Sep 07 2017

Tailored Research Helps Educators Determine the Best Classroom Tools

Teachers should use a more informed process to investigate personalized learning devices.

Designing an environment, experience and instructional path for learners is complex and exciting work. But the growing number of digital tools available in the educational marketplace adds to that complexity.

Educators need access to reliable and timely research to guide their technology purchasing decisions. Evidence-based and unbiased research on educational technologies, and the breadth of information and resources available, means that educational decision-makers are more informed and savvier than ever.

Close the Gaps in Ed Tech Research

However, while research is readily available, it may not wholly meet the needs of those who seek it. For example, technology changes quickly, and vendors often collect and produce research to correlate with an initial product launch. This type of research includes use-case data and success as measured by the assessments provided within the tool. While this is always helpful in the beginning, user demand often dictates that technologies be updated and altered often, creating a gap between the initial-launch results and the next-generation tools currently available.

Additionally, vendor research is likely conducted during the beta phase of development with a few student test subjects, sometimes within an ideal classroom environment.

How can educators find research gems that are both timely and practical? Fortunately, with sound evaluation processes, educators can easily do their own research or identify helpful peer research that is relevant to their learners.

3 Ways to Evaluate the Digital Transformation Process

Like other K–12 districts in the United States, Kettle Moraine School District scales personalized learning across our schools. Our distributed leadership model honors “bottom up innovation with top down support.” Instead of a districtwide rollout of a tech device, teachers select the best digital tools for their learners and classrooms. That’s not always easy to support in practice, but it’s important, and requires the administration to provide teachers with a model and process for making informed procurement decisions. Other districts should take note.

In the age of personalization, the best digital tools for education are those that adapt in pace and rigor based on a user’s performance, adhere to strict privacy policies and offer interoperability. Our process requires evaluation of three elements prior to considering any research on the effectiveness of a digital tool:

  1. Interoperability or (as defined by Project Unicorn) a commitment to well-connected data systems delivering accurate, actionable, real-time performance information about our students’ learning progressions
  2. Adherence to privacy guidelines as defined by The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)
  3. Back-end data that transfers seamlessly, allowing teachers to integrate other common tools when personalizing instruction

If those three conditions are met, teachers and administrators can examine a tool’s features using their own personal methods of investigation (for example, most digital tools are purchased with a one-year subscription). That allows users to collect their own data and determine whether they want to continue using the device or software.

Have Conversations About Educational Research

At KMSD, most of the research our educators collect comes from talking to other educators. Those conversations often answer the following questions:

  • To what degree does the content align with the national standards of the course?
  • Does the student data include success at the standard level?
  • Can the user data be manipulated to create small groups for classroom instruction?
  • Do teachers have frequent formative feedback about performance or suggested next steps?
  • Does the tool have an impact on learners who are at, above or below grade level, as measured by growth over time rather than per achievement?
  • What is the level of engagement of learners after the tool has been used for several months?

Ultimately, research that answers these questions helps teachers and administrators select the tools that work best for their learners, in their classrooms. We encourage everyone involved to share access to that invaluable data.

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