Evaluation of Educational Technology

What do we know and what can we know

by Douglas Merrill

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It is a common perception that education in the United States is in severe trouble. Technology, particularly educational technology (EdTech), has been put forth as a solution to this and the attendant social ills. This belief, and the resulting policies focusing on EdTech, have given educational technologists a significant chance to help improve education. However, this chance comes with extremely high costs of failure. Policy makers must understand when EdTech works, and for whom, in order to make funding decisions. Answering this question requires evaluation. Evaluating EdTech is particularly difficult, however, because implementing a technology-based curriculum often involves many structural, institutional, and curricular reforms. This multitude of changes make it difficult to recognize what worked and why. One way around this problem has been to employ laboratory-based experimental methods. As is shown in this paper, these evaluations have revealed a great deal about the efficacy of EdTech in specific situations. However, laboratory-based methods do not address all of the difficulties with evaluation. Addressing the other difficulties will require that future research focus less on the particular EdTech itself, and more on its interactions with students, teachers and institutions.

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