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Framing the Evidence: Democratizing Ed Tech

This guest blog post was written by Doug Casey, Connecticut Commission for Educational Technology

Introduction
Imagine a breakthrough therapy that promised to improve the condition of millions of children across the country. Access to the Doug Casey Boardtreatment would come through scientific, research-based trials in partnership with flagship research institutes. This may sound promising, but what if the trials were limited just to kids in large cities or wealthy suburbs? Children in small, poor, or rural areas were not eligible and would just have to wait for the treatment to become more widely available someday.

As state leaders, we see a similar inequity of access to research-based educational technology (ed tech) adoption. The time and resources necessary to pilot ed tech in meaningful ways — with proper design, measurement, fidelity of use, professional supports, etc. — have often been limited to large or wealthy districts. Most educators and school leaders without these supports often have to base product adoption decisions on vendor demos and websites, opinions from colleagues, and reviews from print and online trade publishers.

This should not be the case. Every district should have access to research-based pilots of high-quality ed tech solutions. For that reason, last fall we designed and launched the Framing the Evidence program to benefit — and take advantage of the unique strengths of — SETDA’s state and private sector partners.

Program Overview
Think of Framing the Evidence as an expert-guided matchmaking service, facilitating pilot design and delivery aligned with the needs of districts and our ed tech partners. SETDA facilitates such pairings in a way that individual state leaders cannot, given the potential conflict of interest that many of us face in working directly with third-party providers. Instead, our organization has created intake forms that ask district candidates to share — with no obligation to participate — their academic, socio-emotional, or operational needs by school, geographic location, student enrollment, and other criteria. In a parallel process, private sector partners submit information about their products and services as well as their target audiences and use cases.

From the dozens of requests that we have received so far, we can create data-driven, objective matches between school needs and vendor solutions. Potential pairings receive review by both parties before engaging in the development of a memorandum of understanding (MOU), which governs the engagement. Designed to protect the interests of all parties, the MOU defines the commitment required of the pilot, including resources brought to bear — e.g., free software and professional development from vendors, staff time from districts — as well as other key contractual requirements. Aligned with the four tiers of evidence required by the U.S. Department of Education’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Framing the Evidence pilots can range from relatively short-term to multi-year engagements. The latter might include researchers from local colleges and universities, who have interest in demonstrating what works in the learning sciences.

Benefits
The design and mechanics of the program all point to a rich set of benefits for each of SETDA’s constituent groups:

  • SETDA State Members: Strengthened relationships with their local district leaders as well as SETDA private sector partners through objective matchmaking that does not present a conflict of interest
  • Private Sector Partners: Direct engagement with schools that leads to a body of evidence supporting the impact of their product(s) in a diversity of geographic, socio-economic, and cultural environments
  • Districts: Equity of access to research-based pilots, innovative technology, and professional development, leading to student gains and deeper return on investments in ed tech, all governed by an MOU that significantly reduces risk and exposure.

Get Started
We warmly invite all private sector partners and state leaders to learn more about the program on our Framing the Evidence web page. There you will find more detailed background information as well as recorded presentations tailored to SETDA private sector partners, state leaders, and schools.

Partners can get started — again, with no obligation to participate — by submitting the intake form at www.bitly.com/PSP_FtE. State leaders can share the opportunity with their district and school networks. To help in that effort, SETDA has professionally designed presentation decks and staff ready to help you spread the word. For districts ready to engage, have them complete the school intake form at www.bitly.com/EdTechEvidence.

We look forward to hearing from you on this exciting new venture to bring the power and evidence of ed tech to every state, partner, and community that SETDA serves.

Doug Casey serves as the Executive Director for the Connecticut State Commission for Educational Technology (CET). In that role, he designs and manages strategic plans that help ensure the successful integration of technology in Connecticut’s schools, libraries, universities, and towns. The CET has direct oversight of statewide programs including the Connecticut Education Network (CEN, the state’s research and education network), its digital library (researchIT, formerly iCONN), and other initiatives.

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