Assessing the Efficacy of Educational Technology
Three years ago I dove head first into the Web 2.0 pool. I passionately embraced blogging, wikis, podcasting, digital storytelling, RSS, social bookmarking, social networking, and so on. This has been one of my main areas of professional development, and I have written short-term and long-term professional goals for myself in this area of education. Furthermore, I have been working very hard to teach these tools to teachers, and I have made it clear that they need to incorporate these technologies into their instruction. We have dedicated many hours of faculty meeting time to discuss the importance of embedding technology into the curriculum and the necessity for creating authentic units of study.
The other day I had my mid-year evaluation with my district superintendent. As part of my review, my boss challenged me to "evaluate the effectiveness of the use of the Web 2.0 tools." Continuing, she wrote "Mr. Sherman might gain evidence that explains why and how the integration of a wiki or a blog has improved the probability or depth of learning for students."
She is absolutely correct. As with any lesson, unit, or instructional strategy, we must collect data to assess what our students have learned. How will we know if our teaching is successful otherwise? For three years I have been asking myself if student achievement really is improving with the use of new and innovative technologies. I can see that students are more interested and engaged when their teachers incorporate authentic uses for technology into instruction, but I have no evidence to prove that students are becoming better readers, writers, thinkers, mathematicians, historians, or scientists through the use of technology.
This has led me to the idea of creating an action research project in my school and across the school district to assess whether the use of Web 2.0 tools is leading to improved student achievement. I plan on surveying teachers to discover the extent to which they are incorporating technology into their lessons. I can collect anecdotal information based on teachers' observations of their students, but I have not discovered an assessment tool that will provide quantitative data to prove (or disprove) my hypothesis that the use of Web 2.0 tools in school will improve student learning as compared to the use of more traditional means of instruction.
In a few months, I will be speaking to a group of principals about new and innovative uses of technology in their schools. I am expecting at least one person to ask me to prove that students learn better through the use of blogs and wikis. I am not sure I will be able provide any evidence of gains in student achievement and learning.
The majority of educators are not yet convinced that students should be using web-based tools in school (see Scott McLeod's post from February 2). Ultimately, our credibility as agents of educational change hinges on providing proof that our students are learning in response to the new and innovative instruction about which we so passionately write and discuss in this blog. How do we find the proof to back up the claims?