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Weekly Trend: How Do We Measure Edtech Efficacy?

One of the toughest challengers educators face—aside from braving long hours with a cheerful disposition and the inability to clone themselves in order to achieve their long to-do lists, just to name two—is knowing whether their students are really and truly learning beyond what a test measures.

As it turns out, educational technology has a very similar problem. A product that aims to make teachers more streamlined or aims to change the way things are done can be amazing and revolutionary, but how can we make sure it is working? And how can innovators make sure it’s working without adding more tests to the test?

In other words, now that educational technology is a more developed and established field, it is no longer enough to have niche applications that fulfill an entrepreneurial teacher’s specific need—or that make promises they cannot keep. It is imperative to see whether an application or a new learning tool can hold up in several measurable dimensions in the long run.

Back in November of 2013, Pearson Education released an efficacy framework to aid measurement, which is a four-point tool to assess learning strategies. Comprised of outcomes, evidence, planning and implementation, and capacity to deliver, the framework is very thorough—despite its somewhat comical “test the test” approach. As a matter of fact, Pearson’s assessment approach has some critics in the field, who feel that there is an overabundance of data collection and the objectivity overwhelms the degree of subjectivity that is necessary in education.

However, objectivity helps educators and administrators know whether something actually works. In a post over at Getting Smart, a blog about education, author Tom Vander Ark makes a good case for focusing on how to improve EdTech with efficacy assessments, comparing the education to the healthcare field, where there is no question that you want tools that aren’t just elegant and multi-platform, but which also have demonstrable, reliable results.

Similarly, a recent article in The Hill on education sums it up eloquently: “Efficacy of products and services is a critical concept for the entire education industry … We know that pouring money into new devices doesn’t solve the educational puzzle. New tools are only effective when teachers are trained on how those tools can help them identify their students’ challenges, and help them overcome them.”

The challenge, then, is to walk a fine line between assessing the tools and the students, without making the assessment of tools education technology’s sole focus. It also does not help that the market is becoming more saturated with EdTech options whose efficacy is not immediately clear.

Over at EdSurge, Muhammad Chauhdry, President and CEO of Silicon Valley Education Foundation blogged recently about teachers’ experiences with efficacy tools developed in partnership with SVEF. The key ingredient in cutting through the morass of edtech products is, in Chauhdry’s estimation, the partnership with educators and constant feedback within the classroom in order to know which tools have the highest efficacy. After all, all of the glitz and pizazz cannot make up for an educational tool that lets teachers and students down.

Maria Helena Carey

Maria Helena Carey is a freelance writer, photojournalist and blogger in Washington, D.C.