Nov 18 2022

How to Measure ROI to Show the Value of Ed Tech Purchases

With the funding cliff looming, look to the impact on students to measure ROI for ed tech purchases.

Educational technology investments in K–12 are soaring to new heights, putting millions of dollars into the hands of district administrators. It only makes sense that school leaders would want to measure the value of these investments. In the business sector, investment decisions are grounded in profit and loss statements. However, it’s not always easy for IT leaders to use quantitative methods to analyze the return on ed tech investments.

With our 85-plus years of combined experience in purchasing millions of dollars of technology, we recommend fellow school technology leaders use more creative ways to measure ROI, or what we call “return on instruction.” We define return on instruction as a results-based process that both quantitatively and qualitatively measures the impact of technology investments that improve student learning.

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Use Budget Savvy to Tackle Funding Challenges

Thanks to millions of dollars in pandemic relief funding, many school districts acquired devices and resources to achieve a digital equity goal that previously seemed unattainable.

However, with pandemic relief funds ending in 2024, districts must contend with reduced K–12 budgets, forcing cuts in hardware, applications and services. Other federal and state funds present opportunities, but in the meantime, how can districts make a transformational impact with time-restricted funds?

Within legal purchasing guidelines, consider alternative ways to sustain ed tech investments, such as forward-funding contracts. We also recommend districts consider these actions:

  • Stop funding outdated, ineffective or rarely used programs
  • Use zero-based budgeting strategies to further scrutinize where funds are directed
  • Harness the efficiencies that technology tools provide
  • Reconsider traditional instructional delivery models

Use our ROI process below to prioritize and switch to other funding sources, such as federal programs or state or local funding.

MORE ON EDTECH: Analyzing ROI helps IT leaders make decisions.

Require Vendors to Provide ROI as Part of the Selection Process

To drive digital transformation, ed tech leaders need a clear picture of spending across the school system to tie investments back to the value of student learning. Your solution providers are your partners, and many are willing to help school systems save money through optimization, automation, secure data management, single sign-on and advanced data analytics.

Raise the expectations of educational solution providers. To determine true costs across the organization, require visibility into all ed tech categories of spending to tie funding back to projects and departments. With quantifiable data, ed tech leaders can justify technology spending.

Demand additional levels of ROI analysis from vendors to help determine value. If vendors can’t provide answers to certain questions, consider another solution provider, or stop funding the service, solution or product.

When shopping for ed tech, always ask these questions:

  • What challenges does this technology solve?
  • What student learning outcome do we want to achieve?
  • How does this technology specifically improve student learning?
  • What key performance indicators determine success?
  • What potential problems does this vendor bring, such as cybersecurity or data privacy risk, lack of verifiable results or supply chain issues?
  • What measures can the solution provider offer to determine ROI?

RELATED: Learn the benefits of integrating technology in K–12 classrooms.

Use Creative Ways to Quantify Qualitative Student Growth

Technology offers students the opportunity to improve their skills in intangible ways that are difficult to measure. How do we measure a student’s shift in perspective? Touring a museum virtually in another location outside school walls may inspire a new career path. Connecting to new, stimulating viewpoints about life’s possibilities may offer inspiration. Using technology to improve interpersonal skills, such as collaboration, problem-solving and communication, may boost their confidence.

These qualitative measures are more about behavior. How can we turn these into quantifiable outcomes? Here are some creative examples:

  • Evaluate student communication by the number and depth of questions they ask.
  • Use reduction in discipline and rewards for better conduct to quantify inspiration and optimism in students.
  • Assess student confidence by the types of personal decisions they make about positive behavior patterns or academic plans.
  • Rate student problem-solving based on their willingness to accept additional responsibilities for completing technology-enriched assignments and demonstrating creativity.
  • Consider collaboration and engagement as a measure of feedback and depth of discussion.
  • Translate heartfelt, impactful, emotional examples into rating scales.
  • Convert any student-learning impact story that demonstrates growth into a quantifiable measure.

Show ROI on Ed Tech Spending Plans Over the Long Haul

Technology is a continuous investment, and it’s challenging to show ROI on ed tech spending plans over time because it’s not exactly A plus B equals C.

Jump-start your efforts by maintaining accurate analytics and inventories. Establish clear goals with a method to evaluate the return, and correlate technology initiatives with the district’s strategic learning goals.

Use readily available resources from educational experts; for example, Diane Doersch, board chair-elect for the Consortium for School Networking, offers a technology lifecycle plan that’s mapped out seven years into the future. Digital Promise’s sustainability toolkit is also worth reviewing.

While calculating ROI can be a heavy lift, doing so allows you to open new opportunities and worlds to students. So, minimize the complexity as best you can, and give it your best shot!

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