How you find, evaluate, and choose ed-tech products for your schools is a critical factor in your students’ success—and a recent report suggests this process leaves a lot to be desired for both educators and software providers. The result is that schools don’t always end up with the best tools to meet their needs.
The report, called Improving Ed-Tech Purchasing, comes from Digital Promise and the Education Industry Association. It’s based on a survey of more than 300 education leaders and ed-tech executives, followed by more than 50 in-depth interviews.
The groups’ research reveals a number of barriers to assessing schools’ needs, discovering new ed-tech products that can help meet these needs, and evaluating products to make sure they are the right fit for a school or district.
For instance, while the vast majority of K-12 leaders say they buy products based on an assessment of their needs, most of these assessments are informal in nature. Also, those closest to teaching and learning—principals, teachers, and students—too often have limited involvement in the ed-tech purchasing process, the survey suggests.
Ed-tech providers, meanwhile, say it’s hard for them to meet schools’ instructional needs, because they often don’t know what these are. Only two of five providers said they’re satisfied with their understanding of districts’ needs.
As more ed-tech products flood the market, school leaders say they “can’t keep up” and “don’t have time” to respond to vendor inquiries. Vendors, on the other hand, say it’s hard for them to be noticed in a crowded marketplace.
School leaders say they’d like to choose products based on rigorous evidence of effectiveness, but they are mistrustful of vendors’ claims—so instead, they rely largely on peer recommendations. For their part, ed-tech providers are frustrated by the ability of school leaders to differentiate between vendors’ claims of efficacy.
Based on the report’s findings, here are six key lessons that can help improve ed-tech purchasing:
Know what you need.
“Many schools do not have a formal process for assessing what classrooms actually need and, in turn, can’t specify what product attributes and services will best meet their goals,” the report says. “It’s important for schools to be more structured and precise in assessing their instructional needs,” such as by conducting surveys and convening review teams.
Involve end users.
“The people most directly affected by the tools that are purchased should have a more central role in selecting and testing them,” the report urges.
School leaders should publicize their instructional needs and goals, so ed-tech providers can better match them.
Discover what’s out there.
School and district leaders should put out more RFIs (Requests for Information) to discover relevant information about options in the market, the report says.
Focus on evidence.
“Many school leaders say evidence of a product’s effectiveness is key to making purchasing decisions. But many providers say they can’t afford the kinds of proof, like randomized control trials, that schools want. And even when they do, districts often don’t trust the evidence or understand its context,” the report says. “Faster, cheaper alternatives for proving effectiveness—like formal pilots, case studies, and small comparison-group designs—will help bridge these gaps.”
Design better pilots.
Many schools use pilot projects to field-test products before buying them, but these are often informal processes. The report recommends that schools use a structure “that generates evidence around product efficacy and leads to a data-driven ‘go’ or ‘no-go’ purchasing decision.”