5 Steps to Buying K-12 Tech

There is a mind-boggling universe of tech devices, tools, and solutions that each Tech Director has to account for, plan for, research, and purchase. This process is overwhelming for even the most seasoned veteran, who knows that the risk is high, but the budget can be low. 

The district leaders always want to know that the budget they provided for these purchases will be utilized pragmatically, with no surprises that break the bank later.  To make the process of tech purchasing go smoothly, there are five steps every tech director should take:

1. Match your technology with your district’s documented goals and educational standards.

With limited resources and time to complete the product research, many school districts rely on a singular person researching the recommendations.  This person will often conduct limited to consumer-style research on known e-commerce sites and search engines.  This research is focused on product features as stated by the manufacturers, which map to their own perceptions and mental constructs.

The main consideration should be the most mission-critical district needs that are solution-based, rather than feature-based.  These solutions should have a fantastic record in the K-12 space, with multiple points of customer evidence supporting it.  The customer evidence, combined with adequate professional and personal reviews let you find a tech solution that has a successful track record of addressing those needs.

It’s not always about the newest, most hyped solutions.  You want to strictly stick to “2.0” or higher solutions that have already been market-tested and revised – those solutions that support learning in the classroom, enhance instructional best practices and pragmatically impact student achievement.

A second factor to consider is how the technology or solution can be used to support student learning needs across multiple subjects. Virtual reality headsets are seeing major year-over-year gains in percentage adoption by districts.  These headsets give students the ability to visit ruins in Greece, travel the solar system, or see 3D models come to life.  Almost every class can benefit from that type of spatial learning, which means the investment in technology will transcend all classrooms and all classes, making it a widely used asset.

2. Make sure your solution has interoperability planning.

While technology explodes in school districts around the world, Tech Directors must go above and beyond to ensure the security of students using enhanced interoperability solutions. This means building out the appropriate infrastructure at a district or regional level to host and service a variety of different schools with the same (high) levels of security.  Huge amounts of services, apps, and data can be processed efficiently to protect student privacy.

Schools that want to be future proof and forward-thinking educators are expecting the demands of exponential growth in tech-based solutions. With the daunting list of digital solutions growing annually, there are key considerations around having centralized computing and storage in one unified ecosystem, all managed through a single interface or platform. This type of integrated ecosystem gives districts much better efficiency and greatly lowers the risk of down time, stolen information, forgery, and other negative actions.

3. Manage your implementation, service, & support.

When new technology is introduced into the digital ecosystem the district has in place, the people doing that need to make sure they have a very clear vision for how they are going to handle implementation.  This combines market research, best practice studies, and having the appropriate staffing and digital resources to complete the ecosystem.  When the ecosystem is implemented and the result is considered complete against annual goals, the vision for continued service and support needs to be implemented in a way that satiates the end-users.  Tech Directors should build, implement, and deliver (often with teacher or student partners) a continuous set of training as needed to ensure smooth adoption and usage. 

These tech directors already know how the ecosystem works at a high level. At the service level, they need to identify the various talking points for how that solution will benefit the classrooms they are responsible for.  These technology usage goals eventually become the crux of pragmatic, wide-spread, effective use.  This also allows Tech Directors to plan for any future challenges or problems, so they can address it with both faculty and students as their sounding board and compass.

4. Communication with educators as purchasing partners.

Tech Directors are thinking about… well… tech.  Educators will be thinking about the utopian end scenario.  In consideration of tech being adopted, Tech Directors should be partnered with educators (from the classroom to the boardroom).  Educational professionals have years of insightful knowledge about their districts’ needs and can be beneficial partners in informing purchasing decisions. And if they are seen as true partners in the overall solution decisions, they are 10 times more likely to support and implement the product in the classroom, as well as staying on as a partner in perpetuity.  Finding common ground with them should be easy, as you are representing different components that need to overlay against a set of needs, wants, and critical criteria.  This is generally an easy agreement to make against the backdrop of budgetary constraints.

5. Communication with parents and students as purchasing partners

If the tech solution depends on parental and student adoption, they need to be involved.  Also, similar to how you should handle educational professionals, they also need to be overly communicated with.  They are the ones who will work with the solutions daily.  They are the ones who digest online services and become active digital citizens.  They are also the ones who have to purchase any extra peripheral equipment such as laptops, tablets, and subscriptions.

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