10 Tips for Smarter EdTech Purchasing

When a market is growing as quickly as the educational technology industry is, consumers can feel overwhelmed by the volume of competing companies and products. There’s no shortage of good tools and resources, but how does a school or district leader even know where to start? In this growing, often chaotic new marketplace, decision makers need guidance and resources to help them use their EdTech dollars wisely.

Curriculum Associates’ CEO Rob Waldron is passionate about the transformational potential of technology in education. He also believes in sharing knowledge to ensure smart purchasing – regardless of the products districts ultimately choose to buy. As a co-author of our Smart Series Guide to EdTech Procurement, he contributed to our framework of practical advice guiding key decisions in EdTech purchasing.

In a recent EducationNext article, Rob shares insight from his years of experience on shopping for and investing in educational technology without getting the short end of the deal. He shares:

“As the CEO of a leading EdTech company, I have worked with hundreds of school districts over the years. I’ve witnessed most every purchasing mistake that can be made, and, on the flip side, have developed a detailed understanding of what works. In this article, I tap into this expertise to help you make the most of your EdTech dollars when you are purchasing software for your K‒12 students.”

Rob goes on to share his top ten tips for school districts to ensure satisfaction with an EdTech purchase. Those tips include:

  1. Check the Fridge Before You Go Shopping. Do an audit of current hardware, software, apps, and any established practices. Include a survey of staff to best understand which tools are being used and which you may be able to eliminate.
  2. Ask: What is the Technology Being “Hired to Do? Determine exactly what problem your resource needs to solve. Submitting a request for information (RFI) is a great way to gather more specific information about how product features can solve your identified need.
  3. Buy off the Rack. In most cases, high customization is not necessary, and a lot more costly. What most schools need is built into the product itself.
  4. Compare Apples to Apples. Narrow your vendor options to three to five providers, and request their presentations be based on a common platform of your own creation. Ask tough questions and get specific answers.
  5. Check References. Request vendors to provide five or six references of districts that are similar in size to your own. Ask how the tool is improving teacher practices and affecting students, the company’s service and account management, and any information they may have on the company’s plans for future product enhancement.
  6. Do a Real Pilot. Consider partnering with the vendor to conduct a pilot that will result in real data from real students. A successful pilot should have clear goals, internal champions, sufficient time, a planned conclusion, transparency, money and reflection.
  7. Put Service above Product. You want to ensure you are partnering with a vendor who is committed to excellent customer service including training, implementation and ongoing support. Try to get a sense of how proactive the vendor is at fixing problems.
  8. Find Creative Savings. Before you close the deal, take time to understand the full package initial cost and the ongoing costs. Explore options for consolidated trainings, seat-based vs. site-based licenses, site-based support and collaborative buying.
  9. Get a Guarantee, or Walk. Refuse to sign a deal without an unconditional money-back guarantee.
  10. Get Everyone on the Bus. All staff needs to understand the product and have buy in to the district objectives and expectations. Keep the focus on how the new tool will help students.

And as a concluding point, Rob believes in good partnerships that are ready for the changes the future will bring.

“Integrating complex new tools doesn’t happen overnight, so give programs a chance to gestate and demonstrate how they can help your students and teachers. But also remember that the product you are buying today, no matter how good, will be inadequate or incomplete before too long because of changing curriculum requirements, technological advances, and new government requirements or guidelines. That means it’s as important to focus on the partners you choose for this journey, and how well they can adapt to change, as on current product features.”

For Rob’s full article, check out How to Avoid Getting Ripped Off by Ed-Tech Vendors here. We’d also love to hear any other tips you might have to add to Rob’s list of best practices when purchasing educational technology, so leave us a comment below or tweet us at @Getting_Smart.

Check out these related blogs:

Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update. This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures, please see our Partner page.

Jessica Slusser

Jessica is the Senior Director of Impact at Getting Smart. She leads business development and growth of advocacy campaigns, advisory services, product development, marketing, and Getting Smart's blog. As part of her role, Jessica also oversees team events, conferences, and speaking engagements.

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