Educational Technology Doesn’t Work?

Education Week: Reading, Math Software Found to Have Little Effect on Scores.

A year ago I wrote about Part 1 of a study on “educational” software – Headlines that won’t help. The preliminary results of the study found that various software test prep packages had little impact on student test scores. Now the second half of the study is out. Guess what. The software still doesn’t work.

All of these software packages promise to improve student scores in reading and math. But as endless research has proven, drilling kids for tests doesn’t result in significant test score improvement, and has negative long-term results in what students actually retain. It doesn’t matter if we drill more efficiently with expensive software. Doing things that don’t work DOESN’T WORK. How much simpler can this be? As I said last year, the headlines SHOULD read, “Bad Educational Practice Proved Ineffective, Again!

All of the studied software test prep programs are far removed from creative software applications that allow students to use modern technology to express themselves in innovative, personal ways.

But to repeat another prediction from a year ago, this will have a chilling effect on creative uses of software. To me, they are as different as zebras and baseballs, but all get lumped together under the banner of educational technology.

Now, every time we talk about kids doing interesting stuff that involves a computer, we’ll get hit with this. Making movies, programming, blogging, collaboration, projects, kids making games, exploring virtual worlds, GIS, Google Earth? What are you thinking, haven’t you heard? Educational Technology Doesn’t Work.

We have to find a better way to differentiate these things.

Sylvia

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12 thoughts on “Educational Technology Doesn’t Work?”

  1. The more I explore ed tech tools the more apparent what you’re saying comes true. Making movies is a good example. It can be rewarding and motivating, but as a tech tool it takes a long time, needs more planning (and it’s hard to go back to point of creation when you’re editing), and is harder to assess.

    Also, it’s a bit like using a computer. I do lots of different things on a computer but the observer just sees me as doing one thing – tippy-tapping away on the PC! But actually I’ll be doing one (or more) of many things.

    However, I do disagree slightly with your drilling point. My Y12/12th grade students benefit enormously from direct fedding of exam material to prepare them for the exam. Their grades go up. I explore the topic in interesting ways as well, but it is the exam practice that helps them get better grades.

    The sooner teachers/educators start discriminating between different ed tech tools the better. Drill software is also used to good effect in some places; MathsTrain on Nintendo DS to improve times tables for example. But they have specific qualities to them – speed being one of them. (in the input methods as well as the software)

    Great post!

    Dai

  2. Well crafted (and informative) rant. Succinct, terse, and sufficiently righteous. (Funny mock headline: Bad Educational Practices . . . )

    You raise a great point. How do we avoid the categorical umbrella, the generalization that limits the type of growth that leads to more complex learning?

    I don’t know the answer. But I think it is a great question.

  3. I think, unfortunately, that most so-called “educational software” isn’t really all that educational. As a teacher, I wouldn’t try the same methods over and over again if my students weren’t understanding or mastering the material. I think we’ve even gotten to the point in most educational circles to know that skill and drill doesn’t work at all, other than to increase fluency of something you already know (operative word: ALREADY).

    Not certain as to how to resolve this issue… in a meeting last week, I mentioned to a group that we can’t make informed decisions about which TOOLS to use with students if we are not using them ourselves. I’m hoping that it might have had some effect. Will definitely be pointing people to this blog post, though, because I think you summed up the issue very well.

  4. That’s because the word education needs to be eliminated entirely from the subject matter you’re talking about, Sylvia.

    None of those tools are marketed consumeristically for school itself. They’re free entities open for use by those who will embrace them.(I’m not referring to cost in the case of this as free, because quite obviously they’re not.)

    These are things that are just technology. They exist. Open to use and interpretation. Once people realize that’s how technology is meant to be, and get past the garbage in garbage out apathetic pedagogy between student and teacher will this not matter.

    ‘Education technology’ doesn’t exist, IMO. Technology is a tool, and how it is utilized depends on the operator. Passive software labeled educational by an external force is no different. As a result, I’d passively point out to a nay sayer against movie making, web design, and whatever else that I’m -not- using educational technology. I’m just giving artists a new medium to play with.

  5. …which then brings the question – does this type of instruction work in any format? The kinds of software you are talking about do little more than mimic drill worksheets. I strongly agree with 2 points you make – 1. that unfortunately this just lumps the bad and the good together when they are really two very different ideas, and 2. because of this common misunderstanding (especially in the non-educator sector), it is crucial for us to make clear that there IS a difference, and just what that difference is. One speaks to the idea of simply using gadgets to access and use information that takes us no further than a textbook. The other promotes using the “gadgets” as a way to create and innovate. I recently blogged on this – although with a different take http://bit.ly/ERboZ but I like how you bring in the perspective of the misconception of “educational technology”. I think there are many within the field of education (administrators AND teachers) who still hold this misconception as well – and that is probably more difficult to overcome than the public’s misconception.
    Great post!

  6. I enjoyed reading your thought provoking post. I agree with a comment above – it’s not educational this-n-that…it’s using tools. If tools aren’t used to engage us in learning important work-life skills, then there’s something not quite right with how the learning is taking place.

    I spent three years collaborating with Dr. John Bransford’s learning science team while at Microsoft. Then got so hooked on finding twists to gaming that several of us spun off a company and shipped our first game – ItzaBitza. It crosses the chasm between the amazing learning potential of AAA games – found natively on video consoles – and how children learn. It is a game in which the child’s drawings come to life IN-CONTEXT to what they read – which gets them wanting to comprehend what they read. I’d love to know what you think – http://ItzaBitza.com.

    With that said, while ItzaBitza is a new way for our early readers to feel the power that comes with comprehending what they read – it is a tool. A very crafted one, but just a tool.

    Again – enjoyed the post. Thank you.

  7. Sylvia, your post reminds me of a conversation I had with Allen Webb during a NCTE 2008 workshop. He shared his observation that “school districts tend to value only programs they have to pay for”…even if they’re spending $ for programs of little impact. Interesting, no?!

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