Too often schools don’t ask themselves the right questions before they purchase educational technology. What ends up happening is that the tool is ill suited for their needs and there is frustration on all levels.
This can be avoided by a thorough process before any purchase of educational technology – a process of evaluating needs and the tool itself so a proper decision can be made.
Here are 5 key questions that should be asked and answered before any final decision is made about purchasing educational technology.
- Where are you right now? Take stock. What do you already use? Is it good or bad? What technology is already in use by students? What kind of technology “space” and equipment is available right now at our school and place of learning? What is the skill level of staff and teachers regarding the use of technology? How much training will they need? It’s key to really take a proper technology needs inventory. Use this needs survey or this teacher and technology self assessment tool to give you some guidance.
- What is the product being bought to do? What is your priority and overall objective? You can’t find the right tool unless you really truly know what it is intended to do. This is the first step in finding a match with the proper educational product. Really be specific about this – technology shouldn’t be purchased because everyone else is using X or because it is cheap and available. It should be purchased to produce a desired end – be it raising student’s reading levels by X over X time or allowing teachers to monitor and assess student online work more closely. Does the tool meet your educational standards and objectives?
- What level of integration with the curriculum will be needed by the product? Do you want a tool where students will study in a self-directed fashion or one with collaboration? An entry level product that drills and repeats content or one fully integrated into all aspects of the curriculum? This technology integration matrix will help you decide where you are on the integration spectrum.
- How do the educational technologies compare with each other? Once you know what the purpose of the product is (#2), you should design criteria on which to evaluate competitors. Price isn’t the only consideration. Do they offer a free pilot (like EnglishCentral does)? What are the guarantees? Do they provide contactable references (especially about customer service)? How customizable are the products?
- What do all the stakeholders in the process feel about the intended purchase? So often, schools might only think about their own needs and perspectives. However, there are many other stakeholders to consider and involve in any decision to purchase. Parents and guardians ultimately will want to know about the cost and how the technology might involve them. Students should be asked to be part of the evaluation process – they are the “consumers”.
There are a lot of other “hard” questions to ask and discuss regarding technology and teaching/learning. This Washington Post article really has a nice list of some of them. But ultimately, cover your bases by asking these questions beforehand and you’ll be much better off and have a great chance of getting a product that really helps your students learn and your teachers teach.