Measuring Value of Investment for #EdTech in Schools

Is a 1:1 iPad program worth the time and cost? How about adding an iPad cart to a class, adding interactive whiteboards in every classroom, student response pads, switching to electronic books, or purchasing an adaptive learning math software package?  Or, how about the cost of a web platform to improve parent-teacher communication? With the price tag associated with such technology investments, it is common (and even important) to ask about whether the benefits are wort the investment. The importance of such a task is amplified by Larry Cuban’s 2001 Oversold and Underused, and countless articles like this highlight of the  2013 National Assessment on Educational Progress study, which seemed to indicate some less than promising practices.

While some policy makers like to talk about education in terms of Return on Investment (ROI) by looking at the economic benefits to society, and others talk about ROI for school marketing and recruitment plans, this does not necessarily match with goals of a social endeavor like education. For this reason, many educational technology leaders focus upon value of investment (VOI). What is the value that comes from a given educational technology investment. Does it help support the mission, vision, values and goals of the school? For such a measurement, that requires articulating goals.

In Here’s the 5-Step Tech: Here’s the 5-Step Tech Investment Plan Districts Should Be Using, Keith Krueger lists potential target areas.

Increasing student achievement
Increasing student engagement
Improving attendance and behavior
Attracting and retaining staff
Developing 21st century skills for students
Decreasing dropout rates for at-risk students
Engaging parents and communities

Other possibilities include targets like:

  • increase family access to high-impact learning experiences,
  • document student learning beyond the school building,
  • increase student access to global perspectives on current events,
  • equip students with what Tony Wagner refers to as “collaborating across networks”,
  • increase parent-teacher communication,
  • improve student and teacher digital literacy,
  • equip learners with the ability to flourish as digital citizens,
  • assist students in building personal learning networks to increase self-directed learning competency,
  • or create strategies that adapt learning experiences to the distinct needs of each learner.

Note that some of these might relate to academic goals or standards, while others get at related but distinct topics like engagement, increased access and opportunity, addressing equity issues, or improving communication among stakeholders. Once more general targets like these are identified, it can be helpful to articulate them as more measurable goals.  From there, we brainstorm possible strategies to achieve the goal(s), including learning about potential technology-enhanced solutions. Each strategy will have affordances and limitations, which will be an important part of the exploration.

If we make it this far, it is a matter of selecting the most promising option (hopefully based on some research, including getting into the current literature), and building a plan (which will have a heavy focus upon professional development if we want to avoid the mistakes of countless 1990s educational technology projects in schools).

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 7.17.29 PMAll of this sets us up to ask the question, How will be measure the value of our investment? This includes plans for collecting formal or informal data about the project: observations, teacher and student journaling, focus groups, interviews, surveys, analysis of student products and performances, support logs, etc. This might not provide us with the certainty of empirical research, but it can help us develop a better understanding of the value afforded by a given educational technology investment.

What about you? How do you determine the value of an educational technology investments in your learning organization?