Classrooms are evolving as technology influences the way students learn and educators teach. Educational technology (edtech) companies have capitalized on technology’s potential to personalize learning experiences for students, which can result in content that is layered with mechanisms to support the needs of diverse learners. Technology’s capability to reach all learners at their individualized level has caused schools across the nation to acquire digital resources at accelerated rates.
Due to the edtech industry’s rapid expansion, little is known about the effectiveness of individual applications and programs. Many edtech companies find it difficult to provide the empirical data and evidence needed to convince school district leaders of their product’s educational merit. Educators are therefore left to integrate edtech tools into their classrooms and instruction with little input on products’ design, selection, and evaluation.
What’s more, end-users, including principals, teachers, and students, of edtech products are often absent in many phases of the selection and procurement processes. The involvement of teachers in procurement has important implications in efficacy and usage of digital resources.
Together, all of these factors contribute to our challenge today: a difficult discovery, selection, and procurement process for edtech products.
Over the past four years in my doctoral research at Johns Hopkins University, I have studied edtech practices across the United States and found many challenges districts and schools face when attempting to procure edtech products. Below are some of the major challenges surrounding edtech procurement.
A lack of a formal needs assessment process that seeks to understand the needs of students and educators. Without a formal process, products may be purchased that are not based on the needs of students or educators, but rather administrators’ perceptions of what is needed.
There are many barriers to discovering new edtech products. Given the lack of formalized needs assessment processes, it’s very challenging to find and select edtech products that match authentic needs. Because procurement practices don’t always include frequent communication channels with vendors and end-users, discovering new tools is often difficult. Time is also a major barrier to the discovery phase of edtech decision making, further delaying edtech product implementation to support the immediate needs of students.
There’s a lack of end-user involvement throughout edtech decision-making processes. While research has documented the positive impact of teacher involvement in procurement practices, for instance, these end-users are often left out of the procurement process. Including teachers—who likely best understand student needs—is essential to ensure that edtech selection and purchases closely align to students’ learning needs.
Little emphasis is placed on thorough product evaluation. This is likely due to perceived time constraints, quick purchasing timelines, and a lack of measurable outcomes. This practice is driven by:
Products are then purchased without properly vetting their effectiveness and usefulness with end-users. The lack of end-user involvement often leads to purchased products that are not used or fully leveraged by end-users.
Many school districts continue to use historical and antiquated procurement practices based upon older textbook adoption models. The impact of historical and antiquated procurement practices has resulted in practices that do not match the needs of end-users and modernized edtech market trends.
Despite these challenges, many best practices in edtech procurement have been developed. In an ideal world, a school or district’s edtech procurement process would follow the best practice models developed by Morrison, Ross, & Corcoran or Digital Promise’s 8-step pilot process available on the Edtech Pilot Framework.
In these best practice models, procurement follows a logical progression of steps:
Critical to each of these steps is the involvement of end-users of the products—specifically educators.
I’ll discuss best practices that address the various challenges schools and districts face in procuring edtech products in more detail in part two of this blog series. Specifically, I’ll describe best practices in needs assessment to identify and prioritize student needs, using various free platforms to discover new edtech tools that align to students’ identified needs, and the importance of product evaluation to ensure products match the learning needs of students. I’ll also discuss the future of edtech procurement and how innovations like edtech design standards and certifications could improve edtech decision making to ensure students work with high quality products.
Explore the Edtech Marketplace Today blog series to hear other voices from the field share important perspectives on challenges and strategies to improve the edtech market. You can also visit the Edtech Pilot Framework to learn more about the edtech marketplace and subscribe to Digital Promise’s Action Report to stay up-to-date on their work.