Technology has been at the forefront of learning for the last 30 years, and U.S. educational institutions have embraced the efficiency modern technology brings in facilitating their learning environments by streamlining communications between teachers, students and parents, and organizing the way classes and courses are structured.
But where our educators fall short, according to a recent report by the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), is in their use of e-learning and technology tools as a means of assessing and measuring learning. In other words, educational institutions still find it a challenge to integrate new technologies when testing and measuring students’ academic progress.
The survey of nearly 500 educators and administrators of kindergarten through college looked at self-reported progress in their use of technology in the classroom. It showed the use of technology-based assessment tools was the lowest-rated benchmark among the 20 included in the survey. Technology is being used in a more supportive role in learning, SIIA said, and not as a primary means to assessing and testing progress.
So why are educational institutions still challenged by using e-learning technologies as a tool for student assessment, especially during a time in which evolving technologies are so much a part of our everyday lives?
Part of the problem is financial: The economic downturn and financial frailty at the state and local level have made it difficult for public educational institutions to spend money on access to new technologies, making it more difficult for smaller schools or those already hampered by funding restraints to gain footing in this area. Those in the private sector are also likely tightening budgets.
Yet Karen Billings, vice president for education for SIIA, which represents more than 180 member companies that provide digital content and technologies that serve educational needs, said while there is little doubt that part of the challenge is access to these technologies, a behavioral element also plays a part.
“It is the change in behavior; it’s trusting that the computer is not going to stop working or failing in the process,” Billings said. “[It’s also] trusting that the test taker or course completer is really the person getting credit for it.”
It’s also a matter of precedent. Some teachers, especially those who may have been in the profession for years, are already accustomed to what works for them in assessing student comprehension. “We do use some very rudimentary technologies, largely for course management and as a device to make classroom discussions more focused,” said Elizabeth Chandler, director for the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Chicago. “But we don’t really use these very responsibly in the sense that our faculty does not investigate the effects of such innovations.”
Chandler said by the time most students walk into the university, they are already great learners. “So we don’t worry too much about how they do it,” she said.
As SIIA’s Billings stressed, there are lessons here that can easily translate to the corporate learning environment. Billings’ sense is that most corporations — both large and small — would report their success in embracing e-learning like post-secondary institutions. “Corporate learning for a while was done face-to-face,” she said, “and now they’ve been transitioning to the use [of e-learning] much in the same ways as professors in the classroom have been doing.” She thinks the best way for organizations to use e-learning technologies would be for diagnosis — using a technology-based assessment to measure an employee’s basic business and management skills.
For now, as educators still strive for access and confidence in using e-learning tools for assessment and tests, most are staying with the old. Yet Chandler acknowledges the possibilities technology could bring to future learning.
“I think what you have to ask is: How does technology as a more rapid and therefore more efficient way to reach individual learners change the ground on which all pedagogical communication is structured?”
Frank Kalman is associate editor at Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be reached at fkalman@CLOmedia.com.