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Edtech purchasing: What CIOs need to know

The lines between the tech and instruction budgets have blurred in many districts
Click to enlarge: Five steps districts can take to save money on edtech purchases. (Source: Foundation for Excellence in Education)
Click to enlarge: Five steps districts can take to save money on edtech purchases. (Source: Foundation for Excellence in Education)

As the lines between instructional and technology budgets blur, CIOs can improve their district’s procurement procedures to get what their classrooms need from an increasingly complex edtech market.

“The number of product options out there is much larger than it was before, and having more to choose from makes it harder,” says Phil Martin, the leader of education marketplace initiatives at the nonprofit Digital Promise, and co-author of the 2014 report “Improving Ed-Tech Purchasing.” “There are a lot of products that can potentially help schools achieve their goals,” but limited trusted information about them from independent studies, he adds.

Current purchasing practices were designed for print-based resources, not modern technology, the report states. “Schools say they don’t want a vendor, but a partner—someone who understands the district and its goals, and who will come in and help solve problems, not just sell to them,” Martin says.

But with 14,000 individual districts nationwide, many companies say it’s up to administrators to simplify their procurement processes and make their instructional needs clear.

Edtech experts offer the following tips for smooth and successful procurement:

  • Ask teachers and students what classroom problems new technology will solve. “Make sure what’s driving the acquisition of a learning tech product is a clear vision for how it will support teaching and learning challenges in the school,” Martin says.
  • Know your inventory. Often new devices are purchased while others sit unused on the shelf, resulting in wasted funds, says Daniel Owens, partner at the Learning Accelerator, an organization that helps schools implement blended learning. He is also co-author of the report “Smart Series Guide to Edtech Procurement” from Digital Learning Now!
  • Determine your software goals, and then find hardware to match them. Don’t lock yourself into a specific brand, Owens says. Understand what you’re looking for in terms of hard drive space and RAM, and comparison shop. “Trying to build out highly specific devices and technology systems gets expensive and hard to maintain,” Owens says. “At the end of the day, the device needs to run, and deliver the software or tools that enhance the learning experience. Anything beyond that is money that should be spent elsewhere.”
  • Perform a pilot test. Districts now rely heavily on pilot programs before purchasing edtech. “Schools are deciding to try products themselves, with their own teachers and students, to figure out how well it will work to meet their needs,” Martin says. Pilots should be intentional, with a clear start and end point, and specific goals, he adds.
  • Start small. CIOs can purchase 10 devices or software licenses to start, and put them in different scenarios to see the outcomes. The district can then work up to implementation in full classrooms, grade levels and schools, Owens says.
  • Demand results. New software programs have many data gathering capabilities, making it easier to see if they are improving learning. “Schools have the opportunity to leverage the data not only for getting better at instruction, but also for judging the tools they bring in to help them with it,” Martin says.