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U.S. Education Dept. Offers Tools for Evaluating Ed. Tech.

Education technology, to state the obvious, is everywhere. But how can school officials judge the effectiveness of the myriad tools and products being marketed to them, and their usefulness in terms of meeting the particular needs of teachers and students?

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology has released a draft report, "Expanding Evidence Approaches for Learning in a Digital World," designed to offer the education community some guidance for navigating the crowded tech landscape.

The report is meant to provide approaches for school officials and others seeking to gather evidence on digital learning systems, guidance that can be adapted to the needs of individual schools and districts. The document draws from the perspectives of education researchers, school technology developers, and educators themselves.

The report was released earlier this month in draft form for public comment, Karen Cator, the director of the office of educational technology, explained in an e-mail. Cator also discussed the goals of the document in a recent online blog post.

The document includes a "framework" meant to help educators and others evaluate the uses of education technology. One of the goals of the framework is to give school officials "greater confidence that investments in cost-effective and cost-saving technology-based interventions are wise, capable producing the outcomes sought," the report says.

That framework includes an evidence "reference guide," which focuses primarily on six approaches for using evidence to evaluate school technology, as well as other approaches commmonly used in education. It presents readers with an evidence "decision-making model," that can be used to gather evidence on digital learning resources, once they have been selected, so that they can be implemented effectively.

And it offers scenarios describing how various evidence standards might be used in hypothetical situations—for a superintendent trying to choose a technology-based math curriculum aligned with the Common Core State Standards, for instance, or a mother attempting to research the most appropriate online games, apps, and websites to help her soon improve his vocabulary.

"The need for expanded approaches to evidence that take advantage of and solve challenges created by digital learning resources is not new," the authors say. "What is new is the increased number and sophistication of digital learning resources and the vast amounts of data those systems generate while in use."

Schools are operating amid a "rapid rate of consumer adoption of these resources," the report continues. "These developments provide the opportunity to ask and answer these essential questions: What is appropriate evidence under which circumstances? How do we obtain it? How do we use it?"

The approaches for using evidence described in the report are also meant to address five overriding challenges in digital education, the authors say: ensuring that tech resources promote deep learning; creating "adaptive learning systems" that allow for personalized approaches for different students; combining and analyzing data from different sources to provide more targeted help for students; improving assessment through technology; and helping educators make informed choices about digital resources.

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