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

SIIA is hoping for broad distribution of the guidelines, because one of its main goals is to improve the credibility of publisher-sponsored research.

To produce a stimulating 21st-century learning environment, school leaders see educational technology as a no-brainer. But using research to distinguish a truly effective ed-tech product from a less-than-effective product can prove difficult when the research is conducted by a vendor or for-profit company.

Now, new guidelines for vendors and educators aim to solve this comparison conundrum.

The report, titled “Conducting and Reporting Product Evaluation Research: Guidelines and Considerations for Educational Technology Publishers and Developers,” is authored by Denis Newman, CEO of Empirical Education Inc., and produced by the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA).

It’s based on Empirical Education’s many years of conducting this kind of research, both for publishers and for the U.S. Department of Education (ED). A working group of industry experts also was established for evaluation, and it met monthly for more than a year to sort through the issues and draft a set of considerations.

The guidelines, available free of charge for members on SIIA’s website, are timely for educators and ed-tech providers because of the growing demand from schools for “evidence of effectiveness of products, especially as the resources for spending on program materials decreases and administrators have to make harder decisions about what will best solve the problems facing their districts,” said Newman in an interview with eSchool News.

He added that ED, through programs such as Investing in Innovation (i3), is showing a growing interest in gathering evidence of effectiveness, and this is also reflected in the draft reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which talks consistently of evidence-based programs.

“By evidence-based, they mean having evidence of the sort the guidelines help publishers and school district administrators obtain,” said Newman. “The guidelines are written in a style that can be understood by executives, whether they work for publishers or for school districts. District executives will find them useful not only to get clear on what they can and should expect from publishers, but because it can help them see how their own data can be used to evaluate programs they’ve already put in place and are considering expanding.”

The guidelines are also timely considering the amount of money the ed-tech market is expected to generate: $7.5 billion for non-hardware educational technology from pre-kindergarten through grade 12, according to SIIA. (See “Need for product evaluations continues to grow.“)

Meris Stansbury

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