Have you seen UNESCO’s eye-opening 2023 Global Education Monitoring Report? It makes some startling claims about technology, education, and environmental impact. Let’s explore each of these claims in turn and reflect on solutions. Plus, I’ll make a few claims about ed tech of my own!
The report highlights some problems with how countries and school systems approach technology use. Here’s a quick list of three points made in the report:
- Little impartial, robust evidence about ed tech’s value in education is available.
- Evidence-based research seldom (11%) factors in when school systems adopt ed tech in schools.
- Professional learning fails to address teaching with technology.
Since this 420+ page report is global in scope, it’s important to take away relevant lessons. Let’s look at how to best address the three points above. Of course, there’s more to the report worthy of consideration, but that moves beyond the scope of this article.
Point #1: Little Impartial Evidence
Under what conditions can technology impact teaching and learning? When educational technology is the engine for learning, it fails. The failure is expensive and a waste of time for teachers and learners. “Pedagogy is the driver, technology is the accelerator,” says Michael Fullan.
In fact, this has been long known. But ed tech spending continues unabated:
The vast preponderance of studies on the use of media and/or technology do not show significant gains in student achievement, at least in regards to what the assessments are assessing. (source)
It may be that educators have worked under “no significant difference” for so long with ed tech that it doesn’t matter. That said, there is a way to ensure that ed tech supports teaching and learning. It requires analysis of effective strategies and a leap of faith.
Don’t believe me? Read this excerpt from The Distance Learning Playbook (Dr. Douglas Fisher, Dr. Nancy Frey, and John Hattie, 2021), written in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic:
“…only a few of the research studies collected for any of the meta-analyses were done from afar. In this case, we’ll have to take a leap of faith and identify the essential components of a [strategy] and determine how it can be used online.”
If a leap of faith works for them, why not educators? At this point, it may be worthwhile to remember the words of a critical-thinking guru. Melanie Trecek-King writes on why we shouldn’t do “our own research:”
1. That’s not what research is.
Research is a systematic process of investigation. Scientists collect evidence and evaluate it in an unbiased manner. Those methods have to be available to other scientists for replication.
2. Science is a process.
It is an attempt to understand reality, and recognize how biased and flawed the human brain is. Real research is about trying to prove yourself wrong, NOT right.
3. You’re not as smart as you think you are.
Consider the Dunning-Krueger Effect. When those who are least competent at a task overestimate their abilities. If you’re incompetent, you can’t recognize how incompetent you are.
For those bringing ed tech in to solve an education problem, it may be that they don’t know enough. That is, they are overestimating ed tech’s value to solve an education problem.
Point #2: Consider the Research
Only 11% of surveyed teachers and administrators requested peer-reviewed evidence before adopting ed tech. That’s a sobering statistic included in the UNESCO report. Today, what happens in classrooms shouldn’t rely on pop research or anecdotes. Unless anecdotes represent the evidence, we should avoid using them to explain.
Technology may not even be the best or only solution to consider. People are often attracted by new education technology (UNESCO, 2022a), and purchasing for the sake of technology rather than for pedagogical reasons is a common mistake….
The UNESCO report (p. 135) suggests two types of assessments of ed tech should happen. These assessments should take place before the technology appears in the classroom. The two tests include:
- Does the technology have a proven impact on teaching and learning?
- Does evidence exist showing that the implementation of an ed tech intervention has worked?
For many users of ed tech, a “leap of faith” is all that is possible. According to Fisher et al., the only alternative is an analysis of an instructional strategy’s components. That may be all that remains. Wishes and unproven anecdotes. Even the What Works Clearinghouse is suspect, as cited in UNESCO’s report:
An incisive summary of the evidence contained in the Clearinghouse pointed out that only 188 of 10,654 studies showed that products had ‘strong or moderate evidence of effectiveness’ (Garcia Mathewson and Butrymowicz, 2020)
Did You Know?
TCEA offers several online courses that are focused on evidence-based strategies. Sign up for TCEA’s Evidence-Based Teaching online, self-paced course now.
Point #3: No PD? Expect Teacher Failure
“If we are to better educate our kids, we need to better educate their educators,” says Tom Whitby. A longtime educator and contributor in the ed tech world, Whitby’s point echoes what many believe: You aren’t going to get powerful results with innovation without teacher training. This is particularly true for educational technology.
A recurring question from Texas educators is, “How do we assess technology applications?” This is a reference to Technology Applications Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TA-TEKS). What some districts have forgotten is that TA-TEKS are best blended into all instruction. But how thoroughly have the TA-TEKS been analyzed? Do schools want to produce critical thinkers or tech-savvy children? Also, how thoroughly have educators been trained in integrating the TA-TEKS successfully into instruction?
How to Train Staff to Amplify Learning with Technology
Students learn best when technology amplifies the effect of evidence-based instructional strategies. But how do you use technology to boost these strategies? And how does this get reflected in professional development? Consider these ways school systems can address professional development on technology integration:
- Provide specific professional learning on high-effect size instructional strategies
- Model how digital media (videos/podcasts) supports teaching and learning
- Engage learners with hands-on experiences that match the students’ phase of learning
- Scaffold team building and rapid prototyping
- Pose real-world problems in the context of Problem-Solving Teaching or Engineering Design Process
Align PD to TCEA’s Online, Self-Paced Learning
Want to prepare your teachers? Consider these linked online, self-paced courses TCEA provides for just $39. Not only will teachers learn evidence-based strategies, but they’ll also learn how to use them with technology. These are flexible learning opportunities that:
Provide specific professional learning on high-effect size instructional strategies:
- Assessment-Based Feedback
- Blended Learning
- Brain-Based Learning
- Choice Boards for Educators
- Dynamic Instruction with Project-Based Learning (PBL)
- Effective Engagement with Self-Reported Grades
- Effective Math for Grades K-2
- Effective Math for Grades 6-8
- Effective Math for Grades 3-5
- Effective Math for Grades 9-12
- Evidence-Based Teaching
- Jigsaw Method
- Kernel Essays for Writing and Reading
- Social and Emotional Learning
- Understanding and Teaching Gifted Learners
Model how digital media (videos/podcasts) supports teaching and learning:
Engage learners with hands-on experiences that match students’ phase of learning and scaffold team building:
Pose real-world problems in the context of Problem-Solving Teaching or Engineering Design Process:
- Apple Swift Programming
- Coding in the Elementary Grades
- Elementary Technology
- EV3 Robotics
- Jigsawing the micro:bit
- Python Educator
- Scratch Computational Thinking
- SPIKE Prime Robotics
- STEAM Educator
- Virtual World Builder: Game-Based Learning
Schools may also want to audit their existing technology tools and programming to identify areas of growth and create strategic plans. After all, do you need all those ed tech solutions? Or only the ones that align with research? Maybe your staff just needs some training on aligning instructional strategies and technology tools.
Leverage technology when it facilitates problem-solving at a distance and rapid prototyping. Use it to collaborate at a distance, for information processing, and management. Rely on technology to improve productivity and learning. But don’t use it for drill-n-practice as a way to engage learners in razzle-dazzle displays.
Technology, for technology’s sake, is often a waste of time and money. In most cases, learning can happen without technology. You can achieve long-term information retention (the aim of much teaching) without it. But combine ed tech with evidence-based strategies that work, and you’ll deepen learning and boost outcomes.