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Educational Technology: The Christodoulou Test

Educational technology. Cover of Christodoulou's book.
Image taken from Daisy Christodoulou’s web page


Ten years after the grand promises of educational technology, what has the result been? Has time been acted as a sufficient filter? Daisy Christodoulou has built a reputation in the United Kingdom as an essayist on education, advocating for approaches grounded in practice and scientific evidence. She has been al speaker at ResearchEd conferences, an organization dedicated to bridging the gap between academic research and educational practice.

Her book “Seven Myths about Education” debunked commonly accepted beliefs that, in some cases, could be detrimental to students’ prospects. She wrote with the authority of someone who has taught in classrooms and held leadership positions in schools.

Following that book, she authored “Teachers vs. Technology,”, where she begins by reflecting on predictions over the last century about changes in education due to technology, including Edison’s famous quote predicting that children would learn from movies rather than books. Here, she adopts a nuanced position, critical of empty promises and rigorous in evaluating which technologies can truly assist both students and teachers. That is why, at Smartick are very proud to have been referenced.

How to Check Which Educational Technology Works

The British author provides a test at the end of the volume so that teachers or parents can evaluate the effectiveness of educational technology. Previously, she expressed that the invention of the blackboard in the classroom, in the 19th century, can be considered technology that with the passage of time has proven to be effective, even if it has evolved. In fact, it was what has made larger class sizes possible.

These, according to her, are the questions that should be asked in the test to determine which technology is the most effective for improving education.

  • If the methodology talks about personalized teaching, how is this achieved?
    1. Based on learning styles. NO
    2. Do students have the ability to choose what to work on. NO
    3. Does it adapt to the students’ responses in a planned session. YES
  • What content is taught? Who designed it? What evidence is it based on?
  • How does it help to reinforce knowledge?
  • Can it mitigate distractions?
  • Is it designed to be used independently or to be integrated into the school curriculum?
  • Does it require extensive training to use properly?
  • What happens if students fail?
  • How often should it be used?
  • How is the data presented?
  • What evidence is there that it works?

We believe that Smartick provides conclusive answers to these questions, establishing that we are a methodology that uses educational technology effectively and meaningfully. In our case, for mathematics and reading.

In one of the most illustrative examples in the book, the author quotes Daniel Willingham when discussing the effectiveness of doing history projects in PowerPoint. The key thing is the content being worked on, but if students are instructed to use PowerPoint, there is a risk that they will spend more time exploring the tool’s features than researching the topic they are supposed to be studying.

Simple to Use but Sophisticated Educational Technology

Throughout the book, Christodoulou mphasizes the importance of considering how screens and technology are used. . On page 165, she talks about effective methodologies for families, highlighting an “adaptive online program designed for children ages four to 14 to work 15 minutes a day. In those 15 minutes, it is possible for students to answer and receive feedback on dozens of questions designed to be at the precise level of understanding.” And there, with a note, she refers to the bibliography that includes our website.

“The advantage of these systems lies in their simplicity. They use complex technology, but at the same time they are designed to be very simple for students to use, and parents and teachers are very clear about how they should be used,” she explains. Smartick, from the beginning, was clear that it should have a sophisticated algorithm so that we could adapt to each student and, at the same time, while also being user-friendly and engaging for children. The goal is to prevent distractions from what is not important – the exercises – and to incorporate some gamification to keep students motivated, providing immediate feedback on their work and the opportunity to correct mistakes.

Parents and teachers, the author continues, can easily monitor students’ progress. That’s what we do at Smartick when we send an email with the results or have the parents’ online page where they can track progress by weeks or months. “These systems are easy to use because, at the same time, they provide content and adaptability,” Christodoulou describes.

It should also be noted that the quality of teachers is not the same in all classrooms. Even within the same school, she explains, the effectiveness of teachers differs. There, an effective technological method would clearly help. In addition, we are seeing that in different parts of the world there are starting to be teacher recruitment problems. In Great Britain, for example, they are reportedly training physical education teachers to be able to teach mathematics.

The Science of Learning and Educational Technology

Before getting to the specific systems, the author discusses how people learn. This is something that many methods do not usually take into account; they have not studied in depth how the brain learns. And, as she did in the previous book, she concludes that learning does not happen in isolation, even if you are very curious. Also, remember:

  1. To solve problems we must have some prior knowledge. That is why, Smartick starts with an entry test and gradually scales the content, in addition to offering sessions that review and focus on areas where the student is struggling the most, much like personalized training. It is not just about training without knowing what needs improvement; it’s about organized training in areas of weakness. The analogy with sports makes it clearer: any elite athlete plans specific training to improve aspects of their game that they know need practice.
  2. Mental activity must be directed in the right direction. In an age of distraction and inattention, lack of attention, the ability to stay focused is crucial.
  3. Direct instruction must be interactive, yet structured and guided. It involves numerous questions and answers, review and repetition, and opportunities to practice. . This is precisely what Smartick does – like a perfect chef preparing a math and reading dish tailored to each child’s needs, providing daily precise diagnostics.

Educational Technology to Personalize

Ideally, we would be able to reap the benefits of individualized tutoring without the costs of private lessons. The challenge lies in defining what personalization means. What choices should students make and which should they not?

For instance, various studies show that students are not ready to make the best decisions about what they need to learn and at what level to work on it. This is precisely because they are not teachers. In various experiments, it has been shown that the students who perform poorly on a test tend to overestimate their abilities the most.

If teachers had unlimited time, they would be delighted to know what area each student needs to strengthen. The best methods are therefore those that adapt to the answers given by each student, and that is precisely what we have done at Smartick, in mathematics over the past decade. It is these programs, says Christodoulou, that show the greatest potential. Their strength is in focusing on small pieces of content to ensure mastery.

She quotes E.D. Hirsch: “Giving children the advantage of using technology means not only providing access to technology but also ensuring they have the necessary knowledge to use it effectively.” Or in our case, providing a tool that is used for a limited time, delivering the best math and reading session tailored to their level.

It’s not educational technology versus traditional education, it’s which technology makes education better.

We’ll leave you with one of the book’s final statements: “Adaptive methods can provide more personalized instruction, algorithms that implement spaced repetition can facilitate the creation of long-term memories, and more sophisticated uses of data can make homework more meaningful and accurate.” We’ve been doing just this for a decade.

Learn More:

Fun is our brain’s favorite way of learning
Diane Ackerman
Smartick is a fun way to learn math
  • 15 fun minutes a day
  • Adapts to your child’s level
  • Millions of students since 2009
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