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Assessment and Evaluation

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During the month of October, I attended two nationalcomputer conferences concerned with the use of technology in education. Thefirst was Educause 2000, primarily intended for university educators. Thesecond was the Technology + Learning Conference, sponsored by the NationalSchool Boards Association, whose attendees were from K-12 institutions. Theconcern regarding a number of topics was similar. For example:

· How do we properly deal with security, privacy andintellectual property issues?

· How do we continually improve ways to develop, deliver andsupport services for users?

 

The domains of Educause explored topics that were ofparticular interest to the university attendees, including infrastructure andbasic services, teaching and learning, managing information technologies andresources, information systems, new technologies, new capabilities, and newopportunities.

The exhibits of both conferences were many and varied, anddemonstrated a growing amount of software available for use on the Internet,reflecting the “Internet Revolutions” so-called by Cisco Systems Chairman JohnMorgridge, a keynote speaker at the T + L Conference. They also showed therecognition of education emerging as a for-profit opportunity for companiesseeking a share of the $1.4 trillion annually spent on just K-12 education.

Many e-services, including portals, e-commerce andtelecommunications, were found at both conferences. Portals seemed of specialinterest to both audiences, particularly those portals used for creating asystematic and interactive system over the Internet to deliver curriculum,e-commerce activities, student services and administrative functions. The NewYork City Board of Education plans to establish an educational Web portal for the school system. What makes this of particularinterest is that it is to be self-funded and could, according to afeasibility study conducted by Andersen Consulting Co., generate revenue of$120 million to $11.5 billion through advertising and transaction fees over 10years.

Issues such as distance education, funding strategies, andrecruiting and retraining staff are of mutual concern, but interest inassessment and evaluation seem to be falling behind. Direct evidence oftechnology’s impact is not overwhelming, though studies show technology-basedprojects are making a difference. For example, a study on the use ofeducational technology in Illinois public schools states it has had “a smallbut significant impact on student performance. In 440 schools where technologyusage was the highest, students’ scores on certain subjects tended to behigher.” Westat, a research firm in Rockville, MD who conducted the study, alsofound technology use was positively influenced by the amount of access and teachertraining in a school.

Another recent report, paid for by the Software and IndustryAssociation, suggests that teacher training, sophisticated software, andincreased attention to student behavior are the keys to improving theeffectiveness of technology in the classroom. A group of 75 educators, childdevelopment experts, health officials and technology authorities who metrecently in Washington, D.C. called for a “moratorium on federal attempts tocomputerize education, especially at the elementary level...there is littlelong term evidence showing the effectiveness of learning, simply becauseeducational technology is still coming of age in schools.”

We know technology has had a major impact in all areas ofeducation. Infusion of new media technologies and new ways to improveinstruction are continually being identified. Web-based assessment is beingtried. Students are learning in ways not previously possible. However, moreextensive research is still needed. More generously funded investigations of cutting-edgeprojects designed to help understand technology’s impact and to develop toolsfor measuring this impact would be useful. People are still asking why are wespending all this money, and what are we learning?

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.

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