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How Effective is Ed. Software, Really?

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Here's an article, written by my colleague Debra Viadero, about whether or not reading and math software programs lead to learning gains. The study didn't find many differences between the control groups, who did not use the software programs, and the ones that did, but critics of the study say that the experimental research methods used for the study were flawed.

It does seem to be one of those studies that anyone can look at and see what they want.

"If you already have the hardware in the classroom and you want one of these products, this would not dissuade you,” said Mark Dynarski, the lead researcher on the project for Mathematica Policy Research Inc., the Princeton, N.J.-based company that conducted the study.

“If you’re quite skeptical of the software and very budget-pinched, I think you would feel this is evidence in favor of your position,” he added. “And if you’re really right in the middle, I think it comes down to how much you want to move test scores, because you’re really not going to see that happen with these products.”

This is the second year of the study, which also stirred up controversy in its first year for similar reasons.

For me, this points to a couple of issues. The first is that just adding technology into a classroom is not necessarily going to make a difference in what kids learn and how fast they learn it. As I hear over and over from people in all areas of ed-tech: it's not the technology, but what you do with the technology that counts.

The second point this brings to mind is how difficult it is to be a school administrator—trying to navigate through research like this, attempting to figure out what's right for students, and then measuring those factors against the resources you have available (not just financial resources necessarily, but also the level of technical training that teachers have had and their comfort level with technology, among others.)

Read the full version of the study here.

2 Comments

I am very familiar with Headsprout and have found it to be remarkably effective when used the way intended. In EL classrooms in poor districts Headsprout had a very measurable positive impact. Headsprout comes with a money back guarantee as well. The world's most widely used online math program was not included in the study. WWW.heymath.com is used by 95% of students in Singapore, and is now used for teacher training in Massachusetts. So the study appears to be designed to evaluate products from US publishers who know how to play the IES game. IES needs to aggressively seek out and evaluate reading and math programs from around the world in house to avoid the unfortunate impact of evaluating only programs from the US submitted by US publishers. Education is already moving online both in and out of the classroom, albeit in an random process. The question is how much impact will IES have on the process and what online programs are actually used by students? As far as I know IES refuses to evaluate research not conducted in the US.

I am very familiar with Headsprout and have found it to be remarkably effective when used the way intended. In EL classrooms in poor districts Headsprout had a very measurable positive impact. Headsprout comes with a money back guarantee as well. The world's most widely used online math program was not included in the study. WWW.heymath.com is used by 95% of students in Singapore, and is now used for teacher training in Massachusetts. So the study appears to be designed to evaluate products from US publishers who know how to play the IES game. IES needs to aggressively seek out and evaluate reading and math programs from around the world in house to avoid the unfortunate impact of evaluating only programs from the US submitted by US publishers. Education is already moving online both in and out of the classroom, albeit in an random process. The question is how much impact will IES have on the process and what online programs are actually used by students? As far as I know IES refuses to evaluate research not conducted in the US.

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