There are a lot of Edtech products on the market, and not all of them are created equal. You don’t want to be the person leaving a terrible review for a product because that means you put in the time and effort to find out that it was a terrible product. Sometimes it is a matter of you not understanding the product because you didn’t ask the right questions before making your purchase. While you can always avoid products that have bad reviews when you are dealing with edtech, there may not always be enough feedback to make an informed decision on some of the products. This is why it is critical to ask questions and assess the product based on the answers.
Fortunately, as an educator, you are incredibly familiar with asking questions (especially the tough ones). The trick is knowing what the right questions are for edtech products. You just need to learn the right questions to ask prior to checking out.
#1 Is There Any Training Included with the Product?
The more complex the product, the more likely you are to need training. If a company offers a complex product and then requires you to pay to learn how to use it, the odds are good you can find a better product on the market. Most businesses understand that buyers want guidance until they feel comfortable with using a product, and they will provide help. Asking about training lets the company know that you want a functional product, not something that will collect dust.
#2 Are the Developers of the Product in the Educational Field, or Are They Primarily Techies?
This question will probably be harder for companies to answer, especially a large company (startups can probably tell you not only what kind of experience the developers have, but tell you where they got their experience). Techies may be great at innovating, but they usually don’t know or don’t understand what kinds of features you need or how they will be used in a classroom. They simply do as they are told, and that usually makes a product that only resembles something that you need. If the developers were in the education field, or work with a lot of people who are in the field, then you are likely to have a product that delivers what you need.
#3 How Is the Customer Service, and How Responsive Are They to Issues and Defects?
One of the worst failings of a company comes in the form of bad or nonexistent customer service. You should always research products before you make a purchase, and that is when you should look into the customer service offered by the provider. Whether or not you find it, check to see if the person making the sale can answer your questions. If the sales representative cannot answer questions about customer service, particularly about responsiveness, that should be a big red flag on the product.
#4 How is the Tool Used (Hardware, Software, Device)?
Some products are incredibly nebulous when it comes to figuring out what they are, let alone how to use them. If it is an app, that is relatively easy to understand, but you need to know what platforms it is on. If it is a device, you need to find out if there is a plan that goes with it and if you will need to purchase software or something else to go with it. If it is hardware for a computer, you need to know how to install it and have an idea of how long it will take.
#5 Do I Need to Buy Anything Else to Get the Product to Work, or to Enhance Its Potential?
Very few products come with just a single component. You need to make sure you know everything that is required to get the product to function as intended or improve its performance. For example, if you buy an app, is there a supplemental gadget that will enhance the learning process? Does it have an area for students to discuss what they learned? Many products come with additional tools. It is just a matter of asking to find out what else you will get with your purchase (or if another purchase is required).
#6 Was the Product a Result of Research and Teacher Input?
Products are usually a response to an identified need (whether real or perceived). The question is, did the company take the time to work with teachers to ensure that the product addresses their concerns and needs, or did the company decide to tell teachers and educators what will work best? If the answer is the latter, you are probably going to be spending a lot of time working on things that are either redundant or unnecessary. If the answer is the former, the product is much more likely to solve problems specific to the educational field.
If the company relied on research alone, you have about a 50/50 chance of the product meeting your needs. Ultimately, the best products are a result of listening to the people in the field.
#7 Is the Product Scalable and Flexible?
If you are thinking about offering the product to a small focus group, then hope to expand it in the future, you want something that is scalable and flexible. Even if you are only planning on using the product in your classroom, there is the possibility that other teachers in your school will want to try it with their students if it proves successful. If the product is scalable and flexible, you will be able to coordinate with others to bring the technology into more classrooms.
#8 Does It Save Student Information, and If So How Is the Data Managed?
This is an understandable concern as most of the students are underage. You do not want them to be targeted by marketers and businesses because the students had to register to use the product. You need assurances from the business that this information will be kept private and will be properly secured from hackers. If the sales representative cannot answer this question, it is best not to buy the product.
#9 Is There Something Comparable for Less or Free?
This is perhaps a question best asked online where you are more likely to find people who have tried other types of similar products. You can ask in stores, and neutral places (like Best Buy) are likely to give you an honest answer to the best of their knowledge. A great company will be honest as well because they understand when their products can cost prohibitive. If nothing else, you can always ask the company that makes the product to see if they recommend trying something that is comparable in case you want to see what the product is like.
Edtech products are everywhere, but they are definitively not all equal. The best way to prevent buyer’s remorse is to ask questions up front. You can ask online, in stores, over the phone, or people you know, but make sure that you ask the important question before you commit to the product. The best way to find out if you are getting a good product from a reliable company is to ask these questions of someone who works for the company, even if you already know the answer. This will help you trust that the company will provide the assistance you need when you need it.
The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.