10 Steps to Making the Best EdTech Decision for Your District
Go beyond the flashy sales pitch to get the best for educators and students
by Rob Waldron
While browsing a souk during our honeymoon in Istanbul, my wife and I were taken in by the most dazzling sales pitch for a Turkish rug. It wasn’t until we got home that we understood the difference between artisan high-quality and shoddy work that leaves your floors stained. We learned the hard way the importance of asking the right questions and negotiating.
This may sound familiar to those of you making purchasing decisions for your district. These decisions could affect hundreds or thousands of students, and it is imperative that you are informed and can see beyond a flashy sales pitch to do what’s best for the educators and students that depend on these tools. Drawing from my years inside the edtech industry, I’ve compiled 10 tips to help you invest in cost-effective programs that will drive the greatest gains for students.
Do an Audit
Before you make decisions about what you need, you need to know what you already have. Conduct an audit of current hardware, software, apps, and any established practices associated with these products. This should also include a districtwide staff survey asking which tools they use most and least, their favorite and least favorite tools, and why.
What is your goal? Do your best as a team to narrow the scope of your answer and keep it simple and targeted. If you’re not exactly sure how your goal translates into product features, consider first issuing a request for information (RFI) before a request for proposals (RFP).
Don’t Buy Custom
While every district is unique, districts’ objectives are relatively consistent across the country. Highly customized products (which come with high price tags) are usually unnecessary, and the less you customize, the less the product will cost.
Once you have narrowed it down to three to five vendors, ask that they base their presentations on a common standard, data reporting questions, or both. Be sure to inquire about their renewal rate, as this is a great indicator of customer satisfaction, and review independent evaluations such as those conducted by EdReports.org to compare programs.
Ask for results from districts similar in size and makeup to yours and reach out to them about their experience with the product. A company with great products and service will have champions who will eagerly respond.
Do a Real Pilot
Dedicate a sufficient amount of time (approximately 12 weeks) to conducting a meaningful pilot. Pilots should include clear goals, internal champions to plan and implement the pilot, planned conclusion, and time to reflect on both product feedback and implementation feedback from stakeholders.
Put Service Above Product
The people behind a product differentiate a good product from a great one. Discuss account management, data migration, roster sign-on, and the product roadmap. Districts should understand how the company handles different levels of support, meet their account manager, and have an executive’s mobile number in case of an urgent need.
Find Creative Savings
Before closing the deal, make sure you know the total cost of ownership, including costs for ongoing licensing, installation, training, and IT support. Ask for discounts and discuss ways to economize, such as conducting multi-day training instead of multiple trips, and compare costs of seat-based and site-based licenses. Other creative ways to save include collaborative buying through purchasing consortia.
Get a Guarantee or Walk
Your district should adopt a policy that all curriculum vendors must provide an unconditional money-back guarantee. Vendors need your business and will agree to this request if you insist.
Get Everyone On Board
As you roll out new programming, keep your messaging focused on how the new tool will help students. Make sure decision makers are available to explain purchasing decisions, staff are included in professional development, and families receive any training or information needed to support their children.