Panel Paper: The Impact of Defaults on Technology Adoption, and Its Underappreciation By Policymakers 

Friday, November 9, 2018
Jefferson - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Peter Bergman, Columbia University and Todd Rogers, Harvard University

Emerging research finds that technology-driven information interventions can increase student success (Escueta et al., 2017). In particular, providing additional information to parents can produce significant gains in student achievement at low marginal cost by changing parents’ beliefs about their child’s effort and ability (Rogers & Feller, 2017; Dizon-Ross, 2017; Bergman, 2015; EEF, 2017) or their schooling options (Hastings & Weinstein, 2008), making it easier to monitor and incentivize their child throughout the school year (Kraft & Dougherty, 2013; Kraft & Rogers, 2015; Bergman, 2015; Bergman & Chan, 2017), and prompting parents to directly invest in their child’s skills over time (York & Loeb, 2016; Mayer et al., 2015). However, the ability to successfully scale these interventions in schools depends upon decision makers’ perceptions of parental demand for the technology and its efficacy.

In this paper, we show how enrollment defaults affect the take up and impact of a novel technology that aims to help parents improve student achievement. We also document key decision makers’ beliefs about how enrollment defaults affect the take up and efficacy of this technology, as well as their subsequent willingness to pay for it. The technology studied in this paper engages parents by providing high-frequency, actionable information about their child’s academic progress. Three types of weekly, automated text- message alerts are sent to parents. The first type of text message alerts parents to which classes their child has missed during the week. The second type of text message alerts parents about the number of assignments their child is missing in each class. The last type of text message alerts parents to the courses in which their child is receiving a grade below 70%.

We conduct a randomized field experiment in District of Columbia Public Schools (N = 6,976 dyads of guardians and students in grades 6 through 12) to understand how enrollment defaults affect guardian take up and student impact of this education technology. We show that a standard and simplified opt-in process generate extremely low take up (<1% and 8%, respectively). Automatically enrolling parents increases adoption significantly (to 96%) and improves student achievement across multiple measures including GPA and course failures. We also report a follow up survey of superintendents and other district leaders to examine their beliefs about the student impact of the education technology and how district implementation of the technology can affect guardian adoption. We find that automatic enrollment is uncommon in school districts because its impact is massively underestimated: District leaders overestimate take-up under the standard implementation strategies by 38 percentage points and underestimate take-up under automatic enrollment implementation strategies by 31 percentage points. After learning the actual take-up rates, there is a 140% increase in district leaders’ willingness to pay for the education technology when it is implemented as automatic enrollment. This research highlights that district leader beliefs about expected guardian adoption of education technologies can affect how the technologies are implemented, and consequently how much impact they are likely to have on student success.