It appears that schools’ efforts to use technology to teach huge numbers of kids from their homes is not going well in many places -- to say the least.
Last month, the public school district in Virginia’s Fairfax County canceled face-to-face virtual instruction entirely in the face of insurmountable technical difficulties and ongoing security concerns. The Los Angeles Times found that 15,000 students accessed no online learning whatsoever in the first two weeks after schools closed. According to Education Week, the shift to remote learning has left some schools unable to contact certain students at all.
What’s going on? Why isn’t technology -- so often touted as a way to expand access and improve learning outcomes -- helping keep students on track during this crisis?
The COVID-19 pandemic is shedding light on a pervasive challenge that had previously gone all but unaddressed: schools don’t report how they use technology. And that means we don’t know nearly as much as we should about what tools actually work, and in what contexts.
The data bear this out.
Based on estimates from several sources, data suggests that only about 5% of edtech products are used as often as schools intend. And more than six in ten student technology licenses fall substantially short of schools’ usage goals, or go completely unused. Recent analysis by LearnPlatform supports these troubling findings: of the $3.8 billion spent annually by K-12 schools [who are LearnPlatform’s clients] on edtech licenses, more than one-quarter (which is to say, about $1 billion) is wasted on licenses that no student ever uses. Extrapolating that nationwide it is reasonable to conclude that schools are wasting or wildly underusing more than $9 billion dollars per year of technology purchases and licenses.
We got used to this invisible status quo. But now, it’s been thrown into harsh relief that failing to report -- and understand -- technology use can no longer be an option in the age of COVID-19.
So what do we do about it? This is the question that caused the birth of, and animates our work at the Jefferson Education Exchange.
Together with more than 100 education researchers, educators, industry leaders, and experts, we are building a framework to help schools and districts understand which edtech tools work, where, and why. As we work through the pandemic and recover from it, getting education technology right is more important than ever.
The truth is that it will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to make up all the ground that has been lost in the past few months. Technology can help -- but only if we start laying the foundations now to make sure that it’s used more effectively.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing more on how to build those foundations. But the best way to start is to share the problem statement: We need to understand how schools and teachers have used technology, and what has worked in the past. Because if we don’t, we’ll never be able to use it to help us recover.