As the world moves towards 21st-century education, it’s not surprising more schools and jurisdictions adopting digital math tools or applications for various purposes. Usually, when these tools are adopted for the first time, they are being used to systematically pilot them. Since adopting these tools have associated costs, it’s necessary to determine whether such tools represent a valuable use of resources. This also highlights the importance of rigorously evaluating them if they promote better student outcomes. Valuable insights are needed before deciding whether to scale up or completely abandon the technology.

In the research entitled “Evaluating Digital Math Tools in the Field” by Fiona M. Hollands and Yilin Pan, two widely used math tools in the United States which are eSpark and IXL were compared to answer two main questions whether the use of each tool is associated with gains in student performance in 3rd to 6th-grade math and what are the resource requirements and cost of implementing each tool. The researchers found out that the average cost per student of eSpark use is at $261.16 which is substantially more costly compared to that of IXL use which is just $57.19. But the latter is not significantly associated with student’s math performance. A possible explanation could be IXL is designed for students to practice and reinforce math skills. Meanwhile, eSpark is an iPad-based learning environment that still requires the presence of teachers to guide students in challenging tasks thereby allowing meaningful interaction in the process. Perhaps, this could probably have an effect on why eSpark is associated with statistically significant gains on the Let’s Go Learn math assessment while IXL being accessible 24/7 in the internet, students may opt to practice mathematical skills at their own pace.

Both eSpark and IXL have good uses, but schools should always be practical in realizing their purposes. Though IXL may not be associated with student’s math performance, the digital tool is still helpful for low-performing students to master basic mathematical skills, monitor their progress, and essentially pave the way for them to be ready for more difficult tasks. Based on these finding, schools can select digital tools and assessment instruments based on their purposes whether to improve performance in standardized tests or to personalize learning.

As Cramer and Smith quoted in 2002 from their article “Technology’s Impact on Student Writing at the Middle School Level“, in order for the technology to have a positive impact, technology integration must have a purpose. Do you plan to integrate technology into your classroom and currently contemplating which tools are appropriate? Don’t forget what’s your purpose.