The State of Current Research on Edtech

While educational technology has snowballed in recent years, it has been around for a long time. The Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) has been around for nearly a hundred years since it began as the National Education Association’s Department of Visual Instruction in 1923. It remains the premier organization for the scholarly study of educational technology and its effectiveness. I had the pleasure of attending the AECT’s 2022 annual conference, including an informative, "Ask Me Anything" session by its president-elect David Wiley. I had these takeaways from it:

  • There is a major gap between practitioners and researchers in educational tech; even when they come together, research is not always as rigorous as it could be. There’s a need for a more rigorous study of what educational-technology interventions are effective in helping students learn.
  •  “Gateway” courses – the large introductory courses that can bring students into a field of study or keep them out – tend to have a major achievement gap, with first-generation and underrepresented minority students lagging behind. The question of how to close that gap is a hot topic right now.
  • Learning analytics comes in four kinds: descriptive (what happened?), diagnostic (why did it happen?), predictive (what will happen?), prescriptive (how can I make it happen?).
  • In online texts, reading fatigue is a problem: long pages and unpredictable page length negatively impact students’ attention and therefore their reading comprehension.
  • Digital badges appear to improve not only students’ learning and retention but also their internal motivation.
  • A few years ago, the educational technology world was abuzz with talk of the "next-generation digital learning environment" – a mix of tools as interlocking “Legos” that would replace large learning management systems like Blackboard. That future has not come to pass and it does not seem likely to: most faculty would rather learn a single system than a wide range of them, so the Blackboards of the world are here to stay.

In the post-pandemic world, where educational technology is more ubiquitous than ever, it’s important not to assume we already know how tools help students learn. Research into their effectiveness is more important than ever.

Amod Lele
About the Author:
As Acting Manager, BU Educational Technology, Amod Lele helps faculty navigate a wide array of technologies for use in their classes and professional life.