Making the Best Technology Purchasing Decisions

MakingTheBestTechnologyPurchasingDecisions.jpg

In our next collaborative post, Steven Anderson (@web20classroom) and I discuss how schools and districts can make the best technology purchasing decisions.

Recently I was talking to a Tech Director colleague that was in the middle of a purchasing battle with a principal. The principal had been approached by a well-known technology vendor wanting to sell the school some hardware and software to help students in literacy and math. The vendor was long on promises but short on delivery. The problem was the principal was blinded by the promises of high achievement and didn’t consider how that one purchase would put a serious strain on the district technology department.

Balancing a district budget is an annual job that has many administrators prioritizing monies to meet the needs of students and staff, as well as the upkeep and daily operations of the grounds and facilities. The increase of technology use in learning has added an element to the budget which has seen a steady increase over the years. In a 2017 report from Learning Counsel results found districts spent $16.2 billion on hardware, networks and major system software. And these numbers will only continue to rise.

With this understanding, many district administrators and technology coaches have found a need to vet the limitless purchasing options out there and make decisions that look past the flash of products to ones that will truly impact student learning.

Questions to Consider Before Making A Technology Purchase

How Are Student Privacy and Data Protected? Many of the Edtech products available today require some elements of Personally Identifiable Information (PII). This could be anything from their name and grade all the way to their entire student demographic and academic profile. Educators and Administrators have a responsibility to understand how that data used by the products are consumed and ultimately protected. Reading terms of service is a start but asking questions like how much PII is actually needed for the software to run or how is the data stored or is it encrypted in transit and rest are some of the most basic questions to have solid answers to before allowing any company access to data sources. Check to see if the vendor has signed the Student Data Privacy Pledge. Most importantly, have a solid understanding of how the data is stored and used before signing on the dotted line.

What compatibility and interoperability are available? A common mistake we see made frequently come from local school administrators making a purchase without making sure it works in the current system. Odds are if you are making a major technology purchase you already have a network and systems in place. Therefore, it is important to ask about what devices the software works on or how does the hardware work in your current server environment? You don’t want to have to make additional purchases after the fact or find out that what was purchased won’t work at all because there is a compatibility problem.

Where did the research come from? Many Edtech products, especially those used to increase student-achievement, will boast that they are backed by research. But, you have to look at this with a critical eye. Where did the research come from? Was it funded by the vendor? Was it the vendor themselves? If products are truly “backed by research” the vendor should be able to provide or you should be able to provide independent research to back their claims.

What Is The True Cost For The Hardware or Software? Don’t get burned by additional costs related to licenses and fees. When you are making a major technology purchase what does the license include? Is a yearly cost? With software especially, as lots of questions about the total cost. Often you will have to pay for updates or upgrades. You don’t want to spend a large chunk of your budget on some software for every student only to find out that if you want the next version you’ll have to pay more for it. Do your homework and crunch the numbers to find out the true cost of ownership.

How Will You Be Supported? Support is often one of those things you don’t think about until you need it. It should, however, be towards the top your list to understand before making any technology purchase. Do you have to pay for support? If you do, how much do you get? Are you limited to the number of support cases you can open? Who can call for help? When is support available? Is just a certain number of hours a day or is is it 24/7/365? Is the support local or is it outsourced? Understand the support structure before you are stuck needing it.

What Training and Professional Development Opportunities Are Available? If you are spending a large portion of your budget on a new piece of hardware or software, especially if it is being used in the classroom by students or teachers, there should be a conversation before you sign about training and professional development. How will everyone be trained? Will it come at a cost or is it included? What about training new users 6 months down the road? Will the vendor provide it or will the district be responsible? How about opportunities for ongoing professional development? Coaching?. Ultimately you are looking for more than just a hardware/software provider, you are looking for a partner that can be with you for the long haul.

Making The Best Technology Purchasing Decisions-Web20Classroom

 

