3 Ways to Avoid Big Ed-Tech Mistakes

School districts have heavily invested in educational technology, especially over the past few years.

In fact, schools used an average of 2,591 different ed-tech tools in the 2022-23 school year, according to a report from LearnPlatform, an ed-tech company that helps districts measure the use and effectiveness of digital products. In the 2018-19 school year, schools used an average of 895 different ed-tech tools.

But educators are not uniformly satisfied with the ed-tech tools they use. An EdWeek Research Center survey conducted in December asked educators about the worst or most misguided use of ed tech they have experienced in their careers. The most common responses point to a big-picture problem with the use of educational technology: Its use is often inappropriate and/or ineffective.

In a June 22 Education Week K-12 Essentials Forum, Education Week Deputy Managing Editor Kevin Bushweller moderated a discussion with Digital Promise Senior Director of Information Technology Diane Doersch and the San Antonio district’s Chief Information Technology Officer Eva Mendoza about how to use technology effectively to improve instruction.

Here are three tips gleaned from that discussion:

1. Involve all stakeholders from the beginning

One of the biggest mistakes school districts make when implementing technology tools is “not involving the right stakeholders from the beginning,” Mendoza said.

District leaders need to ensure that the people who are going to use the technology are at the table when the district is evaluating new products. Otherwise, those new tools won’t be used properly or effectively, Mendoza said.

In the San Antonio district, Mendoza established a committee with representation from teachers, principals, students, and parents to sit with the district technology staff to evaluate products. The district technology staff also provided a sample classroom setup so everyone could see what each offering would look like in practice and provide feedback.

Doersch emphasized that getting feedback from stakeholders will make them feel like they have been heard and that the decision “isn’t done to them, it is done with them.”

2. Ensure collaboration between technology and academic teams

Digital devices and software should only be used in instances where they enhance learning, Doersch said.

To do that, the technology team should work closely with the academic team so that the tools are “interwoven into the academics, into every lesson,” Mendoza said.

Together, these teams should think about what learning gaps need to be filled and how technology can be leveraged to fill those gaps, the panelists said.

3. Provide adequate professional development

Another big mistake districts make is purchasing and setting up digital tools without first training the teachers who are supposed to use those technologies, the panelists pointed out.

With any new digital technology or software, teachers should have the opportunity to play with and explore the tool first, Doersch said.

It’s also important to ensure that the professional development opportunities to integrate those tools into instruction are relevant to what the teacher needs for their classroom, Mendoza said.

For instance, in San Antonio, teachers fill out a baseline assessment to see where they are in terms of their technology skills. From there, teachers can select one technology tool that they want to use in the classroom and then focus on incorporating that specific tool into instruction.

It’s also good to provide different options for teachers to receive their professional development, whether it’s virtual or in-person or asynchronous, so they can choose what best fits their needs, she added.