There are various competing solutions to sift through, and significant time and effort are needed to evaluate them. Things are made even more difficult by the added pressure of ensuring that the vast sum of money your school is about to spend will be invested wisely.
Let’s break it down and outline a few of the positive points and initial steps to help you overcome any roadblocks to action.
- Ideally, your school has set out a framework for its digital strategy, so you are clear on your overall objectives.
- You have specific requirements for each area, which means you already know what you are looking for in any potential new solutions.
- Making a list of contenders and finding evidence of how they perform in other schools will reveal which ones stand out enough to make it onto your shortlist.
- The trial period is when you can test the product’s capabilities. Don’t be afraid to ask the vendor questions to help you decide whether it is a good fit for your school.
It’s common to read online product reviews to get a steer on whether something is a good purchase or not. So, the next thing to do is collect third-party evidence for your shortlisted software solutions. There are four types to look for:
- Users’ impressions and anecdotes – from blog posts, articles, testimonials, videos and recommendations.
- Descriptive evidence of potential impact – from vendors’ marketing materials and white papers.
- Comparison charts and white papers – this correlational evidence compares users and non-users of a solution (but note that you cannot reliably apply results to different contexts).
- Causal evidence – dedicated research papers, peer-reviewed articles and independently commissioned reports will be the most insightful (but rare).
Regardless of whether your information is from the vendor, other schools in your area or peers on social media, their views and experiences will help to guide you.
Choosing the right solution
I recently read a great article by Brian Seymour, Director of Instructional Technology for Pickerington Local School District in Ohio, USA. He describes how his district chooses edtech solutions via a two-stage process. The first stage is a flowchart of options to ensure technical compatibility, asking questions such as:
- Does the item work with the school’s current and future devices?
- Is it device agnostic?
- Does it work with the current infrastructure?
- Which student information systems does it integrate with?
The flowchart is designed to expose problems; it is infinitely better to have those highlighted upfront than after purchase.
The second stage provides checkpoints to ensure that any potential solution will align with the school’s curriculum – confirming its intended purpose and how it will enhance teaching and learning. The two stages fit together perfectly, providing a complete assessment of all potential impacts of implementing new edtech. I thoroughly recommend you check them out.
Tips for evaluation
Where do you start when evaluating solutions? Begin by looking at the features you have identified your school needs – the ones that attracted you to the solution in the first place. There is no need to overwhelm yourself right now by analysing every tool in the box.
Take notes on how easy the solution is to use. Is it intuitive? Can you remember what to do when you come back to it after time away? Is it easy to use or cumbersome? If you find yourself frustrated by having to click too many times to access features, you can bet others will be too. Make notes and include screenshots – these will help you differentiate between the various solutions as you draw your conclusions later on.
You may wish to consider ‘parallel testing’. Run a software test with two comparable class groups, where one uses it, and the other does not. Then afterwards, assess whether you can see any evidence of its impact and what key benefits it has brought.
Finally, after your 30-day trial, did the teachers believe it was beneficial for teaching and learning – and, most importantly, do they endorse it? The final decision on which solution to implement must come from the staff who will use it – and not be overturned at the last minute by the cost.
Although it takes considerable effort to test software thoroughly, it is worth it to know that you have given your school, staff and students the best chance of making it work. By following the advice, asking the right questions, collecting a range of evidence, and getting hands-on experience, your school will be well placed to select the best product for its needs – and you will have gained knowledge ready for the next time.
This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Headteacher Update.