As two leaders in the field who work to support districts with digital conversions, we are often asked, “What type of devices should we buy?” The problem with this question is that it is often their leading question; the initial area that the district is investigating. Districts that are working to purchase devices must not do so to follow the latest fad or because another district across the highway just implemented a particular type of device. All too often, districts lead with this question, when it should be one of the final questions and decisions made in the visioning, researching, planning, and selecting process.
How should district leaders go about selecting a particular device? In Learning Transformed, 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today, we recommend they work through a comprehensive ten-step process to choose which type of device will best suit their desired student learning experience. Below, we share the first few steps of that design process.
1. Create a shared vision for what teaching and learning should look like three to five years down the road.

Start by engaging a representative cross section of district stakeholders. Be sure to include teachers from all levels, principals, district office administrators, school board and community members, and students. Work collaboratively to answer this question: “What do we want teaching and learning to look like in our classrooms in three to five years?” Use visual organizers and collaborative conversation techniques to clearly outline your district’s vision for teaching and learning in the coming years. (Note: The purpose of visioning three to five years down the road is to understand that a pedagogical shift takes time. The goal here should be to identify the teaching and learning you want to occur in classrooms throughout the district in the future—not what is currently in place.)

2. Organize and map the core curriculum, resources, and assessments the district is currently utilizing.

In a typical school structure, resource decisions are made in silos based on curriculum area, grade, or building level. Too often, few, if any, school leaders have a comprehensive system wide understanding of what is already in place. During this step, school leaders throughout the district should collaborate to inventory what currently exists, from core curriculum and technology support resources to types of devices already in place. It is to be expected that the average district has dozens, if not hundreds, of resources that could be listed here. The goal is to create an overall map of core curriculum and resources that are regularly used in each area—not to develop an exhaustive list of every website or resource used. Districts must understand what they have in place before they can fully decide where they want to go. Leaders also need to know ahead of time what types of curriculum may not work on particular devices, so having an in-depth understanding of what’s currently in place in vital.
3. Compile and analyze research and evidence.

Districts often purchase vast amounts of technology based on little to no research or evidence. It’s easy for school leaders to find themselves leaning toward a particular device due to personal use or preference. However, school leaders should press providers on research, evidence, and case studies where the device choice and implementation lead to positive student learning outcomes. Identifying research-based pedagogical methods beyond a provider’s marketing material and comparing device capabilities needed to enact the district’s defined vision for student learning is paramount in this step.

4. Assess and understand current infrastructure and broadband capabilities.

Year after year, stories become public of districts that purchase a large number of devices without doing a thorough analysis of their current infrastructure or a density study of their current wireless system—rendering devices almost unusable. To understand what’s currently feasible, and to avoid a negative implementation experience for both students and teachers (not to mention a public relations nightmare), district leaders must work closely with their technology department to understand current capabilities of the district’s infrastructure.

For Steps 5-10, or for more on how to transform teaching and learning in your school or district, check out ASCD’s Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today, which comes with a free study guide for school and district leaders.

Thomas C. Murray (@thomascmurray): Tom is the Director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools, a project of the Alliance for Excellent Education, located in Washington, DC. Connect with him at
Eric Sheninger (@e_sheninger): Eric serves as a Senior Fellow at the International Center for Leadership in Education. Connect with him at