For too long, education technology decision-making has been driven by marketing rather than merit. Investors, entrepreneurs – and, all too often educators – mistake scale for impact. We assume popular solutions have tapped into a fundamental need—and that they work to produce the results we want. And yet, there is precious little evidence that presents how and when technology impacts teaching or learning. And much of the research that purports to inform policy or practice fails to consider the diversity and complexity of educational institutions and school districts, classrooms and lecture halls. Gathering real evidence may not be easy. It may be expensive. But it is undoubtedly possible. And we owe it to our teachers, our students, and ourselves to ask informed questions and deliver the answers.
Education technology presents possibilities that have drawn attention from some of our brightest entrepreneurs. Investors and philanthropists support, and are working to scale, these new ideas and opportunities. Researchers are beginning to pay attention to ed tech trends and, occasionally, explore the efficacy of ed tech products and services. We could be entering a new era, in which data informs administrative – and instructional – decision making more than ever. In which faculty and teacher-consumers challenge the dominance of the central office in ed tech procurement. In which technology provides parents with unprecedented visibility into the classroom and, for better or worse, policymakers take note.
Big questions remain: Will technology catapult us forward or deeply distract us from our mission?
The University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, Digital Promise, and the Jefferson Education Accelerator are hosting an Academic Symposium on Education Technology Efficacy on May 3-4, 2017 that will bring together key stakeholders to examine more critically what’s working in education technology, and consider the role and relevance of efficacy research in enabling its promise. With the shared mission of educating ourselves and understanding what works to advance teaching and learning, we aim to elevate the ed tech conversation beyond its focus on scale and start talking about impact. We hope that our work will help entrepreneurs understand where to devote their energies and resources. We hope to cultivate the interests of school divisions and higher education institutions in asking for evidence of impact when they make procurement decisions. We hope to provide investors with the tools to use evidence to inform allocations of capital. We hope to inspire researchers willing to consider the role that technology can play in the future of education. And we hope that we can help professors, teachers, and leaders better understand how to leverage technology to drive outcomes for students.
But all of this depends upon an open, candid dialogue among interested parties. To achieve this, we’re inviting stakeholders who are researchers, entrepreneurs, university and school district leaders, investors and philanthropists, and teachers and professors, to join our Working Groups. Each Working Group will benefit from resources and support to explore a series of tough questions that influence, stymie, benefit, or shape the future of efficacy research on education technology. We’ve designed the Working Groups to bring together diverse stakeholders that don’t often collaborate with the goal of generating insights that will be relevant and hard-hitting.
Technology can be a transformative force in education. But it will never achieve that aim if scale is allowed to be a proxy for impact. We must demand better information about the efficacy of our solutions. Join us as we work to move the conversation beyond popularity to proof.