I hope you all enjoyed our recent guest-blogging stint as much as I did. I spent the stretch wrapping up my forthcoming book Common Schooling (with Pedro Noguera), prepping for the September release of my volume Getting the Most Bang for the Education Buck, and polishing a new report on ed tech with Emiliana Vegas of Brookings and Alejandro Ganimian of NYU (which prompted today's post). It's good to be back. — Rick
It's been quite a year for education technology. Not a good year, mind you, just a year when ed tech has been omnipresent—with its strengths and weaknesses on neon display. After all, if it weren't for 21st-century ed tech, learning during the pandemic would mostly be a matter of students hunching over textbooks and watching TV programs, teachers making the occasional phone call, and parents driving by school to pick up work packets. On the other hand, even with all our miraculous advances, that's probably not a bad description of remote learning for many (or most) students.
What's the point of this little soliloquy? Well, it's nothing new really. As Bror Saxberg and I argued years ago in Breakthrough Leadership in the Digital Age, the power of technology is less in the gadgetry than in how it's used. And the frustrating reality is that even now—when it's sorely needed—most schools and systems still don't have a clear sense of what technology is good at, how it can complement good teaching and learning, or how to provide students and teachers the supports they need.
On that count, I want to take a moment today to touch on a new report I just published with Emiliana Vegas and Alejandro Ganimian. A part of Brookings's "playbook" series, the report, "Realizing the Promise: How Can Education Technology Improve Learning for All?," is intended for developing nations—but I think the takeaways translate pretty cleanly to the U.S.
In what I think was an exceptionally smart approach, Vegas organized the review of evidence around the potential uses of technology to support learning. That's an unusual tack, but I think a quite useful one. We focused on four uses of technology in the report:
Building on the back-breaking working of Ganimian, the report walks through what the most credible evidence from low- and middle-income nations tells us about the ability of ed tech to deliver on these various potentialities. He discusses what we know about the efficacy of prerecorded lessons (mixed), preloaded hardware (it rarely gets used), computer-adaptive learning (highly promising), live one-on-one online tutoring (sparsely studied), additional opportunities for student practice (depends on how they're used), video tutorials (little evidence of effectiveness), and gamification (impact isn't clear). Check out the report for an infinitely more thorough—and eye-opening—assessment of the evidence.
As schools, students, and educators wrangle with remote learning amidst continued school closures, it can be hard to find time for reflection or reassessment. But the key to doing better is our ability to honestly assess what ed tech is doing well and what it isn't and figure how to do more of what's clicking—and less of what isn't. That exploration has too often gotten lost in the back and forth between ed tech's evangelists and its skeptics, but at a time when it looks like virtual learning may be here to stay for a while, it's suddenly taken on newfound import.