IT Infrastructure & Management

Tech Purchasing Decisions Are Super Hard. New Initiative Aims to Help

By Alyson Klein — October 11, 2021 2 min read
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District and school leaders are facing some of the most difficult and expensive technology purchasing decisions of their careers. But they are struggling with where to go to get objective information about ed-tech products.

The International Society for Technology in Education is trying to fill the void.

“It is very hard to get information about different products,” said Richard Culatta, the chief executive officer of ISTE. “Sure, companies will happily give you a whitepaper that says how great everything is, but it’s hard to get real, accurate information.”

Individual groups, he said, have attempted to create a sort of Consumer Reports for ed-tech products, but that’s been tricky and time-consuming to pull off.

So ISTE is working with partner organizations to build a national database of ed-tech products. It will be up to vendors to add their products to the list. And each product will be given a universal learning technology ID or UTID.

While other ed-tech repositories may have their own labels for various products, ISTE believes this one will be used consistently in the industry, said Mindy Frisbee, the senior director of learning partnerships at ISTE.

“Having access to consistent information across the field is really key,” Frisbee said. “One would think that it’s really easy” when a prospective ed-tech buyer is looking at a specific product through one library or resource, and then goes to another place to find out more.

But, she said, the buyer might see that the product has a different name when it’s listed somewhere else, or that it’s described a bit differently. That means ed-tech leaders “may not be sure if [they’re] comparing apples to apples.” The universal identification number will make it easy to sort out which product is which, she said.

The ultimate goal? To create a “resource hub for finding all sorts of information about the product,” Frisbee said.

Next month, ISTE will roll out a searchable, database with a filtering tool. Initially, users will be able to see information such as the name of the product, a description, the grade or grades that the product is intended for, the topic it covers, and the pricing structure.

And soon, the database will be expanded to include other factors such as whether the products meet interoperability standards and feature privacy policies. Down the road, the hub may include information like research studies on a particular product or approach, and a way for educators to share their own experiences with the product.

Other organizations—such as Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that works on issues related to youth and technology, and Digital Promise, which works to improve innovation in K-12—are partnering with ISTE and could add some of their own information to the database.

The timing of this new database is really important, Culatta said, in part because districts have unprecedented amounts of money in federal COVID relief aid to spend on helping students and schools recover from the pandemic. Educators want to make sure they’re making good choices.

“We have billions and billions of dollars going out to school districts, right now, and they are telling us, we need help, making these decisions,” Culatta said. “For a digital education ecosystem, we’ve been in a shockingly analog world when it comes to how we make decisions about the products we buy. And our goal is to change that.”

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