Evaluating Education Technology
Photo via rand.org
With all of the different education technology products on the market today, it is critical that technology directors take the time to evaluate the edtech products they may potentially purchase. Fortunately, many edtech companies allow schools to try their products for a certain period of time. Evaluating education technology is critical for both tech directors and edtech companies; it allows staff members to further examine what they are looking for in an edtech product, and it allows edtech companies to discover how they can improve. What are the important questions technology directors need to ask in order to evaluate an edtech product?
1. Differentiation – is the technology flexible to customize settings to meet teacher needs?
No two teachers will use an edtech product in the exact same way, and different teachers will have different needs from these products. Technology should be flexible enough to adapt to the teacher who is using it. If teachers are using new software, is the interface easily customizable to fit their preferences? If the product requires installation, are there different solutions to setting this product up for multiple classroom setups? If teachers want to change something about the physical product or its software, is that something that the company can easily remedy?
This is not only helpful for the teachers, but for the students as well. A special education teacher at a school in Texas said that the BoardShare palette colors were too harsh for her students to look at for a prolonged period of time. Within a week, the BoardShare team was able to add the option to change the palette colors. An edtech company needs to feel comfortable listening to customer recommendations and use these suggestions to improve their product
2. Layout – is the technology seamlessly integrated and fully functional?
A simple yet important question when evaluating edtech purchases is “does the product work?” Staff members should not have to constantly call their tech directors to troubleshoot for them, or struggle to implement the technology into their lesson plans. Instead of working to find ways to integrate the technology into the classroom, the technology should naturally enhance teaching.
3. User friendliness – does the technology allow teachers to easily implement and use it in innovative ways?
Teachers have varying levels of comfortability with technology. Some teachers find technology intimidating, while other teachers welcome the task of learning a new edtech product. Education technology should be simple for all teachers to use; even the teachers who are less comfortable with technology should be able to master the product in a relatively short amount of time. The tech directors we have spoken with cannot stress enough that a product that is too difficult for teachers to master often goes unused. It is also important to consider if the product can be used with other edtech products or software. If a teacher can use the product with platforms they are already familiar with, it may help ease the new technology transition.
4. Utility – does the technology provide a solution while benefiting a significant number of teachers and students?
In our “Important Questions To Ask” blog, we discussed that teachers and tech directors need to understand what they want to get out of an education technology product. New technology is purchased to solve some sort of problem that the school is facing. Do the schools want their students to become proficient on multiple technological devices? Do teachers want their class to participate in more interactive activities? It is essential that staff members ask what they are looking to get out of a product so that they can determine if the technology is helping them achieve that goal.
5. Learning enhancement – does the technology facilitate higher order learning activities that may not have been possible without the use of the technology?
This is perhaps the most important question of all to ask. Even if a product has a great layout, is user friendly, and is flexible, it does not mean anything if learning is not being enhanced. Is the technology assisting in helping the students learn the material quickly and more efficiently? Do they have a better understanding of the overall lessons? If the technology enhances learning but is difficult to implement, is not flexible or user-friendly, it is not an ideal product to purchase. This is also true for a product that is easy to implement, is user-friendly and flexible, but does not enhance learning,