Putting Education Reform To The Test

Researchers Want To Put New Education Technology To The Test

Dowbiggin / Flickr

The growth of the education technology, such as interactive whiteboards, has also put more emphasis on researching which products work. Experts say the best reviews still come from classroom instructors.

FETC, one of the nation’s largest education technology conferences, opens in Orlando this week. StateImpact Florida will take a look at how state schools are trying to meet requirements to integrate more technology in lessons.


Today’s status symbol in classroom technology is the interactive white board.

For teachers who have one, it’s a flashy way to rev up lesson plans and add content from throughout the Internet. Teachers who don’t have one are envious.

But Duke University business professor Aaron Chatterji asks whether interactive white boards actually improve instruction.

“My mother’s a teacher,” Chatterji said. “She has a smart board in her classroom and a lot of teachers have those across the country. To my knowledge, we don’t have great data to know whether smart boards actually make a difference.

“As we invest all this money on new technology and new hardware, we ought to know if we’re spending our money on the right things.”

That lack of information inspired Chatterji and his partner, Northwestern University’s Ben Jones, to design Edu Star, a Consumer Reports-like site to rate education technology products.

A Business Opportunity

New technology is opening up the education market, just as with music, news and other industries.

In the past, it was difficult for smaller businesses to compete with the large curriculum companies, Chatterji said. It was too expensive for small companies to hire a sales staff to sell to thousands of school districts across the country.

New education standards approved by 45 states and the District of Columbia, known as Common Core State Standards, means a more uniform market and outlets, just like Apple’s App Store makes it easier for developers to sell their products.

And in the same way Amazon’s mp3 store allows customers to buy only the songs they want, schools and teachers will be able to pick and choose among lessons, texts and other resources.

Florida has gotten in on the trend as well, creating the Florida Virtual Curriculum Marketplace to sell digital content. Other sites allow teachers to sell lesson plans to each other.

That means educators must sift through lots of new technology, hardware and software.

Edu Star would have traditional scientific studies of products, which would include a control and test group. The site would also allow teachers to post user reviews.

Teachers: The Best Judge

Duke University

Duke University business professor Aaron Chatterji is working on a site to provide Consumer Reports-like ratings for education technology products.

Steve Schneider is the senior program director for science, math and technology at non-profit WestEd. Schneider is also the principal science investigator for the What Works Clearinghouse.

Schneider is pleased to see Florida leading the way on requiring schools incorporate more technology in their lessons. As more teachers who grew up using cell phones, iPads and other devices move into the classroom, Schneider said, they’re more likely to incorporate those devices into their lessons.

“I think done properly, the capability can really enhance what happens for students,” Schneider said.

Technology developers are moving faster than researchers can test the effectiveness of their products, Schneider said. But those in the classroom can tell which products are working and which ones aren’t, he said.

“Right now I think the research is lagging behind at some level,” Schneider said. “I think overall they leave it to the practitioners to say ‘Is this working for my students?’”

Like Schneider, Chatterji said educators are good judges of what works and what doesn’t. But more research will help both those selling and buying the new products.

“If I can’t sell it to people and I can’t prove to people it works to give myself some credibility,” Chatterji said, “I might as well go do something else with my time.”


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