From Los Angeles to Fresno, California educators are eager to get laptops and tablets into students’ hands. As of 2011, California averaged 4.9 students per computer at school, but the push is on to get one device for every child. The sky is the limit for what our young digital natives can do in the classroom if they just have the technology to access it. Or so it seems.
What is the role of technology in education?
But when you get past the excitement of shiny new devices and the vastly accessible network of knowledge available on the Internet, how is technology really changing the way our children learn? What is the role of technology in education? Ask anyone in the edtech arena, and they will tell you we don’t really know.
New educational software pops up every day – games, apps, websites, videos, e-books – and teachers are often left to sort through and evaluate the sea of options on their own. Teachers, parents and employers can easily agree that we want the technology to have a meaningful impact on education, but how do we figure out actually works, so that we can invest our precious time and resources in it?
Without real-world data, our push toward technology is a grand experiment we are playing with our kids’ education. As an employer and a parent, this worries me.
Research On What's Working in Edtech
That’s why I’m excited any time I see legitimate research about what is really working in terms of educational technology in classrooms. Recently, California sounded a bell for the rest of the country with the publication of one of the first, if not the first, statewide study of how education technology is impacting California’s math test scores. The independent educational research firm WestEd, in collaboration with the social benefit organization MIND Research Institute, looked at 19,980 students using a web-based program called ST (Spatial-Temporal) Math. If your kids are among the more than 400,000 in California who currently use the program at school, you probably know it as JiJi Math, named after the cute little penguin who ushers the children through the math games.
The new WestEd study found statistically significant differences at schools that were using this program in a dedicated basis. (The study also looked at schools that had access to the program but didn’t really use it and their results were less impressive.) A school performing in the 50th percentile in math in California could move up to the 66th percentile after just one year using ST Math with fidelity.
That’s a significant difference, and a clear and meaningful movement in the right direction. It’s worth noting that a significant portion of that increase included students moving toward advanced scores in math, which is ideal for those pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. A projected 8 million jobs by 2018, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, will require skills in STEM fields, so we’re going to need students to excel at math, and even to love it.
I’m not just excited that we have real, solid evidence of how computers and tablets in classrooms can help teachers teach and students learn, but I’m excited that the results show we’re doing something right.
Although schools in 40 states use ST Math, it’s a distinctly Californian invention. Created by neuroscientists at the University of California, the program has been in classrooms here since 1998, and it’s been through continuous evaluation, research and improvement since then.
California, already a leader in terms of the number of schools that have adopted ST Math, has the opportunity to be a leader in evidence-based education technology – the opportunity not just to adopt what’s shiny and new but what works for students. And to do so, we need more legitimate research into what is working and what’s not in our schools.
It matters to our students, to parents, and to businesses. We all want what’s best for our kids. But first we have to figure out what that looks like. Research like this is one place to start.