10 Variables That Matter Most in Making New Ed-Tech Successful

by Emma Kate Fittes

The success or failure of implementing ed tech in a school district is determined by factors including the culture of the staff and decision-making power given to teachers, a new report contends.

Researchers for the EdTech Genome Project identified 10 variables they believe matter most to schools’ successful selection and implementation of new technology — a framework they say ed-tech companies can also use to gain insight into their K-12 customers.

The research, led by the University of Virginia and nonprofit EdTech Evidence Exchange, aims to give educators and ed-tech providers a common language and context for talking about what tools do or do not work, a standard that can help inform future purchasing decisions, according to the report.

The goal is to help districts make better choices for their students about the sea of ed-tech options, and help companies better support district partners, said lead researcher Emily Barton. Ultimately, the project aims to decrease the number of ed-tech products being used ineffectively or not at all, she said.

Researchers found about 60 percent of pre-pandemic purchases — worth at least $26 billion annually — failed to meet usage goals set by schools.

“We simply do not have enough information to support educators’ decision making around ed-tech,” said Barton, an assistant research professor at UVA. “A key piece of that is understanding … that the ‘right’ technology to bring into one environment might be very different than the right technology to bring into another environment.”

The Genome project was born from the EdTech Evidence Exchanges’ expressed mission to help educators make better-informed decisions about the technology they use. A steering committee of teachers, administrators, researchers and association leaders identified the 10 most significant variables based on existing research and lived experience. A working group assembled for each variable spent six months refining their definitions.

The key variables that determine whether ed tech is implemented successfully, according to the report, are how well it aligns with the following in a district:

  • Vision for teaching and learning
  • Selection processes
  • Teacher agency
  • Infrastructure and operations
  • Implementation systems and processes
  • Staff culture
  • Teacher beliefs and knowledge
  • Strategic leadership support
  • Professional learning
  • Competing priorities

The report doesn’t offer a “right” or “wrong” vision, culture, or selection process. Rather it defines the dimensions of each variable and what questions districts and companies should ask themselves when implementing ed tech products.

For example, the report argues that weighing teachers’ beliefs about ed tech includes considering their feelings, knowledge, and experience toward technology; and their understanding of how students learn.

Barton said teachers’ beliefs can be “make or break.” If a company representative is walking into a room of educators who are generally skeptical about technology and haven’t had great experiences with digital tools in the past, they may want to spend extra time during training explaining how their product can benefit students to lay a better foundation.

“Understanding the beliefs of the educators they’re working with could really shift and color the way that they present that professional development opportunity,” she said.

As a next step, the Genome project researchers are testing a database, known as the EdTech Evidence Exchange Platform, which would allow educators to look up whether an ed-tech tool or program is successful at a district similar to their own based on the 10 variables. The data for each district would be captured by surveying multiple teachers.

A release date has not been set yet, Barton said.

This comes after the pandemic forced a surge in demand for ed-tech products while schools turned to remote learning and as districts prepare to spend federal stimulus aid money aimed at improving connectivity outside of school.

“We are trying to create this really incredible evidence source for educators who are out there making decisions,” Barton said. “At this point we really recommend educators take a look at these variables and start having conversations with colleagues [and] engage with potential vendors: Where might they have strengths and weaknesses?”

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