Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an entire community to support the educational development of a student. The community, as an integrated ecosystem of stakeholders (e.g., educators, researchers, entrepreneurs, funders and policy makers), must work together collectively to improve outcomes for each and every student. This realization motivated the formation of Education Innovation Clusters (EdClusters ), which are collaborative networks of key partners (educational, research and commercial) that work together to promote evidence-based educational innovation, close the digital divide and improve teaching and learning.
Each year, a national convening brings together key constituents of these EdClusters. Lea(R)n has been honored as an active participant since this work began and has been able to contribute through multiple lenses: as educators, as researchers, and as an evidence-based organization that formed to expand equitable access for all students to education technology that works. This year, we visited Kansas City, indulged in its famous barbecue and jazz, spent time with the currently undefeated Kansas City Chiefs, and then gathered with leaders from across the country to discuss educational innovation. In particular, we discussed educational equity and participated in two different panels, one focused on the role research plays in education and the other focused on entrepreneurial efforts to build edtech products through collaboration with key stakeholders.
EdTech Efficacy Research, Pilots, and Rapid Cycle Evaluations
The 2017 convening had a heightened focus on research. As the head of Lea(R)n’s research team, I was honored to speak alongside Steve Newton (LearnLaunch), Katrina Stevens (formerly with the Department of Education), Alex Resch (Mathematica), and Christina Luke (Digital Promise). We discussed the role of research in edtech initiatives, the importance of evidence at various stages of edtech development, and the frontier of edtech efficacy research. We also addressed the value and operationalization of rapid cycle evaluations (RCEs), as well as the application by schools and districts of specific frameworks (e.g., Framework for Rapid EdTech Evaluation) and tools (e.g., IMPACT on LearnPlatform) to help inform instructional, operational, and budgetary decisions. Below are a few insightful questions our engaged audience posed.
At what stage should an edtech company conduct research?
Edtech companies can leverage research throughout each stage of product development. The merit of a product should be judged along a continuum of evidence; different levels and types of evidence are needed at different stages of development, implementation, and evaluation. Lea(R)n’s Framework for Rapid EdTech Evaluation delineates various approaches to gathering evidence at specified stages, and aligns with educational standards (e.g., ESSA). For instance, a developer with an early stage product can use LearnPlatform to collect feedback from educators on the eight core criteria for trying, buying, and using edtech products, and they can integrate usage data to examine adoption rates. A developer with a product later in the development cycle can integrate usage data and outcomes data retrospectively to determine the extent to which using the product relates to various educational outcomes (e.g., engagement, achievement, 21st-century skills). Finally, a company with an established product can work with schools and districts to randomly select and assign participants to treatment and control groups to determine the extent to which a product produces a demonstrable causal effect on educational outcomes.
Are teachers not doing this in the classroom every day? Is that not research?
No doubt, educators informally evaluate edtech products on a daily basis. They use tools and observe their impacts on student engagement and achievement. However, research differs from informal evaluation by:
(a) being systematic,
(b) contributing to a collective body of knowledge, and
(c) being disseminated to others in a standardized format.
Schools and districts use LearnPlatform to systematically collect and integrate numerous sources of evidence (e.g., teacher perceptions, product usage, achievement), organize and manage the resulting reports and dashboards, and communicate those results to key stakeholders. This formalizes the evaluation that educators do on a daily basis and allows them to share their voice with their peers, organizations, and networks.
Are schools and districts ready for this?
Schools and districts across the nation are conducting hundreds of RCEs on dozens of edtech products using LearnPlatform. They already have the data required as well as the demand for results — driven by intrinsic concerns for student outcomes and external reporting requirements (e.g., ESSA) — and now they are being equipped with the resources and tools (e.g., IMPACT Analysis) necessary to generate evidence to inform decisions. In addition to providing tools, Lea(R)n is helping build the capacity of administrators by launching a Rapid Cycle EdTech Evaluation course in 2018.
Beyond Testbeds to Collaboration and Co-Design
On the second panel, we spoke about the role of entrepreneurs and edtech companies in the processes of collaboration and co-design. Most of the discussion, as well as audience questions, focused on how edtech companies can engage other stakeholders in the development of products. Lea(R)n shared its origin, as well as the theme underlying most (if not all) of our organizational practices.
Lea(R)n was formed by a team of educators, researchers, and technologists who wanted to provide educators and administrators with relevant, reliable data and evidence to inform important educational decisions — thus, collaboration among these different stakeholders is the very fabric of our organization. In addition to our A+ Team, we have a general advisory committee, an Educator Advisory Board, and a Research & Validity Committee, all of whom contribute meaningfully to our work with schools, districts, states, networks, and institutions of higher education. Further, each year we select educators to join our summer fellows program, which allows us to collaborate on current and emerging classroom challenges while improving the entirety of our edtech management and measurement process.
To come full circle, we continuously collaborate in formal and informal partnerships with other great organizations that have interests aligning with ours. This includes education partners, research partners, and commercial partners — and this is the very definition of an EdCluster.