Future of Learning

More schools have modern Internet and computers. What are they doing with them?

At the Arlington Independent School District in Texas, school leaders aren’t just interested in if teachers are using technology.

They want to know how it’s being used, and what kind of training their teachers need.

It’s a subtle, but significant, distinction. And it has become all the more important as modern Internet connections and computers are more common than ever in K-12 schools.

“Our tools that we had in the past didn’t do a lot of help in terms of measuring the effectiveness of teaching and learning,” said Barry Fox, director of instructional technology at the Arlington Independent School District.

Today, the district polls its teachers and students to get that information using BrightBytes, a tool that helps school leaders collect data beyond just how many computers the district has or how fast the Internet runs. Its surveys allow school leaders to gauge various other metrics, including how teachers are using classroom technology – and what their appetite is for innovation. This type of information helps leaders make decisions, such as what kind of professional development is most needed.

“We were never really able to peer into how somebody feels about technology before,” Fox said. “We could see how they did on an [math or reading assessment]. But this … tells us they are open to it. They are on board. It helps us get more aggressive with the steps forward.”

A co-founder of the company that makes BrightBytes, Rob Mancabelli, said that schools often collect a lot of data, but they struggle to make sense of it. “They were data rich but decision poor,” he said. As a former educator and school information technology leader, he was inspired to create a solution.

“They were data rich but decision poor,” he said.

More than ever, how to measure the success – or lack thereof – of educational technology is being debated among educators, policy wonks and academics. For instance, The Learning Accelerator, a nonprofit organization that advocates for expanding blended learning, published an extensive report on how this can be accomplished.

“Discrepancies in the level of detail with which ‘blended learning’ and ‘effectiveness’ are measured and reported point to the dramatic need for a coordinated effort to measure if, when and how blended learning is effective in K-12 settings,” Saro Mohammed, a partner at The Learning Accelerator, wrote in a blog post explaining why the new report was important. “We don’t all need to agree on a definition of blended learning, or even effectiveness, but we do need to be consistently explicit, clear and precise about what and how we measure and report.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter to get a weekly update on blended learning.

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Nichole Dobo

Nichole Dobo is a staff writer and social media editor. Her work has been published in the Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic's online edition, Mind/Shift,… See Archive

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