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A new tool from the U.S. Department of Education will help school districts rapidly measure the results of education technology.
The Ed Tech Rapid Cycle Evaluation Coach was announced last week at the Blended and Online Learning Symposium in San Antonio, Texas. It’s still in the early stages, so those interested in using the tool must apply to be part of the inaugural group.
Technology vendors tend to make grandiose claims about the usefulness of their programs. But there’s precious little research, aside from marketing materials and vendors’ “studies” of their own programs. Independent, high-quality methods commonly used to study educational programs tend to move slowly. In technology that can be a problem, because technology changes so rapidly – by the time the study is complete the program has likely reinvented itself.
Teachers and schools aren’t waiting for gold-standard research before they begin test-driving new tools in the classroom. As a result, teachers find themselves using programs and products without any clear method for evaluating whether or not they will work.
“Districts and states are spending millions of dollars buying educational apps [technology applications, tools and platforms], many of which have minimal evidence supporting their effectiveness,” Katrina Stevens, deputy director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, wrote last week. “Additionally, once a purchase is made, there is often no systematic process for reviewing the effectiveness of ed tech tools before renewing contracts, which collectively can run into the millions of dollars.”
The Department’s new program will guide school leaders and teachers through the steps they should take before buying education technology. The “RCE Coach” will help schools define goals, create effective pilot programs, gather evidence and measure results. The research tool is being created with help from SRI International and Mathematica, two well-known (and highly regarded) research groups. The tool will not provide the same results as working closely with a traditional researcher, but it will allow schools to measure if technology is helping them meet whatever goal school leaders have set for themselves.
It will be available to schools in January. In the meantime, the department of education needs help from district- and school-level administrators who are willing to try the program. They are accepting applications from schools. It’s free.
“The goal is to fundamentally change the procurement and implementation process to include a continuous cycle of evidence-based decision making and to help states and districts spend millions of dollars more effectively,” Stevens wrote.