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Asking edtech vendors the tough questions

While technology infiltrates every aspect of K12 operations, CIOs must negotiate with various vendors to ensure students and educators can make the most out of new software and hardware.

“Everything is going digital, whether it’s taking attendance, seeing what kids buy for lunch, collecting and storing records, or integrating laptops and tablets into the classroom lessons,” says Joni Lupovitz, vice president of policy at Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that rates the safety of media and technology for students and families. “CIOs need to ensure privacy and security are a key part of the equation in the decision-making process,” says Lupovitz.

Below, tech experts provide key questions for CIOs to ask potential vendors when purchasing technologies in the following categories:

Cloud and online services, including curriculum

  • What personal student data is being collected? Why?
  • Who has access to that information? Is it shared with a third party or service provider?
  • How is data maintained and stored?
  • How long is it stored for?
  • If a product is free, how is the company making money?

“We’ve seen instances where companies offer free products because they want to target advertising, or sell student information, or use the information to market products to the school,” Lupovitz says. “Have a clear understanding of the financial model.”

  • What is the product’s pricing history?

Learning the expected annual increase helps CIOs budget properly, says Bob Moore, project director for CoSN’s Protecting Privacy in Connected Learning.

  • What is the product’s update schedule, and does district staff have control over it?

“Many CIOs have seen a company update something and teachers or other users get upset because they weren’t given warning about the changes,” Moore says.

Fast Fact

K12 IT spending in the United States is expected to hit $4.7 billion for 2015. The biggest area for technology spending will be laptop computers, at $1.4 billion.

Source: IDC Government Insights

Hardware, software

  • How long will this device or software be on the market?

“Sometimes when a company is getting ready to close out one line, they will have a sale, but then you realize a year or two later that you don’t have access to the same line and can’t keep consistency in schools,” Moore says.

  • Do you need an extended warranty?

Ask for the service record for a particular device to see if an extended warranty is a good purchase. Warranties can often be at least $100 per device, greatly increasing costs, Moore says.

Other services

Ensure the company has the expertise and references to meet your needs. “You want to make sure the wireless network you will depend on for online assessment isn’t the first wireless network a company has designed,” Moore says.

Before purchasing any product, CIOs should ask for case studies and references from schools or districts with similar needs, Moore says.

If a vendor is reluctant to provide information, district leaders can offer to sign a nondisclosure agreement, Moore says.

“That way, there is better assurance that you won’t repeat these things to others outside—a lot of vendors will open up in that case,” Moore says. “Usually companies want to do business with you, and will provide you with whatever information you need to make an informed decision.”