Scott Kinney is the senior vice president of Discovery Education and has more than 20 years of experience in the education industry.
Q: What’s the biggest mistake schools make when making ed-tech purchasing decisions?
A: I think the thing you see most often is schools leading with the technology. For years we’ve talked about the challenges associated with technology from an implementation perspective and clearly the biggest mistake schools have made and continue to make is they look at it as a technology initiative instead of an educational initiative. What we do at Discovery Education is say, “What are your educational goals and objectives?,” then we help our partners clearly articulate those goals before they really start to think about the technology.
There was a great conversation I was having with one of our school-based partners who lives in Charlotte, NC but is actually working at schools in South Carolina- they have a three year partnership with us around professional development- and one of the questions I asked him was what device were they going to use? They’re looking at a 3 year, 1:1 implementation and he said, “You know, we haven’t decided yet.” I just thought that was great. They’re doing exactly what we talk about doing all time which is consider your educational goals and objectives, clearly articulate that, know what you want to see happen, and then create that interaction between students and teachers. When the initiative comes to fruition, let some of those other decisions take form at that time.
Q: What are some of the questions schools need to ask to ensure they are making the right purchase?
A: The questions that people ask, if you’re not going to make that mistake of leading with technology and purchasing product and hardware is, “What do you need to get started?” Well, first you want to make sure that you articulate your educational goals clearly, but you also want to think about things like what is your professional development strategy? How are you going to work with your administrators, your teachers, and your stakeholders to really get them to a place where your effort isn’t just substituting a laptop for a typewriter, but a truly transformational step changing the teaching and learning experience.
One of the things we talk a lot about is we have the opportunity today, because of technology, to really deliver on what we know about great instructional practice. So things like differentiation become much easier in a technology enhanced environment. Things like formative assessment and the feedback on those assessments, becomes much easier to manage in a digital classroom.
We’d also ask, what’s your content strategy? People making the digital transition need to thinking about that as start to use more and more digital content for instruction. How do you make sure that you have high quality content and that it’s aligned with standards? How do you integrate that within the scope and sequence of your curriculum within your district? Not until that point, once you have worked through some of those questions and some of those thoughts, do you start to think about the technology. What’s your access strategy? How are students now going to access that content and access that instruction both from an infrastructure perspective and from a device perspective? All of those previous questions feed into that last question of what does your infrastructure need to look like? What do the devices need to look like to accomplish the educational goals and agenda?
The last big question I would ask is, how do you evaluate this? What are your measures of success? Is it student engagement? Is it graduation rate? Is it achievement on a specific state standardized test? Be really honest with yourself about what you’re trying to accomplish and how you plan to evaluate that. And then look at it as a continuous learning opportunity and a continuous improvement plan. How do you then take that data and information and go back and look at it say okay, how do we improve? What are things that we can do differently from a curriculum, from an instructional, and from a hardware perspective?