New Buying Guide Aims to Show Educators How to Improve Ed-Tech Purchasing

Associate Editor

School districts and teachers deluged with ed-tech options now can access a new buying guide from ISTE and Project Unicorn. It’s designed to give administrators and educators ideas about how to select the best products for their instructional purposes.

One goal of “Better Edtech Buying for Educators: A Practical Guide”—which is being released today by the two organizations at SXSWedu—is to improve collaboration between teachers and district officials in choosing what digital tools they use.

Another is to reduce redundancy. Districts using the LearnPlatform to manage ed-tech list an average of 568 products on the platform, demonstrating that at least sometimes teachers are making decisions that have not been vetted at higher levels.

“Unfortunately, the district and classroom educator interested in ed-tech can find themselves in conflict,” said Joseph South, the chief learning officer for ISTE, the International Society for Technology in Education. Administrators voice frustration about teachers “doing their own thing” by choosing tools in the classroom without getting district input, and teachers lament that the process takes too long or that their opinions aren’t being considered at higher levels.

“Both sides have a tremendous opportunity if they reach out to each other,” said South. When they do, educators can be sure they are using products that align with data privacy and interoperability standards a district establishes, and administrators can make relevant and effective purchasing decisions of products teachers want to use.

Once established, this collaboration does not have to be onerous or time-consuming, said South, citing the Sun Prairie Area School District in Wisconsin, which is highlighted in the guide. District officials there set up policies and procedures for a vetted list of ed-tech products available to teachers. For tools not on that approved list, teachers are promised a 48-hour turnaround for a decision about whether a new product can be used in their classrooms.

Among the questions that need to be answered as educators consider making procurement decisions: Will a particular app meet learning goals? Will it work with our school’s infrastructure? Does it comply with data privacy laws? Does it complement existing tools? And how do I get the data out of the tool to inform teaching and learning?

The 40-page guide responds to these inquiries with five categories of consideration:

  • Alignment with student learning goals and standards
  • Importance of research and evidence
  • Data interoperability and student privacy
  • The challenges of implementation, use, and ongoing support
  • Educators as purchasing partners.

Project Unicorn, an initiative of InnovateEDU, incorporated its data interoperability guidance in the publication.

South pointed out that considering interoperability is a productivity issue for educators because districts that require products to meet interoperability standards can “save teachers hours and hours of time” in not having to require students to log into multiple systems.

Ultimately, the guide can help districts save money, too, according to South. “Procurement is a long game, but it’s one that involves hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in a district,” he said. By encouraging decisionmakers to evaluate the efficacy of products, funds can be redirected to the products that are most likely to work.

The guide will be distributed for free to ISTE members with the organization’s quarterly magazine. For non-members of ISTE, it is available for purchase.

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