As educational technology implementation continues to spread across classrooms, use has become increasingly diverse and sophisticated. From blending learning to supporting data-driven practices, digital tools and software are changing the ways that teachers and students both operate. In light of this, most of what is seen in the market reflects the needs of the largest urban districts with the largest technology budgets and the greatest potential for impacting edtech’s bottom line. But where does that leave the needs of small- to medium-sized school systems, which happen to account for half of the nation’s 48 million public schools?
A recent white paper by the Clayton Christensen Institute addresses just that. 30 small- to medium-sized public school systems (serving 2,500 to 25,000 students) with proven track records of successful blended learning programs were surveyed to determine what they perceive to be developing trends in technology usage and demand among small- to medium-sized school systems for the paper Schools and software: What’s now and what’s next. Among the major requests mentioned, four stood out as worthy of mainstream attention.
Teachers surveyed communicated a strong desire for software vendors to begin cooperating in order for school systems to overcome the challenge of “creating compelling and integrated student experiences from a patchwork of programs that don’t talk to one another.” Additionally, requests were made for software programs that allow teachers to create individualized work plans for students within the software while also being able to “extract meaningful data” about student achievement and performance. As a result, there are opportunities for technology companies to delight both students and teachers while building trust with educators in the process.
Business and Operations Software
Naturally, school systems place a greater emphasis on school-related software than software for business operations. Nevertheless, small- to medium-sized school systems run into the same issue when it comes to business operations software to meet their needs as they do with education-related offerings. With business operations software, smaller school systems “face a tradeoff between comprehensive, legacy enterprise solutions that can be difficult to use, disparate point solutions that do not talk to one another, or large enterprise applications that are designed and priced for much larger entities.” In an attempt to solve their own problem, some charter management organizations have begun developing their own business operations software in house and in partnership with existing vendors. Though with how complex public school systems’ human resources and finance systems are, “such vendors may shy away from the K-12 space.”
Software and Data Integration
Referring again to cooperation, school systems and investors need to demand cooperation at the outset from K-12 software vendors. Where “hub” platforms such as those responsible for student information systems (SIS), human resources information systems (HRIS) and domain management or identity management systems collect critical data, they often require that a “highly centralized architecture around nearly all other programs be created” whether automatically or manually. Fortunately, newer hubs such as Google Apps for Education are serving to “upset the current balance in software architectures.” Similarly, school-friendly edtech companies that help school systems to analyze and manage data are “drawing significant interest from both customers and investors” which alludes to a promising trajectory of growth for this segment of the market.
IT Management and Hardware
With a pronounced move toward blended learning, the IT department has been brought out of its traditionally siloed role to more actively support teaching and learnings. In conjunction with a new pedagogy, the emergence of cloud-based software in the classroom, IT management and workflow are becoming more efficient even while they are presented with new challenges to overcome relating to data privacy. In this context, schools have been actively moving towards 1:1 computing models by adopting “affordable, manageable, and reliable devices to support their instructional models and online assessments.” While solutions such as Chromebooks have been gaining traction, “school systems will be more likely to move toward device agnostic and bring your own device (BYOD) environments” in the future as infrastructure is put in place to support the needs of such initiatives. As a result of this white paper, it is hoped that investors and vendors will begin leveraging the anecdotal research findings outlined above to target otherwise underserved pockets in the market through cooperation and targeted design while small- to medium-sized school systems continue to demand products be tailored to meet the needs of their students.
For more information about EdTech purchasing and procurement, check out the Smart Series Guide to EdTech Procurement and infographic Smart EdTech Requires Buying Smart. The Learning Accelerator’s Blended Learning Snapshot on EdTech Procurement in Houston shares additional practical advice on purchasing. For more information about how new tools and new schools are forming, read the summary for Getting Smart’s forthcoming Smart Cities book.