Helping teachers individualize learning for students in classrooms is critical to improving student performance. Technology is a key to success, particularly with the high ratio of students to teachers. Technology—which could be laptops, e-readers, or other types of technology—enables getting more content to students in a user-friendly way, individualizing this content, and measuring the results so that teachers can better adjust approaches for each student.
In education circles, there is much talk about technology in schools. Yet while the buzz is high, Stax found that the existing fact base is low. There is a dearth of measurement and data; there is a lack of best practices; and there is largely a vacuum and a lack of knowledge regarding what is really taking place in the market. This lack of data is hindering adoption and scaling. Based on our deep understanding of and passion for education, we decided to take action to begin creating a knowledge base to inform school leaders and spur action, so more e-reader programs will be implemented.
For nearly two decades, Stax has worked closely with clients in the education sector to provide data-driven insights and actionable research to help innovators deliver positive change for students, teachers, and administrators. The firm has a long-standing commitment to encourage ground-breaking K-12 educational initiatives in our communities on an ongoing basis through pro bono work and direct financial support. This direct, hands-on experience has enabled Stax to develop a deep understanding of the potential for technology to transform K-12 education.
In undertaking research regarding the use of technology in schools, we discovered a profound knowledge gap in the U.S. education system regarding e-reader programs. We could not find a data-driven view of what’s really going on in the market in 2014, or best practices for introducing and implementing e-reader programs. So, we took the initiative to:
Stax is sharing these results with others who can benefit from the intersection of education and technology. Our hope is that schools, districts, and school networks can incorporate these insights into a working plan to introduce e-readers and other technologies into classrooms.
This meta-study of 70 e-reader programs and interviews with more than 50 educational leaders yielded important learnings, insights, and best practices. Here are 9 insights:
Insight: E-readers are being piloted at all levels of K-12 education.
Insight: Those piloting e-reader programs should think hard about what to measure, as current measures of success are often lacking and are inconsistent
|Comments from programs with positive outcomes||Comments from programs where outcomes are mixed or it is too early to tell|
|"We ended up looking at before and after [device implementation] test scores for academic achievement. In general, everything was positive. In math, there were significant increases."
— District Technology Director, MI
|"We did not see a marked difference in student learning, but it improves engagement."
— Principal, Middle School, MA
|"Students say they are more engaged in class now; teachers see some distraction but it's not overwhelming; 65% of parents felt the program was somewhat or very successful."
— Survey Results, School District, WA
|"Our standardized test scores are flat. At-risk students seemed to have caught up to the others when teachers use technology to teach. It seems to have leveled the playing field."
— Teacher, Middle School, MN
Insight: Where outcomes related to e-readers are being measured, the results are generally positive.
Insight: Creative educational leaders are finding a multitude of funding sources for e-reader pilots. There is great opportunity at the district level to provide high-level guidelines and more funding.
Insight: Teachers are the key to success. They must be given the time and training to become familiar with e-reader devices and how best to use them.
Insight: Successful programs include parent engagement and education.
Insight: Don’t choose devices based on brand appeal; consider the intended use and the pros and cons of all options. There is a massive opportunity to save on costs—give educators a way to evaluate the differences.
Insight: Believing devices will be lost and broken isn’t accurate. This shouldn’t be a barrier to proceeding.
Insight: Implementing an e-reader program requires dealing with change and overcoming multiple barriers. Initial results indicate that these efforts are worth it.
Part of the largest public school system in the U.S., Bronx Lab School (BLS) in the Bronx, NY, is a school Stax has supported for years. It is for grades 9-12, with enrollment of 472 students. Of BLS’s students, 55% are Hispanic, 40% are black, 3% are Asian, and 2% are white; 100% are free- and reduced-lunch eligible. Exposure to technology in the classroom has been minimal. The school has no formal process for choosing technology platforms or devices, and no tech staff to evaluate products.
While processes and resources for technology assessment and selection have been lacking, New York City does have as a process for determining the traditional content that is used classrooms. That process involves department teachers working with their partner teachers and department chair to ensure that content matches the school’s goals and the department’s curricular vertical plan. However, given the recent introduction of multiple e-reader platforms—and that some of the most promising ones are startups and newer companies—most districts have yet to catch up with all of the components for evaluation of the content on these platform, and don’t yet have communicate guidelines that are easy for educators to use. Simply put, the industry of new providers is moving very fast and it’s hard for any large organization, particularly with government backing, to lead on guidance for adoption.
In late 2013, principal Sarah Marcy and Stax confronted the question: With more than 90% of students having smart phones, why didn’t BLS have e-readers in classrooms? The root causes were many, and were consistent with barriers that schools across the country face:
BLS was not alone. It is just one of the 1,700 public schools in New York City, none of which had guidelines regarding e-readers. And these schools are no different than most of the other schools in America, which due to the rapid changes in technology do not have technology programs, plans, or resources.
With its pulse on the national trend of e-reader pilots taking place across the country, Stax proposed supporting an e-reader pilot at BLS. This proposal followed a back-of-the-envelope analysis suggesting a pilot was affordable, if there were resources to figure out what to do and to help manage the process.
