From the Editor

Survey of Technology Use, InBloom Fades Away

Tech company digedu released the results from a recent survey it conducted among K-12 classroom teachers. One aspect of the findings that has caught people's attention is that only 24% report that technology's effect on student achievement in class is strongly positive. At the same time teachers report positive effects of technology on student engagement (92%), student participation (90%) and even on the teaching experience (82%). It would seem that more engagement and participation should result in some degree of improved performance.

When you dig a little farther, you learn that teachers say that the three top ways in which technology is used in their classrooms is for word processing (73%), research (72%) and video projection (67%). Given these uses you might expect improved productivity, but improved achievement - maybe not so much. Technology has both speeded up and greatly expanded access to information and the research process. But it's just a tool. Even if students have only been asked to gather a lot of information, they need to exercise judgment about the reliability and value of each source they find. If they are supporting a thesis or trying to solve a real-world problem, they have to be able to evaluate and then combine many sources into a coherent argument or build and test new approaches to the problem. Collaboration tools can help build some of these skills, but it's the process here, not the technology alone that makes the difference.

Asking if technology has improved achievement or student test scores is a really hard question for teachers to answer. Even well-designed research studies find it hard to assign causality - to say definitively that X change was caused by Y. There is so much going on in any classroom and so many things beyond the control of the teacher and students. There's a deeper issue as well. Asking if technology "is working" is the wrong question and has always been the wrong question. Technology is a tool. It's how it's used, and especially if it's used to do things that just weren't possible (or nearly impossible) before that's important. In so many cases, teachers are not using technology in any systematic, much less transformative way. They've picked up a few apps or have a set of favorite science resources. That's all great. Students get some exposure, access to high-quality content, better differentiation. But if we want to transform our classrooms and schools, we need to be thoughtful, creative and systemic.

As you can tell, I've moved far afield from the digedu survey. Please don't think I'm picking on this research. We're all hungry for any details we can gather on how teachers are using technology and how their attitudes about technology. In this survey we learn that roughly a third of teachers say they are implementing a 1:1 classroom. More than 40% report bandwidth problems and more than half (53%) say students lack internet access at home.

I was struck by another data points in the survey, maybe more so in light of the demise of inBloom. Just 29% of teachers report that technology's effect on understanding each student's progress is strongly positive. I think these teachers are saying that they are not getting enough useful information to help them track individual student progress. There's a growing chorus of people whose voices are raised against the routine collection of large amounts of student data. Data mining is viewed with fear and loathing (though I am not sure that everyone either understands what data mining is or that there is even a common definition of what data mining looks like with respect to student performance data). Teachers have tended to be more restrained on this issue. They understand that the more they know about a student's instructional strengths and weaknesses, the better able they are to fine tune instruction for that student.

Clearly it was too late to attempt to reinvent inBloom. While mistakes were made, I'm pretty sure that the bigger issue was just getting people to understand what they were really all about. I remember vividly a graphic that Frank Catalano used during the 2012 Catbird session at EdNET - all pipes and spigots and buckets - making the point that inBloom (then still the Shared Learning Infrastructure) was all about plumbing. And plumbing can be hard to explain to people. inBloom proved to be too much, too soon. That said, despite all the testing we hear about and the massive amounts of data people say is being collected, teachers still don't have what they need at their fingertips. If we want educator support for large scale data analysis, a good start would be delivering useful tools that can help teachers see technology as central to "understanding each student's progress."