Creating Ed Tech Stickiness: 10 Tips for Success
"Ed tech whiplash," or the constant addition and removal of tech solutions in schools, is a real issue and has been negatively impacting teachers and students for years. During the 2022–23 school year alone, K–12 school districts accessed, on average, 2,591 different ed tech tools. As a former director of technology in public education, I saw educators struggle to keep up with the always-growing list of ed tech tools being implemented in their schools. And I also saw teachers become heavily invested in solutions that improved efficiency and efficacy in their classrooms, only for the solution to be removed within a short time due to a lack of "ROI." This type of back and forth is not only frustrating for teachers, but it leaves students with a lack of consistency in their learning environment.
Technology can be a great educational tool that helps personalize learning, but weeding through thousands of ed tech options to determine which is right for your school can be overwhelming. Many school leaders also want to be able to quickly evaluate ROI and efficacy of a tool, but the reality is it can be difficult to prove true efficacy until year 3. In my experience, the first year of a new ed tech solution is dedicated to procurement, and the second year focuses on training. Only by the third year is it possible to understand the technology's true value and impact in the classroom.
So, to avoid ed tech whiplash and ensure an ed tech solution will have the "stickiness" or staying power to make it to year 3, consider the following when evaluating a potential tool:
1. Know what you're solving for
A new ed tech solution should not be implemented just for the sake of adding new technology. This is what leads to ed tech whiplash. New solutions should be solving a real problem for your school or students. Once you've identified the problem, then make sure any tool aligns with your district's larger strategic goals and how you ideally want students to learn.
2. Discuss timing and capacity
For a solution to be successfully implemented, it requires quite a bit of bandwidth from a variety of stakeholders in the first year, from teachers and administrators to technology teams and students. Having thoughtful discussions ahead of time about the number of new initiatives coming down the pipeline will be key for securing internal buy-in.
3. Audit current platforms
In the same way some people have multiple weather apps on their phone, I have also seen schools try to implement and use overlapping ed tech solutions with very similar features. Take the time to audit your current ed tech list and assess whether or not teachers are utilizing all existing features and functionalities. Sometimes it isn't a need for a new tool, but a need for training on existing platforms.
4. Create an ed tech purchasing rubric
Consider creating an ed tech purchasing rubric that is specific to your school or district's needs. Assessing things like single sign-on capabilities, device compatibility, or ownership of data will help future-proof your solutions.
5. Implement a procurement panel
Oftentimes decisions regarding technology that will be used in the classroom are missing the most important voice: teachers. Creating a procurement panel that includes end users can be critical for understanding how the solution will drive impact. This panel should also decide how the school or district will be collecting feedback on the tool.
6. Check for "partner" vibes from your vendor
Keep an eye out for "green flags" from the ed tech vendor you are working with. Is their team responsive? Do they offer professional development? Will they be open to adding new features or making updates based on your feedback? Your journey as a customer should begin at the point of purchase, not end.
7. Ensure the solution is vetted
Check whether or not the solution meets important industry standards. Does the company have robust student data privacy policies and industry standard security certifications? Is the product built with and backed by learning science?
8. Agree upon how and when you'll measure ROI or efficacy
Jumping to conclusions about the success of an ed tech solution without allowing enough time for adoption can create misleading results. Before implementation, decide as a team when and how you will measure the success. If you are worried about low usage, plan for end user focus groups to understand the why.
9. Align on an implementation plan
To frame an implementation plan, I like to ask: "Let's pretend our implementation of this ed tech solution failed. What do you think are the most likely reasons?" The answers in this exercise can be very telling and can help teams plan ahead for the most common obstacles.
10. Celebrate success often and early
Positive reinforcement can be a huge factor when it comes to creating a "sticky" ed tech solution. Make sure to celebrate usage of a new tool and highlight "shining" examples. Look for vendors who have an advocates programs or offer fun incentives. This type of community building around a solution is not only effective, but it can create a sense of joy in the classroom.
Implementing solutions with staying power takes a lot of preparation and planning, but creating consistency for educators and students will pay off in the long run. And, most importantly, this type of careful forethought will help ease ed tech whiplash.
Erica Hartman is a former director of technology in public education and serves as a subject matter expert on GoGuardian’s strategy team. Erica has 20 years of teaching and administrative experience helping school districts choose digital platforms that best suit their strategic goals. She specializes in large-scale deployments, digital architecture of online platforms, data interoperability, blended learning, digital citizenship, and student safety.