We all know that technology can enhance learning for every age group, and there are more learning resources, tools, devices and products available to school districts than ever before. This education technology revolution is helping schools convert the learning process from one that’s rigid and “one size fits all” to one that’s much more flexible and allows students to self-direct their education. Technology and its accompanying flexibility can help students learn more and learn more quickly as well as become more independent and self-aware.
But with so many options available, how does a district know where to start? Here are just a few tips for choosing the right learning technologies for your district.
Create a learning vision.
Forget about the products and tools for now. First, create a vision for how learning should take place in your district. Involve multiple audiences in creating this vision – administrators, teachers, IT staff, parents and even students. Each audience brings a unique and important perspective to the table. Adults and students use technology in different ways. Administrators can provide a high level picture that parents might not be aware of; IT staff can help determine infrastructure changes needed to bring the vision to life.
When creating this vision, ask discussion questions like:
- What should learning to look like in our school district?
- What do students and teachers need to be able to do?
- How will learning be personalized?
- What types of collaboration do we want to encourage?
- How will we measure success?
By putting the needs of your students and the goals of your district first, you now have a built in set of criteria which can be used to evaluate any technology tool or service. You will also waste less time and effort on products that are “shiny objects” and don’t align with your vision.
Raise your hand often.
When evaluating specific technology tools, products or services, be an active participant in the discussion. Ask questions that are specific to your district’s goals and challenges. Request examples or case studies from schools in similar situations and ask to speak with some of them as well. Remember that just because a solution has lots of “cool” bells and whistles, that doesn’t mean it fits your unique needs.
Evaluate total ownership costs.
The cost of a tool might seem reasonable or even low, but make sure you evaluate technology based on the total cost of ownership. That includes items like licensing, training, support, maintenance, repair, etc. Those additional costs can add up and change your perspective on whether or not a certain tool really fits into your budget.
Is the company a good fit?
You’re most likely not going to purchase a product and run with it 100% on your own without ever needing help from the vendor again. It’s important to work with companies that are a good fit according to your district’s culture and needs, so you can develop a long-term, fruitful partnership. Pay attention to the way their people act during the process. Are they responsive? Do they answer all your questions comprehensively? Are your goals and needs their first concerns (as opposed to pushing the product)?
Establish an ongoing professional development program.
Of course there will be an onboarding process when new technology tools are implemented. But what about replicating that in the future for teachers who are newly hired? How about keeping teachers in the loop about upgrades and new features that become available within the tools you already have? And giving teachers the opportunity to receive training that will help them explore new ways to use the tools they have to optimize learning for their students?
The bottom line is that training is important. Technology changes at warp speed so it’s critical to keep your teaching staff up to date on new features, methods and use cases.