approach is then discussed or the new tools are made to fit the existing approach. Therefore is edtech efficacy worth considering, when learning and curriculum efficacy should be paramount?

Chicken or Egg?

The article relates to “Role of Federal Funding and Research Findings on Adoption and Implementation of Technology-Based Products and Tools”, a study conducted by Dr Michael Kennedy in which the findings state:

A range of superintendents, assistant superintendents, technology leaders/specialists, principals, assistant principals, instructional coaches, and teachers from 17 U.S. states responded to the online survey. Results demonstrate only 11% of 515 respondents demand a tech-based product have the type of independent, gold-standard research championed by the federal government for funding prior to adoption or purchase.

This piece of work is part of a wider Edtech Efficacy review which took place as part of Edtech Efficacy Symposium in May 2017.

Are schools using evidence to inform their learning and teaching policy and practices? How much research underpins homework, marking, duty rotas/lunch supervision, school timings, learning spaces and so many day to day aspects of every school’s approach to providing exceptional learning?

In the UK, a professional body for teachers, The Chartered College of Teaching, has recently being created (cards on the table, I am a founding member) and here is a video of the impact it is having of headteachers. Watch and then reflect on where edtech fits in this story.

Sally wants her school to base decisions in research and evidence. On this occasion there was no mention of asking one of their software provides or IT services to produce evidence for the impact their product has on learning. However, there were many questions about how every aspect of the school impact on learning. Their research may show that teachers are setting online homework that children cannot complete because of access to devices… which may inform their device purchasing and policies. Their research may find that teachers are spending too long marking homework, which is not impactful or valued by parents… which may lead them to develop their use of edtech to share feedback with parents.

Therefore, should it be troubling that schools are purchasing edtech without the research to back up the impact on learning? It should be troubling if the policies, pedagogies and approaches to learning in school are not based on valid research and evidence, edtech is a tool, one of many, that support schools in delivering their vision for learning and teaching.

Pedagogy efficacy surpasses edtech efficacy when it comes to impact on learning. The article is focussing on one particular area, which for me elevates edtech towards pedagogy and this must be treated with caution. Make sure your pedagogy efficacy is strong and at the forefront of your thinking and your use of appropriate and impactful edtech will follow.

I welcome and expect some comments, there is much more left to discuss around this area and I have only scratched the surface in this short blog post. There are some very interesting findings from the edtech efficacy group. particularly around claims edtech companies make about the efficacy of their product. I have only focussed on whether we should be troubled that schools are not expecting to see the research before purchase, and there may be a reasonable answer to why… they trust their pedagogy?

Enjoy

Ben

References:

Edtech Efficacy Symposium Home Page, May 2017