These are not just digital devices—they are learning tools.

GUEST COLUMN | by Charles Duarte

As an expert in deploying edtech in elementary, middle and high school—both as an educator and as an executive in the edtech services industry—I’m often asked where districts should begin their search for the right digital learning devices. My answer is always the same: start with the desired learning experience for your students.

There’s a reason

There’s a reason the “ed” in edtech comes first. These are not just digital devices, they are learning tools. Like any learning tool, districts need to focus on the needs of the students first and not the bits and bytes.

Too often, school districts assign the procurement of edtech devices to a manager in IT or finance departments, not an educator. These managers may have competing interests. For example, IT managers may prefer devices that they are familiar with or that they perceive to be easier to manage. Finance managers may simply be interested in being able to purchase the maximum number of devices for the budget.

Neither of these approaches take into account the needs of teachers or students. Teachers aren’t specifying office equipment or Internet providers, so why do we allow a decision on something as important as learning tools to be handled by a non-educator?

On the front lines

Instead, educators should be on the front lines of edtech purchasing decisions, along with the district superintendent. The process should start with identifying learning objectives and developing a mission statement that verbalizes the goals of the district.

Questions to ponder include:

  • Who do we want our students to be when they finish school?
  • What kind of learning experience is necessary to get them there?
  • What kind of learning culture do we want to promote in our schools?

Once the learning objectives are identified, then specifications for technology can be developed. For example, if learning objectives state that it is important for content to be accessible to all students, then an edtech platform that helps visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners should be specified. If an objective is to expose students to learning via multimedia content, edtech devices that support photos, music, and movies will be important.

There are many variables to consider when selecting edtech devices. Some tips to keep in mind include:

Buy a versatile device. The procurement of edtech devices needs to be flexible so learners can move in any direction needed. Versatile devices allow for all types of learners to take advantage of robust learning ecosystems like app stores, interactive multimedia, and powerful content creation.

Reconsider the need for paper-based content. Since students are increasingly more comfortable with online material, consider whether both edtech devices and textbooks are necessary. Since textbooks are out of date as soon as they are printed, perhaps open ed resources (OER) are a better way to achieve learning objectives.

Dont assumeask students. Consider consulting with students before purchasing devices to ensure their needs are met. Students typically are further along the technology curve than we give them credit for, and as a result, schools are purchasing technology that’s not needed. A good example of this is keyboards. Before assuming students need—or even want—keyboards on their devices, ask students how comfortable they are typing on a glass screen.

Once the specifications for devices is detailed, managers in IT and finance can play an important role in researching and identifying the right devices to meet the outlined educational goals.

This leads to funding

This leads to funding. The traditional way of funding edtech purchases is exactly backwards. Most districts allocate an edtech budget before the hard work of setting educational goals is done. The purchase of devices then is boiled down to how many devices can be acquired for the available budget. This often leads to the purchase of inferior devices that rapidly lose their value and deliver a poor learning experience.

Instead, districts should fund what’s important based on educational goals, and put in place a sustainability plan to ensure future edtech purchases are planned for in the budgeting process and happen before devices become obsolete and ineffective.

This can happen by continually revisiting educational objectives and measuring progress annually to determine if teachers have the technology they need in order for the district to accomplish its educational goals.

Charles Duarte is a VP at Diamond Assets where he works with schools to maximize the residual value of their Apple devices. He has taught grades 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 and has implemented two different 1-to-1 digital learning initiatives while serving in a variety of district leadership roles. Write to: charles@diamond-assets.com