The pandemic accelerated the process for purchasing new education technology tools to support a remote learning environment for students and teachers, thanks in part to the billions of dollars in federal relief money.
The usage of ed-tech tools has also skyrocketed. The average number of technology products school districts access in a given month has almost tripled over the last several years, according to a recent report from LearnPlatform, an education technology company that helps districts measure the use and effectiveness of their digital products.
School districts bought millions of new laptops, tablets, hotspots, and interactive boards. But those new devices are only going to last so long, and it’s unlikely that the federal government will dole out another flood of cash for districts to replace those tools. What can districts do to ensure they can continue to use the technology they’ve purchased?
Start planning now
Some school districts already have sustainability plans, but many others are not paying attention to this challenge. Now is the time to put in place plans to sustain the expanded use of technology, experts say.
“Always begin with the end in mind when you think about bringing new stuff into your district,” said Diane Doersch, the director of technology at Verizon Innovative Learning Schools for Digital Promise, during a recent Education Week webinar. “You can’t be thinking about that [sustainability] in year three or four when your stuff starts conking out. You need to be thinking about that now.”
Here’s what district tech departments should think about when putting together a sustainability plan, according to Doersch:
- What tools are teachers and students using? Go beyond just the actual tool. What are the other supplies that pair up with that tool? For example, laptops have charging cables that will need replacing eventually.
- How long is each tool supposed to last? What can your district do to prevent the early degradation of the hardware?
- What types of maintenance do those tools need? How much will it cost?
- Who is responsible for fixing or replacing broken technology? Will it be outsourced?
Digital Promise, a nonprofit that works to improve learning through a more effective use of technology, also has a technology sustainability toolkit that districts can use to help them with the planning process, Doersch said.
“You need to keep track of all that stuff or else you’re just going to get washed over with the reactionary—‘got to fix this, got to fix that, got to get batteries for this, got to get parts for that’—if you are not on a regular schedule of repair and replacement,” Doersch said.
Keep track of tools’ effectiveness
Measuring the effectiveness and the usage data of the tech products is another way districts can tackle the sustainability problem.
“When you think about that planning process of sustainability, it’s not only coming up with the money to pay for those devices and renewing those devices,” said Rob Dickson, the chief information officer for Kansas’ Wichita Public Schools. “You need a return on investment on those devices and on the learning that’s happening on those devices.”
With the efficacy and usage data, leaders can get a better understanding of how to adjust any agreement licenses with the companies from which they bought the products, Dickson said. But it also makes sure that the central focus is on how the tools are connected with the curriculum.
Having those data can also be helpful in deciding where to put the district’s money, Doersch said.
Don’t wait for another influx of federal money
Schools need to plan ahead because more federal funding isn’t guaranteed, experts said.
“A worst case [scenario] is someone putting their head in the sand and saying, ‘Oh, there’ll be more funding coming through,’” Doersch said. “They need to be planning as if they have to go back to the regular budget. And then, anything on top of that is a good and pleasant surprise.”
Schools can reallocate funds away from tools that are no longer necessary, Doersch said.
For example, if students are accessing textbooks and other curricular materials digitally, is there really a need for having multiple copiers and printers in the building? By getting rid of those unnecessary tools, schools can use that money for replacing and fixing other tech tools that are getting more usage.