How to Evaluate EdTech and Use the Best Tools Next School Year
Technology is on the rise in today’s schools, making EdTech a booming business. As the market for EdTech becomes more and more saturated, it can be difficult for districts and schools to discern which tools will best support student learning, and what tools they can live without.
So, how do you decide?
In her recent webinar with NetRef, Dr. Monica Burns advised putting “tasks before apps.” Simply put, this is the practice of making smart decisions when evaluating and purchasing EdTech to ensure you’re investing only in digital tools that will elevate learning to meet the needs of all students and help you achieve academic goals.
Here are five steps from Dr. Burns for putting tasks before apps when considering which EdTech to renew or invest in next school year.
1. Build a framework that supports EdTech decision-making.
This is an important first step for a number of reasons. It establishes a common language to talk about the integration of new digital tools during coaching sessions, planning meetings or in PLCs; helps set goals for EdTech; and provides a context for reflection when determining which EdTech decisions worked and didn’t work down the road.
There are many frameworks to work from, and Dr. Burns has even developed her own, called ACES. This framework stands for:
- Access: Tools allow students to easily locate content hosted online to find info, answer questions or connect with others.
- Curate: Students can interact with resources handpicked by their teacher that relate to course content, student interest or the individual needs of learners.
- Engage: Students use tools to build transferable skills during hands-on learning activities that require them to create and collaborate.
- Share: Students have an authentic audience for learning, setting a purpose for their work and connecting their creations to the world outside the classroom.
Dr. Burns encourages considering these characteristics to achieve balance with EdTech. Make sure all four are addressed with the tools you have in place.
2. Identify key goals for the school year.
Defining specific goals is an important step in determining which tools and resources you want and need for students. Any EdTech should be purchased or renewed with the purpose of helping you reach those goals.
When defining key goals, it’s important to:
- Examine curriculum maps and standards. When you know what learning objectives you’re trying to achieve, you can identify key goals for technology integration that complement the goals for content and instruction.
- Identify goals outside the core curriculum. Think about what you’re trying to accomplish outside of your traditional curriculum and how EdTech can help you accomplish that.
- Consider hard and soft skill goals. Just as important as college- and career-readiness goals are soft skills like interpersonal communication and collaboration. Think about how EdTech can address these, too.
3. Evaluate your current EdTech.
Before you can determine what you need, you need to know what you have and how well it’s working. Survey all district and school stakeholders (administrators, teachers and even parents) and ask:
- What tools do you currently have access to (school-wide and teacher-wide)?
- How are you using those tools every day?
Then ask yourself:
- What current tools are helping us meet our goals?
- How can we make sure effective tools are being used, and used with fidelity?
4. Create an EdTech criteria.
Once you know what EdTech tools you have, and which ones are effective, choose tools to fill the gaps. Look for tools that are:
- Flexible: Choose EdTech that can be used in lots of ways across the curriculum, are accessible to all students and compatible with your other EdTech.
- Responsive: Use tools that respond to a variety of needs through adaptive technology and offer real-time data and feedback.
- Creative: Select open-ended tools that allow students to choose their own pathway for sharing what they’ve learned (through audio, video, music, imagery, etc.).
- Collaborative: EdTech should create opportunities for connecting, either remotely, through real-time screen sharing or through role-based collaboration.
- Promote curiosity: Look for tools that allow you to see what students are excited about (via interest surveys) and bring in tech like virtual or augmented reality to spark excitement.
5. Make a plan.
When you’ve decided which new EdTech tools to invest in, take these steps to ensure they are implemented with fidelity and used with ongoing effectiveness.
- Create an action team made up of stakeholders committed to working together to ensure successful implementation.
- Set up a pilot program before implementation to monitor how tools are being used and explore best practices.
- Provide time for reflection to evaluate the effectiveness of tools once they are in place.
- Follow up on new EdTech tools to determine which apps, programs and software continue to work or are no longer the right fit.
- Re-evaluate and revise your action plan regularly and determine whether the EdTech you have still meet your goals.
Evaluate EdTech with NetRef
As you determine which EdTech to renew and purchase for next year, consider how helpful it would be to have hard data proving which EdTech is being used and contributing to positive student outcomes. In addition to helping IT manage your network of devices, and allowing teachers to monitor individual device use in class, NetRef offers valuable EdTech usage reporting to administrators.
View EdTech use across school sites and in the district to calculate usage and measure the true value of your EdTech investments to inform decisions around vendor negotiations and purchasing. Learn more.