How to conduct a successful edtech audit

Edtech audit will reveal the most impactful resources and strengthen data privacy
By: | Issue: September, 2019
August 12, 2019
School CIOs can employ various methods of evaluating educational technology to make sure hardware and software is supporting student achievement.School CIOs can employ various methods of evaluating educational technology to make sure hardware and software is supporting student achievement.

You’re adding new pieces of education technology constantly, right? So unless you’re operating a one-room schoolhouse, how do you know which devices have become obsolete and which hardware is being used the most?

And how can you get a handle on the apps, software and other resources administrators and teachers are adding along the way?

A tech audit performed in-house or by an external firm creates an inventory of hard assets and measures usage to ensure administrators are spending funds on the resources that are having the biggest impact.

“You don’t want to be paying for something that kids are not engaged with,” says Suzy Brooks, director of instructional technology at Mashpee Public Schools in Massachusetts. “Our audit gave us a better grasp of the tools we were paying for, how much they were being used, and how many unique users were logging in to them.”

A broad tech audit can assess technology operations, classroom technology, infrastructure design, staffing and data flow, among other factors, says Alex Inman, president of the consulting firm Education Collaborators. Inman presented on tech audits at DA’s 2019 Future of Education Technology Conference®.

To get the most out of your analysis, here is an overview of goals, and what it takes to accomplish them.

Sharpen your edtech mission

A tech audit can be conducted in many fashions, and it can typically take from one day to multiple days to complete. IT teams will be asked to take inventory of network devices, servers, software, and student and faculty computers.

To start, administrators should develop a clear vision for their district’s technology use, Inman says.

“When we do an in-depth tech audit with a school, we spend a lot of time asking them about their mission and what they want technology to do,” he says. “Then, we ask questions around that to learn their values.”

Read more: Tech recycling or refurbishing? Schools must decide on devices

At the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indiana, the IT team interviews key staff—namely the district’s superintendent and teachers—to understand what they want to accomplish by conducting a tech audit, says Pete Just, chief technology officer.

When working with auditors, administrators must be clear about key areas of concern. If there’s a suspected problem in a department, let it be known, Just says.

For classroom-based audits, an outside vendor employs an online survey to gather teachers’ feedback about access to digital resources—including bandwidth and BYOD usage.

Just recommends conducting an audit when a district completes a successful edtech initiative. The superintendent may use the analysis to determine next steps and how to maintain momentum.

And a newly hired administrator may consider an audit as a way to get the “lay of the land,” Just adds.

Identify how edtech is being used

Examining the role of classroom technology requires a comprehensive look into the inner workings of various departments. Just also uses Consortium for School Networking’s Digital Leap Success Matrix to measure the efficiency and effectiveness of edtech tools across departments.

“We should be thinking about using tech audits to right-size a technology initiative and align it to the district’s goals,” Just says. “They also help in making sure the IT services, data and e-learning teams are all aligned to the school and district’s mission.”

During Mashpee’s audit, Brooks found that teachers weren’t getting the most out of two programs offering instructional content and access to online articles. Rather than leveraging the interactive and collaborative features, she says teachers simply printed materials to use as handouts.

Read more: Voice-activated technology sounds better in education

The audit uncovered that teachers weren’t familiar with or comfortable using the apps’ other capabilities, and they went unused. Brooks decided to contact the vendors, and she requested professional development. Both ultimately sent a representative to the district for free.

Before eliminating a solution, Mashpee’s IT team discusses the decision with teachers. The team wants to learn whether a tool is practical, if students dislike using it or if PD might help.
Brooks has also streamlined the renewal cycles for every app being used across the district. Her team is still working on getting apps on the same refresh cycle to make it easier to work them into the budget.

The district now uses CatchOn, an extension that tracks where students and teachers spend time online and the digital resources that are used for instruction. When a new app suddenly appears on the dashboard, Brooks visits teachers to learn more about it.

Such scrutiny also helps detect and prevent screen time overload. “We don’t want students in front of screens all day,” Brooks says. “So we look to see which apps and solutions offer the biggest punch.”

In addition to a tech audit, a peer review can be used to assess operations and inform strategic planning. “A peer review should be part of a bigger plan that focuses on getting feedback twice a year from your staff and receiving technical assistance from peers,” Just says.

Tackle cybersecurity and privacy risks

Building administrators and educators typically do not spend a lot of time reviewing district policies that cover cybersecurity and data retention. And often, such policies are created in response to an incident, says Inman, the consultant. “If you made a policy in a reactive fashion, it’s pretty much obsolete as soon as you finish writing it,” he says. “An audit helps expose risks.”

Digital tools, of course, also have their own usage agreements. Many employees, including teachers, often click “yes” to these agreements without knowing the terms, Inman says. “It’s important for schools to recognize that their policies go beyond the district handbook and include the user agreements of these tools,” he adds.

Mashpee tech administrators use the list of apps and web resources generated by their audit to ensure that the tech tools that collect student information meet privacy standards set by the district and a regional consortium.

Read more: 6 steps to ensuring safety and preserving bandwidth through web filtering

An audit should guide administrators in drafting a data standards document that better secures the warehousing of information. Administrators can also conduct smaller self-audits every year or so to identify all vulnerabilities and gaps in current data privacy practices and policies.

Ultimately, without a shared and clear vision at the administrative level, an audit can yield bad data and unusable results, Inman says.

“If a teacher believes the role of classroom technology is to have a transformative impact on a program,” he says, “that teacher is going to evaluate how the tech department is integrating technology in the classroom very differently than a teacher who believes the teacher is the center of knowledge and technology is there to organize homework and to simplify administrative tasks.”

Emily Ann Brown is associate editor.

Interested in edtech? Keep up with DA's Future of Education Technology Conference®.