EdTech, Begone!

Is edtech really worth having around anymore? The question popped into my mind earlier this summer as I worked with others to review and develop workshops centered around instructional strategies that had the effect of accelerating student growth. In my time as a director of technology, I really saw my role less as pushing "edtech" and more about establishing a tech-stable platform others could build solutions on.

In fact, I recorded a podcast with Dr. Dawn Wilson and Dr. Katie Alaniz on their collegial coaching model where I said, "Instructional technology is dead." You can still hear it online.

Research: The Death Knell of EdTech

Corwin Visible Learning Meta X


Is the death of edtech really such a bad thing? Consider these points from Keep: Technology in the Classroom Is Great — When It Works. 3 Questions to Help Determine Whether Ed Tech Will Boost Student Learning:


  • U.S. fourth-graders who report using tablets in all or nearly all of their classes are a full year behind in reading ability compared with peers who report never using tablets in their classes.
  • Internationally, students who report greater use of technology in their classrooms score worse on the PISA exam
  • High levels of technology use in the classroom tend to correlate with lower student performance.
  • One recent study found that over a third of all technology purchases made by middle schools simply weren’t used. And only 5 percent of purchases met their purchaser’s usage goals.
Many districts have come to similar conclusions. Technology becomes part of the furniture, but is forgotten just as easily. For example, I still remember my shock when I walked into a large storage closet of the Special Education Department of a large urban school district. You know what I found? Over a hundred mobile devices at $300 each, never opened. They had sat in storage, unused. Even if they had rushed to put them into use, they had already become obsolete.


While technology has played a key role in bridging communications, facilitating collaboration, I now think we have wasted a ton of money on "instructional technology." Many of the strategies I promoted as a Director of Instructional Technology have been shown to have little impact or barely accelerate student learning.
Put simply, ensuring that every child attains a baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics seems to do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than can be achieved by expanding or subsidizing access to high-tech devices and services...students who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in most learning outcomes, even after accounting for social background and student demographics.
Source: OECD Publishing - Students, Computers and Learning Making the Connection
Think about it. I've arrived at the twilight of my career in edtech, only to discover the instructional strategies I promoted my entire life were..."Meh." It is enough to make me laugh.  Moving at the speed of mediocrity, indeed.



The John Hattie Effect Size

If you know anything about John Hattie's meta-analyses of a bazillion research studies (sorry, the category error doesn't hold up when you consider the sheer number of studies for a particular strategy), then you'll recognize the number in parentheses.

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To keep it simple, greater than .40 means that student learning is accelerated. That's because .40 is the "hinge point." That is, the point after which student learning exceeds a normal year's time in learning.
Despite decades of evidence-free propaganda bombarding educational decision makers about the inherently transformational nature of digital tools in schools, the reality simply does not match the hype. In fact, the average impact of computer technology in education has been downright dismal.
How do we know this?
Because evidence matters. 
A meaningful way to look at the evidence of technology’s impact in education uses a measurement called “Effect Size.” Effect size is a statistical construct that is arguably the most useful means of determining practices or interventions which have a positive impact on student achievement. Advanced by internationally renowned education researcher John Hattie, one can think of effect size as a scale starting with practices that negatively impact student achievement, and incrementally moving towards methods that positively impact student learning and achievement. Source: Dr. Sonny Magana

A quick inventory of the strategies I've promoted (in bold) or seen promoted in schools based on stats from John Hattie's work. You can get up to date numbers from an online database called MetaX. Pretty amazing since you can click and see the research studies that were analyzed to obtain effect size.
So, what should we be focusing on instead?As I get older, I start to shed much of what I gathered. The minimalist approach works. The approach to keep only that which works, which brings you joy does as well. For our students, we must do only that which works and not one thing more.

There's a lot that can be done with technology in schools that need not involve all the edtech hype. It's time we found what that was and got to it.



Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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