Educators now operate in an environment where big decisions are driven by even bigger data. Part of the role of the teacher in 2019 is to continuously gather and analyze information about student progress toward meeting learning objectives while harnessing the power of numbers to improve pedagogy.
Education technology tools which place student academic, assessment, and demographic data at teachers’ fingertips have made this paradigm shift in education possible. Yet, one kind of education data remains conspicuously evasive despite its enormous potential to affect district budgets and influence individual students’ learning: information about which EdTech tools help students learn best, both in comparison with one another and for particular groups of students.
Each year districts make major decisions about where they will place limited financial resources, hoping that the technology they purchase will pay off in student achievement. They often have to make these decisions without sufficient information to make the best tech adoptions possible.
The lack of clear evidence and visibility about which EdTech tools actually work best in a particular context is what led Karl Rectanus, co-founder and CEO of Lea(R)n, to develop a software platform called LearnPlatform that would provide schools and districts with a way to manage education technology and evaluate its effectiveness.
“The reason for LearnPlatform is that when I was in the classroom, as a CFO for schools, and then as a product provider or partner with schools and districts, I got fed up with the fact that there was no data,” he said. “The idea was to help people figure out what they were using that works best and in which situations for students.”
LearnPlatform is a first-of-its-kind education management tool that allows educators to organize and streamline education technology usage as well as analyze EdTech usage with a rapid-cycle evaluation technology called IMPACT. The tool offers visibility for decision-makers who want to know what tools are being used in schools and how well those tools are actually working. It helps schools to meet requirements set forth in the Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires that schools select evidence-based interventions.
“Teachers are constantly trying to test and figure out what’s working best for which students,” said Rectanus. “Now they’re trying to do this in a world that is overwhelmed with the number of technology and tools. The average school district is accessing over 500 EdTech tools every month across their teachers and students.”
It simply is not realistic for teachers to know blindly which tools are best to use in which contexts. They need data which can help them guide instructional decisions.
New education tech tools are being launched constantly. Last year, venture capitalists and private equity firms invested $1.45 billion, an amount EdSurge calls a “deluge of cash,” into EdTech startups, hoping to turn a profit within the continuously growing market. Students have a lot to gain from innovations in technology, but only if those innovations are used in ways appropriate to them. What works in one school may not work in another, and what works in one classroom may not work in another.
“Just because students look the same, or sound the same, does not mean they are the same,” Rectanus stated.
Part of LearnPlatform’s mission is to promote equitable access to education technology and that efficacy matters for all students. This means that the data with which educational decisions are made should come directly from those students, not only from randomized controlled trials performed on children who may not represent the target population.
Students gain even more when district funding is optimized through the bargaining power attained with efficacy data.
“Our research shows that school districts move through four different phases in their EdTech maturity,” said Rectanus.
Schools begin by experimenting with tech, then take the next step by exploring ways different tools can be used in synergy.
“Then they start to streamline and finally rapidly analyze what’s actually working” he said.
When districts reach a point where they can begin to analyze their EdTech usage, LearnPlatform’s clients begin to see major returns on their investment. They stop paying for tools that are not working and gain the knowledge to drive better business decisions and begin leveraging the data that the tool provides for bargaining and pricing power.
According to Rectanus, most LearnPlatform clients see 10 to 15 times return on their investment with the tool within 12-18 months. At the end of the day, this means better use of technology, better outcomes for students, and more funding available for other areas within a school or district budget.
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