How to Introduce New Tech in Districts, Without Tech Burnout

Before adding digital tools in the classroom, schools can benefit from purchase-related assessment and pre-implementation preparation.

by Erin Brereton

In recent years, K–12 institutions’ classroom technology investments have been gradually ticking upward.

In 2019, 40 percent of teachers reported an increased use of digital-based core curriculum resources for one or more core subjects. Fifty-six percent said they were using digital supplemental materials more frequently.

The onset of the pandemic certainly didn’t slow down the need for new tech. Over the past year and a half, many schools have added devices, infrastructure components and other solutions to equip students and educators with the necessary tools for remote learning.

While K–12 schools in the U.S. spent anywhere from $26 billion to $41 billion annually on educational technology before the pandemic, their tech spending may exceed $50 billion for the 2020-2021 school year, according to an estimate from the nonprofit EdTech Evidence Exchange.

In the wake of this implementation pace, educators and students may be on the verge of tech burnout: a state of digital fatigue that can generate negative effects ranging from mental exhaustion to reduced productivity and disengagement.

Tech use alone, though, often isn’t the main cause of tech burnout, according to Akilah Willery, a Texas-based K–12 education strategist for CDW•G.

“People start to blame the technology tool, or just blame technology in general, and usually it’s not the tech,” Willery says. “It’s often that there wasn’t a thoughtful evaluation of your current state and how you want to get to your desired state.”

Incorporating new software and devices in classrooms has the potential to increase efficiency and facilitate learning, but these outcomes aren’t possible without careful planning and consideration. The rollout of new tech tools can sometimes be swift, with teachers receiving little or no time to familiarize themselves enough to effectively integrate the technology into their daily lessons and routines.

To reduce the risk of new tech making students and educators feel more disillusioned than educationally engaged, districts may want to consider using the following approaches to tech implementation.

Review New Tech Tools with Your Audience in Mind

Technology is rarely a one-size-fits-all solution, which is one reason schools should consider a structured-choice approach to IT purchasing.

A structured-choice approach can help position districts to make better technology investments and empower teachers with tools that meet their unique needs.

Instead of making blanket tech purchases for the district, each school can consider a curated list of tech options to choose from, based on its individual needs. The approach also factors in how well new technologies will integrate with the district’s overall infrastructure to prevent any compatibility issues.

“During the pandemic, there wasn’t a lot of time to research all of these options, but in more stable periods of education, do the research,” Willery says. “Who are the people that are going to be using this tech tool? Those are the people you need to hear from.”

In addition to the technology’s cost and lifecycle management requirements, schools should make sure they’ve clarified exactly how the item will be used before presenting any new tech tools to end users, Willery says.

Schools also need to think about their goals with any new device they roll out. “What are you expecting to see once you purchase these devices or this software application?” Willery asks. “Figure out what the purpose is, and then make sure you have a range of options you bring to the target audience.”

If district leaders don’t have a clear idea of what their educators are already using, they run the risk adopting tools that overlap in purpose. This can leave teachers confused about what is expected of them. By talking with end users, K–12 IT admins can determine if there are overlapping tools and strategically choose which solutions will best serve their mission.


The share of teachers who say their confidence in the ability to use educational technology has increased

Source: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, “7th Annual Educator Conference Report,” August 2021

School leaders should also consider the bandwidth of their IT team when implementing new technology solutions. To assist these staff members, schools may need to bring in new employees or invest in training to make sure current staff are ready to handle new rollouts. The time needed to prepare IT staff should be added to the timeline prior to introducing any new tool for general use.

“We’re seeing over and over again instances where the tech teams are saying, ‘We didn’t have enough staff to handle the technology that already existed, but now that we have 10 times as much, we’re drowning,’” Willery says.

Tap Industry Experts’ Experience to Make Informed Decisions

In addition to adopting a structured-choice approach, working with a trusted provider who can supply information and guidance about available classroom tech products can help districts sort through the myriad options that could deliver their desired learning outcomes.

Educational strategists can provide an agnostic view of the solutions currently or soon to be on the market to help schools target their business objectives, educational mission and other goals.

Educators will also hopefully avoid some of the disillusionment experienced in the early days of classroom tech adoption, Willery notes, recalling a time when some products overpromised their ability to serve wholly intuitive, independent instruction.

“Kids might be comfortable typing, turning their cameras on or learning from a video, but they still need someone to guide them through it,” she says. “Just because I live in a city where there are a bunch of cars doesn’t mean I know how to drive. Somebody has to teach me how to use that vehicle, and it’s the same thing with ed tech tools.”

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