Commentary: Ed Tech Does Help Close the Achievement Gap — When It Supports Teachers

Neil Heffernan
May 29, 2018

Quick summary:

There’s no doubt that educational technology can make a big difference in the classroom. But the key to closing the achievement gap may not be found in providing more technology to students, but rather putting the right ed tech into the hands of teachers.

One frequently touted benefit of digital tools, for instance, is that they are self-pacing, allowing students to progress on their own through individualized learning programs. However, a meta-analysis by Duke University researchers of 23 studies examining the efficacy of intelligent tutoring systems showed that self-paced education technology may actually exacerbate achievement gaps by allowing already high-performing students to progress while leaving underperforming students to flounder.

A better way to improve outcomes and close the achievement gap is to give teachers effective digital tools that are purposefully designed to improve instruction and empower teachers to better focus their time and resources. Our nation needs to place far more weight on giving teachers intelligent technology created precisely to foster student learning. We need to focus on helping teachers do their jobs with the best tools and to the best of their abilities. According to Professor Neil Heffernan, who runs the ASSISTments project at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in this article, that’s what will ultimately boost student outcomes.

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