An Inside Look at the Edtech Purchasing Process

Building Authentic Need and Research into Edtech Development edWebinar recording link


While the Wild West era of edtech may be over, there’s still some mystery over how schools decide what digital materials to buy. Similarly, researchers and developers have their own approaches to the sales process. In the edWebinar, Building Authentic Need and Research into Edtech Development,” representatives from a large school district, a small district, a developer, and the research community answered burning questions about edtech procurement.

The participants:

  • Large district: Dr. Daryl Diamond, Director of Innovative Learning, Broward County Public Schools, FL
  • Small district: Dr. L. Robert Furman, Principal of South Park Elementary Center, South Park Township, PA
  • Developer: Dr. Ayanna Howard, CTO, Zyrobotics
  • Researcher: Sierra Noakes, Senior Research Project Manager, Digital Promise

How do you approach purchasing education technology tools?

Diamond: When her district identifies a need, her team does an exhaustive competitive analysis, using an RFI and not an RFP, to see what products will work. They not only look at how the product would fit with their learning standards and curriculum, but the product must also work within their LMS. At every step, they involve the developers so the companies understand Broward’s expectations and why the team made its final decision.

Furman: For his small district with fewer funds and fewer personnel, he can’t justify a long research process when many edtech products are obsolete in two years. Instead, he will look at what other schools and districts have already tested, to shorten the investigation, or look at less expensive options, like apps.

Howard: She agreed that tools can become outdated quickly, so they look at making products that can have a big impact on student learning in a short timeframe. When they talk to schools, their focus is on the classroom teachers and getting them to understand the value.

Noakes: She recommended a needs assessment, as Diamond outlined, but said schools often look at the curricular content or internal infrastructure only. Noakes emphasized that the process must include an equity assessment—can all of the students and teachers access the tech outside of school?

Building Authentic Need and Research into Edtech Development edWebinar image


 What role do learning goals play when searching for the best edtech?

Diamond and Furman: This is the most essential element for both school leaders. Teachers don’t want to be force fed tech because an administrator thought it was a good idea. In fact, there are many times when a non-digital tool, like traditional flashcards, are better than a digital counterpart because the digital version adds nothing to the learning process.

Howard: For developers, it’s not about whether the product can address a learning goal, but whether it can address variable learning goals. In other words, a strength of edtech is the ability to help teachers provide differentiated lessons, and Howard believes the best edtech can be used for students at multiple stages for students with multiple abilities.

Noakes: Likewise, she always encourages educators to ask: How might tech support educators’ ability to differentiate learning in the classroom? Then, learning goals drive the decision.

What do you look for to know an edtech tool is high quality?

Diamond: First, they look for interoperability because no one at the district has time anymore for products that require their own ecosystem. More important, they look for vendor partners who will develop and grow with them.

Furman: He looks for third party reviews, especially from classroom teachers, before he brings any tools to his teachers for testing.

Howard and Noakes: Howard encouraged educators to ask for documented and validated positive learning outcomes with actual kids. Going a step further, Noakes said that most educators want to see results from a third-party evaluation because they don’t trust research run and validated by the publisher.

How do you approach implementing a new edtech tool in schools?

Diamond: Her district has a team of personnel to manage edtech initiatives from integrating it with their LMS to teacher training. For Diamond, communicating with the end user is key: what’s coming, what they’re required to do, and what training is available. They try to offer it in increments so that the pace works for the teachers.

Furman: Once he’s examined a product, he brings in a small team of teachers—typically one from each grade level—to road test it. It’s silly, he says, to do a full implementation if they don’t know the product works. Once the test team gives the go ahead, he then has a group of teacher ambassadors to train their colleagues and advocate for the new tool.

Howard: Her concern is the amount of training educators need with new edtech. She thinks the industry is lagging behind. If companies make smartphones that a two-year old can use, why are developers making edtech so complicated?

Noakes: In addition to comprehensive training, schools need to adjust their expectations when it comes to new edtech. Most innovative districts have embraced a sense of failure, said Noakes, and teachers feel confident to say this isn’t working and take a deep dive into why it’s not working.

