Education Leaders: Need Tools to Evaluate Ed Tech?

By Connie Bosley

School district leaders are looking for a better approach to improving student achievement and a smarter way to spend their technology dollars. Districts are facing challenges regarding:

  • Student achievement of the general population
  • Ability to meet special needs of English language learning
  • Ability to meet special education students’ needs
  • Meeting students with disabilities’ needs

Money has been tight since the last recession and in some cases is becoming even tighter. This can lead to poor classroom/school climate and inadequate support to correctly integrate and implement the new tech. The result? Tech is blamed for not working when implementation is at fault. This becomes expensive for the districts because of the high costs (tech price tags and man hours) of putting new tech into action. Educator leaders and researchers are creating tools school districts can use to evaluate if the Ed Tech actually does what it says it will do, how schools can successfully implement and integrate the product into the classrooms and get the promised results before they spend their scarce dollars.

boy with tablet deviceCommercial and non-profit companies offer help to districts

Digital Promise and Johns Hopkins have developed such a tool. Its aim is to meet the needs of K-12 districts and educational technology companies. It is designed to help districts objectively measure product–effectiveness through studies and research, and test the claims of Ed Tech companies as well as promote districts’ smart future buying. The questionnaire used to do this is divided into 3 sections with step-by-step questions on product information, study relevancy, survey’s source and study design.

The results are supplied to the district. The purpose is to help districts decide if they should conduct a pilot. This is an important step because pilots are difficult to effectively carry out. If the district does not need the pilot, they can focus on cost and whether it fits their current IT system.

The questionnaire used to do this is divided into 3 sections with step-by-step questions on product information, study relevancy, survey’s source and study design. The results are supplied to the district. The purpose is to help districts decide if they should conduct a pilot. This is an important step because pilots are difficult to effectively carry out. If the district does not need the pilot, they can focus on cost and whether it fits their current IT system.

The questionnaire used to do this is divided into 3 sections with step-by-step questions on product information, study relevancy, survey’s source and study design. The results are supplied to the district. The purpose is to help districts decide if they should conduct a pilot. This is an important step because pilots are difficult to effectively carry out. If the district does not need the pilot, they can focus on cost and whether it fits their current IT system. Common Sense Graphite (launched in 2013) provides trustworthy advice to districts interested in purchasing Ed Tech tools. Graphite has reviewed 2,200 tools as of this year with only 5 percent earning a ‘5 star’ rating.

It uses a three-pronged rubric:   

Engagementdoes it grab student’s attention and imagination? Does it keep them engrossed?   Is it something they will enjoy?  

Pedagogy - what is the design and depth for learning? Are students getting a conceptual understanding? Is the tool adaptive? What experience will students have by playing this game or using this tool?  

Support -Does the digital resource support various types of learning? What type of feedback do students get if they are struggling? What type of support do teachers receive?

Other concerns addressed are:

  • Does learning go beyond the screen time?
  • Does it connect with classroom learning?
  • Is the product filling a critical need in education today?
  • Does it substitute for an existing classroom tool or does it modify or even redefine what good teaching and learning look like?

The Jefferson Education Accelerator (JEA) offers research that may prove company’s marketing claims and is used by school districts and higher education groups that can apply to try out the technology without investing millions of dollars in products that don’t fit their needs or deliver on their promises. computer mouse and glowing cubesLearn Trials (Lea(R)n) is a different approach.

It provides a platform that enables educators to see and share their experience and outcomes, manage rapid product pilots and conduct impact analyses to provide districts the chance to understand the quality and efficacy of the Ed Tech in their local situation.

Teachers can find out what is working specifically enough to find information on a 4th grade English Language Learner in a rural district like theirs where more than 50 percent of students get free or reduced lunch.

Their Rubric is being used by thousands of teachers and their districts to figure out which tools are working right now. The EdSurge Guide to Choosing, Vetting and Purchasing K-12 Ed Tech Products and Concierge offers in-depth guidance and support to school districts and an introduction of tech companies to districts. The services are free to those districts that have signed the Future Ready Pledge.

The Process is the team

  • Interviews the district administrator to discuss and define district Ed Tech needs
  • Builds a short list of Ed Tech options
  • Assembles a catalog and talk to companies on the district’s behalf with an anonymous description of its needs that invite tailored proposals
  • Evaluates the options –walk through with the ability to identify any remaining questions/concerns
  • Introduces the district to products and chooses which products to examine further and connects to learn more

The district chooses which products to examine further and connect with the companies to learn more. RTEP is developing a toolkit and training material to use in product evaluation. The first deliverable product will be an online ‘wizard’ (Turbo Tax type software) due early 2017 that walks administrators through a series of questions to determine what kind of product they are trying to evaluate and the best research design to use. The Administrators Guide to Ed Tech Purchasing published September 25, 2015, by LearnBop is aimed at K-12 schools and district administrators. The document has three major sections:

  1. Identify the problem your school or district is facing
  2. Identify Ed Tech that can help you solve your problems
  3. Evaluate, purchase and implement the Ed Tech identified in a systematic manner.

EdCredible provides EdCred, a new Transparency in Purchasing Platform tool. Founder Kurt Fichtman said in our recent interview, “I got tired of school districts spending millions of dollars on Ed Tech that had already been discontinued by other similar districts.” He created a product that gave more transparency on Ed Tech already in use by districts nationwide. Recently adopted by the Florida School Boards Association, EdCred contains over 23,000 reviews written by the technologies’ end users - teachers. It identifies other school districts that are already using a product being evaluated and gives non-vendor information by classroom teachers who have used the technology more than a year.

tablet screen with app iconsDespite access to these tools, education leaders continue networking but in new ways

Nationwide, school administrators are looking outside their districts for clues to deal with the ever-changing Ed Tech and the need to make smart decisions about its use. They still turn to their peers but now use digital tools such as Smartphone app, Voxer, that enable users to communicate with groups of peers through short recorded messages. In the past, superintendents networked during professional conferences. Now using social media, online networking, technology associations and school tours, they are collaborating and crowd sourcing solutions with other education leaders throughout the country. Using digital networks like

In the past, superintendents networked during professional conferences. Now using social media, online networking, technology associations and school tours, they are collaborating and crowd sourcing solutions with other education leaders throughout the country. Using digital networks like Meetup.com they can solve problems and copy successful strategies surrounding Ed Tech implementation.

According to AASA Superintendent-in-Residence Mort Sherman, “It's not the universities or the government researching education technology, but the superintendents and staff in school districts doing the actual work.” Eighty-nine percent of superintendents visit vendor sites to research, purchase as well as pursue other avenues of research. Increasingly, they are using collaboration and crowd-sourcing for research.

The trend will continue to grow because it is convenient and they get the information they need to be smart consumers of Ed Tech and smart shoppers getting value for every dollar spent. It is important to note that although educators trust collaboration, they still welcome reliable information based on best evidence research about current successes of tech integration and implementation in the classroom. This situation guarantees the continued need for tools for smart Ed Tech consumerism.

Author

Connie Bosley is a retired K12 teacher with over 30 years’ experience in the classroom.  She has served on multiple school and district curriculum and tech committees as well as on the local newspaper education board. She continues to study and write about the K-12 Districts’ issues with tech purchase, as well as the problems Ed Tech companies have in understanding and working with educators. Connie is currently working as a freelance business-to-business writer for the Education industry. For information, visit http://www.cbosleycopywriting.com

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