When I ask educators why it’s difficult to select software for their classrooms their emphatic response is consistently: “It’s overwhelming!” And, I completely agree. Products are abundant, categories are fuzzy and the criteria used to evaluate the software are highly debatable. However, I also believe that we have historically overlooked a simple data point that could intelligently inform the decision making process and thus make it a little less overwhelming.
How is software NOT like a meatball sandwich?
To illustrate: Say you are hungry for a meatball sandwich but having just moved to a hip new neighborhood, you don’t know where to go. Your only acquaintance is your sweet next-door neighbor Olive. So you ask for her recommendation and she replies with a cheerful “Porta Via Sandwich Shop. Definitely Porta Via.” As you are walking away, something changes. You go from being cautiously optimistic about that meatball sandwich to really excited when Olive adds, “Been going there for years!”
Let’s assume a number of things attracted Olive to Porta Via originally: an inviting store-front, convenience, price, reviews, etc. Each is a compelling criterion and certainly helped motivate her first visit. Eventually though, her patronage was earned through sustained delight. And, while the longevity of her relationship with Porta Via doesn’t guarantee that you will feel similarly in the long term, it does instill a certain confidence in your initial decision.
Unfortunately, the number of Olives available to help educators make informed software decisions for the classroom is limited because the market is still relatively new. Furthermore, finding the few software veterans that do exist is challenging because publishers of success stories often illuminate the products districts use but rarely focus on how long they’ve been used – a key omission given that most educators only continue to use software if it works.
However, while the Olives of the education software community may be elusive I assure you that they do exist and that they are interested, if not determined, to share their lessons learned — triumphs and missteps alike.
Long-term utilization of education software isn’t typically the result of a single decision but rather a series of decisions — recommitments — which signal confidence in the quality of a product on an ongoing basis. Each day a product is used is a declaration that the investment of precious class time is worthwhile.
A favorite example of this is the inspiring Synergy Kinetic Academy in Los Angeles, CA where they’ve been using the same suite of software programs for over three years. One of their core values states “We constantly measure our performance to achieve the best results possible in everything we do.” This tenet guides their behavior in several important areas, including what software is selected and, more importantly, how it is used.
In researching this subject over the last several months I’ve formed strong opinions on how to best approach software selection. My recommendations include:
1) When seeking guidance from current users of education software ask what they’re using, how long they’ve been using it, and why. Dig deep and then dig a little deeper. Those with greater experience will typically be able to provide richer, more comprehensive answers.
2) Use a structured approach when selecting software — utilize a well-designed rubric that considers the longevity of usage of existing customers. Understand clearly not only the minutes per day and days per week but also the total semesters a product has been used.
Utilize a well-designed rubric when selecting software, preferably one that considers how long existing customers have been using the product. One example may resemble this simplified version of a template originally developed by Rocketship.
3) Regardless of your experience with software selection, communicate your opinion to industry experts. They want to hear your voice and, more importantly, evolution in this space undoubtedly depends on your input.
In an overwhelming market where decision makers are always pressed for time, the simplest information can sometimes provide the greatest value. Asking “How long have you used this software?” returns valuable data that can be used to intelligently inform an important and complicated decision.