All participants agreed that a good vendor-customer relationship is essential for both sides. After all, developers want to improve their products, so they should be open to learning what is and isn’t working and finding solutions. And when assessing student performance and whether or not a tool is helping them reach their goals, they cautioned that educators need to look beyond test scores.

“We often hear when folks start to think about equity that they look at the data and then they tell us how one group of students is doing worse than another group…many equity advocates are pushing against this deficit-based approach,” said Noakes. “We encourage folks to still look at the data but kind of flip the look so you’re not criticizing students but [asking] how is our system and where is our system failing to set up students for success.”

This edWeb webinar was sponsored by Digital Promise.

Watch the Recording

This article was modified and published by EdScoop.

About the Presenters

Dr. Daryl Diamond is the director of innovative learning in Broward County Public Schools. She supervises the district’s instructional technology program, instructional and digital materials adoption and distribution process, library media, gifted and talented students, and the district’s global scholars program. She has served as an intern principal and assistant principal at Sheridan Technical College and High School, assistant director of organizational change management for a district-wide ERP implementation, instructional leader of curriculum for Broward Virtual School, and project manager technology and instruction for the district’s office of information and technology. She has served on the board of the United States Distance Learning Association and has conducted research for the International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL). She is co-author of the book Digital Solidary in Education (2014).

Dr. Ayanna Howard is Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Zyrobotics, an educational technology company, and the Linda J. and Mark C. Smith professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She received her B.S. in engineering from Brown University, her M.S.E.E. from the University of Southern California, and her Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California. Her artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and assistive technology research has resulted in over 250 peer-reviewed publications and a number of commercialized products, including STEM Storiez, a set of AI-powered gamified e-books for early STEM education. To date, her unique accomplishments have been highlighted through a number of awards and articles, including highlights in USA Today, Upscale, and TIME Magazine, as well as being named a MIT Technology Review top young innovator and recognized as one of the 23 most powerful women engineers in the world by Business Insider. Prior to this, Dr. Howard was a senior robotics researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Dr. L. Robert Furman is an educator, leader, principal, student, speaker, and published author. As a former teacher and now administrator, Dr. Rob serves in the foreground of everyday education. Currently, Dr. Rob serves as Principal at South Park Elementary Center outside of Pittsburgh, PA, and has truly become a sought-after leader in topics surrounding the field of education today. Dr. Rob is the author of several books including Reading, Technology, and Digital Literacy and the ISTE bestselling title Are You Future Ready. Beyond speaking at venues across the country, Dr. Rob is also a contributing blogger for The Huffington Post as well as the Ed Tech Review. Rob also hosts a well-known YouTube educational video blog called The Seditionists and educational podcast called the Council on the Future of Education. Further, he has received several prestigious awards, such as being named in the National School Board Association’s “20 To Watch” in technology education and a Pittsburgh Tribune Review News Maker of the year.

At Digital Promise, Sierra leads collaborative, research-based projects driven by authentic needs. By co-designing systemic improvements to the edtech marketplace with key stakeholders, such as education leaders and educators, Sierra hopes to infuse research into edtech product design and help educators make edtech decisions based on classroom needs. Prior to joining Digital Promise, Sierra was an educator and the curriculum coordinator for the Brooklyn Autism Center and received her M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

About the Host
Barbara Pape is the communications director for the Learner Variability Project at Digital Promise Global (DPG). She has 20 years’ experience in strategic communications, writing, and policy analysis, primarily in education. Previously, she served as Executive Producer of the award-winning Teaching & Learning conference, sponsored by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, where she developed content and oversaw outreach and communications. As a writer, she has written for numerous publications, including Harvard University, the National Education Goals Panel (U.S. Department of Education) and Parents magazine. Barbara also served as editor and publisher of the first electronically delivered education newsletter, the Daily Report Card. She earned an EdM at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education and launched her career as a middle school language arts teacher.
Research and Evidence in Edtech is a free professional learning community on that brings together researchers, educators, and product developers to share best practices related to edtech research and evaluation.

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