Published on 2019/04/25

Ed Tech Buyers: Don’t Ask These Four Questions

The EvoLLLution | Ed Tech Buyers: Don’t Ask These Four Questions
Administrators are simply asking the wrong questions when considering instructional technology for their institutions. Who cares what Harvard uses? The better question is whether the solution has worked at institutions more like yours.

Postsecondary institutions aren’t procuring instructional technology properly. The decisions that drive institutional purchasing are often built on faulty premises. In my experience as a former professor turned ed-tech executive, administrators are simply asking the wrong questions.

Of course, survey trends suggest that universities—and faculty in particular—are becoming more and more accepting of technology every year. Whether just giving in to the inevitable ubiquity of technology or embracing innovation as a means for sustainability, universities are eager to explore how technology can help bring efficiency and effectiveness to their campuses.

Here are four questions commonly asked by universities that you should avoid when considering instructional technology for your institution.

Does Harvard use this?

Who cares? The better question is whether the solution has worked at institutions more like yours. Unless you work at Yale, Harvard’s choice in instructional technology has little bearing on whether or not it will work on your campus. Find out how the solution was implemented by another similar institution and how that institution evaluated success. Was it measured by usage, engagement or improvement in learner outcomes? The answer you’re looking for is all three.

Can we just train ourselves?

It does not matter how amazing the technology is if your faculty do not know how to use it. Institutions and their technology providers have a responsibility to make sure that teachers buy into the technology they are adopting, recognize its utility, and understand how to use it. Ideally, instructors should be included in the technology purchase decision-making process, but at the very least, they should be instrumental in designing the training.

Adults, like younger students, learn by doing. So make sure your teaching staff have practical, hands-on training that ties directly to their classes and curriculum. It will help ensure widespread adoption and a more positive potential impact.

How long does implementation last?

The honest answer to this question: It never truly ends. Everett Rogers’ seminal work on diffusion of innovations reminds us that individuals adopt innovations and technology at different speeds, depths and effectiveness. One could posit that your institution will continuously implement technology over greater and greater depths and with increasing impact over time. From a planning standpoint, it might be more helpful to think of implementation in phases, with adoption and initial implementation followed by evaluation. Then, the implementation strategy can be adjusted and followed by ongoing maintenance.

There will always be new faculty who need training and, ideally, any technology you choose will have new features and releases. Thinking about implementation as a continual process will benefit your institution in the long run.

Can we pilot first?

Beware, pilots are usually short and don’t offer insight into how the technology will function “in the wild.” Pilots are problematic because institutions typically want them for free. And, as with many things, you tend to get what you pay for. A software company isn’t going to be in a position to offer the same level of service and support to an unpaid, speculative pilot as it would to an invested, paying customer. This means that free pilots tend to lack ecological validity. A pilot can, however, provide insight into how a technology might function with a small subset of potential users. A better question is whether the technology provider could phase in groups of users over time, based on product results. An institution can often get the benefit of bulk license deals after meeting certain minimum commitments.

Institutions and their instructional technology providers want the same outcomes—efficiency and student impact. Ideally, institutions and software providers work together to ensure the product best fits the institution’s needs, with measurable, repeatable learning outcomes. Investing in technology and innovation requires time, thoughtfulness and a commitment to quality. And it requires asking the right questions. Focusing on outcomes, training and implementation will set any institution up for success.

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