In a recent panel discussion presented by edWeb.net and sponsored by Veracity Verification Solutions, I was invited to moderate a discussion regarding best practices for evaluating EdTech.
It was a timely discussion, as I had just attended a meeting the week before where a district had purchased some technology that didn’t end up working the way they thought it would and, unfortunately, no one in the district has the EdTech or instructional tech background to make more informed decisions.
Joining me in the discussion were Dr. Joni Poff, Director of Instruction (Retired), Botetourt County Public Schools (VA) and Jim Yurasits, Senior Manager of Trust, Veracity Verification Solutions. I hope you find the interview insightful and will take advantage of learning more about Veracity in the upcoming CoSN event highlighted at the end of this post.
How did available funding impact decisions on EdTech?
Joni: I’ve never been in any division where there was unlimited funding, and my last division, Botetourt County, was no different. That being said, the administrators were responsible for ensuring every EdTech decision not only met a specific operational or instructional need but was also fiscally sound and fell within the budget.
Jim: The budget always framed every decision we made regarding EdTech purchases. Funding for education in Orange County has always been a challenge, so I had to make sure that my budget could cover the initial and recurring costs of the solution. The question was there in the back of my mind, “Is Orange going to be getting the most value for its money if I pursue this purchase?”
What internal processes were in place for evaluating and selecting EdTech?
Jim: There was no formal process in place. At the central office, there were several budget holders who might be involved in purchasing EdTech. Orange had a Curriculum Office, a Technology Office, and the one that I oversaw–the Testing and Data Office, which was, among other things, in charge of the Student Information System. Each office’s director would be responsible for looking through any suggested products and choosing which, if any, the county was going to purchase.
Joni: During my time in Botetourt, through an instructional discussion with principals, we realized we had a lack of consistency in the resources we were using and sometimes a duplication of resources- multiple products that were intended to meet the same need. That led us to conduct an audit of all our resources, including EdTech. We developed a product review process that considered cost, implementation, maintenance, and an analysis of whether it could meet intended outcomes. To be honest, while the process laid out was valuable in helping us make better decisions about our EdTech products, because it was time consuming, it was difficult to maintain.
What was the process for determining the need for an EdTech tool?
Jim: That could come from a variety of sources. Sometimes the director of an office would attend a regional conference or workshop and hear of a product that other divisions had tried and thought were useful. In other cases, our Technology and Testing Resource Teachers (TTRTs) would hear about something, try it out in their particular school, and then suggest it as a solution that would benefit all of the schools in the county. Sometimes it was a tech-savvy teacher that stumbled upon a useful product and then mentioned it to their TTRT, principal, or maybe even to a director. If the principal of a particular school heard from enough teachers in their school, they might decide that the EdTech solution was important for their school and purchase it directly if they had the funds.
Joni: For us, the process started with some type of data that pointed to a specific need. Once a need was identified, goals and intended outcomes were developed so we could be as deliberate as possible in our search for a resource that would meet that need. This typically occurred through an update of the division’s six-year plan, annual school improvement planning or budget planning. All those processes involved central office staff, school-based administrators, and teacher leaders.
What best practices would you recommend for our audience?
Jim: Toward the end of my time at Orange, the different departments were starting to communicate with each other because we realized that EdTech had become more complicated. It was becoming more and more a collaborative venture that involved curriculum, hardware, networking, and student/staff infosystems. My recommendation for our audience today would be to develop a process, if one is not already in place, that clearly outlines for all parties how and why EdTech purchasing decisions will be made. This process must involve all of the offices or departments that are included in the solution’s implementation. If that advice is not followed, the division will most likely experience inefficiencies in the use of staff time and school division money. If the “how and why” of the purchase is not clear, the buy-in from the staff will probably not be great and the product will not be used with fidelity in the future.
Joni: Involve a representation of all stakeholders in decision making. Be sure the tool you select aligns with specific needs and intended outcomes. Always consider every aspect of introducing a new EdTech resource into your division or school- cost (initial and ongoing), staff and student training, level of support needed from division or building personnel, how it fits into your curriculum, and the extent of support the company provides (initial and ongoing). Best practices for purchasing are extensive and time-consuming. This is why the work of Veracity is so appealing. It is efficient, it takes the guesswork out of much of the information gathering about a product, and it comes from an unbiased party.
