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Two critical steps must be put into place to reduce the burden of edtech and digital learning product evaluations on schools and educators.

Edtech orgs outline quality indicators to vet edtech, AI

Two critical steps must be put into place to reduce the burden of digital learning product evaluations on schools and educators

Key points:

Seven leading edtech organizations have developed a system intended to reduce the burden on schools and educators when it comes to assessing digital learning tools. This process aims to help schools quickly and reliably select and implement edtech tools, said ISTE CEO Richard Culatta during the opening of ISTELive 24 in Denver.

“It is far too challenging for schools to determine if an edtech product is of sufficient quality to be used by teachers and students. Every school system must independently conduct a detailed review process for any app before it can be approved for use,” Culatta said. “This is a massive duplication of effort that wastes time for school leaders who are already overwhelmed with other critical responsibilities.”

This onerous process is made more cumbersome as generative AI tools become widely available and accessible to educators and students. As outlined in the 2024 National Educational Technology Plan, school systems must leverage intentional and critical decision-making to implement effective and meaningful digital learning tools.

“To fulfill this vision, we must urgently seek strategies to reduce the lift for school systems to identify quality digital learning tools,” Culatta said.

Schools’ review process limits edtech product developers, too–companies that have created safe and effective products should be able to demonstrate their commitment without a lengthy evaluation performed by each school. Edtech industry leaders agree that the industry as a whole benefits when it is easier to distinguish between products that have met quality requirements and those that have not.  

1EdTech, CAST, CoSN, Digital Promise, InnovateEDU, ISTE, and SETDA have banded together on behalf of educators, product developers, students, and their families to address the issue.

Culatta identified two critical steps that must take place to reduce the burden on educators, schools, and school system leaders.

Step one: Agreeing on a set of common edtech quality indicators. The seven edtech organizations identified Five Edtech Quality Indicators that should be used to evaluate effective edtech products.

Step two: Providing validations (by qualified experts) that products have met the five indicators identified in step one. For example, one indicator requires apps to be accessible to all students. An app with this claim would need validation by an independent reviewer with expertise in the area of accessibility, such as CAST.

Through these two steps, schools should be able to identify high-quality edtech tools at a fraction of the time and cost the current review process requires. Educators will still make the final decisions of what product is right for their needs, but Culatta noted that the seven edtech organizations are committed to providing the information to help them make that determination.

Five Edtech Quality Indicators

a1. Safe: Edtech products must establish robust data privacy and security measures to protect student and educator data and safeguard against unauthorized access or data breaches. This includes adhering to industry standards and laws to create a secure learning environment and adopting principles of data minimization (only collecting necessary data), and data transparency (users understand which data are collected for what purpose).

2. Evidence-based: Edtech product design, implementation, and claims of effectiveness need to be grounded in rigorous research and evidence-based practices as specified by the ESSA Tiers of Evidence. Providers should engage in research-driven design, empirical validation, demonstrated effectiveness, and alignment with established educational standards.

3. Inclusive: Edtech products must prioritize accessibility, inclusivity, and equitable design to ensure they are acceptable to learners from diverse backgrounds and with a broad range of learner variability. This includes ensuring edtech products are accessible for all learners, do not promote existing stereotypes, create new ones, or prevent students from acquiring accurate information because of biased algorithms.

4. Usable: Edtech products must be designed to be easily usable by educators and students to ensure a seamless digital experience. If the product is not easy to use, it creates an unnecessary barrier and educators and students will struggle to use the tool.

5. Interoperable: Edtech products must seamlessly connect to other technologies within a school’s digital ecosystem. This is accomplished by adhering to established interoperability standards that ensure secure exchange and allow for the beneficial aggregation of data to inform instruction and personalize learning.

Trusted validators

The edtech groups have identified organizations that provide validations for the elements of the Five Edtech Quality Indicators. These organizations have expertise in reviewing specific aspects of edtech products. Each organization solicits evidence from edtech companies to demonstrate that the product meets their established requirements.

Right now, there is no single location to find all validations a given product has received, though the edtech groups are committed to creating a comprehensive directory where credible validations a product has obtained can be readily displayed.

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