When educators and administrators walk through the schoolhouse doors every day, they have dozens of things to focus on, not the least of which, of course, is educating all types of students. Running districts and schools requires an incredible amount of attention to detail and anything can—and often does—happen: from sick kids to parental complaints to budget cuts to a flat tire on the school bus.
So it’s no wonder that decisions on how to choose an edtech provider, while important, tend to get buried in the daily crush of urgent activity.
I was reminded of this fact last month at SXSWEdu, where I joined administrators from across the country in a session titled, “How to Make EdTech Purchasing Painless and Effective.” When we were ready to begin the session, we were excited to see that the room was packed. Though we had only 30 minutes, the Q & A spilled over and continued long after the event, with people walking up to me and other panelists throughout the remainder of the conference to keep the dialog going.
Why was there so much interest? As a CEO of an edtech company, LearnBop, I’ve worked with a number of school and district leaders throughout the US, and the need for better information and processes around purchasing education technology is clear almost everywhere I go.
It’s understandable that, when it comes to deciding which education technology to purchase, some administrators go with brand recognition, while others choose what a colleague or friend recommends. Others simply put off the decision. Administrators have so much on their plate that taking the time to dive into the details just doesn’t seem possible.
But we also know that digital education is making a huge impact on student learning, and that many school districts would benefit from using these high-quality edtech products. The challenge is matching the district with the product and providing enough information so that the district understands the potential benefits.
So what can we do?
For starters, edtech providers need to do a better job of understanding the needs of districts and clearly communicating how their product can help. This doesn’t mean trying to wow administrators with flashy PowerPoint presentations or messaging garnered from focus groups. District leaders want substance, and the best way to do that is to demonstrate efficacy.
Scientific data is crucial for demonstrating the potential impact of your edtech solution, so providers should take the time to measure the impact of their products in the classroom and lead with that data. Schools want solutions that work.
Another crucial aspect is allowing schools to “try-before-you-buy.” Schools are different, and the solution that works for one school may not work for the next. By providing schools with the opportunity to pilot before making a purchasing decision, edtech companies give administrators and educators the opportunity to ensure they’re making the right decision.
It’s also crucial that schools do due diligence with pilot programs, so that they can get real data and a real understanding of how the product being considered might impact their students’ learning gains. By planning before a pilot, you go in knowing what you want to know. You’re not just asking, “Does it work?” but rather, “What does ‘working’ look like for us?” What does success look like for our students, and how can we concretely measure that success?
The most successful pilots I’ve seen use pre- and post-diagnostics to measure the impact of the solution being tested. They’ve also had regular check-ins built into the week with the supervising administrator (either a department chair, TSA, principal, assistant principal, or someone from the district office) to hear how things are going and catch problems before they grow into weeks of non-use or confusion. And, maybe most importantly, they’ve had clearly delineated goals.
Question to guide the pilot process.
- Did the students like it?
- Did the teachers like it?
- Can we see a significant impact on learning gains?
- How do we measure that impact?
- How does the solution help the teacher, the student, the administrator, the parent, all of the above?
- How can we improve the solution?
Of course, edtech purchasing is a work in progress. There are constantly new products being pushed out, some with great potential to help our students, and some that will be a flash in the pan. The only thing we can do is be organized and intentional when evaluating them, and look to existing resources to gather more information so that we’re not constantly reinventing the wheel (EdSurge’s Product Review Index is a great tool for diving into the details on lots of edtech solutions out there). For more tips on edtech purchasing, download our free Administrator’s Guide to EdTech Purchasing.
Working together, educators and providers can create better edtech acquisition processes in pursuit of our common goal: preparing more students for success.
Bharani Rajakumar is founder and CEO of LearnBop, a classroom-based digital solution to help students succeed in K-12 mathematics.