How Effective is Ed Tech?

By Katie Ash — July 31, 2009 1 min read
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A commentary on this week argues that investing more money into technology and professional development is not the way to improve K-12 education. Schools have already made massive investments into Internet access and technology, says the essay, without research to show how effective those investments have been.

The authors of the commentary, Gary W. Ritter and Robert Maranto, both of whom teach in the department of education reform at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, point to a study by the Princeton, N.J.-based Mathematica Policy Research Inc. as proof that technology is not as effective as we’d like to believe. The study found that certain reading and math software products did not help improve student learning.

They say:

Putting more resources into technology and for-profit consultants provides jobs and lets politicians feel they are helping schools, but it doesn’t improve student learning."

Instead, schools would be better served by increasing merit-pay for teachers and providing “bold action” to underperforming schools, the authors write.

While there are some folks out there who are overconfident in technology’s ability to improve student achievement and address all the complicated problems that can face schools and students, I’m a bit skeptical of denouncing all tech-related education endeavors because of one study about computer software.

There is always room for more research, especially large-scale studies that look closely at technology’s effect on student achievement (look at Project Red, for instance), but there are lots of examples of small-scale studies that point to increased student engagement and information retention in technology-rich classrooms. This study out of the University of Southern Maine’s Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation is one example. And there’s been a lot said about the imperative to provide students access to the tools and skills that they will need as employees in the 21st-century.

What do you think? Do we rely too heavily on technology to help improve student learning? Or are the investments we make in education technology worthwhile endeavors?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.