Administration, Technology

Asking the Right Questions Before Switching to a New Tech Product

Asking Questions

Schools and universities across the country have been in a frenzy to adapt and streamline since the first Covid-19 closures in March. Many of these abrupt pivots were in the works already, though. Things like remote learning, wider community partnerships, and more direct parent engagement aren’t exactly new but the pandemic brought on an acceleration. Also, there are many tech products available to help educators, schools, parents, and students to keep the ball rolling. Indeed, many believe “education can emerge stronger than before” after this crisis. But change in schools can be tough. On one hand education is notoriously traditional and on the other change doesn’t always go as planned. The Miami Dade school district dropped an online learning platform for distance learning just after the start of the school year with virtually no warning. Parents were frustrated in the weeks beforehand but teachers were left scrambling. So students suffered on both ends.

How can schools and districts avoid such catastrophes? Let’s look at some questions to keep in mind when considering a new tech product to see if there’s a right approach to making a switch.

Does the product help teachers meet learning objectives?

If students aren’t using a textbook already they likely won’t suddenly start using a digital textbook. For teachers the only tech products worth considering are those that help them reach learning objectives. They want to know if it will provide or support learning activities. Some tech products are just a distraction, and that won’t help.

Does the product increase engagement?

Gazing around a dutifully rendered ancient Roman street in virtually reality won’t mean much if it doesn’t pull students in (though for the record I think that would be awesome!). Teachers want to know that a product or tool is going to increase engagement, otherwise it is a waste of time for them. There are a lot of things that look dazzling but you don’t want it to wear out on day 17 out of 180.

Does the product assist instruction?

Teachers are always short on time. In the lesson, in the school, in the year. Many are so bogged down already it is nearly impossible to budget time for something untested. Making a teacher’s job a bit easier is one surefire way to test the usefulness of a product. If it can allow a teacher to do more with less [headache/sweat/tears] it is good to go. Convenience is one thing that tech products should for sure be aiming for.

Will the product always deliver?

This sounds rhetorical but it is a real question to consider. Before taking on any new tech product schools have to be sure that their own infrastructure can handle it. Network, servers, computers there can be a bottleneck somewhere that renders even the most breakthrough products useless in the worse case scenario. This also matters from the inverse side if the product relies on hardware from the provider, or otherwise elsewhere. Countless schools and Edtech companies wrestled with outages during the first weeks and months of Covid-19 massively shifting traffic. If a school plans on relying on a product it needs to know the product will function.

What does the product cost?

This is an obvious question right? Schools have budgets, accountants can evaluate, etc. and it comes down to dollars. But what about time costs? What about training? Schools are traditional, don’t forget. Teachers are human, too, and can be quite set in their ways.

Look at the above questions. If the answers are a resounding yes then you can reasonably trust that teachers can and will learn a new tech product, eventually. But if the answer is even yes with some reservations, then you have to consider the time and training costs.

Too often schools or districts go with one solution and pull the plug on it before teachers have mastered it. Usually less dramatic than the earlier example but still some wasted time and energy. New tech isn’t going to plug itself in, staff have to learn and grow comfortable with it. Teachers have enough unpaid hours as it is too. If schools and districts want to meaningfully integrate a new tech product they have to factor in more than just the yearly budget.

For years schools and school districts thought that digital learning could simply be bought. Some product or some solution would be the missing link that finally solved the transition to the classroom of the future. But it’s clear now that won’t be the case. Since March, Covid-19 educational struggles have been a news mainstay. Hardly anyone was ready for such an experience but this trial-by-fire has taught us that training is essential is a cost schools and districts cannot forget.

So, be on the lookout for four yeses and give that last question some careful, careful, consideration.