Michele Molnar

An average of about 550 ed-tech products are being used in K-12 districts, but the efficacy of those products is rarely the reason any of them are in classrooms, a panel for the national meeting of the Education Innovation Clusters agreed last week.

How to change that is a conundrum for educators, researchers, and nonprofits alike.

Ed-tech products “are bought on the basis of marketing, not merit,” said Bart Epstein, CEO of the nonprofit Jefferson Education Exchange.

One way various groups are trying to have an impact is by simplifying the discussion. They recommend that educators focus on asking—and being able to answer—three key questions as they select and use an ed-tech product:

What does this technology claim it will do for your school?
How will you know if the technology is doing what it claims it will do for your school?
What evidence is there that the technology has done the same for other schools like yours?

“We need to develop a culture where these questions drive the adoption of technology, as opposed to just [ed-tech providers’] branding and sales,” said Epstein. He has been working with Digital Promise and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to encourage educators to use these inquiries. A webinar hosted by Digital Promise two months ago highlighted these questions and in June a group that included leaders of ISTE and other organizations discussed them, he said.

“I’ve talked to procurement officers who told me, ‘I’ve just renewed $1 million in ed-tech purchases and I have no idea whether they’re having an impact or not,” reported Joseph South, ISTE’s chief learning officer, as he moderated the #EdClusters18 session, which was called, “Who’s Taking On ‘Efficacy’ in the Ed-Tech Ecosystem?” About 80 participants from groups around the country broke out into work groups to discuss different approaches to the question.

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