July 9, 2019 | By Andrew J. Smith, Ed. D.
Note: you can find and read Part 1 of this blog post series here.
Despite the challenges educators face when trying to purchase edtech tools, new procurement tools have emerged that support evidence-based decision making when choosing and buying edtech products. In support of this process, Digital Promise created the Edtech Pilot Framework, which provides a multitude of free tools to help you in your edtech purchasing journey. Using the Edtech Pilot Framework as a guide, I will elaborate on three areas in which my doctoral research proved to be the most challenging, yet most impacted by knowledge of best practices and educator involvement.
Needs assessments provide a prescriptive process for evaluating students’ instructional needs. Beyond educational hunches or professional opinions, needs assessments provide a robust understanding of the root causes for a student’s instructional gaps and how to better support them. As an educator, once you understand those instructional needs, you are able to explore edtech tools that align with and meet your students’ needs. Needs assessments for edtech tools serve four primary functions:
With an understanding of the purpose of needs assessments, you might be wondering: How do I actually conduct a needs assessment? Although needs assessments are flexible and thus may vary, most needs assessments follow a general set of four steps: planning, collecting data, analyzing data, and reporting.
Although the process of conducting a needs assessment may seem overwhelming, the rich data it produces is critical to the next steps in the Edtech Pilot Framework. Ensuring that you have reliable, valuable data about your students’ instructional needs will guarantee that you understand what type of product you need. To learn more about needs assessments and to access useful tools like the Priority-Vision-Goal Worksheet, check out Digital Promise’s website on identifying needs.
Now for the fun part! Following a needs assessment, the discovery process should result in finding products that are tailored to fit student learning needs.
Numerous resources exist to help end-users search potential products. For example, the Digital Promise Edtech Pilot Framework provides a resource bank of digital resources to help educators navigate through the multitude of companies within the edtech market. Several organizations, including Common Sense Education, EdSurge, Evidence for ESSA, LearnPlatform, ProcureK12, and What Works Clearinghouse, provide educators with searchable databases of edtech products addressing diverse curricular needs. As end-users search for new tools to fit students needs, these resources, as well as more traditional methods like word-of-mouth recommendations, internet searches, research journals, and edtech vendor exhibitions at conferences, can provide channels for product discovery.
To ensure each product evaluation component (i.e., needs assessment/instructional alignment, technical specifications, professional development offerings, and more) is addressed, it is important to use a product evaluation rubric. The Ed-tech Rapid Cycle Evaluation Coach guide, for instance, provides teachers with a detailed checklist for completing product evaluation rubrics to ensure products match learning needs and school objectives. When vetting new edtech products, rubrics should include an implementation model, product fit, product design, implementation issues, resources for implementation, effectiveness data, and data availability. These rubric components, paired with clarifying/probing questions, allow end-users to quickly see if a product meets students’ needs.
I believe strongly that the future of edtech procurement depends greatly on how we evaluate the benefits and alignment of student needs with new edtech innovations. With tighter budgets, new accountability measures, and new ESSA legislation requiring evidence-based strategies, we must ensure our purchasing decisions result in high return on investment.
However, within any innovative space, new products are being launched at a rapid pace with little evidence about the quality of their design, consultation of learning sciences research, or their proven outcomes. One possible way to ensure edtech products meet high standards is to develop universal product design standards and certifications. By creating universal design standards for edtech products, we can develop product’s most fundamental characteristics from their inception. Once products are created, product certifications could be used to then classify those high-quality products for educators. Having third-party certified products could ensure that high-quality products introduced into the market place and ultimately guarantee that the learning needs of students are met.
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. Visit the Product Certifications website to learn more about the edtech marketplace and subscribe to Digital Promise’s Action Report to stay up-to-date on their work.