The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for students to be digitally fluent and have adequate access to devices and the internet both at school and at home. The pandemic rapidly fueled the market for educational technology providers to market their hardware and software to schools across the globe. Despite the pandemic, schools make considerable financial investments each year in technology. In this article, I focus on the decision-making processes school leaders should use to select and implement technologies successfully.
I propose five main considerations when selecting technology to support teaching and learning.
1. Purpose- The Why
Teachers and administrators are inundated with marketing pressure to purchase the latest technology gadgets or software. This can make it difficult to know what the right technology to purchase is. Thoroughly considering why technology should be chosen and how it integrates with learning can help decision-makers choose which technology is most valuable or crucial to teaching and learning. Choosing the right technology to purchase is one of the founding principles of EDGEucating. After being led astray by several vendors due to a lack of time to fully research and vet products Kerri and I decided that no educator should have to deal with this frustration and this was one big reason we formed EDGEucating.
At EDGEucating we fully vet the quality, price, and educational value of the products that we endorse. However, the purpose of this article is to help you make your own decisions. One model that can help you make these decisions is developed by education and technology researcher Ruben Puentedura. His SAMR Model stands for substitution (Does the technology act as a direct substitute?); augmentation (Does it increase or improve existing learning?); modification (Does it modify existing learning?) or redefinition (Does it redefine what happens in classrooms?).
For example, collaboratively coding robots that are in different locations could not be done without technology like Kai’s Clan. This example shows modification or redefinition as it shifts how students collaborate. If the product you are looking into doesn’t satisfy any of these then it isn’t worth purchasing. It will likely sit on the shelf after purchase and that doesn’t do anything to help further education. Identifying if the technology is critical to the learning and how exactly it fits is a good first step in determining if there is a need for it.
2. Research and Evidence
In the ever-expanding EdTech universe, pinpointing a solution that actually works is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Educators routinely admit that they rely on general web searches to gather information about EdTech, while 59% base their procurement decisions on recommendations from peers. This is exactly why EDGEucating exists. As mentioned above, we began our journey to fill this very void in the market.
Educators prefer to make decisions supported by sound research and evidence of a product’s efficacy, but such research often doesn’t exist. Here at EDGEucating we make it our business to do the research ourselves. As educators, we know what works and what doesn’t. If we place our endorsement on a product we have put our hands on it, tested it for quality, price, educational value, and ease of use.
The fact remains that until EdTech vendors can back up their claims with more robust and thorough research, the burden is on educators to conduct their own research inquiries. This makes EDGEucating a valuable resource for educators. In addition, we recommend that you ask for a loaner kit to try out in your school environment or at minimum an online demonstration prior to making a purchase. You may also consider seeking out similar districts that have used the tool(s) successfully and finding out their thoughts.
Looking into the compatibility of technology can often be the most difficult part of the purchasing process. In my experience, working with your district’s technology department can be frustrating. Hopefully, you have an administration that will help facilitate this step of the process to help it run smoothly. You will want to consider the operating system, device compatibility, and security permissions before making a technology purchase of any kind.
In efforts to overcome this potential incompatibility, many tools are now browser-based. For example, Kai’s Clan can be accessed via a web browser rather than downloaded and installed on a device, reducing their dependence on certain types of hardware. This increases their compatibility but there may still be limitations on some platforms. For example, if using iPads you will be required to download apps to access their programs.
Knowing which software and tools educators plan to use, and investigating their requirements, can help when choosing devices. This is particularly true when it comes to a Google environment versus a Microsoft environment. If you are going the route of a Google environment then you will need to have your IT department’s support in allowing students and teachers access to download chrome extensions to make this environment productive. This lack of communication and permission granting appears more common than you might realize; so be sure to clear these things with IT before making a purchasing decision.
There are many factors to consider with access. A key one is how people can log in and connect to services and networks whether at school or home: Will the learners have to create accounts to access a tool that is being used? Can they access the tool using their existing school credentials?
In the classroom, logging in to a tool can be time-consuming, especially for younger students. At home, if the student doesn’t know their username or password for a particular tool, this becomes a barrier.
Tools that don’t require users to log in are potentially easier to use and more accessible, but they are much less useful for teachers for tracking individual progress and assessment. The lack of log-in requirements also leaves student data more vulnerable to abuse.
Tools that require credentials to be accessed should ideally use a single set of credentials or a single sign-on process.
Another issue to consider is how you will gain access from the company that you are purchasing from. We have found that some companies required us to create spreadsheets with a list of students and teachers that would be accessing the platform and their email addresses. This can get time-consuming to maintain when new students or teachers are added or removed. This is another thing to consider when making a purchasing decision. How will these users be loaded into the system and is this practical for ongoing maintenance?
Last but certainly not least, is security. Mitigating all potential vulnerabilities and data breaches should certainly be a leading factor for school board administrators. As with all things digital, there are concerns over privacy, ownership of, and access to data.
Educators must be aware of who has access to the information learners create and have a clear understanding of who the students can communicate with and how. Always check if there are any moderation or filtering settings available. Students shouldn’t be using platforms for education that allow unrestricted communication with other users outside of their classes or schools. Even communication between students should be monitored closely to ensure that information is safe and respectful.
If you are reviewing a product or service for purchase be sure to know what settings are and aren’t available to ensure safety for all.
While many factors can influence how educators decide what technology to implement for students, these five key considerations are a place to begin. If you need assistance with your purchasing decisions we hope you will reach out to us here at EDGEucating. Remember, we do the vetting for you. Be sure to view our list of vetted products to help you begin your purchasing process. Good luck!