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U Virginia Project to Collect Data on Ed Tech Effectiveness in Schools

The question of what types of education technology are really effective for teaching and learning is a complex one. After all, there is no master overseer in charge of tracking the details of a segment that some estimates have pegged at between $26 billion and $41 billion annually before 2020 and that could far exceed that given the impact of the pandemic. In spite of the huge investment made in the sector, some experts have suggested that about half of ed tech investment is wasted because the product or service is used ineffectively, little used or never used at all. And much of the decision-making about what to try or acquire is based on word-of-mouth coming out of other schools in the same district, service center or region.

That could change. An ambitious new project hopes to uncover what aspects are most likely to have the biggest impact on ed tech's effective use in specific kinds of settings. The initiative was launched today by the University of Virginia's School of Education and Human Development, in collaboration with nonprofit EdTech Evidence Exchange.

The latest work grew out of the "EdTech Genome Project," which brought together more than 100 researchers, educators, ed tech companies and policymakers to develop a list of 10 "consequential" factors that were most likely to influence ed tech selection and implementation, covering, among others, such areas as teacher agency, staff culture, the selection process and implementation systems and processes.

Out of those factors, the Genome Project also developed two tools: 1) the "EdTech Implementation Framework," which provides comprehensive definitions for each variable; and 2) the "EdTech Implementation Inventory," a set of 10 instruments for detecting and measuring those variables.

Now, the EdTech Evidence Exchange wants to launch a "massive effort" to encourage teachers to use the tools, known as the Exchange Platform, to "carefully describe their contexts and document their experiences with specific technologies." The intent is to collect and publish data from schools and districts across the country on where and how ed tech is being used and what's working." With this information, the organization asserted, "educators will have new access to rich insights about the technologies that have succeeded or failed in contexts like their own."

The goal of the Exchange Platform is still to help teachers and administrators learn from the experiences of others working in similar contexts -- but doing so at scale. The outcome, said organization officials, will aid educators in choosing and implementing education products and services "in ways that can save billions of dollars and lead to dramatic improvements in student learning outcomes."

"Until now, word of mouth and anecdotal evidence have been our best resource to determine what technology to use in the classroom," said Melissa Collins, a second-grade teacher in Nashville, TN, in a statement. "The opportunity to learn from my peers and to share my own experiences will transform the way I choose and use new tools and products."

"The need to understand what technology tools work and in what contexts is more urgent than ever," added Heather Crawford-Ferre, education program professional at the Nevada Department of Education, in a statement. "Nevada is excited to partner with the EdTech Evidence Exchange to learn from and support our teachers, administrators and schools in selecting the best educational technology for their students. Together, we're tapping the collective experience and insight of educators in ways that will not only help us make smarter investments in technology – but also improve the learning experience for students across Nevada."

"We know for a fact that school environments vary from each other – in ways that matter deeply when it comes to selecting and implementing the tens of billions of dollars worth of technology we buy for our schools," noted Bart Epstein, CEO of the EdTech Evidence Exchange. "It is long past time for millions of educators across the country to be able to learn from each other's experiences using thousands of technologies."

The Exchange has issued the 128-page "The EdTech Genome Project Report," which lays out the progression of the work and shares the content of the tools. The report is openly available on the Evidence website. For more information, visit the EdTech Evidence Exchange site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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