Smart Schools Bond Investment Planning: Avoiding the Marketing Trap

Developers of technology devices and services for students and teachers are becoming increasingly aggressive with their marketing to schools. Many promise unique selling points which promise to make their product more desirable than that of competitors, but some of what they say may not be as impressive as it appears in a product demonstration (much like the marketing of water in the video).

Below are some considerations as we make decisions related to purchasing and deploying educational technology solutions in the latter half of this year and in the years ahead.

  1. What problem does it solve?  Devices and software may seem innovative and engaging, but careful consideration should be given to how they are related to our district’s vision and what specific challenges they address.
  2. How much professional learning will be required?  Some products may hold great promise, but if the district cannot commit the time and resources for adequate professional learning opportunities, there is little chance for widespread success.
  3. How long has the company been in business and what is its funding stream?  Many  entrepreneurs enter the educational marketplace with great ideas, but great ideas require financial backing, ongoing programming, continued development, and a demonstrated understanding of good pedagogical practices.  Are we willing to take a chance on a product that is new and from a little known entity?  The answer may be yes, particularly if it’s for a specific need, but we need to do so fully aware of the inherent risks such a decision will have on all stakeholders prior to moving forward.
  4. How does this resource fit in with existing technologies in the district? Even the best technologies can be underutilized if they do not fit in with a district’s existing technologies.  A stand alone software as a Service (SaaS) application is difficult to manage and can quickly become a challenge to support if there is no process for integrating it with the usernames and passwords used in other systems.  Ideally, a student should have one log-in that provides access to all online resources or which “hands off” permission to another system with little or no user intervention.  Though not yet possible for all programs, there are solutions being developed by major technology companies as well as the BOCES in New York.
  5. What data can teachers take out of the system?  Many online systems provide teachers the opportunity to use formative assessments with their students.  A close look at the quality and structure of the questions and projects is important to ensure they measure what’s valuable to our district’s goals.
  6. How will the district measure success?   After a solution is selected and deployed, how will we determine its success and what are the timelines for such reviews?

Though it’s important to provide our teachers with adequate autonomy to use existing and emerging technologies to engage their students, it’s important that our tools are sustainable and well aligned with district outcomes and goals.  It’s easy  to be swayed by marketers who are (self) impressed with what their tools offer, but our adequate research and piloting of new tools can maximize the chance that what is deployed is what the district wants and needs.

Reposted with minor modification from June 29, 2015

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