The Importance of Keeping Digital Instruction Consistent with School Goals

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Key NEPC Policy Brief Takeaway: New series of three briefs identifies key issues for school leaders to consider before adopting a digital platform or learning program that will impact curriculum and teaching, student assessment, and privacy/data security.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has given the entire country a crash course in virtual education and digital education platforms. As school buildings closed in the spring of 2020, school leaders scrambled to implement virtual education programs. This was both a necessary response to the current crisis and, for virtual education advocates, an opportunity to permanently transform public education with digital technology.

Unfortunately, school leaders have had little more than marketing messages to inform their considerations of digital offerings. To provide some additional information, insights and recommendations, NEPC released a three-brief collection today. Issues to Consider Before Adopting a Digital Platform or Learning Program was authored by Faith Boninger and Alex Molnar of the University of Colorado Boulder, with contributions by Michael Barbour of Touro University California. The briefs detail how digital platforms and learning programs can distort curriculum, teaching, and assessments, threaten student privacy, and undermine data security. They identify key issues for school leaders to consider before adopting digital programs.

Each brief includes recommendations unique to its specific focus as well as recommendations common across the collection. The framing principle underlying all three briefs is that school leaders should ensure that any digital technology they adopt reflects, rather than undermines or distorts, their school’s stated values and goals. In the context of the pandemic, the best many school leaders can do is minimize any potential harm that may result from the need to hastily adopt digital technologies. With this in mind, the authors offer the following principles to guide decision-making.

Digital learning programs and platforms are less likely to harm students to the extent that they:

  • Retain curriculum and teaching practices consistent with school goals and values;
  • Have been reviewed for bias by i- ndependent experts;
  • Maintain teachers’ control of educational decisions rather than transfer those decisions to algorithms programmed into applications;
  • Collect a minimal amount of student data; and
  • Prevent the transfer of student data to vendors and other unknown parties.

These principles, in conjunction with the considerations detailed in each brief, can be used to help determine which digital products to choose, how to best use them in the current crisis, and how to decide which should be abandoned when the crisis has passed.

Find Issues to Consider Before Adopting a Digital Platform or Learning Program, by Faith Boninger and Alex Molnar, at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/virtual-learning

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: https://nepc.colorado.edu

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William J. Mathis

Faith Boninger
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