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School & District Management Opinion

Farewell to EdTech Researcher

By Justin Reich — October 30, 2018 3 min read
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On April 9, 2012, I published the first blog post on EdTech Researcher, and today is the last day.

Over the past six years, most recently with my colleagues Beth Holland and Douglas Kiang, we’ve tried to have this space host weekly missives at the intersection of research, teaching, learning, and new technologies.

The most popular post, by far, was written early on, posted on June 21, 2012: Don’t Use Khan Academy without Watching This First, which introduced folks to the work of Dave Coffey and John Golden, who made a video making fun of a Khan Academy video, pointing out some of the shortcomings in instruction. I think the main lesson there is “if you want things read on the internet, use a click-baity and searchable headline in association with something that’s already popular and widely discussed.” Another lesson may be that I peaked early.

Looking back from 2018, Khan Academy is still chugging along, and it’s videos and online problem sets are used by people all over the world, but no one claims anymore that Khan Academy is on the cusp of transforming education. Free online videos, interactive whiteboards, tablets, MOOCs, have all had their moment in the sun-- comptency-based education is the current trend du jour, and virtual reality and AI applications are perhaps poised to be next in line for their few minutes in the spotlight. In 303 posts on this site, I’ve tried to look at these technologies as they’ve passed through their moments in the sun, examine the evidence that we have about their use and effectiveness, and question the narratives around these technologies as transformative.

To say that none of these things will transform education, is not the same as saying that none of these things will have value. Free online videos that explain math concepts are tools with great potential for certain learners in certain contexts. The real challenge for educators is figuring out exactly how a new technology or technology-mediated approach might be productively integrated into the complex, political, multifaceted world of schools.

I remain convinced, six and a half years after starting EdTech Researcher and eleven years after starting a doctoral program, that research can help answer these questions. The patient, inquisitive exploration of new technologies, finding connections between a new innovation and its historical antecedents, looking at patterns in data about who has access to technology and how they use it, examining measures of effectiveness and learning--from these kinds of activities we can take steps towards understanding where new technologies might lead to useful new strategies for learning. To say that any new technology has potential educational value is not the same as saying that these values will be obvious.

My favorite posts over the years have been ones where I’ve taken the time to dig closely into a study, especially at the request of an educator or journalist, and to try to state clearly what the study demonstrates, what it can’t claim, and how it might be useful for teachers and school leaders on the ground. As a researcher, it’s exciting to be in a rapidly developing field where we have new data, new methods, and new approaches to research, but all of these innovations run the risk of creating a body of research that is increasingly inpenetrable to folks working day to day in schools. Even as this blog closes, I take seriously the responsibility to make what I’m learning from research accessible to the people working most closely with students.

Scrutinize new tech skeptically, but be open to potential ways that new technolgies can support learning in new ways. Most of these gains will be modest, but piling up incremental gains is how we make progress in education. Research can help shine a light on where these incremental gains might be found. That’s EdTech Researcher in a nutshell.

I’d like to offer my thanks to anyone who has read these missives over the last few years, to those who have asked questions or left comments or reached out to me, and especially to the folks at Education Week who have helped support this enterprise. I look forward to continuing to find venues for sharing with educators what we’re learning from research about education technologies.

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The opinions expressed in EdTech Researcher are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.