Stax saw the potential to merge learnings from the national survey with takeaways from a local pilot. In combination, insights developed from these efforts could help accelerate the initiation and scaling of e-reader programs nationally.
With the agreement of BLS, beginning in January 2014, Stax partnered with ed.co, FEGS, and the BLS educator team to develop and implement an e-reader pilot at BLS. This pilot went from January to August 2014, funded by Stax, friends of Stax, and the Friends of the Bronx Lab School. Stax provided more than 15 staff days for assistance with procurement, implementation, and measurement of results.
This pilot was initiated with a data-driven approach and a focus on measurement to determine what worked, where improvement was needed, and how best to scale. Key considerations and elements of the pilot included:
After the assessment of various options, and through this study, Stax helped BLS choose a technological platform for the long term.
In April 2014, the e-reader program launched, with all of the 9th-grade English classes using e-reader devices. The platform providers offered training and support for teachers and were on-site to present to classes.
Different stakeholders had different experiences and reactions, but most reactions were positive.
9th-grade students who were offered e-readers stated that they:
Source: Stax pre/post survey results of 9th graders at BLS with e-readers and control group.
Students are using e-reader platforms for assessments and annotations; teachers are using them to give feedback
Source: End of Program Data Analysis from one of the platform providers at BLS
Because this technology is still in development, there were a few hiccups in implementation. Occasionally students could not log into their accounts or internet connectivity was too weak to support the technology. In these scenarios, valuable classroom time was lost. (The hope is to resolve these issues as technology is updated.) While there was some initial resistance, the dedication and patience of the staff helped deal with delays, poor connectivity, and platform growing pains.
Insights from BLS:
The Bronx Lab School plans to continue and expand this program, with continuing funding and support from Stax and Stax’s partners. The plan for the 2014-15 school year is to provide devices and use one of the e-reader platforms in the 9th and 10th grades with every student. The focus will continue to be on independent reading and finding ways to use digital readers as part of whole-class texts.
As this program expands, Stax will continue to provide support. Stax will ensure that BLS is set up for success and will provide tools and support so that the program will grow and sustain itself through its own staff and internal support team.
Stax’s research and practical experience with Bronx Lab School provided many consistent findings.
CONSISTENT FINDINGS IN NATIONAL RESEARCH AND BLS PILOT:
Conclusions from this research and the experience at BLS include:
Stax’s national study of K-12 e-reader programs and Stax’s experience supporting the e-reader pilot at the Bronx Lab School show that technology in classrooms represents the future of education. School leaders must make this a priority, show leadership, allocate resources appropriately, take risk, and move forward. The rewards for doing so are enormous.
RAFI MUSHER, Founder and CEO of Stax Inc., based in Stax’s New York office. For more than 20 years, Rafi has been leading corporate management consulting engagements and working with investment firm leadership teams to identify profit opportunities and mitigate risks across industries. firstname.lastname@example.org.
SANDA WIJERATNE joined Stax in 2010 and is a consultant with the firm. Based in Colombo, she leads Stax’s research and consulting teams as well as the Stax Development Corporation team. Sanda collaborates with local and U.S. colleagues on various strategy consulting engagements and is actively involved in developing Stax DevCorp.
Since this pilot began, BLS has made improvements to strengthen its tech program by purchasing new laptops, upgrading its Internet service, and based on support from Ed.co, initiating a MOUSE Squad*.
Also, the e-reader platforms being used have reported updates, such as mobile apps for both iOS and Android phones, browser-based access to accommodate PCs and Macs, further developed summer reading programs, and a larger cache for content allowing for readers to continue if service drops.
The technology enhancements will further strengthen BLS’s e-reader program.
* MOUSE empowers underserved youth to learn, lead, and create with technology, preparing students with essential skills for academic and career success. The MOUSE Squad program trains students to become digital media and technology experts, improving the use of technology to enhance learning, while also building confidence and developing skills for 21st-century innovation. MOUSE connects students around shared interests as a national network of youth technology leaders. MOUSE provides a unique opportunity to empower youth with essential skills, prepare them for college and career, and inspire the next generation of leaders in technology and innovation.
Stax Inc. is a global strategy consultancy serving private equity firms and corporations across a broad range of industries. The firm partners with clients to provide data-driven, actionable insights designed to help management grow organically, enhance profits, increase value, and make better M&A decisions. Founded in 1994, Stax has offices in Boston, Chicago, New York, Singapore, and Colombo, Sri Lanka. For more information, please visit www.stax.com.
Stax Development Corporation (DevCorp) creates entirely new startup companies and forms joint ventures to address critical market needs identified by Stax’s strategic consulting practice. These deals typically have a connection to innovative solutions that meet the interests of our corporate or investor clients in unique ways. For more information, please visit http://www.stax.com/devcorp/.
Edco is a fundraising software solution that empowers K-12 schools to raise money and access resources to enrich the educational experience for all students. Edco streamlines the “art of the ask” to bring fundraising expertise to schools, parents and student groups, enabling them to raise up to 80% more funds compared to traditional efforts and access new funding sources. By aggregating school needs and attracting private funds, Edco offers a channel into schools for education merchants to deliver new innovations and share best practices to drive systemic change in K-12 education. For more information, visit https://weare.ed.co/.