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.