The best tool for learning isn't very flashy

Despite the hype surrounding ed tech, effective teaching practices are more essential for learning than the presence or absence of certain tools, writes Saro Mohammed for the Brookings Institution "Brown Center Chalkboard."

Mohammed points to two recent studies on blended learning to argue that "ed tech is effective to the extent that it can support teachers in delivering, scaling, and sustaining effective teaching practices."

In one 2017 study by the Tennessee Department of Education, researchers sought to understand whether blended learning improved student achievement. The researchers used ed tech in a "deliberate, measured" way to "increase students' ownership of their learning, to differentiate instruction, and to allow teachers to focus on the students that needed the most support." They found that there was a positive relationship between these blended learning practices and improved test scores.  

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But researchers in a separate study by the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research came to a different conclusion. In this study, the researchers measured blended learning's impact on student achievement, using ed tech to "expose more students to lecture-based instruction led by effective teachers through recorded videos, and to deliver center-based activities facilitated by paraprofessionals to small groups of students." They found that these blended learning practices negatively affected student achievement.

Though these two studies come to opposite conclusions, they both demonstrate the importance of using ed tech to support tried-and-true teaching practices, Mohammed explains. The first study used blended learning in a way that allowed instructors to deliver more personalized instruction to struggling students, a practice known to positively impact student achievement. But the second study used blended learning to support lecture-based teaching, which has been shown to be less effective.

Therefore, simply incorporating technology won't guarantee student success. "When it comes to teaching and learning, it’s not what you use, but how you use it that counts," Mohammed explains (Mohammed, Brown Center Chalkboard, 9/6).

Related: How to scale academic support to struggling students


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