The Learning Accelerator Blog/Ensuring Quality EdTech Investments: Two Questions For System Leaders

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Ensuring Quality EdTech Investments: Two Questions For System Leaders

by Michael Ham on February 23 2024

September marks a turning point for the K-12 sector. Since March 2020, the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund has infused billions of dollars into school systems to aid pandemic recovery efforts designed to accelerate learning. However, many school system leaders anticipate significant disruptions when these funds dry up later this year.

System-level edtech leaders will feel the pinch. While ESSER dollars allowed schools and systems to pilot innovative solutions and contributed to the rapid adoption and deployment of many new edtech tools, budget changes mean it will become more crucial than ever that these leaders optimize the return on their edtech investments. This will require leaders to choose and implement fewer, better edtech tools across their schools and systems.

In this shifting edtech landscape, leaders must understand what makes some edtech tools better than others and how they can assess these tools for quality.

What Makes Some EdTech Tools Better than Others?

High-quality edtech works in service of effective instructional practice.

In our work alongside schools and systems, we’ve come to think of edtech quality not as a list of specifications, features, or functionalities but in terms of how well edtech tools support effective instruction. The Learning Accelerator’s (TLA) extensive research indicates that effective technology-integrated instruction is driven by coherent technology, powerful pedagogy, and strong relationships. Each of the three drivers contains multiple contributing factors – outlined in the image below – and can serve as critical lenses through which leaders can assess edtech tools to determine their quality.

How Can Leaders Assess the Quality of EdTech Tools?

Assessing edtech quality requires leaders to consider tools both individually and in context.

Considerations of edtech quality must account for differences in how individual tools are deployed in context. Take, for example, learning management systems (LMS) and content-specific tools that offer personalized support in skill acquisition (e.g., iReady, NewsELA). On the individual tool level, comparing the quality of these two tools is like comparing the quality of apples and oranges. Instead, leaders must think of quality in two ways:

  • Each tool’s ability to individually support the drivers of effective instruction, and
  • How tools work within their ecosystems to support effective instruction holistically.

Using this same example and framework above, the LMS and the content-specific tools can be judged individually on how well they uniquely support effective instruction and how well they work together to address each quality driver.

To help leaders determine the quality of edtech tools on both levels, TLA developed a reflection tool that asks questions designed to spotlight where edtech tools support effective instruction and where they fall short.

Take it Further

In addition to the tool mentioned above, TLA has condensed the findings from our research on this topic into a series of resources system leaders might use to help them navigate challenges brought on by the ESSER funding cliff. Leaders can dive deeper into this topic by checking out the following:

  • TLA’s report Driving Quality in Virtual & Remote Learning outlines our research on what drives effective technology-integrated instruction.
  • This insight provides additional information about edtech quality and offers leaders new ways to think about how their edtech tools work together to support effective instruction.
  • This edtech reflection checklist offers leaders a resource to help them assess the quality of edtech tools, both individually and in the broader context of their edtech ecosystems.
  • TLA’s EdTech Systems Guide, developed in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Office of Educational Technology, offers leaders a comprehensive vision for equitable, sustainable, and effective edtech systems.
EdTech quality and the framework described above are two topics I'm presenting on at the Digital Learning Annual Conference (DLAC) in Austin, Texas, from February 25th to 28th. If you plan on attending, check out the conference program, consider attending my sessions to learn more, and reach out to ensure we can connect in Austin!

About the Author

Michael is an Associate Partner at the Learning Accelerator. He is an experienced educator and, and former fellow in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of EdTech. Michael has a wealth of experience translating policy into practice, and supporting leaders in facilitating systemic change.