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ISTELive 22: Ed-Tech Coalition Assesses Products, Tech Needs

A Monday panel at the ISTELive 22 Conference in New Orleans revealed how a coalition with the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of the Great City Schools is assessing ed-tech products and systems.

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A panel session during the ISTELive 22 Conference in New Orleans this week discussed a buyer’s guide and assessment tool for ed-tech procurement.
ISTELive 22
With a proliferating number of ed-tech tools available to choose from, education leaders at the state and local levels have many variables to weigh as they seek to procure the right technology for each specific classroom. At the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) annual conference this week in New Orleans, ISTE leaders explained how the organization’s redesigned EdSurge Product Index can serve as a platform to help school systems at all levels make informed decisions on what to buy.

While the index has been out for several years, according to ISTE Senior Director of Learning Partnerships Mindy Frisbee, the organization felt that it needed to be upgraded. Added to the index were features such as validations and certifications, which align with ISTE standards, Frisbee said in a Monday session titled “Solving the Hidden Challenges to Increasing Student Achievement and Growth.”

“When it comes to interoperability and privacy, those are really two key domains when you buy or acquire or implement a new tool in your classroom or at your district,” Frisbee said during the session. “Whether or not it integrates with your existing system, or whether or not your data are kept secure and private, is really key to the success of that tool being able to support you in your teaching and your students in their learning.”

ISTE partnered with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) over the past two years to work out the kinks of the redesigned index as part of a pilot program, with 21 school districts and four states — Massachusetts, Iowa, Nebraska and California. Working with the tool, now in its beta phase, participating districts and states took a deep dive to assess specific ed-tech needs and deficits in their systems.

ISTE adviser Shahryar Khazei said the organization’s partnership with CCSSO and CGCS was intended to strengthen interoperability, privacy and security as priorities in the procurement of ed-tech tools, pointing to inconsistencies across states and school districts in how they purchase ed-tech tools. He said the coalition is building on previous work by Project Unicorn, a group of similar organizations that formed in 2016 and emphasized three pillars: a model procurement policy, an unbiased ed-tech product repository, and a modernization and future-readiness program, which included a self assessment.

Monday’s panel involved leaders from school districts around the country, including Fresno Unified School District, Boston Public Schools and Portland Public Schools, as well as California Department of Education Director Jerry Winkler. All of them said they were shocked by the results of recent assessments of their technology through the EdSurge Product Index, with Portland schools CTO Don Wolff saying what he saw was “frightening,” and Fresno schools CTO Tami Lundberg saying it “provided ah-ha moments.” The assessment assigned a “maturity level” within the index, ranging from the initial Level 1 up to Level 5, which was called “transformative.” Three levels in between were “emerging,” “building” and “optimizing.”

Tricia Farris, senior assistant director of the tech company AEM Corp. and a participant in building the index, said the maturity levels are really about where a system is in the moment, and where they hope to go. Winkler summed up the index in a way that mirrored the entire group in the session.

“It was very enlightening for many of the groups and for us, leading the discussion,” he said. “It was validating to say, ‘We really need to work on this.’ It was a level-setting experience.”
Giovanni Albanese Jr. is a staff writer for the Center for Digital Education. He has covered business, politics, breaking news and professional soccer over his more than 15-year reporting career. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Salem State University in Massachusetts.