How did you assess the impact of these investments?
Joni: The monitoring of student progress through state assessments, division interim assessments, academic grades, classroom performance, user satisfaction, and anecdotal reports. This data, along with an assessment of the EdTech tools being used, were regularly discussed in leadership meetings at both the division and the school level.
Jim: For most of the EdTech purchases, the underlying goal was to help students improve their standardized test scores. For Virginia, that would mean better performance by students on the SOL (Standards of Learning) tests. For students in grade levels that didn’t have an associated test, increases in the student mastery of specific skills was the target.
How long did your district typically keep a purchased tool? What or who determined with a tool should be eliminated or updated?
Jim: We did not have a formal program evaluation process in place. Also, it is sometimes difficult to directly tie the results you see from an EdTech solution to its intended goal. Additionally, the implementation and training effort needed to put a solution in place was considerable, so it was not an attractive prospect to have to do that all over again. All of that combined to produce a kind of “solution inertia” that kept a product in place year after year. It usually took a change in leadership (principal, director, or superintendent) or a drastic drop in student performance to initiate a re-evaluation of that solution.
Joni: We did not have a formal review process either, but it seemed to naturally occur through leadership meetings, senior staff meetings, and annual planning. I do think having some formal and regular review process is wise or you end up continuing to spend money on a product that no longer aligns to your most immediate needs.
Final advice regarding EdTech purchasing?
Joni: Develop criteria for EdTech products- agreed-upon standards a product needs to meet to be purchased or to stay within your bank of resources. Finally, remember quality over quantity. Dollars are limited, but it does no good to select products just because they fit into your budget. Plan wisely so that the dollars you do spend are on a few EdTech products of high quality rather than multiple products that don’t really support your needs.
The service that Veracity provides to school divisions by doing the time-consuming and difficult legwork of comparing possible EdTech solutions is really valuable. I wish that Veracity was around when I was helping to make these decisions for Orange. I know how much time this level of research takes, and I always felt guilty that I wasn’t able to dedicate that time to the students, teachers, administrators, and parents.
Learn more about Veracity
As Jim mentioned, Veracity assists school districts in the software evaluation process, reducing the hours spent and unnecessary stress of selecting the right solution for your district. Watch the entire conversation here.
About the Presenters
Dr. Joni Poff has 34 years of experience in PK-12 public education, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Radford University and a doctorate degree from Virginia Tech. As a classroom teacher for 16 years, Dr. Poff taught at the elementary, middle, and high school levels in both general education and special education classrooms. This included working in rural, urban, and suburban school systems. Dr. Poff’s administrative experience also included positions in both general education and special education. As an administrator, Dr. Poff had a wide range of responsibilities that included school improvement planning, curriculum supervision, management of federal programs, and development and implementation of innovative student services. Some of the school-related accomplishments of which she is most proud of facilitating are a middle school summer transition program, a parent education exposition, a multi-tiered intervention system, an adolescent literacy program, and the opening of a STEM-H Academy. Additionally, she was responsible for the regulatory and financial management of Title I, Title III, and Special Education programs. These experiences afforded the opportunity to work within different organizational structures and with a variety of agencies and individuals. Dr. Poff continues to stay connected to education through teaching graduate courses to teachers and administrators and consulting with school systems on a variety of issues.
As Senior Manager of Trust, Jim Yurasits coordinates the efforts of Veracity’s Guardians as they evaluate client software solutions. His professional background includes 34 years in education, serving as both teacher and administrator. He understands the importance of successfully integrating educational software into the school environment, whether it is used to aid instruction or manage the school division’s student information system.
About the Author
Dr. Kecia Ray is a member of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and is past president of the ISTE Board of Directors. In 2015, she was invited to serve on a USDOE technical working group focused on evaluating education technology. She is a four-time recipient of the President’s Volunteer Service Award and the ISTE Lifetime Achievement ‘Making IT Happen’ Award. Dr. Ray was named ’20 to Watch’ by the National School Board Association, Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women, one of the top 10 EdTech Leaders by Tech and Learning magazine, and most recently named a Top 100 EdTech Influencer by EdTech Digest. She is a brand ambassador for Tech & Learning and leads a leadership community forum and consulting group, K20Connect, along with other passion projects.