As edtech surges onward, Broward Schools CIO warns of tough conversations ahead.
GUEST COLUMN | by Joe Phillips
The edtech industry continues its tremendous growth and there are not any signs of it slowing any time soon.
Along with this boom comes a surge in venture capital funding. This type of funding comes with an approach which looks for one unicorn among a graveyard of failed companies and mediocre breakeven companies. Usually, a rate of one unicorn to a mixture of nine failures and breakevens is acceptable.
The first goal for each of these companies is their Minimum Viable Product (MVP). MVPs are exactly what they sound like. They are the first viable iteration of a product which a company believes that early adopters will pay for.
The focus for edtech MVPs used to be on early adopters as they are more likely to forgive the challenges and shortcomings of the products while bugs continue to be worked out and features continue to be enhanced.
However, with the edtech market surging, and competition becoming fiercer, a trend for companies to target normal or even late adopters as their primary MVP customers is growing.
Tell The Difference
As such, it is vital that school and district decision makers can tell the difference between robust solutions which are fully capable of solving educational problems of practice and MVPs with slick marketing, free demos, and a tendency to under-or non-deliver. Many will even go out of business leaving schools and districts to pick up the search for a replacement solution.
There is nothing inherently wrong with MVP’s. Every software starts off as an MVP. But there is a difference between MVPs that are a true value-add targeted at bonafide early adopters and those which do not provide value and will have schools and districts paying covering the R&D costs.
‘…there is a difference between MVPs that are a true value-add targeted at bonafide early adopters and those which do not provide value…’
In addition to the challenge with MVPs, schools and districts are also being inundated with edtech solutions which are past the MVP stage. While many of these edtech solutions have the ability to add value to the educational process, the way in which many of these solutions are entering districts and schools is problematic.
Terms Such as ‘Pilot’
A trend of companies approaching schools and principals directly with promises of problems solved and terms such as “pilot” has led to many school districts becoming overwhelmed with competing edtech solutions. The pace of the pandemic and extra funds from ESSER decreased communication and planning in between district offices and schools as many of these “pilots” and competing solutions were put into place.
The word “pilot” used to be a study of multiple competing solutions to determine which one solved a problem of practice better. However, it has morphed into a simple synonym of “sample” and a sales technique used to get schools hooked on a particular product while not knowing if it is the best solution.
The process has now led numerous schools and districts into a position where they are now dealing with hundreds or even thousands of edtech solutions. They find themselves unable to measure ROI, have a decreased ability to mitigate cybersecurity risks, and are having to make tough decisions as the ESSER funding cliff approaches.
The Return of Success
Moving forward, schools and districts will see a return to the research based process of true pilots, then Proof on Concepts (POCs) in which the best pilot solution is testing in real world or expanded conditions, and finally phased implementations where the rollouts of solutions are measured and validated.
The return to this process will also need to be paired with effective training, adoption fidelity, and technical support. Ample research shows that bad tech solutions with effective training, adoption fidelity, and support have much more benefit than amazing tech solutions that are pumped and dumped on teachers, students, and staff without effective training, adoption fidelity, and support.
Tough conversations will need to be had, as the consolidation of edtech solutions will need to occur in schools and districts across the globe. However, with a focus on solving problems of practice, schools and districts will be able to create a managed menu of proven and supported edtech solutions and ensure that they are being used effectively to educate their students.
When schools and districts are able to do this effectively, the power and success of edtech solutions will be able to return to the educational ecosystem. The ROI of chosen solutions will be able to surge and students will be able to fully participate in an educational system that is built for them to create their successful futures.
Dr. Joe Phillips is the Chief Information Officer for Broward County Public Schools, the sixth-largest public school system in the United States. A retired Army Officer, he found his calling in edtech leadership; he’s an advisory board member for SouthFloridaCIO, an adjunct professor of Applied Research and Doctoral Mentor at Liberty University, and served as CIO for Volusia County School District and Kansas City Public Schools. Connect with him on LinkedIn.