Ed Tech Efficacy

Non-Profit to Crowdsource On-the-Ground Ed Tech Effectiveness

Non-Profit to Crowdsource On-the-Ground Ed Tech Effectiveness

When Consumer Reports wants to know how well a new car is holding up, it heads into the crowds to ask drivers' opinions about their vehicles. That form of crowdsourcing is now infiltrating education with the launch of a new non-profit organization that will call on teachers and school leaders to document how well their education technology works for them in their schools and classrooms. In exchange, the contributors will receive money and tech support.

That's the idea behind the Jefferson Education Exchange (JEX), an initiative underway by Bart Epstein, the former head of the Jefferson Education Accelerator, and the University of Virginia Curry School of Education, with support from many other organizations. The goal: to crowdsource educator insights to improve ed tech buying and implementation. Seed funding for JEX has come from Strada Education Network and the Curry School Foundation.

The idea for JEX grew out of a symposium organized last year by Digital Promise and the University of Virginia. The "EdTech Efficacy Research Academic Symposium" brought together a diverse group of educators, researchers, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, investors and policymakers to examine how research plays a role in the development, adoption and implementation of ed tech.

What they learned was that "most of the research out there today just isn't helpful...when it comes to ed tech decision-making," noted Epstein in a prepared statement. "Implementation matters--and school and district leaders are hungry for practical insights into how and whether products work in a particular setting." Epstein, who currently serves as CEO of the Jefferson Education Accelerator, which is itself winding down, will transition full-time to the Jefferson Education Exchange as president in the coming year.

Epstein noted that "no individual district or institution is in a position to make the investments required to collect educator perspectives at scale. The nature of this work is such that it is best addressed by an independent nonprofit, free from interference by providers themselves."

To that end, over the coming year, JEX will do R&D as part of developing the research protocols and tools that will allow educators to document and share their experiences with specific products. In return for providing "careful documentation of their experiences" in the use of the products selected by their schools, they'll receive stipends and technical support from JEX.

"We know that conditions on the ground, far more than research in a controlled environment, have a profound impact on the efficacy of a particular product or approach," added Robert Pianta, Dean of the Curry School. "For example, an ed tech product may play a role in driving measurable improvements to achievement in one school, but fail to make an impact in another setting. How do we define and describe those differences? Which of those differences plays a meaningful role in explaining why outcomes vary? This effort is about defining and capturing cultural, technical and other variables with the goal of generating insights that can inform decision-making at the district, institution, and state levels."

While Curry will provide oversight and faculty resources to the new organization, additional support will be provided by a number of other organizations, including the Alliance for Excellent Education, ASCD, CoSN and Digital Promise, among others.

JEX is currently seeking reviewers, partners and funding through its website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.