That digital program your school bought will never transform learning

It seems like most teachers and students have access to a paid-for digital learning program. You know the kind – RAZ kids, IXL, Spelling City, any one of those listed in the featured image of this article – and they all promise to raise achievement while making learning “fun”. These CAI (computer assisted instruction) programs can be traced back to  when Skinner first created his “teaching machine”, the original solution for replacing the teacher, pictured below.

1200px-Skinner_teaching_machine_01

Skinner’s Teaching Machine

The thing is, these “learning” programs have not been proven to be as effective as the edtech industry overlords would like us to believe. In fact, the meta-analysis of John Hattie, which was shared with me at AEC 2017 by Dr. Sonny Magana (@sonnymagana), clearly shows that telling a kid to “go do Mathletics” will not make a sizable difference in the learning of our students.

Let me explain the research:

The Bad News: When technology is used to replace a teacher, it has a very small positive effect size on student achievement. Hattie’s research includes studies on the use of CAI programs across curriculum and contexts, as well as other approaches that mistake the transmission of information for authentic knowledge generation (Powerpoint use by teachers, for example). The graph below indicates with a black arrow the average of all of Hattie’s researched initiatives, programs, and strategies in education to be a 0.4 effect size. When we look at the effect size for how technology has been implemented over the last 50 years, including using computers for passive absorption of information transmitted by a CAI teaching robot, it falls below the average at 0.34. In short, Skinner’s Teaching Machine wasn’t particularly effective and neither is your school’s CAI program.

Hattie_s-Scale-of-Effect-

“Despite the extraordinary developments in computer technology since the Kennedy Administration, not to mention the vast sums of taxpayer money spent on digitizing classrooms since the 1960s, the average effect of computer technology in education has been stuck well below the zone of desired effects. This is hardly cause for celebration.” Dr. Sonny Magana at #AEC2017

The Good News: When technology is used to enhance proven teaching and learning methods, the positive effect size is off the charts. When you compare the status quo, which is a below-average 0.34 effect size on student achievement, and the 1.6 effect size of a framework like the T3 (see below to learn more about this), it is clear that we need to change the way we facilitate learning with technology.

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Edtech models for transformation of learning

Poke around this blog a bit, and you will see several articles we have written on best practice technology integration. I hope that the theme that all of these articles have touched on is that technology should only be used as a tool to transform and maximize learning. Replacing traditional teaching with a computer is not going to ensure achievement for our learners. The use of a CAI like Mathletics or Spelling City to replace teacher and student-led instruction only gives them automated, rote practice. While this is not a bad thing, we need to refocus our planning so that students are spending more time developing their higher-order thinking skills through producing, inquiring and contributing with technology.

Here are some models that can guide the 21st century teacher away from edtech as a direct substitute to edtech as a tool for transformation:

#1 Early Years Blended Learning Development Guide (Zach Groshell et al)

The first model I’ d like to share is a guide that I created last year, in collaboration with Brad Arnold and elementary teachers at my school, which was subsequently implemented in early years classrooms. It uses 5 common and observable student actions (seen on the left column) and the SAMR scale to measure the level of edtech use. When teachers observe student learning that falls under the examples of modification and redefinition of the learning task, we know that instruction is likely going to have a positive effect size on student achievement.

Screenshot 2017-10-21 03.23.04.png

Click here to see the whole thing

#2 Blended Learning Development Guide (Brad Arnold et al)

This is another blended learning design model that I helped to develop with Brad Arnold (@leybradly), and it is slightly different from the rubric above as it is less focused on observable student actions and more on the traits of the learning environment. The 7 traits of a learning environment are the observable traits of any learning environment, shown in the left column below, and the top row of the rubric includes the SAMR scale to measure the level of edtech use. This guide is best used to facilitate teacher self-reflection on the effect of educational technology on the learning environment.

Screenshot 2017-10-21 03.32.55.png

Click here to see the whole thing

#3 T3 Framework for Educational Technology Use (Dr. Sonny Magana)

The third and final model I’d like to share for edtech instructional design is the T3 Framework (see video below). Based off of the body of research and implementation by Dr. Sonny Magana, the T3 Framework is designed to disrupt the current narrative about educational technology by contextualizing its use into 3 stages: Translational, Transformational, and Transcendent. Grounded in sound research and theory, the T3 Framework is designed to support how educational systems measure the ways classroom technologies are used to unleash student learning potential. Teachers seeking to base their instruction on the most effective strategies for student achievement should be looking up at the T2 and T3 stages, and pushing themselves to transform education by having students produce and contribute, and to “transcend” by using technology tools to facilitate inquiry and solve world problems that matter.

 


While the edtech companies may not agree that their expensive math and reading programs have limited effect sizes on student achievement, we should be looking closer at the last 50 years of research on this topic and seeking a better way forward when it comes to edtech use in the classroom.

We need to stop:

  • Using CAI technology to replace teacher and student-led instruction
  • Using technology to fill time
  • Calling the use of CAI programs “blended learning”
  • Thinking that a game or a program can teach just as well as a teacher

And start:

  • Looking at student actions through the lens of transformational and transcendent learning.
  • Considering the traits of an effective learning environment and how we know students learn best
  • Seeking to increase moments of “redefined” or “transcendent” learning  in our own practice

 

What do you think? Could this help to improve your teaching? Comment below with your thoughts on blended learning and keep coming back to EducationRickshaw.com.

– Zach Groshell, @mrzachg

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