Who Should Truly Have the Power in K-12 Edtech Adoption?
Technology administrators are very busy people. Often they are in charge of a district’s network infrastructure, manage a team of support personnel who handle school-site work tickets, develop and lead professional development, and constantly have to explain the importance of seemingly simple things like firewalls, authentication, and not leaving your device unattended.
They’re also in charge of the adoption and implementation of district and school-site technology. This could entail making tech updates, coordinating back-and-forths between teachers, principals and other administrators, and conducting extensive product research. It also means an inbox full of sales pitches.
So what’s an overworked IT administrator to do?
Here’s what they’re not doing. They’re not reading all that sales material. They’re filtering out email pitches, and sales calls go directly to voicemail.
That’s not to say IT administrators are immune to the sales pitch. Most attend a conference here or there. They do what they can to keep up with industry trends. Yet “industry” to an IT administrator covers a lot of different tools. So when it comes to purchasing anything on a school district’s sparse budget, instructional tools aren’t always the priority.
With so much competition for their attention, what’s the magic to reaching this elusive target audience? Is it an elixir of empirical evidence that irrefutably proves a product’s efficacy? Or is it geekier swag—perhaps something that resembles the U.S.S. Enterprise, a battle droid, or a replica of the Elder Wand emblazoned with a slick company logo?
No one would deny the coolness factor of the wand, but that’ll only take a product so far (and will probably bankrupt the company in legal fees). Rather, the magical elixir isn’t magical at all. If you want to reach folks in IT, you need to know who has their ear, and according to the results of a recent survey conducted by the nonprofit venture philanthropy NewSchools Venture Fund in partnership with Gallup, oftentimes it’s the people who have absolutely no buying power at all: the teachers.
Let teachers choose what to use.
NewSchools’s survey results reveal that the impact of teacher influence on the adoption of technology is actually quite significant. About 85 percent of the principals and administrators surveyed selected teachers as the most trusted source when it comes to making decisions about digital learning tools.
The data shouldn’t come as a surprise. Teachers are the ones who will actually be using the technology. They understand the needs of their students, foresee the obstacles to implementation, and know what tools will help them develop more engaging lessons, support their instruction, and make their jobs easier.
Because teachers typically lack purchasing power, edtech companies often hesitate to target them in marketing efforts. That may be a mistake.
It’s faulty to assume an IT professional (some of whom haven’t stepped in a classroom in years and others who have no teaching experience at all), would make decisions without consulting with the end user. That would be like Dumbledore adopting a Norwegian Ridgeback when Hagrid wanted a Hungarian Horntail. Or Chewbacca modifying the sensor rectenna dish on the Millennium Falcon without consulting with Han Solo.
Yet, apparently this has been the modus operandi for quite some time. Just five years ago, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation reported in their “Teachers Know Best” survey that even though teachers were more likely to think that the digital tools met their needs when they were able to choose them, only 18 percent of teachers could be considered active in the decision-making process and select “most of the education technology they use” (20).
Because teachers typically lack purchasing power, edtech companies often hesitate to target them in marketing efforts. That may be a mistake. The results of the “Teachers Know Best” survey prompted the foundation to make the following recommendation: “District leaders should ensure that they better understand how teachers will use the digital tools they are considering for implementation—and create avenues to help teachers become more directly involved in school- and district-level technology decisions” (26).
As the NewSchools data indicates, with the right approach, teachers could act as the middleman between the company and the district, advocating for the adoption of technology that they know will truly provide instructional benefit. In this model, a good portion of awareness-building would target the end user, who can assist in engaging and converting their administrators. Further, as the “Teachers Know Best” study revealed, including teachers in the buyer’s journey provides a level of assurance that the product will be used post-adoption, and reduce the likelihood of canceled contracts and technology turnover. No swag required.
Hunter Reardon, an English teacher at Palo Alto High School in California, is an example of this teacher-turned-edtech advocate. Reardon has been on a mission to convince the teachers in his district to ditch their outdated (and cumbersome) document cameras and start using the iPad Pro (with supplemental accouterments like the Apple Pencil and apps like Notability) to create lessons that are engaging and, most importantly, wireless. This has had a profound impact on Reardon’s teaching, freeing him from having to be at the front of the classroom so that he can interact with his students while he lectures. He does what he can to extol the virtues of the iPad Pro to any colleague who will listen.
Jamie Lewsadder, chief technology officer for La Cañada Unified Schools in California, understands the importance of including teachers in the selection process. Before becoming an administrator, she was a heavy tech user in her own English classroom and an early user of tech products that were often adopted department and school-wide. Although Lewsadder, with the help of her team, does most of the decision-making for the edtech LCUSD will adopt, she is currently “building the infrastructure and ecosystem that would be open for teachers to [recommend] new ideas.” In fact, one teacher has assisted her in advocating for Adobe Spark after they both discovered it around the same time.
How do you reach teacher-influencers?
If teachers aren’t the traditional marketing target, then how do they get their information? According to the teachers in both the NewSchools and “Teachers Know Best” surveys, it’s from other teachers (81% and 56%, respectively). Trailing far behind in the NewSchools survey includes:
- Education websites: 39%
- District staff: 34%
- Internet searches: 21%
Reardon, who also uses Quizlet, Kahoot, Padlet and Schoology, says he often gets suggestions from his district’s tech TOSA (teacher on special assignment) and other colleagues (one of whom has recently piqued Reardon’s interest in WeVideo). Reardon also finds industry journals and conferences to be useful in staying up to date on emerging tech.
Beth Cothran and Christina Haggerty, teachers at Buena Vista Elementary in Lompoc, Calif., share ideas and learn about technology in their education-focused social media groups. This is how the two colleagues learned about the free apps Class Dojo, Prodigy and Remind. Haggerty, a burgeoning influencer, often posts her own experiences with resources on her education-focused Instagram account.
Of course, most of the resources currently shared by teachers for teachers are free. As a former teacher, I can attest to a teachers’ appreciation for free stuff. But what a teacher loves even more than freebies are resources that make their instruction better and their jobs easier (especially if the resources don’t involve in-app purchases).
If they were made aware of tools that can realize those goals, but which needed to be purchased at the district level, their voices could cut through the cacophony of pitches with Jedi Force-level influence to reach administrators who hold the purse strings. Neglecting the end user in the marketing of edtech is, as Spock would say: “Highly illogical.”