There is now a strong push on the need for “hard” evidence to prove the impact of technology but also of teaching strategies and other things within education. Firstly, I wonder what is “soft” evidence however lets park that for now.
Thinking about this I can see where the emphasis on the need for standardized tests has come from as this is hard evidence of the impact of the educational strategies a given country has undertaken. But we know it is not that simple as I and many others have previously blogged.
Another impact of this need for “hard” evidence is that teachers seek to ensure they have proof of what they have done. This leads to the need for forms, checklists and other documents to be created and completed which in turn leads to an increasing workload, another issue which is constantly under discussion. The need for evidence results in the increased administrative workload.
Taking a scientific standpoint “Hard” evidence, in my opinion, relates to something which is provable by repeatable experiment, however I admit that this is very simplistic and that a full blog or even book could be dedicated to the discussion of hard evidence.
My issue here is that of the number of variables which go into the use of learning technologies, or a particular learning strategy, in the classroom. These include prevailing national culture, national views on education, available resources, school leadership aims and approaches, teacher qualifications, teacher experience, technologies being used, purpose for the use of technology, etc, and this is just the very tip of the iceberg. How can any evidence therefore be considered as hard? It may be that it is “harder” than another source of evidence however, especially where we are looking at generalization on a world or even national level, there will never be any certainty of the ability to replicate a given study and its results. Having read Talebs The Black Swan I realize it is highly likely that it would be possible to disprove any given study with little effort after all it takes a large number of common studies with the same outcomes to prove something however requires only a single study with contradictory outcomes to disprove it.
Now I am not suggesting that we should stop examining whether given approaches have provable impact. We must try and check that the actions we take are having a positive impact as otherwise we may undertake initiatives which have no impact or even a negative impact on student learning. We must however accept that there are unlikely to be educational practices which are so generalizable as to have truly hard evidence which supports their impact.