It all starts with Literacy.

Judging educational technologies


Let’s say you’re a teacher or an administrator, and an entrepreneur comes along who wants to sell you on a new piece of educational technology.

How are you supposed to know if it’s any good?

Well, you can test it out yourself.  But that would take a lot of time and maybe a lot of money.

You can consult the U.S. Education Department’s What Works Clearinghouse, which reviews research on different programs, policies and practices in education. But, as critics have noted, the WWC doesn’t conduct its own research; it just reviews research done by others, and its list of software is limited.

You can look at EdSurge, which seeks to offer independent assessments of educational technology. Or EdShelf or ClassroomWindow.

These are all useful in their own ways. But two business professors say educators need a guide that’s more authoritative. They’re proposing to create an organization that would test new products, rate the results and publish the findings.

Aaron Chatterji, of Duke University, and Benjamin Jones, of Northwestern, propose EDU STAR, an organization that would be to computerized education programs what Consumer Reports  is to autos and washing machines.

In a paper written for The Hamilton Project, a creation of the Brookings Institution, the professors say their proposed nonprofit “would create transparency in the market, allowing the best technologies to emerge and allowing schools to maximize the returns to their investments in education technologies.”

EDU STAR plans to partner with one or more school districts whose students would spend a small amount of time each week working on the EDU STAR online platform. The kids would be randomly assigned to different products. They’d be tested before and after using each one.

EDU STAR would post its evaluations of each product, “including effectiveness in terms of skill improvement, how many students have used the software, how it was tested, user ratings from both students and teachers, and how the product works for different types of students.”

The project would need $5 million in startup money, which will be sought from U.S. Education Department and foundation grants.

EDU STAR would begin by focusing on instructional content, according to a Hamilton Project policy brief:

In doing so, the authors build on the work done to create the Common Core State Standards— a set of learning objectives that have been agreed to by forty-five states, the District of  Columbia, and three U.S. territories — unifying demand for instructional content around a set of well-defined, discrete skills. EDU STAR would evaluate each product on the basis of one or more of these standards.

The Huffington Post wrote about the professors’ project here.

More about choosing technologies can be found on the blog Mind/Shift.

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