Three Domains of Educational Technology: Part I

Translational Technology Use & Student Achievement

Editor’s Note: This is Part One of a Three-Part Series

by Dr. Sonny Magana

When it comes to technology in our schools, we have to ask the question, “Are we getting a return on our investment?” Sadly, the preponderance of research evidence strongly suggests that not only are we not close to educational technology having a desirable impact on student achievement, we’re probably a lot further away than many people realize. In this three-part series for edCircuit, I’ll first briefly describe current uses of technology in learning environments and why the impact of such use is so low; then I’ll introduce a new area of research-based evidence that is indeed cause for renewed optimism about the state of digital tools in schools.

In a recent meta-analysis of over 10,000 studies addressing the impact of various aspects of computer technology on student achievement, John Hattie (2017) calculated that the average effect size of educational technologies is 0.34. To put this into perspective, if one were to plot this effect size on a scale of 1 to 10, then the impact of educational technology scores a wimpy 3; even more alarming, this meager effect hasn’t changed in over 50 years (Hattie, in Magana, 2017). Alarm bells should be sounding in your head right about now. How in the world are you going to share this information with your colleagues? Your administration? Your school community?

It’s important to refrain from assigning any sort of implicit blame for the current state of technology in our schools. Attributing blame, in this context, serves no productive purpose and may only serve to diminish the best intentions of pioneering educators and leaders. It is much more effective to first accept the fact that technology tools have generally not lived up to the promise of automatically transforming teaching and learning.

Next, we need to collectively wrap our heads around the indisputable fact that educational technology tools have no inherent transformative value in and of themselves. Just because a digital tool may be “cool,” doesn’t mean that it will automatically have a desirable impact on student achievement. Digital tools are inert. They offer no value by themselves, which is why we should take a “value-neutral” perspective regarding educational technology tools. Only then can we more fully appreciate the nuanced direction provided by new, compounding research evidence, which strongly suggests that the value of educational technology tools is made manifest not because they are used, but rather in the way they are used and by whom (Haystead & Marzano 2009; 2010; Haystead & Magana, 2013; Magana, 2016; 2017; Magana & Marzano, 2014; 2015).

Arguably, identifying and codifying a compendium of high-impact strategies with technologies could be considered a wicked problem because it is quite complicated, multi-faceted, intractable, and as of yet, unresolved (Rittel & Webber, 1973). It is also a wicked problem that has mattered to me for over 35 years. In my recent book, Disruptive Classroom Technologies, I introduce the T3 Framework for Innovation in Education. The T3 Framework categorizes technology’s impact on learning into three domains: Translational, Transformational, and Transcendent. The T3 Framework is an actionable model for learning organizations to shift from low-impact technology use toward systemic technology uses that have an observed effect size of 1.6—or the equivalent of four or more additional years of learning in a single year (Magana, 2017; Magana & Marzano, 2014).

The predominant ways that technologies are presently used in our schools are translational in nature. This includes administrative, budgeting, grading, and communicating, all of which were previously completed using analog tools. Translational technology uses also extend to searching, accessing, and consuming content knowledge and information that were previously consumed through textbooks, journals, and other mixed analog media. While digitizing such tasks does add value in terms of time savings and error reduction, translating teaching and learning tasks from an analog to a digital idiom is not transformational since neither the task nor the actor engaged in those tasks is substantively changed in any way.

Translational technology use, in the context of teaching and learning, can be explained as digitizing the prevalent “tell and practice” model of instruction. In this model, teachers tell students what knowledge is important to acquire, and then students dutifully practice, rehearse, and memorize the information that they are told. Digitizing this model may increase instructional task efficiency, but it has not led to any significant improvements in student achievement. To summarize, the research evidence is abundantly clear: digitizing the “tell and practice” model of education should not in any way be construed as innovative because it has not lead to desirable student learning outcomes (Hattie, in Magana, 2017).

Again, the most effective way forward is to consider translational technology use as a necessary first step—but not the ultimate step! We must continue incorporating digital tool use to increase our efficiencies and our students’ competence in the digitized global world we inhabit, but if we want to truly innovate, we must embrace what I describe as T2 Transformational Technology use in our schools. We must ensure that our students develop facility with current and emerging digital tools in order to interact more effectively with new knowledge and deepen both their conceptual understanding and their capacity to demonstrate, model, and communicate their conceptual understanding using digital tools. These are critical ideas that I will explore further in the second part of this series.

Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York, NY: Routledge.
Hattie, J. (2017). In (Magana, 2017), Disruptive classroom technologies: A framework for innovation in education (pp. i). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Haystead, M., & Magana, S. (2013). Using technology to enhance the art and science of teaching framework: A descriptive case study. Centennial, CO: Marzano Research.
Haystead, M., & Marzano, R. J. (2009). Evaluation study on the effect of Promethean ActivClassroom on student achievement. Centennial, CO: Marzano Research.
Haystead, M., & Marzano, R. J. (2010). A second year evaluation study of Promethean ActivClassroom. Centennial, CO: Marzano Research.
Magana, S. (2016). Enhancing the art and science of teaching with technology: A model for improving learning for all students. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Seattle University, Seattle, Washington.
Magana, S. (2017). Disruptive classroom technologies: A framework for innovation in education. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Magana, S., & Marzano, R. J. (2014). Enhancing the art and science of teaching with technology. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Rittel, H., & Webber, M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4, 155– 169.

Further Reading

This post includes mentions of a partner of MindRocket Media Group the parent company of edCircuit

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