All Things Considered: What To Ask Before Purchasing Ed Tech
Education is a staple of modern life and technology is increasingly a staple of modern education. The education technology industry represents $8 billion in annual spending, and public schools in the United States spend $3 billion a year on digital content. In most cases it’s money well spent. Seventy-four percent of teachers who responded to a recent national survey conducted by PBS said technology enables them to reinforce and expand classroom content. In addition, 73 percent of respondents said technology helps them better respond to a variety of learning styles, and more than two-thirds said they want more technology in their classrooms. Despite the benefits, however, simply adding more technology to the classroom, whether in K-12 or higher education, doesn’t guarantee results.
Before you make a large education technology investment, consider the following questions to ensure the investment is the best use of funds—and will provide the best possible educational outcomes.
Top 10 Questions To Ask Before An Ed Tech Purchase
- What goal are you trying to achieve? Goals are a big part of education, and they should be a big part of education technology investments as well. Don’t buy first and ask questions later—carefully consider what you are trying to achieve and then choose the technology solution that best meets your classroom goals and district standards. A creative writing department where students spend the class period writing quietly at their desks or conferring with classmates one-on-one probably doesn’t need a fancy video conferencing system, but a geology class where students regularly check in with scientists stationed in Africa probably does.
- Can the tool meet more than one need? It can be tempting to identify a specific problem and then find a specific tool to meet it, but the best education technology investments can be shared across departments and disciplines and meet multiple needs at once. A multi-purpose tool that can be used in more than one place helps advance technology standardization across your organization and can also extend the life of the investment. For example, some disciplines might require cutting edge technology while others can get the same positive results with hand-me-down tools, but only if the tool is flexible and adaptable enough to meet more than the original need.
- Is it compatible with existing tools and platforms? What is your district or university’s platform or device of choice? If everyone is using PCs you don’t want to buy a tool that is only compatible with a Mac. Ensuring your new investment can work easily with existing hardware and software solutions is critical to success.
- Does it increase engagement? Education tools need to keep students on task—not distract them—and should be useful to students wherever they are on the learning spectrum. A clear outline of the goals you are hoping to achieve will also help ensure you choose a relevant, applicable tool that enhances and increases productivity and engagement rather than distracting students and taking them off task.
- What kind of training and support is available from the manufacturer? Ever tried to use a kitchen appliance or change the clock on your car without the user’s manual? Lots of swearing and wasted time usually ensues, and swearing and wasted time are not great in the educational space. Before you purchase a tool, make sure everyone will receive the training and support they need to make the tool a success. This includes manufacturer demonstrations, hands-on training and a responsive customer service department to quickly address questions, malfunctions and other trouble-shooting needs. Extra credit for manufacturers who are familiar helping teachers specifically.
- Do teachers and students like the tool? As an IT pro or technology buyer, the benefits of a certain tool or technology might be obvious to you, but it’s money wasted if teachers and students don’t like it and don’t use it. Seeking input from students and teachers and allowing them to test out technologies before you make a final purchase will improve adoption. And what does improved technology adoption lead to, class? Ultimately, increased information retention, improved test scores and realization of the tool’s ultimate goal and promise.
- Does it match or enhance the curriculum? Technology purchases should support curriculum goals, not the other way around. It’s easier to validate funding for tools and technologies with a strong instructional focus or application, and they give you a better return on your technology investment, too.
- Does it meet access and compliance requirements? Schools and universities must remain compliant ad accessible to all kinds of learners and the same goes for the technology you use. Your vendor should be able to provide a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template—or VPAT—a document that outlines how the product meets each standard of Section 508 compliance. Additional compliance and accessibility laws, regulations and standards can vary between states, counties, and even districts; it’s important to keep up with all the compliance standards that apply to your institution and if it gets too overwhelming a qualified AV integrator can help.
- Is the tool a standalone solution? There is little worse than spending a lot of money on a big, fancy new technology solution only to find you need to spend more money on new, smaller tools to make your big one work. In addition to ensuring compatibility with existing tools and devices, make sure your first investment won’t require subsequent spending to work.
- Is there grant money or other creative funding available? There is no way around it: technology investments are expensive. But you might not have to bear the cost burden alone. Be sure to investigate any alternative funding options that might be available, such as discounted Internet rates through the FCC, special grants for STEM programs, industry partnerships and state and local investment organizations. If you are looking to fund a targeted project, direct funding and device or project-specific assistance may be available.
The Value of Long Lasting Ed Tech Investments
When it comes to an education technology investment, many education research organizations recommend focusing on the value of the investment—or VOI—rather than the financial return on investment—the traditional ROI measurement. That means spending smart gets you farther than spending big. A long-term, forward-looking approach to education technology investments includes taking advantage of sales, group rates and other discounts; searching out free software and apps, and; taking advantage of buy-back and rental programs. It also means not buying more new technology than you need, and not sinking money into maintaining and repairing obsolete technology that would be more cost-effective to replace. Investing in multi-purpose tools that are easy to maintain and can be shared across departments and disciplines will help make your technology and your dollars go farther. If you are curious on how you can start introducing educational technology into K-12 classrooms be sure to check out this detailed guide.
You wouldn’t buy a swimsuit without asking a friend if it looked good, and you shouldn’t have to make technology purchasing decisions alone either. Let us help you choose the education technology tool that works best for you.