At the ISTE conference in June, where thousands of ed-tech vendors showcased their products, Karen Cator, Department of Education’s Technology Director, talked to educators and helped create the following list of questions to ask when considering tech purchases, products, services or strategies.
- WHAT DOES IT PROMISE TO DO?
Is the main purpose to build students’ knowledge of content, or is it to develop skills and dispositions? Are there meta-cognitive strategies or learning strategies associated with the product, service or strategy?
- WHAT DO YOU EXPECT IT TO DO?
Do you expect the product, service or strategy to raise students’ test scores? To grab students’ attention? To flip your classroom? To open up dialogue? To help students’ inquiry process? Be clear about your goals.
- WHAT CRITERIA WAS THE PRODUCT DEVELOPED AGAINST?
How was the product, service or strategy conceived and who designed and built the product? What classroom experience does the designer/entrepreneur have? What research was done during the designing process? Was it piloted in schools? Is this a rapid prototype with the flexibility to change and improve?
- HOW WILL IT HELP OR CHANGE TEACHERS’ ROLES?Will the product, service or strategy keep the teacher in the center of the action in class, or will it give more control to students? Does it help the teacher meet the needs of the students, and if so, how? Does it augment teachers’ performance?
- HOW WILL IT CHANGE WHAT HAPPENS IN CLASS?What kind of class environment does the product, service or strategy create? Does it encourage collaboration, risk-taking, and student control? If the product is software that allows kids to do practice exercises, how will classroom time be spent on that subject? Will a different kind of curriculum be created, and who will create it? Can hands-on projects be incorporated into class time that build on what students have practiced on computers?
- HOW DO OTHERS RATE THE PRODUCT?
Just as you would do with a personal purchase, checking Amazon reviews, Consumer Reports, Yelp, Facebook or Twitter recommendations, asking friends, do your due diligence and research to find out what other educators like and don’t like about the product, service or strategy. For example, some schools have already experimented with certain kinds of software that’s billed as adaptive, or encouraging critical thinking skills, and found that some are much better than others, and have switched. Sharing this knowledge can help educators root through the overwhelming number of choices, and find products, services or strategies that deliver what they promise.
- HOW WILL IT SCALE AND GROW IN THE FUTURE?
If the product, service or strategy is going to be used systemically, how sustainable is it? What are the chances that the company will stop providing this service, or start charging or raising fees? What’s the ease of adoption and use? Are there built-in ongoing improvement processes?
- IS PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT NEEDED TO USE IT?
If so, how much does it cost, and how much time will it take? Too often new technologies are not used to their maximum potential, or are left completely unused. Educators should make sure they have the time and budget allotted to ensure smooth transitions, and that the principal will make professional development a priority.
- IS IT A NATURAL FIT?
This question is also quite subjective. The best product, service or strategy should be like electricity, Kator said — there’s no question whether you should or should not use it. There should be an intuitive need that the product fulfills, rather than having teachers tangle themselves into knots trying to find ways to use it.
- IS IT WORTH THE INVESTMENT?
This is the most complex question to answer. How much is the cost compared to the amount of time and effort it takes to train staff to use it and to implement it system-wide? Based on what other educators have said, is it worth the time and effort?
What other questions are important to ask?