As technology becomes an accepted tool in many classrooms, teachers and administrators are looking for the best ed-tech tools to advance their goals around student learning. Unfortunately, there are so many tools on the market claiming to be the best option, it can be hard to sort through the noise and make an informed decision.
Digital Promise, the congressionally authorized nonprofit charged with "accelerating innovation in education to improve opportunities to learn," has developed a tool to help educators and ed-tech developers sort through relevant research.
“There is more and more pressure for people to use research in their work," said Sarita Bhargava, chief communications officer for Digital Promise. "We hope this tool will provide the first step."
The Digital Promise research team used Web of Science, a tool that allows users to search by citation, to put together a network of peer-reviewed research articles related to education. They've organized the research into 12 broad topics that include subjects like student motivation, teaching reading, and special education practices.
For the busy teacher with little time, researchers have summarized the most salient research about a topic with citations to the research for further investigation. There are also lists of other research on each of those topic pages and links to blogs or other resources (full disclosure: MindShift's Guide to Digital Games and Learning is one of these resource links on the Multimodal topic page and a MindShift blog post is the featured article on that page).
The research is also organized into two forms of data visualization that allow users to see how research about one topic might overlap with another and how often. The "network view" is meant for exploration and is more interactive, whereas the "chord view" helps show the gaps in research.
"It can also spark discussion about which topics in learning science are being studied and where the gaps are," said Digital Promise research director Aubrey Francisco. She says the hope is that with this tool, education research will be more easily available to educators who will start demanding evidence-based tools from the ed-tech providers with whom they work.
"We are definitely trying to encourage more use of research in the design of products," Francisco said. Too often, ed-tech companies begin making a product without first examining the research available in the space. They may also make claims about the learning gains their products will help achieve without conducting rigorous tests to see if the claims are true.
The Digital Promise network is built on research from the last 10 years and cites more than 183 peer-reviewed journals. Because it is based on a web of citations, there are also links to more seminal education works that may be older than the last 10 years. Unfortunately, about half the papers are still behind journal paywalls, but many others are on Google Scholar or have been turned into PDFs.
Francisco and Bhargava said a long-term goal of this project is to increase the public's comfort with and knowledge of research when making decisions. Digital Promise has created a check list to help school administrators walk through some important questions as they examine research that has been presented to them.