Metrics, standardization needed for classroom technology progress

Standardized software could help draw clearer lines between technology innovations and educational outcomes.

Standardized software could help draw clearer lines between technology innovations and educational outcomes.

Digital technologies are expected to fundamentally change the classroom experience for the rising generation of students, but some fear that a lack of comprehensive standards and clear performance indicators may stymie progress.

The latest research from PBS Learning Media supports the role of technology in the classroom, with approximately three quarters of pre-K-12 teachers indicating that digital aides help them reinforce and expand course content, motivate students and adapt to a variety of learning styles.

“Technology is a critical part of learning teaching in today’s classrooms,” said PBS spokeswoman Alicia Levi. “Teachers today need access to high-quality digital content to keep pace with schools’ investment in interactive whiteboards, tablets and other devices to maximize the educational benefits of technology in the classroom.”

While the enthusiasm for digitization may be strong, there is some uncertainty as to whether all classroom software is living up to the expressed goals of teachers – or the best interests of their students.

Missing links
In a recent interview with NPR, Duke University business professor Aaron Chatterji fixed his focus on interactive whiteboards when weighing the merits of digital innovation. In his view, a “smart board” may be more of a status symbol than a true learning enabler.

“[My mother] 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,” Chatterji explained. “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.”

Steve Schneider, senior program director for science, math and technology at nonprofit WestEd, is inclined to agree. In a separate interview with NPR, he voiced concerns that the software suppliers flooding the marketplace with fun and intriguing education apps are moving much faster than product quality and learning outcome researchers. With fewer controlled studies to reject or confirm effectiveness ratings, teachers have been left with little more than intuition for informing their decisions.

Encouraging signs
With 45 states and the District of Columbia now subscribing to Common Core State Standards, technology vendors may now have a more unified vision of what educators need – and a simplified production model. According to NPR, marketplaces similar to the Apple App Store and Amazon’s mp3 store could remove the middlemen from teacher-developer relations and allow for more economical purchase of course material. Although products will be developed with common functionality and end goals in mind, educators could retain individual authority to pick only the tools that work for them.

According to Chatterji, rate and review features will be instrumental in supporting these platforms. By effectively crowdsourcing sentiments from across a community of peers, teachers can make more informed decisions than they may have going solely on their own intuition. Nevertheless, any expansion in the research literature would be beneficial to both sides.

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

As teachers await more rigorous research efforts, there is no reason they can’t be gathering their own performance metrics along the way. With the proper array of classroom control technologies, educators can gain a more accurate view of how students interact with digital aides and cross reference usage trends with performance outcomes.

Who should be leading the charge for more standardized education technology offerings? Would such formal regulation inhibit classroom innovation? Let us know what you think in the comments section below!

Kate Beckham

Kate has been lighting up the blogosphere for over 5 years, with a keen interest in social media and new malware threats. When not sitting at a café behind her Mac, you’ll usually find her scouring the racks for vintage finds or playing guitar.