Jun 03 2020

How K–12 Schools Can Measure Ed Tech ROI

Data analytics can help school leaders justify their technology spending.

The COVID-inspired rush to distance learning is putting pressure on already-strained IT budgets in school districts nationwide as educators strive to provide students with needed devices and online tools. That comes on top of the $13 billion districts already spend on ed tech tools each year. Over the past five years, K–12 technology spending grew more than 8.6 percent a year, Technavio reports.

Eventually, there will come a reckoning. IT leaders need to be able to justify the return on investment for their efforts — in ordinary times, and especially during the present flurry of unanticipated expenses.

A thoughtful approach to IT deployments, coupled with digital analysis tools, can help IT leaders better track and explain their technology spending.

MORE ON EDTECH: Read why school tech and business leaders should be partners.

The Value of Taking Tech Inventory

For many, the ROI equation begins with an understanding of the existing technology inventory. When Joe Phillips became K–12 technology director at Kansas City Public Schools in Missouri, he didn’t even have that much to work with.

“There was no inventory of anything. Nobody could tell me how many network switches we had, what servers we had, how many devices we had. And I had no idea where the money that came into my department was going every year,” he told EdTech.

To determine ROI, he and other ed tech leaders say, it’s crucial to first establish that baseline inventory. From there, projects must be scrutinized on an individual basis for their financial viability.

Factors to Consider When Deploying Tech

Research from the EdTech Genome Project, a collaborative effort of more than 100 education research and advocacy organizations, recently identified 10 factors that appear to influence the success or failure of an educational technology implementation.

Winning projects typically have a clear adoption plan, laying out systematic processes and resources used to vet solutions, along with effective pilot trials. On the flip side, districts can get into trouble when they have too many technology initiatives in play, or when tech and nontech initiatives must compete for scarce resources.

Stable funding is key: Districts need consistent financial support for ed tech implementations, including technology resources and operational technology support. They also need professional development, including formal learning and collaboration opportunities for teachers implementing ed tech tools.

While all these factors can help position a tech deployment for success, they can’t tell you whether the effort has demonstrated a cleat return on investment. To calculate ROI, IT leaders need a digital assist.

READ MORE: Discover how to get school boards on board for educational tech.

Track Ed Tech Investments with Data Dashboards

Not every IT deployment represents a financial win. According to a Glimpse K12 survey, for example, 67 percent of software licenses are going unused, and in some cases the number is as high as 90 percent.

A data analytics platform can give school leaders insight into how well their tech investments are performing.

Take, for example, Relay, a cloud-based analytics solution from Lightspeed Systems. It delivers an intuitive dashboard to monitor and manage the use of hardware, software, applications and websites.

The dashboard view enables leadership to view application utilization across a district. This in turn allows the district to right-size its licensing and ed tech investment. Visualization tools make it possible to see and understand the cost of ed tech applications across the district, parsed by school and by user.

Watch how a data analytics dashboard can help measure ROI of e-learning initiatives.

When a district can understand application utilization by location and user, leadership can more effectively target professional development to increase adoption of key curricula.

Some 74 percent of schools report that their students now have more than one device each, according to the Consortium for School Networking. With more student devices in play, a dashboard offers districts a means to measure whether these technologies are being used correctly in the classroom and how they are affecting student outcomes.

Beyond the qualitative analysis of usage and performance, the platform enables deeper insights. For example, intelligence tools allow the district to identify potential issues with student data to effectively meet data security requirements.

Phillips said a thorough inventory and a quantitative analysis helped drive his district toward its goal of maintaining a zero-based budget for the technology department.

“That process took about 90 full days of daily work. Eventually, we came up with a five-year technology plan, which we took to the superintendent’s cabinet and to the board and got approved,” he said. “Now the board knows what projects we want to accomplish each year. When we go ask for money, they now know why.”

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