The web of ‘integrated solutions’ is becoming unmanageable and unsustainable for district tech leaders – what to do?
GUEST COLUMN | by Ted Mo Chen
Educators have received a clear message over the last decade: using edtech tools in the classroom is important for maintaining student engagement, increasing achievement, and building students’ real-world technology skills. Before the pandemic, districts adopted new technologies to address specific learning or classroom needs at a reasonable pace and with enough time and knowledge to implement them effectively.
‘Is there such a thing as too many tools? The short answer is yes…’
This forced shift to online learning came with the rapid purchase and deployment of many disparate technologies—each designed to serve one singular purpose — resulting in a tangle of “solutions.”
According to Learn Platform data, the average U.S. teacher uses 148 different edtech products per year, with students accessing an average of 143. The average U.S. school district uses 1,417 edtech solutions per month. This is costly, time-consuming, and frustrating for teachers, parents, and students, opens the door to increased data privacy issues, and ultimately makes it difficult to assess student performance. The web of “integrated solutions” is becoming unmanageable and unsustainable for district tech leaders.
Too Many Tools?
Is there such a thing as too many tools? The short answer is yes, due to:
Lack of consistency: Separate workflows, different pedagogical approaches, and different UI, means students and teachers must bear the cognitive load of knowing how the tool works.
Integration and Interoperability: Different ways of assessing student progress and achievement (raw scores, standards tagging, competency tagging, etc.) make it difficult to see a true picture of student/class performance and understanding. Getting all tools to flow to a central grade book is also challenging.
Data Privacy and Security Risks: Each tool may collect and store student data differently, leading to potential privacy and security risks.
Limited Focus on Instructional Goals: When juggling numerous edtech tools, educators may shift away from instructional goals and student engagement. They may become preoccupied with and burdened by tool management.
Cost: With the end of free trials and the impending ESSER funding cliff, many districts face budget concerns about funding all the current tools.
Questions to Consider
There are several questions to consider when determining what to keep and what to eliminate; among them:
1. Is this tool being used?
Adoption rate calculates the percentage of active users out of the pool of total potential users. For example, if you have ten middle school science teachers and only two actively use the virtual learning tool you’ve bought licenses for – that doesn’t seem like a great investment.
For your school or distinct, define what “actively using” means to you (either by uses/time period, percent of grade, percent of capabilities, etc.) and define the threshold that makes sense for your school or district (many use 40% as the “cutoff” point). Determine these two metrics and evaluate your tools against them.
2. Is the tool having an impact on student outcomes?
This is complex and can look different across solutions. In a perfect world, you’ll have a baseline of student performance pre-tool and a measurement of student performance post-tool. Did it go up?
‘In a perfect world, you’ll have a baseline of student performance pre-tool and a measurement of student performance post-tool. Did it go up?‘
Also, does the tool allow you to tag activities to standards, mastery objectives, or other parts of student learning? Is there a causation between the tool and student learning?
Consider qualitative feedback. Are students excited to use this tool? Is there a high level of completion of activities assigned in the tool, or do students resist using it? Does it appear in a “what are your favorite class activities” list?
3. Does the tool make the job of teachers and admins easier or harder?
Evaluate integrations and interoperability. Does the tool work with your existing SIS and SSO systems? How easy or hard is it to port information to the gradebook? Does the information produced by the tool increase your understanding of student achievement?
Qualitatively, does your IT or tech director groan at the tool’s name? This is a good sign that it’s not integrating well with the rest of your tech tools.
4. Does this tool fit in my school or district’s budget?
With the right categorization, can the ongoing software cost be absorbed into the school’s operating/technology/curriculum budget? Can getting more use out of the tool/training/PD/etc. be absorbed in the current amount of PD or instructional/tech coaching you have available?
5. Is there overlap?
Many EdTech tools fall into categories; consider your current tech stack and determine the overlaps. Then, you can work out a plan to consolidate if there are apparent redundancies.
6. Finally, how disruptive will removing access be?
Teacher feedback will be critical – weigh the change management, morale, and complaint impacts of each tool you propose cutting.
Clearly, edtech solutions are important for student learning. Moving forward, districts need to ensure they have the right mix of tools to better serve their teachers and students.
Ted Mo Chen is VP of Globalization at ClassIn, a leading interactive classroom and LMS provider trusted by 50 million educators and students worldwide. Ted’s career is rooted in the belief that edtech is a transformative power and equalizing force in our society. Prior to joining ClassIn, he was a serial edtech entrepreneur for 6 years covering SEL, STEM content, and creator economy sectors. He has appeared in WSJ and Bloomberg as an edtech commentator and opines for JMDedu and Technode. He’s a proud valedictorian of Peking University’s B.Phil program.