Kellogg professor develops program to evaluate K-12 education technology

Yvonne Kim, Reporter

Kellogg Prof. Benjamin Jones was working as a macroeconomist for the Obama administration when he first became interested in improving learning and technology for K-12 education.

Jones, a faculty associate at the Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research, has been working with Aaron Chatterji, a professor from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, since 2012 on a project called EDUSTAR, a web-based program that allows students to evaluate the effectiveness of education technologies, such as video lectures or multimedia exercises, in classrooms.

Last week, the pair presented their work at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. following the publication of a policy memo last month for the Hamilton Project, an initiative that works with leading academics to promote broad-based economic growth.

“The U.S. economy is good at many things, but it struck me then that a weak link for the U.S. economy is K-12 education,” Jones said. “In many parts of the country, the average opportunity for a student in K-12 education is well behind what we would hope for and well behind other countries.”

The two professors published their initial proposal in September 2012 for EDUSTAR in a paper for the Hamilton Project. Since then, Jones and Chatterji have run multiple rounds of randomized-control trials in which students provide immediate feedback on what, and more importantly how, they are learning, Jones said.

Typically, technological advancements allow for improvement in different areas of the economy, but are not applied to enhancing educational outcomes, Jones said.

“EDUSTAR is really an attempt to push forward the capacity to rigorously evaluate content and education in K-12 so that we can learn what works, what works for whom as well,” he said.

Laia Navarro-Sola, an economics student in The Graduate School, works as Jones’ research assistant and said the project is exciting because it “broadens the possibilities of research.” She added that it will be interesting to see what strategies help students acquire knowledge and why differences in learning occur.

Jones added that EDUSTAR would benefit not only students, teachers and parents with a Consumer Reports-like function about what tools are effective, but also help education technology developers build better prototypes for products. Furthermore, it can give researchers like Jones more insight into how students learn and think, he said.

“People really think this is a good idea,” said SESP Prof. Diane Schanzenbach, director of the Hamilton Project at Brookings. “They really think that we should be doing much more to harness data and information … providing that as a feedback group to schools so that they can make the most productive investments that they possibly can.”

The next step is to collect more data and encourage educators to adopt EDUSTAR, Schanzenbach said. The best way to expand and develop the program will be to find more schools to become involved and see its value, she said. According to a 2016 paper, EDUSTAR will have reached more than 10,000 students in more than 40 schools by the end of the 2015-16 academic year.

“I just care about it at a policy level,” Jones said. “I really care about giving kids great opportunities. If you have a really good way to teach kids fractions, the whole world can learn from that.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the school in which Navarro-Sola is a student. She’s an economics student in The Graduate School. The Daily regrets the error.

Email: yvonnekim2019@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @yvonneekimm

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