Educators struggle to find solid research on edtech

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Educators across the country are not satisfied with the information generally available to keep them informed about the usefulness of educational technology, according to a new survey conducted by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the Jefferson Education Exchange (JEX).

The “Education Research Perspectives Survey” asked more than 1,100 tech-savvy teachers, district staff, school administrators and technology leaders from all 50 states where they get information about edtech and how satisfied they are with that information.

Over 90 percent of educators rely heavily on general web searches — and nearly half rely on vendor information — to learn about educational technology tools, according to the survey results, which were released Thursday. But just 24 percent believe that edtech vendors “are well equipped to conduct reliable edtech research,” and just 10 percent believe media organizations can do so, the survey found.

“There is very strong demand amongst educators for … relevant feedback from their peers,” Bart Epstein, the CEO of JEX, a nonprofit based out of the University of Virginia, told EdScoop. “The people who are running our classrooms and schools want information, [but] it just doesn’t largely exist. It’s a collective action problem.”

By “collective action,” Epstein said he means that individual educators and schools all across the country are forced every year to do their own research as they make buying decisions about edtech. Once those decisions are made and edtech is brought into classrooms, each teacher, each school, each district struggles with how to implement the technology successfully, forced to discover for themselves what the strengths and drawbacks are. And at the end of the process, there’s no broadly available central repository for the teachers and schools to share what they have learned, he said.

“It’s extremely difficult for individual schools to know either what works, generally, or if something that works in another [school] will work for them,” Epstein said. A vendor that provides a high-quality study by a recognized academic authority still can’t guarantee the same results in the next school.

The survey found that educators are supportive of edtech and look to their peers for more information:

  • 69 percent of respondents keep up with edtech research regularly.
  • More than 80 percent reported they are “very comfortable with edtech and believe in its potential to positively impact teaching and learning.”
  • 70 percent of educators are most likely to discuss edtech research when talking with their colleagues about a recommended tool, and 64 percent discuss edtech research during collaborative planning time.
  • Respondents said local schools and districts (67 percent), academic research (65 percent), and education nonprofits (63 percent) are best equipped to “conduct valid research about the effectiveness of different edtech tools and disseminate those findings.”

Adding to the challenge, “there’s a large disconnect between the research being done by academia and research organizations and the school systems making the purchases,” Epstein said. “The kind of research that educators tend to want is more action-oriented. They don’t want to read 200 pages on the modalities of blended learning — they want to know which blended learning platform is going to work best for their school.”

Joseph South, chief learning officer for ISTE, said, “This survey points us in a direction towards what resources need to be made available to schools and districts. It’s time to work together to close this gap.”

ISTE is a nonprofit organization that works with the global education community to accelerate the use of technology in classrooms to solve tough problems and inspire innovation. ISTE members can participate in the newly-launched ISTE Edtech Advisor , a community-driven review platform intended to address some of these concerns.

JEX was launched by the Jefferson Education Accelerator, in partnership with the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, dedicated to improving how schools choose, procure and implement education technology.

The nationwide survey was distributed by ISTE and JEX, along with a dozen educational groups, including the American Federation of Teachers, Digital Promise, the National Association of Secondary School Principals and Project Unicorn.

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