In any given K-12 district, you’ll find at least some teachers choosing their own edtech products. Why? If their district hasn’t shown tech leadership, there are no shortage of tempting free apps to choose from. Why not fly solo, so to speak?
But that’s contrary to what districts have come to learn over time: that students and their parents benefit most when all teachers in a district are assessing and reporting on students using a common, approved set of tools and schemes.
In some instances, teachers independently using their own technology can work out well. But teachers run multiple risks when finding solutions to use on their own that aren’t integrated into the district’s systems or procedures. Without centralized budgetary or student-privacy management, teacher-sourced software in classrooms is getting some teachers and their districts into trouble.
From our company’s own experience implementing technology at the district level, here are six reasons districts should move towards district-wide technology initiatives.
1. District-wide implementations let teachers focus on teaching
When teachers choose their own solutions, they often face the headache of entering student and parent data, keeping it up to date, and answering student and parent questions about technology.
When districts deploy new software to all teachers, a leadership team and training is put in place to ensure the technology works as it should. Teachers can focus on integrating the new software into their everyday activities and learning from each other as they all work with the same tools. Additionally, vendors rolling out to the district often provide virtual or onsite support. Free software does not.
2. Every student gets the same resources
Educators opting in to pockets of tech solutions that aren’t being used elsewhere in the district can lead to inequity issues. While some students might benefit from whiz-bang software their teacher has found, others could miss out.
District-wide rollouts ensure all students have a consistent experience and the same opportunities. Their parents—if parent access is part of the proposition, as with learning management systems—also get the same opportunities. And if a single, district-managed platform is chosen, it potentially eliminates a handful of confusing independent systems adopted ad hoc by teachers over time.
3. District-wide software is more robust
“You get what you pay for” applies to edtech. While free solutions do exist, many free and low-cost options provide only simple or basic features. And, as educators and entrepreneurs are learning, freemium business models don’t seem sustainable in edtech.
In district-wide rollouts of commercial systems, teachers and administrators get more features than they do in lower-tier versions. The vendor guarantees its software works and scales. Unlike the free solutions, these systems are also usually built to deliver district-level reporting and analytics.
4. It works with technology that’s already in place
When software is administered at the district level, tech staff ensure the platform connects to existing databases and systems of record. For example, IT leaders are responsible for integrating official systems with the district’s student information system. It should integrate with the district’s authentication and single sign-on system. If parents are managed in a separate system, good centrally-managed software should be able to pull from that database, too.
When teachers adopt simple apps themselves, they miss out. This tight level of integration saves educators time in data entry. And it provides far more meaningful impact when the solution is available to everyone.
5. District-wide implementations promise longevity
There’s no promise free solutions will be free forever, or even exist in the future. When a company rethinks its pricing model to reach profitability, educators stand the risk of losing all of the work they’ve amassed. And when a vendor fails to achieve profitability, it’s just a matter of time before the product goes away.
Districts can trust that nothing will change when they sign a contract with a technology vendor. Contracts provide a safety net to guarantee that nobody loses out on the technology they’re committing to.
6. District-wide implementations minimize legal exposure
Finally, when a district doesn’t have complete control over the technology teachers are using, concerns over data privacy and security come up. Without approval of software being used in the classroom, districts can’t be sure that teachers are adhering to policies regarding confidentiality of student information. Not every vendor manages student data responsibility, let alone in strict compliance with regulations like CIPPA, COPPA, FERPA, and others.
Administrators can better manage legal concerns connected with digital storage and sharing of information when they manage technology centrally. Access to student records can be centrally controlled if a parent loses legal access to their child’s information, for instance.
All in all, large-scale technology purchases save districts time and money, while improving instructional practices. Rather than expecting teachers to take the initiative to find effective tools for their classroom, districts should plan for managed technology rollouts that keep everybody in the same airplane, aiming for the same destination.
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