The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education worked with The Learning Accelerator to create a new guide to help district administrators make smarter choices about ed-tech purchases.
With students and teachers now using over 100 ed-tech tools a year, according to a recent report from the ed-tech company LearnPlatform, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has created an open source guide to help educators make informed decisions about which tools are best for respective classrooms. The department showcased the guide, “EdTech Systems Guide: Equity-Driven Selection, Implementation, and Evaluation,” in a webinar session on Wednesday, the last day of the virtual Aurora Institute Symposium.
The Massachusetts DESE partnered with The Learning Accelerator on the project. The DESE team said they saw the aforementioned LearnPlatform report, which said that individual students on average used 143 ed-tech tools during the 2021-2022 academic year, and each teacher on average used 148. That spurred them to create this guide, which is grounded on evidence-based practices for evaluating and implementing ed-tech tools that will be effective, equitable and sustainable.
“When we think about digital equity, we know this number is crazy,” said Jackie Gantzer, DESE’s director of ed tech and school support, regarding LearnPlatform’s findings. “The ability to access 150 anything during a school year … it’s hard to get anything meaningful with it. The hope is to do something better with [ed-tech tools] in an intentional way.”
The Massachusetts DESE and The Learning Accelerator worked with educators from school districts across the state, in both rural and urban, as well as large and small districts, to develop the guide based on what they were hearing in the field. Gantzer said the pandemic provided the state with an excess of federal funding and helped obtain devices, but she said they knew they needed to go beyond just getting devices and access.
“We needed a strategic planning guide to outline essential elements of a broad technology plan for how tech systems were going to look,” she said.
Hearing that 85 percent of ed-tech leaders in the state admitted to not having a process to select, implement and evaluate ed-tech tools, Gantzer said that DESE and The Learning Accelerator created a process to help, no matter where along the procurement timeline a district might be at the time of trying out the guide. While Gantzer said the guide was created for Massachusetts districts — such as Gill-Montague Regional School District and Narragansett Regional School District, which were represented in the webinar by Tina Mahaney and Jared Perrine, respectively — it can be implemented by any district across the country.
Jin-Soo Huh, a partner at The Learning Accelerator, said that the guide was created for system administrators but can be used by anyone overseeing ed tech in the school system. He described the process as “circular,” with different phases for evaluation, selection and implementation, and equity as one of its guiding principles. As administrators go through the process, Huh said, the guide will prompt them to make sure they are looking into tools that will promote equity and align with their district’s short- and long-term visions, then provide recommendations based on needs. Perrine, the director of technology at Narragansett schools, said his team took advantage of the guide in areas they don’t typically focus on.
“I was most excited about the evaluation part of the tool,” Perrine said in the webinar. “We do a lot of implementing. We don’t do a lot of the evaluation. That part, to learn how it impacts the learning, is the most important.”
Mahaney, the director of IT and education data services at Gill-Montague schools, said she found a way to procure a tool quickly in a time of need.
“There was a situation where there needed to be a selection for assisted tech use for English learner students,” she said. “The guide [information] helped me communicate with stakeholders on what type of tech we could use. It saved me in that moment.”
Huh said the guide is set up so administrators can use it for a well-thought-out, lengthy selection process, or to make a decision in a pinch, as Mahaney did. He said focus groups and surveys were conducted to carve out the guide precisely according to the needs of the stakeholders. Huh said that having a state entity backing the guide can only be a good thing to stakeholders seeking funding to procure ed-tech tools.
“Having a guide with a state seal, showing it’s recommended by that body, is a helpful tool for administrators,” Huh said.