Investing in educational technology

David Daniel is working to make sure students get education from technology


By Kristen Connors
Psychology Student Writer

Educational technology is ubiquitous. From electronic textbooks to adaptive learning systems, students, teachers, and policy-makers are inundated with promises to revolutionize teaching and learning. Despite the hype, and the millions of dollars publishers and ed-tech companies bring in each year, there is limited evidence to support the positive effects of these products. These products can often distract students from strategies demonstrated to work. Shouldn’t these companies provide evidence that their products enhance learning? Further, should policy-makers, school districts and students demand adequate evidence of impact before adoption?

Questions around the efficacy of pedagogy, electronic and otherwise, are central to Dr. David Daniel’s scholarship. Dr. Daniel, Professor of Psychology at James Madison University, has received over a dozen teaching awards as well as accolades from the field for his efforts to translate scientific findings to educational practice. “Consider,” he says, “electronic textbooks.” According to Dr. Daniel, legislatures and districts across the country are mandating schools from the elementary level to community college systems to use electronic textbooks “despite a lack of evidence that they are at least as good as the print texts they are replacing, and some evidence that certain components may actually distract from learning.” He argues that, rather than mere claims, evidence demonstrating that technology performs as promised without negative unintended consequences should be mandatory before asking students or taxpayers to invest resources in their use.

On May 3 and 4, 2017, the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, Digital Promise and the Jefferson Education Accelerator will host a Washington DC-based symposium summarizing a year-long effort to examine the role of efficacy research on the development and use of educational technology. Dr. Daniel will be leading one of ten workgroups examining a variety of issues related to the need for, and use of, efficacy research in educational contexts. His group is focusing on the role of “Evidence and Quality of Efficacy in Research Approaches”, specifically looking at the validity of the efficacy research that ed-tech developers engage in when developing and marketing their products.

According to Dr. Daniel, there is a dissociation between research evidence which supports a concept and the way evidence is often manipulated to express to the public that a product will work. His group will look critically at how educational technology developers and marketers use research to support the effectiveness of their products. The group aims to create resources and models for efficacy studies, and methods of research to make educational technology development and evaluation more effective for developers, educators, learners, and policy-makers.

Educational technology holds great promise for teaching and learning. However, Dr. Daniel is adamant that we must be careful to focus resources on those products and processes that truly benefit the teaching and learning process. “It is a matter of value, not cost,” he explains. “Economic efficiencies can lead to learning deficiencies, especially if the sole goal is to save money rather than educate, or to look savvy rather than cultivate the learner...and our less resourced citizens are the most vulnerable to such policies.”

The technological world is transforming and education is an exciting area for technology to realize its promise. The goal of the symposium is to provide information and begin a conversation about the need for efficacy evidence before investing time and resources. In summary, Dr. Daniel asserts, “It is incumbent upon those involved in developing educational technology to develop reasonable guidelines for what is adequate proof of efficacy, resource those activities that promote it, and empower consumers to make the best choices for their contexts, resources, and goals.”

For more information, please see the following press release.

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Published: Thursday, March 9, 2017

Last Updated: Tuesday, March 21, 2023

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