Mar 14 2024

How to Choose and Integrate New Technology Vendors in Education

One K–12 CIO shares his experience in making ed tech purchases for his school.

As the CIO of a private K–12 school in Florida, Omar Valerio likes to lead by example. He dedicates two hours a day to continued learning to stay up to date on new technology trends, he told host and CDW Education Strategist Victoria Thompson on a recent episode of Focus on Edu.

This not only drives the way he leads his team of IT professionals and tech-savvy teachers at Westminster Christian School but also informs his process for evaluating and purchasing new educational technology.

“I always like to be ahead of the game,” Valerio said. “Now, [artificial intelligence] is the big thing. Well, I started introducing AI here six years ago, even when AI wasn’t what it is now.”

Valerio’s methodology for integrating new technology goes beyond being the first to try the next big thing. He selects new tech vendors through a careful evaluation process that takes all stakeholders into consideration.

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4 Steps for Making Tech Purchasing Decisions

After 35 years in education IT, Valerio understands the importance of educational technology and making decisions that impact an entire school. He shared his process for choosing new tech vendors, breaking it down into four steps.

1. Assessments

The first step is an assessment of what the school needs and what users are looking for. “You need to open those channels of communication,” he said, explaining how he works with other departments to get a better understanding of the gap the tech will fill.

“I have a very close relationship with our curriculum director. My belief has always been instructional technology and information technology need to work together.”

Without that relationship, he added, the solution he invests in won’t work. It may not fit the curriculum’s needs, or it may not be compatible with the school’s current software. Both sides need to come together so end users have the best experience.

KEEP READING: Independent schools face unique technology challenges.

2. Research

Armed with an understanding of what each team is looking for in a new tech solution, Valerio said he then begins to research.

He looks into vendors’ experience and often asks for references from other K–12 customers. He also evaluates the cost of the technology. “Our policy here is always to ask for three bids,” he said. This allows him to accurately compare costs and ROI.  

3. Pilot

A key part of Valerio’s evaluation is pilot programs for the new technology.

“The vision was to make the school a state-of-the-art school in technology,” he said. “So, the way I started doing this was with pilot programs.”

Pilots allow Valerio and his team to test the technology within their ecosystem and learn how it works before rolling it out to all users. “I started training all my teachers and bringing them on board,” he said. “I have to make sure I provide all the technology to them and train them for them to feel comfortable. That way, they can start rolling this down to the classroom and to the students.”

4. Training

When initially trying to train all of the school’s teachers on the new technologies, Valerio noticed low engagement from the participants. “After five minutes of my training, I was losing all the teachers,” he said. “I was very technical. The teachers did not feel comfortable with me doing the trainings.”

His solution was to talk to the department heads and recruit the most tech-savvy teachers to lead the trainings instead.

RELATED: K–12 schools let teachers take the lead on professional development.

“As the IT director and the chief information officer, I’m not very familiar with the classroom environment,” he explained. “Coming from a teacher’s perspective, they can tailor the training to the classroom environment, and that’s been a very successful thing.”

Valerio now has a team of 32 teachers who help lead their peers through professional development.

This process allows stakeholders to have input from the very start, and it ends with training and professional development that’s adapted to teachers’ needs.

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