When I Buy Edtech Products, Our Teachers Don’t Use Them… What Do I Do?
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When I Buy Edtech Products, Our Teachers Don’t Use Them… What Do I Do?

Shutterstock / A and N photography

As the school year winds down, some educators have spent numerous hours finding the right online products for the 2016-2017 school year by taking demos from vendors, piloting programs, and soliciting feedback. Others went to a conference, saw something shiny, and bought it for their entire school or district.

But, even with a significant dedication of time and funds, many of these product licenses will not come close to hitting their teacher or student usage goals. In a study of 49 schools, Lea(R)n Trials found that 37% of purchased online literacy and math program licenses were never even activated; an additional 28% of licenses were activated, but usage goals were never hit. In fact, only 5% of users “fully” hit all usage goals, as shown below.

Regardless of the varying efficacies of these programs, having such little usage means wasted time and money for schools. As Clever’s Chief Product Officer Dan Carroll noted to EdSurge recently, the “bigger problem people aren’t talking about is around utilization.” Without utilization, it is impossible to gauge the efficacy of a program.

In working with schools and collaborating with peers, schools sometimes place little effort on implementing online programs, compared to implementation of more traditional instructional items like textbooks. Even those who put forth a concerted effort frequently do it in isolation, without considering what the teacher is actually teaching.

Make your purchases count! To help out, I made this edtech rollout template (completed example) to help schools avoid being a part of that fatefully large percentage of schools underutilizing the investments they’ve purchased. As you go through the template and prepare for a rollout in the fall of 2016, here are some of the biggest factors you should plan for:

1. Objective

Define why you are using this program. For example, the program may be one you hope will support low-performing students develop reading comprehension skills, or it may be a way to provide personalized math practice.

2. Planning Meetings with All Stakeholders

Now that you’ve started with the objective, make sure all stakeholders know how this program is expected to help students and educators. When people come in with different game plans, the implementation will have gaping holes—to the detriment of students. Successfully implementing an online program on a schoolwide scale requires coordination amongst many parties, including teachers, administrators, IT staff, operations, students, and families. Make sure to have everyone at the table and on board with the game plan. 

3. Key Users

Decide which students and teachers will be using the program, and your objective should heavily inform this. Is this program going to be used by all students, or a subset of students (such as English language learners, advanced students, or students who need intervention)? Too often, programs are just blanket-assigned to all students, diminishing its value and likely meaning schools are buying more licenses than they need to.

4. Structure

Lay out when the program is going to be used, for how long, and what content students will be working on. Does your staff need to create a schedule around shared carts or labs? If this is happening in class, is this done during a station, whole group, or sometime else? It also may include “readiness criteria,” to help you identify when a classroom is ready to roll-out the product. (Think “strong classroom management” or “organization skills” as exemplar readiness criteria.)

5. Metrics

What data points will the team use to gauge progress? How will this be conveyed to stakeholders, and how often? Suggested usage and mastery goals oftentimes come directly from the manufacturer but may need to be modified based on your school’s unique context.

Planning your data collection calendar throughout the year also provides a regular check-in time to make sure the program is actually being used and identify next steps if it isn’t. Additionally, collecting metrics is a great way to gather information on any product concerns that should be shared with the vendor.

6. Student Accountability and Investment Strategies

If no one is holding students accountable for product usage, the students might be able to detect that, which can lead to a lack of investment and behavior issues.There are various ways students can be held accountable, including incorporating online program progress into grades, bulletin boards, and 1:1 conferences. There are also great opportunities to connect student progress with rewards for individuals, classes, and/or the whole school for hitting goals. Whether it’s a place on a wall of fame, class pizza party, or schoolwide celebration (complete with a penguin costume, as shown below), these rewards can serve as motivators for students to meet their goals.

7. Teacher Accountability and Support

This factor often gets overlooked, but just like students, teachers should be given support and accountability for new edtech initiatives. Like a new curriculum, teachers should have similar structures for implementing online programs. Specifically, clearly define how teachers will get trained on the program before the rollout and throughout the year. Also, clarify who is supporting who, and how.

8. Timeline and Division of Labor

It is crucial to define unique responsibilities for each stakeholder, since so many people support the implementation of the program. Defining lanes makes sure that no responsibilities are overlapping—or worse, unaccounted for.

It’s also important to note that responsibilities vary throughout the year, and they should be mapped out with the objectives and final goals in mind for all of 2016-2017. The template breaks the year up in the “Implementation Timeline” section. (Note: Every school and district has different roles, so make the division of labor adjust to your own needs.)

The document provided above is a living document that can and should constantly be revisited and edited as the implementation progresses. Make sure to intentionally build in time to revisit and adjust course as needed.

How do you plan for a successful implementation of online programs in your school? Is there anything missing from the list and template above? 

Jin-Soo Huh (@JinSooDHuh) is an EdSurge columnist and currently the Personalized Learning Manager at Alpha Public Schools. Formerly, he served as the Director of Technology at KIPP Chicago Schools where he supported the amazing school leaders and teachers implementing instructional technology and personalized learning.

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