How to develop best practices for more effective software use

With an estimated two-thirds of educational software underutilized, administrators need to ensure software use is effective and to avoid purchases that don’t meet school needs.
By: | July 3, 2019

With 67% of educational software underutilized, according to Glimpse K12’s recent analysis of spending at 275 schools, it is important for administrators to ensure software use is effective and to avoid purchases that don’t meet school needs.

Know who is driving software purchasing, says Joseph South, chief learning officer for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Often, a disconnect exists between educators and those making district purchasing decisions. To cut down on waste, South encourages administrators to include educators who will use the software in the buying process.

Another pitfall: buying software based on the vendor’s general capability claims rather than on whether it meets a school’s needs, says South.

Centralized efforts

In Boston Public Schools, the data and enterprise systems are purchased under district agreements, while the software is usually purchased at the school or classroom level, says Mark Racine, chief operations officer.

“With 130 different schools’ needs and our district’s weighted student-funding formula, it made sense that software funding also ‘followed’ the students,” says Racine. “Our process enables sales companies to work with individual principals on implementation.”

South and Racine suggest that district administrators handle fee negotiations. By centralizing negotiations, software can be properly vetted for privacy and security. Administrators should also seek to negotiate site licenses that can be amended later based on actual usage.

Districts may want to consider commercial analytics tools that show what and how applications are being used.

South cites the Sun Prairie Area School District as an example of where administrators ensure efficient software usage and procurement. The Wisconsin district has a 48-hour turnaround for an application purchase review, which encourages teachers to go through the formal vetting process rather than individually downloading software to their classrooms.

Best practices

Once a district or school has decided on a software purchase, the first step should be a pilot rollout to see who is using the software and how it is being used, and to determine the program’s effectiveness and what needs to be modified, says South. Do not purchase an enterprise product without a pilot—a valuable step that shouldn’t be skipped, he says.

“The school is looking at whether the application fits educators’ needs, while our central office is gauging the school’s readiness for the application,” Racine says. The latter includes whether the school is able to fulfill software requirements for best results, such as the optimal amount of educator training and student hours on the application.

Another don’t, says South, is auto-renewing enterprise licenses. Review software usage and its impact on learning outcomes to make sure the software purchase has been effective, he says.

Edtech buying guide

ISTE and Project Unicorn’s Better Edtech Buying for Educators offers best practices to avoid legal, security and software redundancy issues. Topics include supporting educators as critical consumers, aligning purchases with learning and teaching goals, and implementing classroom solutions.

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