Making smarter decisions about classroom technologies

On the verge of the third millennium, the introduction of digital media and technology to our learning methods trapped education in a vortex of innovative approaches. Even with the means for children to access a vast array of knowledge at unprecedented speed, there is no clear consensus on what educational success should looks like. And in the developing world, the reality poses even greater challenges originating from the shortage of professional educators and limited technological infrastructure.
Shifting attention to an underdeveloped country, how does a donor know that an investment in technology would lead to positive learning outcomes? That a shipment of a couple dozen tablets is a good fit for a certain classroom? To answer these questions, MIT researchers have just launched a new decision-making tool for teachers, administrators, governments or other stakeholders trying to make smart decisions about incorporating technology in the classroom.

“As someone who’s worked in this area for 25 years, I know that a class could be successful without any technology. You should only be using technology when you’ve identified a goal it can help you achieve. And we hope to help stakeholders make smart decisions from the very beginning with this new tool.” says Scot Osterweil, CITE Educational Technology Evaluation lead and creative director of the MIT Education Arcade.

“Frequently, the decision to use a particular technology is done without much forethought. Oftentimes its based on who can make the most appealing sales pitch to the buyer, who will not be the user. Then, [the technology] ends up in a classroom where people haven’t prepared for it.“ says Osterweil.
The tool, “A Framework for Evaluating Appropriateness of Educational Technology Use in Global Development Programs,” is an initiative of the Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation (CITE), a program launched at MIT in 2012.
The framework seeks to help stakeholders explore how well a particular technology may fit their educational context posing straight-forward questions such as: “Does the technology create a burden of extra management for the teacher?” and “Is there evidence that use of this technology aids learning?” There are also numerous variables such as school funding, teacher preparedness, educational philosophy, and technical infrastructure which play a major role in determining whether or not, for example, an English-language learning software actually helps children learn English.
The initial phase of testing the framework involved a pilot study which entailed semi-structured interviews and group discussions with various stakeholders in sites where technologies studied were being deployed. The schools involved in the study varied from the most basic to the most modern.
The next phase of work for this framework will be turning it into an online, interactive version that would guide the user step-by-step through a series of questions to identify the potential challenges around deploying a certain technology in the classroom.
“We would also like to create a knowledge network of people in different developing countries interested in using the framework who could help us refine it. We tested our framework in India, but could learn other things in Latin America, Africa, or other parts of Asia if we identify partners elsewhere who could play a role in supporting or advancing the framework.” says Osterweil.
There is undeniably a great number of variables that are not always fully accounted for by various decision makers in the educational system. This framework is purposefully constructed as a series of questions so that a technology developer, an administrator or a teacher might use it to prompt reflection as they contemplate the creation or adoption of a new technological intervention.
If structured properly, the network built upon shared findings could be sustaining an interactive knowledge base as it continues to serve with increasing frequency throughout the developing world.