Beyond my observations and anecdotal evidence that students were more excited and engaged, I couldn't come up with an answer. I was stumped. How DO we--or how CAN we--accurately measure the effect of technology integration on student learning? How can we prove what we, as teachers, have witnessed on our own, everyday, in our own classrooms: that our students have become more active learners and less passive ones because of the increased application of educational technology?
According to Edutopia, technology integration can be one of the most difficult topics in which to find clear data: "the term itself is a broad umbrella for numerous practices that may have little in common with each other. In addition, technology tools change rapidly, and outcomes can vary depending on implementation" [emphasis mine]. To me, assessing the impact of technology integration sounds a little bit like trying to grab a greased pig in a mud pit--difficult to grasp and certainly slippery enough to fail attempting to doing so.
What, then, is a school to do? We certainly want to justify to the administration that the money spent on technology was well worth it, we certainly aim to prove to parents and members of the community that their tax dollars are being well spent, and we certainly hope to prove to all parties involved that our students are exceptionally prepared for college and career life by virtue of their immersion with the educational technology purchased and implemented.
However, there's very limited research out there to prove the direct correlation between technology integration and improved learning. What is known though, is that simply placing the technology in the classroom produces very little in the way of authentic learning. Indeed, successful technology integration depends on three main ideas:
- Students playing an active role in their learning and receiving frequent, personalized feedback
- Students critically analyzing and actively creating media messages.
- Teachers connecting classroom activities to the world outside the classroom.
When I work with teachers who want to incorporate any technology into their curriculum, I turn these statements into questions:
- How will you know that students are taking ownership of their learning with this tool? What is your plan for providing frequent, personalized feedback?
- How can we design a rubric to measure students' analytical and creative skills with this tool?
- What is your plan to provide an authentic and global audience for your students' creations with this tool?
These questions, then, serve as guideposts for the curricular roadmap we develop together. This prevents the all-too-often and inevitable pitfall of simply jumping on the latest edtech bandwagon. We have to always remember that pedagogy comes first and technology serves to supplement it.
So, I still don't have an answer for the question posed to me by that administrator. I'm sure there are studies and evidence out there that a quick Google search will produce.
What I do have, however, is the belief that while technology allows for more student-centered learning--and, subsequently, ownership of learning--without thoughtful and purposeful planning by our teachers, the whole question of evidence of higher levels of learning becomes moot.
Planning with a purpose--having a clearly laid-out plan for creativity and critical thinking--is perhaps the only evidence we need.
image via Reid Wilson