Over the past year, many of us have been amazed at the effectiveness of the new one Vaccines against coronavirus covid-19. This development is a success story made possible by decades of careful, balanced progress in microbiology and immunology, overseen by certain legal and regulatory frameworks.
The story of how educational technology (edtech) gets into our schools is quite different. Understanding how these two approaches differ can help us understand why our country urgently needs to change its approach to edtech if we expect the success of this type of teaching and learning.
Let’s look at three key differences.
First, a study of efficacy in drug development is required by law. Before pharmaceutical companies are allowed to sell their products to the public, they must conduct costly clinical trials to prove that the products are safe and effective. There are no such requirements in education. Everyone can design and build a product, hire a former school principal and start selling to schools. Many educational companies raise tens of millions of dollars without even conducting a proper performance study.
Second, the federal government annually invests significant funds in subsidizing clinical trials of new drugs and vaccines that help us understand which drugs are where, for whom, and under what circumstances. Only our national health institutes invests more than $ 40 billion annually in medical research.
But despite our school costs in between $ 26 billion and $ 41 billion every year for edtech products – even up to the cost of a pandemic – our federal institute of educational sciences (IES) has a budget of only 00.6 billion dollars a year (about $ 600 million). According to its director, IES has properly researched about zero percent of the 9,000 edtech products on the market so far. This means that educators see little of how edtech tools and services work, where they work, for whom they work and under what circumstances.
The third is this risk of lawsuits. When drugs cause unexpected harm to consumers, patients can often sue for damages. Meanwhile, technology education companies do not face a reliable risk of liability for students who “do not study”. This is one of the few reasons why edtech has little incentive to conduct effectiveness studies.
Of course, it should be noted that this is not a comparison of apples with apples. Vaccine testing involves a simpler process to determine efficacy. For comparison, the schools and classes of our country are different from each other dozens of ways we are just beginning to understand. These options often make edtech products very effective in some schools and extremely ineffective in others.
As a result, despite our best intentions, our schools spend tens of billions of dollars each year on edtech products that almost never usedused unfairly, or not used at all. In turn, students are collectively deprived of tens of millions of hours of significant learning opportunities, thus disproportionately affects color students. No wonder famous editorial of 2019 found no evidence that our massive investment in technology for schools has yet to have a noticeable impact.
Properly designed, implemented and supported, edtech can support students and faculty in transformative and empowering abilities. We see glimpses of this potential through case studies, anecdotal reviews and a very small amount of research conducted so far.
If we want students and faculty to receive substantial support through edtech, our schools need reliable information on which products are most likely to work for their students in their unique environment. Schools also urgently need information on how to most effectively implement edtech products.
There is no label to get this information in our schools. Someone has to conduct and disseminate the necessary research. Given how different the legal and regulatory framework for edtech is compared to pharmaceuticals, we cannot expect individual edtech companies, school districts, or states to bear the brunt of this type of research. It is very valuable to society, but is also complex, expensive and may require coordination in hundreds of schools for research. Only our federal government can properly organize and fund this type of research.
As Congress and the Biden administration continue to focus on the pandemic, more funding should become an important part of the equation to explore the role of technology in education. We lose tens of billions of dollars a year and lose hundreds of millions of hours of student learning.
Our country’s schools urgently need independent research to help them make better decisions. It is time to dramatically expand the mission and budget of the Federal Institute of Educational Sciences so that we can begin developing and evaluating edtech more as we make vaccines.