As schools and districts make the return to full-time in-person learning, and education has also been infused with record levels of federal funding, determining which edtech tools used during remote learning work and which ones to keep has become a critical-yet-necessary process, as is ensuring flexibility, equity, and accessibility for all students.
“It's still difficult to decide which products should be the ones that you want to put in front of students and teachers,” says Christina Luke, senior director of Lifelong Learning Pathways for Digital Promise. “Just selecting from the thousands of options, even before you make a purchasing decision, is very difficult.”
Here are a few recommendations of what to keep in mind when considering investments in new edtech tools.
Learning leaders and IT administrators need to communicate and both be at the table during purchasing discussions. “It shouldn't just be an IT decision and it shouldn't just be a curriculum leader decision; there should be collaboration and in reviewing embedding the products and what you're going to fit best for learning,” says Luke.
User feedback is critical. Getting the hands-on perspective regarding a digital tool from those who actively use it needs to be considered during the purchasing process. “Too often, edtech solutions are adopted without input from students or teachers,” says Luke. “It's really important to get teacher buy-in, but it's also really important to hear from the learners themselves about what tools work for them and why.”
Collect data to determine what and how tools are actually being used. Make sure that the type of information being assessed in a requirement decision matches the type of tool being evaluated. For instance, if it's a tool that is designed for review and engagement, you would want to look at usage data, says Luke.
Try before you buy. If possible, Luke recommends working with a vendor or solution provider to do small-scale pilots and trials before making a purchase. “It’s important in this space because, even with better information about which tools to select to try, there's still a need to actually implement it with real people in context to know if it's going to be a viable solution or not,” she says.
Be mindful of equity and accessibility. Leaders need to focus on edtech that was designed to prioritize learner agency and variability, and can support more equitable learning experiences. Digital Promise addresses equity in terms such as access, devices, broadband, and interactive learning, says Luke. “We think about how the learners have agency and are they able to connect and create using technology. Are they not just a consumer but an active participant in learning?” She recommends the Edtech Equity Project tool kit, which is focused on what school district leaders should think about when they're procuring edtech from an equity perspective. It includes questions leaders should ask about how data is used and reported.
“There's still widespread access problems, and there are still participation pieces that we need to support,” says Luke. Technology also needs to be used in ways that empower and enable learners to have agency and active control over their learning, encourages creativity, and engages critical thinking skills.
“We continue to learn from school districts that are doing this well about what works in terms of decision-making,” says Luke. “And, time and again, we learned that those that are focused on learning goals first and create opportunities for feedback from both students and teachers have greater success with higher rates of usage and success with edtech, no matter what it is.”