5 key strategies for tracking ed-tech’s impact

Key questions: Is the resource supported? Is it good for kids? Is it safe?
By: | May 21, 2021
Leaders in North Carolina's Union County Public Schools found a way to stanch a potential flood of ed-tech tools during COVID's outsetLeaders in North Carolina's Union County Public Schools found a way to stanch a potential flood of ed-tech tools during COVID's outset.

Even as most students return to in-person learning, teachers will surely continue to seek to adopt any number of learning apps and other digital resources.

This will pose a challenge for administrators striving to strike a balance between letting their teachers experiment and ensuring new digital tools are high-quality, cost-effective and secure.

Leaders in North Carolina’s Union County Public Schools found a way to stanch a potential flood of ed-tech tools during COVID’s outset, says Casey Rimmer, the director of innovation.

Here’s how they did it:

1. Building a digital library

First of all, Rimmer and her team did not (unlike some administrators did elsewhere) post an exhaustive list of free digital resources for teachers to try during the shift to online learning.

One issue they faced was what would happen when the free trials for new products elapsed.

The groundwork for the district’s ability to track all the tools teachers wanted to adopt was laid five years ago when Union County schools added LearnPlatform’s software to keep track of and vet digital resources, Rimmer says.

“We didn’t want a list of free tools to distract teachers from focusing on good products,” Rimmer says.

The software platform allows Rimmer to maintain a library of approved products that can be organized in tiers. For instance, one tier lists all the tools that have been purchased and which can therefore be supported by professional development.

2. Answering key questions

The goal is for educators to ask three questions when considering a product:

  • Is it supported? Can the district troubleshoot and offer PD?
  • Is it good for kids? Is the tool aligned with curriculum in the subject it covers?
  • Is it safe? Are we sure data is not being sold and any ads that appear are age-appropriate?

“If a teacher requests a flashcard app, for example, we don’t say, ‘We already have one,'” Rimmer says. “If the teacher has answered all three questions, we want to approve. We really work to empower teachers.”

3. Sound financial decisions

Another important strategy is keeping the district’s finance team in the loop so it also can track purchase requests and route them through the approval process, Rimmer says.

Union County Public Schools middle school students participate in virtual reality college visits.Even though districts are flush with COVID relief funding, Rimmer’s goal is to continue to make sound financial decisions on ed-tech purchases, she says.

“That is the key thing that has helped us make sure we are only purchasing products that have been approved and that are safe and good for kids,” Rimmer says.

4. Tracking academic impacts

LearnPlatform’s software can also track usage and how various tools are impacting student achievement.

This allows Rimmer and other educators to spread the word about and share tools that are benefitting students academically, she says.

5. How to get started

For administrators just now trying to get a handle on their ed-tech ecosystem, Rimmer suggests starting small and tackling one issue at a time.

For instance, when Union County starting its initiative, it blocked purchases temporarily so administrators could take inventory of all the ed-tech tools in use and gather feedback from teachers, Rimmer says.

This process could also involve allow teachers to conduct small-scale pilot programs with certain digital tools.

“We can’t invest in a big free list or invest in PD for that entire list,” she says. “We have to hone in on the products that work best for us.”

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