This three-part blog series, featuring guest authors from The Learning Accelerator and MA DESE OET, highlights the importance of centering equity in edtech selection. In this second post, the author outlines three questions school and systems leaders should answer before procurement when considering new edtech.
The past few years have seen a rapid expansion of technology in schools. Federal funding earmarked for technology procurement is bolstering budgets at the same time that major challenges (e.g., lost instructional time, teacher pipeline issues, etc.) continue to impact instruction and student learning. Within this context, it can be easy to jump to the edtech marketplace for solutions. However, according to the Edtech Genome Project, 85 percent of edtech spending may be wasted on tools that are either a poor fit or not implemented properly [in classrooms].
Last year, I worked with my team at The Learning Accelerator and colleagues at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop an Edtech Systems Guide that outlines best practices for equity-driven edtech selection, implementation, and evaluation.
Through this work, we learned that an equity-driven approach to procurement is not always about getting new edtech; instead, it’s crucial to understand what tools you have and how they are (or could be) used before procuring new tools.
Leaders can ask three questions before turning to the edtech marketplace to ensure they understand their needs and have considered broader equity efforts.
Before making any determination about what additional tools to add to your edtech portfolio, you must understand the ones you have in place as well as how, when, and by whom they’re used. There are several ways to source this information, including surveys, classroom observations and walkthroughs, or the use of third-party tools that aggregate usage data.
While answering this question, it is important to ensure that you collect enough data to understand the equity implications of how and by whom tools are being used. For example, you will want to track the kinds of experiences that your tools offer (e.g., the substitution of worksheets replicated online vs. transformational tasks), as well as usage and progress data. Further, you will want to collect users’ demographic information, as well as the extent to which tools are being implemented and used with fidelity. Ultimately, your goal is to collect and triangulate among a rich mixture of both qualitative and quantitative data points to paint an authentic picture of your edtech portfolio and any disparities between how, when, by whom, and to what effect tools are being used.
In addition to understanding the tools currently in use within your school or system, you must understand your students’, families’, and educators’ sentiments toward these tools and how they use them. Several factors will impact how you create opportunities to gather this input, including the challenge(s) you seek to address using technology, your school’s or district’s size, and your capacity. Based on these factors, you may design stakeholder engagements in different ways, which could include surveys, focus groups, empathy interviews, or a combination of the three.
Regardless of how you choose to answer this question, you’ll want to ensure that you intentionally solicit participation from historically marginalized and underrepresented groups and that you consider how their participation or sentiments may differ from their counterparts.
Edtech leaders are responsible not only for selecting the most appropriate tools for their students and other constituents but also for ensuring these tools are implemented and used in powerful ways. Having answered the previous questions, you can explore whether tools within your portfolio can flex to address the challenge that has led you to consider procuring a new tool. Further, you can examine the ways you have trained and supported your stakeholders in using these tools. Perhaps, instead of a new tool, you may be better served by strengthening the implementation of your existing portfolio.
As part of your examination of the edtech support you provide, consider whether it is fully accessible to fully accessible to the breadth of users in your context.. Further, ask yourself whether you provide multiple access points for those with varying degrees of familiarity with technology (e.g., hands-on basic training, on-demand how-to videos, etc.) and how you might add to existing supports to promote better use of edtech.
In answering these three questions before procuring new edtech, leaders can gather the information needed to better understand their needs and opportunities to promote equity within the decision-making process. What may be initially perceived as a need for a new tool may be an entirely different challenge. However, this will not be clear unless leaders understand what technology they have, how it is used, and how they support the stakeholders who use and are impacted by it.
Leverage Digital Promise’s Product Certifications to support your equity-driven decision making, including Research-Based Design and Learner Variability. These certifications help districts narrow their options and select intentionally-designed, equitably-built products that have been vetted by a third party.