Classroom Technology

Research About Educational Technology Needs a More Critical and Useful Lens

By Lauraine Langreo — June 29, 2022 2 min read
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More research about the effectiveness of educational technology is desperately needed now that the K-12 ed-tech landscape has been reshaped over the past two years.

The expansion of 1-to-1 computing, increasing use of learning management systems, the ubiquity of smartphones, developments in artificial intelligence and virtual reality, the growing threat of cyberattacks, and big tech equity issues are all part of the new technological look in many K-12 schools.

As it is, there’s a lot of foundational research on educational technology already, said Natalie Milman, a professor of educational technology at George Washington University, during a session at the 2022 International Society for Technology in Education conference.

But her question now is where do we go from here, and what other research is needed?

“The pandemic certainly opened our eyes more to the need to integrate and think about equity in education and the disparities that exist from a policy perspective,” she said in an interview with Education Week before the discussion.

“With the pandemic, a lot of technologies were adopted, a lot have continued,” she added. “What are the implications of using those with students throughout their academic career?”

Existing research on educational technology has mainly focused on what Milman calls a “techno-solutionist perspective,” meaning a perspective that technology is the savior of the education system’s woes. Instead, she said, research should take a more critical approach when evaluating the effectiveness of educational technology.

Milman also found that existing research often lacks theory and fails to recognize technology’s “deep-rooted harms and dichotomy.”

“Technology isn’t value-neutral,” she said. “It’s a political thing. Injustice can be baked into its very design, and we need to recognize that.”

The most commonly investigated theme of ed-tech research is overwhelmingly about learning outcomes, according to Milman’s findings.

While examining how technology affects students’ learning outcomes, Milman said it’s even more important to think about what it means when technology has a positive impact on the learning outcome.

“What does that really tell us? It tells us your design was great,” she said.

In addition to more critical ed-tech research, Milman said she believes there’s a need for more research that examines diversity, equity, and inclusion; research that has “rich contexts and robust methods”; research that is longitudinal and large scale; and research that examines policies.

When the audience was asked what other ed-tech topics they think need to be researched, one attendee said that research needs to examine what happens when the federal coronavirus relief money to schools runs out and schools lose the ability to access all this technology because they no longer have the funding for it? And the attendee asked: What happens when products are sunset or when a company fails and no longer exists?

Indeed, it will be interesting to see what post-pandemic research emerges about the effectiveness of 1-to-1 computing, technology’s role in accelerated learning, what kinds of technologies teachers embrace, and how schools are solving tech equity challenges.

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