Develop and implement a series of surveys to determine how well your district or school is positioned for digital learning and identify areas of need.
Needs assessments are systematic processes that help identify strengths, weaknesses, and priorities. For this purpose, a needs assessment should serve as a living document that guides the leadership team in mapping a school or district’s technology infrastructure, determining the time, work, and financial investment needed for the digital learning program, and monitoring progress toward the end goal. Importantly, a needs assessment will also uncover the equity imbalance in a school or district by identifying the type of access a student has at home; for many families, home internet is limited to a smartphone with a data plan, while other families will have a new computer with high-speed internet access.
Needs Assessment Data Collection
The needs assessment begins by collecting data about the district’s current resources as well as opinions and needs of teachers, families, and students based on the goals for digital learning (see “Forming and Utilizing a Leadership Team“). The data collection process can take many forms, but often includes surveys and focus groups. To maximize the value of data, questions asked to different groups should be comparable to one another. Having multiple surveys with completely different information will make it difficult to analyze data or identify trends.
School or District Level:
It is important to understand the current technological infrastructure of the district as a whole and individual schools when planning for digital learning. This includes:
- Number of available devices and device accessibility to students
- Condition and age of those devices
- Existing peripherals
- Quality of internet access in all district buildings and at students’ homes
- District licenses for software and applications
The leadership team should gauge the ability and comfort levels of educators who will teach digitally. This includes collecting data about:
- Teachers’ understanding of the district/school’s digital learning vision
- Professional development needs
- Teachers’ at-home access to digital resources and high-speed internet
Families and Students
During data collection, seek and receive input from families and students, both separately and together. Those surveyed should represent the diversity of your school or district; this often means seeking feedback from students and families who are traditionally marginalized in school environments. While family- and student-centered surveys should help determine where there are gaps in accessing devices and high-speed internet, they should also highlight the unique talents and knowledge that families and students can bring to a digital learning environment, particularly when digital learning occurs at home. Additionally, family needs surveys should include questions to gauge family members’ comfort with assisting children in their learning, and their preferred digital learning modalities.
When implementing family and student surveys, consider the following:
- Surveys or focus groups should provide space for not only school-identified needs and potential concerns, but also for families to share their own needs, concerns, and ideas.
- Distribute surveys through multiple methods—email, social media, text messages, phone calls, etc.—in multiple languages. Especially when identifying what digital technology is available to students, it is important to use multiple means to collect data.
- When possible, have individuals with personal connections or relationships reach out to families to receive the most authentic feedback possible.
Using Data To Generate a Needs Assessment
Once data has been collected, analyze the data to determine trends and pinpoint areas of need within the school and district. This data should drive the district needs assessment and the creation of an action plan for digital learning.
Overall, your needs assessment will identify the current status of required digital learning program components. With many components, schools can start with existing resources, policies, and procedures and expand or modify them to include a digital learning program. This will significantly reduce the amount of work required, and also remove some barriers to gaining support and approval.
In order to develop an effective and usable needs assessment, consider including the following components:
- Focus Area(s): Focus areas should include identified gaps between what is currently available and the desired goal. Example focus areas include devices, internet access, and available professional development, communications.
- Factor: These are sub-tasks of each focus area to be completed to ensure readiness and ongoing success.
- Score: Each factor is scored to keep the leadership team updated on its status. The scores are color-coded to help quickly identify factors that may be behind schedule and pose a risk to delaying the project. Here is a sample scoring chart:
- 5: Factor is ready for project. Celebrate!
- 4: Factor is 75% ready. We’re almost there—keep going!
- 3: Almost halfway done with this. We’ve got a good start on this one.
- 2: Some work has started on this. We’ve got a lot of work to do yet.
- 1: Nothing done on this factor. Who can help us get started on this one?
- 0: This does not apply to us. We can skip this one.
- Directly Responsible Individual (DRI): A DRI is assigned to each factor and responsible for monitoring progress, ensuring the overall factor and its sub-tasks are completed on time, and reporting progress to the leadership team. DRIs do not need to be on the leadership team; consider including experts with skills and talents in the focus areas or factors.
- Due Date: Identify the date that a factor must be completed to keep the project on schedule.
- Current Status: Summarize the current status of a factor, and update as key benchmarks are completed.
- Next Steps: Identify steps in the process to complete each factor. The DRI may provide a summary of key steps here, and maintain more details in a separate project management planning tool.
- Has data been collected at the district and school level, as well as from teachers, students, and families?
- Has the data collected from all stakeholders been utilized to identify key focus areas of need for digital learning?
- Have individual factors within each focus area been identified, along with a Directly Responsible Individual (DRI) and due date for each?
Tools and Resources
- WestEd: Comprehensive Guide to Needs Assessments
- Digital Promise: Conducting a Needs Assessment for Digital Learning Micro-credential
- Digital Promise: Edtech Pilot Framework: Identifying Need
Needs Assessment Data Collection
- Educause: Survey Kit for Remote Learning Experiences
- Florida Center for Instructional Technology: Technology Uses and Perceptions Survey (TUPS)
- National Center for Education Statistics: Determining Your Technology Needs
- Culturally Responsive Education Hub: Tools for Educators to Listen to and Learn from Families
- Common Sense Education: Meeting the Digital Needs of Underserved Families
- Aurora Institute: Learning Continuity Readiness Assessment
- Rhode Island Department of Education: Virtual Instructional Day Plan
- Michigan Virtual: Teaching Continuity Readiness Rubric
- Future Ready: District Assessment