It’s no secret that technology is playing a growing role in how schools operate, from teaching students to balancing budgets and everything in between.
It’s only natural, then, that many school officials find themselves facing a fundamental challenge amid this EdTech (Educational Technology) renaissance: namely, the question of how to choose the “best” EdTech tools for their particular K-12 school, charter school, CTE program, or Adult/Continuing Education program.
(If, however, you still aren’t sure if your school even needs technology at all, take our quick infographic quiz to find out.)
What are the “best” EdTech tools?
To find the best EdTech tools for your school district, it’s helpful first to think about what you yourself really mean by “best.”
Does the best EdTech tool hold the most data? Is it faster than all the rest?
What we at Harris School Solutions have found over the past 30 years is that the most important metric for determining which school software is the “best” also happens to be the most overlooked.
That metric? In a word: configurability.
By this, we mean that the benchmark for “best EdTech tool” actually has little to do with the bells and whistles; rather, it’s all about you, your team, and your students, and the software’s ability to be flexible and work the way these people need it to in order to meet the needs of your particular school or district.
If you find yourself working around the shortcomings of your software, for example, it’s because the software wasn’t built with your exact school in mind. Having to handle data in a way that doesn’t quite fit with your current processes steals valuable time and energy from the people using the software. In turn, such rigid software can end up costing your school money.
How to Evaluate School Software
Given this new idea of the phrase, “best school software,” there are three important steps you need to take in order to find the best software for your school’s or district’s needs.
Step 1: Pinpoint the core of your school’s current problem.
The first step is to figure out which problem, exactly, your school needs to solve.
After all, you can’t find a solution before you know what the problem is. For example, how could you possibly say, “Well, we need a classroom-level messaging system that can communicate easily and in real time with parents,” if you don’t even know whether or not communicating with parents is a problem at your school?
Instead, this first step is as simple as clearly defining the problem you face.
So, in talking to your team and teachers about their daily challenges, they might tell you, for example, that student test scores are down. Asked why that’s the case, they might determine that parents are struggling to help students study because they’re having trouble keeping track of all the papers and assignments being sent home with the students. From this information, you would realize your main problem is that you’re having trouble getting parents engaged due to ineffective communication with them.
Once you’ve clearly defined the problem, you then can begin looking for the “best” solution.
And remember, the deeper you dig into your problem, the easier it will be to find the right software or hardware. Based on our example above, you might work to find out exactly why parents aren’t engaging. Is the process just too inconvenient and time-consuming? If so, you can look for an EdTech tool that focuses specifically on making interactions between teachers and parents more convenient in order to boost parent engagement.
Step 2: Assess your setup and infrastructure.
Once you know what the problem is and you begin searching for software that solves it, it’s important to keep in mind that every district — and every school, for that matter — is set up differently in terms of technology infrastructure.
Be sure to talk to your technology director, who will know your current software/hardware restrictions and capabilities, and therefore will know which solutions your school easily can accommodate and which ones would not be compatible. It might take a little extra effort up front to sort through these details with your technology director, but it will narrow significantly your search for EdTech tools and will help you to save time and money overall.
Step 3: Plan for the future.
Now that you understand what you’re looking for and have narrowed the search, there’s just one final consideration to make: from whom do you want to buy your software?
The reason this question is so important goes beyond simply wanting to buy from a particular school-software company because it’s well known or flashy; indeed, the reason is squarely pragmatic.
No matter which EdTech solution you purchase, and no matter how configurable or intuitive it is, the fact of the matter is that you’re making a change.
Change, as we all know, sometimes can cause a little confusion or stress.
The key word to remember here is “teams,” as in, the men and women themselves, the actual individuals who will be showing you how to use the software and working with you when you hit the inevitable roadblock as a new user.
Will these trainers be effective, even passionate, teachers? Will the Support staff take enough pride in its work to be proactive with updates and fixes, even years after you’ve purchased the software? All of these are important questions to ask when evaluating an EdTech solution.
Granted, this third step may seem to be less about evaluating the software or hardware itself, and more about evaluating the company behind the technology as a way to gauge your school’s future success in using that technology.
But really, you could think of Training and Support — and the company that provides it — as part of the software’s configurability, since a company that provides great Training and Support would be willing to go so far as to fix or even change the software in order to make it function better according to your needs.
Let’s review the main ideas we’ve covered:
- There really isn’t a “best” piece of technology or tool, software or hardware, at least not in the way we tend to think of the word, “best.”
- Instead, the best piece of EdTech is the one that fits your needs the best by solving your school’s specific problem.
- That’s why the ability to configure the software is so important: it allows you to solve your school’s problem in the way that makes the most sense for your school.
- A critical part of choosing the most configurable EdTech tool goes beyond the software or hardware itself; it’s about the company behind those tools.
Our advice, then? Stop looking for the best software.
Start looking for the best software company.