A new study released last week demonstrates that, without question, educational software is worthless.
At least that’s the impression you’d get from reading stories published last week in many news outlets.
Let’s start with the lead paragraph from the front page of the Washington Post.
Educational software, a $2 billion-a-year industry that has become the darling of school systems, has no significant impact on student performance, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education.
Those very broad generalizations continue past the jump until the writer eventually gets to some details. It seems the researchers were only looking at 15 specific systems for teaching reading and math.
With a little digging, it becomes clear that the Department was studying instructional learning systems (ILS), expensive software that requires almost no teacher interaction.
However, even dressed up with fancy animation and complex management systems, ILS’s are, at their core, only drill and practice software.
And since most of these packages are directed squarely at drilling the material found on most state standardized tests, it’s somewhat surprising that they didn’t produce better results.
But the bottom line, missed by the reports I’ve read, is that computers and software are nothing more or less than educational tools.
The effectiveness of those tools depends on a well-trained teacher who is able to integrate them into a well-written curriculum.