Educational Technology – Balancing Rigor and Relevance

Ross, S., Morrison, G., Lowther, D. (2010). Educational technology research past and present: Balancing rigor and relevance to impact school learning. Contemporary Educational Technology, 1(1), 17-25.

The authors provide a “wayback machine” view of the history of technology inclusion in schools from the evolution of the 16mm film to the early drill and practice programs through computer-assisted instruction to present day classroom technology usage. The significance of reviewing the past to gain perspective for the future of educational technology is best characterized as “Really Important Problems (RIP)” to solve in education due to the amount of technology currently available to students and schools (p. 18). Ross et al., carefully examine and evaluate the past contributions of educational technology research with a selected purview on uses of technology to increase the effectiveness of teaching and learning in schools while also recognizing that technology is not a homogeneous intervention but more of a broad variety of modalities, tools and strategies for learning (p. 18). Determining effectiveness as suggested by the authors, depends on how well the technology helps the teachers and students achieve the desired instructional goals through different uses including: technology as a tutor, technology as a learning aid, and technology as a tool. Furthermore, the article suggests that future educational technology research must achieve a balance between rigor and relevance while also focusing on meaningful topics that relate to current teaching and learning challenges.

There is great value in the way that this article has been carefully orchestrated in telling the educational technology research story. Rigor and relevance has been a part of the secondary conversation in K-12 schools for many years thanks to Dr. Willard Daggett from the International Center for Leadership in Education. Encouraging the robustness of that framework onto educational technology research will add a new dimension and provide a sense of purpose and urgency to future studies. By balancing internal validity with external validity through potential design options, will┬áserve as a great starting point for researchers. Additionally, Ross et al., deliberately review a variety of important research designs in an easy-to-read manner by pointing out key ideas and issues that lead the reader down a path towards finding value in performing mixed methods research. Overall, the essential message from the authors is that it is extremely important that educational technology research design will have a limited future in informing K-12 practices if researchers aren’t selecting meaningful areas of inquiry or creating quality, relevant and rigorous studies.

I feel that this article perspicuously outlines a potential and achievable pathway to consider when constructing future educational technology research studies. Past K-12 school studies have been heavily dictated by the federal and state governments as well as any supplemental grants districts have been awarded. Continuing to only rely on traditional measures for validation, can provide an unrealistic data representation and/or create an artificial condition for informing instructional practice. As mentioned in the article, a survey to hundreds of U.S. businesses revealed that high school graduates are entering the workplace deficient in many 21st Century skills. Traditional curriculum, assessment, data and research studies do not measure or capture these needed workforce skills. This is a clear example of why we need to change our research practices in K-12 school systems. We are studying and measuring the wrong items that aren’t relevant to our global society’s needs. This article has given me great pause in thinking about what, how and why I might study an educational technology topic in the future. I don’t have the answers yet, but will probably read this article many more times throughout the year to hone my thinking and inspire my creation.

Educational Technology Research

Roblyer, M.D. (2005). Educational Technology Research That Makes a Difference: Series Introduction. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 5(2), 192-201.

This explanatory article provides a durable overview as to the need for more organized, evidence-based and strong pedagogical connections within educational technology research. Roblyer clearly outlines the reasons why educational technology research is so problematic by comparing the studying of the “easy-to-do-science” of physics, chemistry and geology to the “hard-to-do-science” of social scientists and educational researchers. Additionally, he deconstructs the challenges of educational technology research by highlighting that those types of studies deal with local conditions that limit generalizations and theory-building, have ubiquitous interactions with a large number of potential variables and require the necessary approvals and permissions needed to gain long-term access to classrooms. Roblyer diligently shifts his focus in the article to the need to consider key pillars for solid educational technology research by encouraging future researchers to make a clear and compelling case, create a study that is built on a foundation of theory, select a method that should be dependent on the type of problem that is being studied and the information desired as well as develop a structured abstract that has a lineage that looks to the future as well as builds on the past.

Roblyer’s article renders a call for a certain level of quality assurance in future studies within the field of educational technology research. Although it is quite obvious through this article that educational technology research is no walk in the park and study findings are usually not generalized for the entire field of education, but there still is a requisite to carefully construct research that is rigorous and incorporates the key pillars with the potential for a degree of replication in the future. Roblyer’s thinking is of great value and a reminder to any newcomer in the field of educational technology research that there is both an invitation and a challenge to carry on research that addresses past concerns and clarifies the directions for the future. The significance of this sensible approach to educational technology research just might be the inferential bridge that can foster a connection to the past, preset and future of educational technology best practices.

I appreciate the candor provided in the article and found this overview has an incredible amount of applicability to the work I do in my school district. As our district continues to forge ahead transforming the teaching and learning process, all new methods, strategies and programs receive input by a variety of stakeholders. As an organization, there is definitely a need to produce a series of metrics to support our instructional claims, curriculum and content adoptions as well as the return on investment in terms of student achievement and allocated resources. However, that is easier said than done because there are so many variable “contexts” in learning that make it quite difficult to pinpoint exactly the validity of those new instructional methods, content and technology-enhanced supports outside of using very traditional measurement methods. In fact, we are finding in our district that it is actually best not to use traditional measures of student achievement as a means to quantify our educational transformations because our population historically exceeds the state-mandated expectations and those measures do not represent the framework we are implementing. Instead, we are putting our energies into doing a better job of defining and developing a pedagogical focus for technology-enhanced components added at the classroom and student level. This article really gets me thinking about what is of value to research within our organization in order to support our desire to achieve transformational teaching and learning practices from an educational technology perspective.