Experts shared their views on how research can affect ed-tech purchasing.

Education stakeholders often ask for research to justify ed-tech purchases. But instead of using research to rationalize a large-scale, expensive purchase, school leaders first should identify the problem for which they believe technology is the answer, according to an expert panel at the Consortium for School Networking’s 2012 Technology Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.

During a members-only Chief Technology Officer Forum, attendees explored how they should answer superintendents who want to see hard evidence to back up ed-tech purchases, and what, exactly, research says about technology in education.

The timelines for research and education are not the same, panelists agreed, noting that school leaders might ask ed-tech leaders for data about a particular technology to inform a purchase that must be made within a month, whereas research on technology’s effectiveness in education can take months or even years.

“Decisions are made on the basis of political calculations that the new devices will solve maybe a few of the pressing problems, or if not solve them, work on them—not on the basis of whether they have been shown to work and be effective by researchers,” said panelist Larry Cuban, professor emeritus of education at Stanford University. “To answer the question, tell the truth—no one yet knows. Consider it a beta version if you’re using iPads or new software.”

For more news about ed-tech research, see:

New guidelines for ed-tech research could help educators, vendors

On ed tech, we’re asking the wrong question

Study reveals factors in ed-tech success

Report: Ed tech has proven effective … but hasn’t realized its full potential

What questions should school leaders ask?

Some education leaders forge ahead with technology purchases and implementation, confident that the investment will pay off. But others are more hesitant.

Those who hesitate should consider an important question, Cuban suggested: What is the problem to which an iPad or a laptop is the solution? “Asking that question first uncovers a confused set of purposes surrounding the buying and using of high-tech devices and software for classrooms,” he said.