Checklist For Technology Purchasing   

  1. Purpose: Does the purchase align with the mission and goals of the district? Does it support attainment of the discipline standards, ISTE Standards, and learning targets? Powerful EdTech purchases are ones that can span grade-levels and content areas for maximum student and teacher use.
  2. Student-Centered: Besides options to leverage the differentiated classroom, inclusive classroom, and accessibility options; student-centered focuses on choice, ease of use, fun, and supports learning.
  3. Cost: Often times the price tag is a heavily weighted component in purchasing, but don’t forget to factor in: Licensing one-time, or yearly, per student or per school/district, updates included or added costs, replacement fees, cross-platforms/devices, renewal processes, and contracts.  
  4. Data Privacy and Security: Always understand how student data is used and stored when making any purchase. How will you get data in the product? What is the minimum amount of student data needed for the product to be used effectively? Is it encrypted when it’s stored? Educators and administrators have a duty and obligation to keep student data private and secure. Learn more about FERPA, COPA, CIPA, PPRA here.
  5. Logistics/Management: Minimal Effort To Get Things Going and Keep Them Going. Will this technology purchase work in our current learning environment? Whether devices, infrastructure, or sign-in, logistics and management are essential to get right. Nothing squashes EdTech in the classroom more quickly than when something doesn’t work, access is complicated, or multiple steps must occur before it is roll-out or available to staff and students.
  6. Support: You Should Be Supported. Along with management and logistics as a necessary component of technology purchasing success, an understanding of the support offered is essential to classroom use. Knowing how to access support, who provides the support, and what that support looks like is information that needs to be gathered in the beginning stages.
  7. Professional Learning: Continuous Learning. Professional Learning can come in many forms, from onsite training to monthly webinars, knowing how teachers will learn about the possibilities available with a new purchase and how this will be done helps to encourage use and exploration. Are there additional resources available to use? Is there a community of users to connect with?
  8. References: Check Your References. Ask for and check references from those educators and districts already using the product or service. While this may not be a top priority for every purchase, connecting with and hearing from districts currently using the product or service may provide an understanding or experienced success and frustrations.

Need more help making the best technology purchasing decisions? We’ve created a deeper checklist you can use, copy and modify to meet your needs. Download it here.

 

 

Patrick Larkin: Iowa 1:1 Leadership Day

Last Saturday I had the pleasure to attend #EdCampIowa in Cedar Falls. The day was filled with thought-provoking conversations with passionate educators connecting and collaborating for the betterment of student learning. A common theme appearing in multiple sessions spanning from Special Education and Inclusion to the final session Matt Townsley and I facilitated Rocks and Stinks was Professional Development! During an extended conversation over lunch, Townsley shared a term known as “Apprenticeship of Observation” coined by Dan Lortie. In essence, teachers teach as they were taught, their beliefs formed early in their educational careers when they themselves were students. And even though many have had opportunities to explore new research, attend professional development, and view model teaching; most educators revert back to their beliefs, which at times, they know are not best for student learning.

Besides opportunity to reflect upon these ingrained beliefs, evaluating their usefulness and letting go of the ones that deter student learning and engagement; administrators also need to model best practice during staff meetings and professional development, avoiding their own beliefs that may contradict what they expect to see in their teachers’ classrooms.

This modeling of expectations made me connect immediately to the April Leadership Day at the Iowa 1:1 Conference. Below is an interview I had with Patrick Larkin about the day. Larkin plans to facilitate a day with school leaders that promotes engagement and social learning so that the experience provides a frame of reference for administrators as they plan professional development in their own digitally-rich schools.

Unknown

“I am coming to learn, facilitate learning, and provide a social learning experience to school leaders.” -Patrick Larkin, highlighting his agenda for the Iowa 1:1 Conference Leadership Day.

Three years ago, Patrick Larkin, Assistant Superintendent from Burlington Public School in Massachusetts, made the long trip to attend the 2nd Annual Iowa 1:1 Conference. His objective was to meet, face to face, the Iowa connections he had made online and to deepen his knowledge of 1:1 learning within an educational environment. This year, Larkin returns to Iowa to facilitate a Leadership Day prior to the April 10th conference.

Speaking to Larkin, it is clear that student learning is at the forefront of all decisions he makes. In fact, part of the reason his district chose ipads for implementation was to allow students to customize their device. Now, in year three, Larkin has approached  his leadership team with the idea of  leaving device selection up to each individual student. The school would provide choice, allowing the learner to select the device that best meets their needs.

Although Larkin was personally educated in a traditional environment, as a leader in a 1:1 school district he recognizes three advantages students in technology-rich districts have:

1.  Access. Students are able to connect with learners and experts anytime, anywhere.

2. Organization. “The dog ate my homework,” is no longer an excuse. With a personal device, students are able to organize and access their material with ease.

3. Digital Footprint. Students are able to build something positive online. Their contributions becoming their digital footprint, consistently updating their “brand” which Patrick denotes as today’s resume.

Similar to student advantage #1, Larkin’s goal is to provide a social learning experience for leaders attending the pre-conference day on April 9th. High levels of engagement is common in classroom that promote collective learning opportunities. Larkin feels that educational leaders need to experience this social learning and echo it within the Professional Development they design for staff. His challenge for the day is for,“educational leaders need to come prepared to share, struggle, and think!”

When:  April 9, 2014 from 1pm – 4pm
Where Iowa Events Center
Cost:  $50 per participant (This fee is in addition to the regular conference fee)
Who:  School leaders – Principals, teachers in leadership positions, technology staff members, superintendents, or anyone in a leadership position