From the Field

“Teachers across the board have reported an increase in student engagement, more attention to the tasks at hand, and a more enthusiastic response to lessons, because students enjoy learning in this new medium.”

Barbara Allen, Director of Educational Technology, San Diego Unified School District

While devices often get the focus during purchasing time, comprehensive planning requires that districts pay attention to the purpose for having those devices in the first place. At the core of usage are the tools and content that help a district run efficiently and effectively and provide students and teachers with the resources necessary for learning.

The Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, a nonprofit, non-partisan think tank, analyzed the software specifically used by small and medium school systems and found that the tools and content tend to fall into a few broad categories, all of which need to be addressed in planning and budgeting:
  • Business and school operations software provides the operational functionality needed by non-teaching staff for performing financial and human resources work; to stay on top of educator evaluations and professional development; and to handle library, cafeteria and teacher substitute management, among other activities.
  • Data management software is used by administrators, teachers and other staff to monitor student assessment, manage student information, and deliver reporting and analytics.
  • Information technology software is used by the IT organization to manage and maintain the network infrastructure, computers and mobile devices and help desk operations; provide communications within the schools and out to the wider world; and perform content filtering and other security responsibilities.
  • Academic software and digital content, used in the classroom by teachers and students, provides for productivity work such as word processing, offers learning management, and covers the wide spectrum of programs available for learning.

In each one of these categories and sub-categories multiple software offerings are available—so much so that often choosing the most appropriate program is itself a major undertaking. However, the category of academic software and digital content is by far the largest, most varied and most important category for two reasons: This software is intended to help with learning in the classroom and there are literally thousands of choices of software and digital content available.

Finally, two additional factors need to be considered throughout the selection and use of software in a school district: students’ safety and the privacy of student data. While polices related to these topics are covered in more detail in the Broadband section, it is important to be sure that software and content used by the students and staff of the district have appropriate safeguards for how students’ data is protected, and it is clear what data is collected from students by the software/content provider and who has access to the data and why they have access. Checking those policies and ensuring they are in line with the districts’ policies should be a key initial step in considering whether or not to select academic and non-academic software.

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