This article is based on a webinar discussion presented by WGU Labs’ College Innovation Network (CIN).
College Innovation Network, connects educational institutions with a rich source of EdTech innovations and helps them identify, launch, and evaluate essential tools designed to advance student academic, career, and life outcomes.
When there are so many EdTech solutions on the market, how do you decide which product is best for your institution’s needs?
Recently, the College Innovation Network (CIN) at WGU Labs hosted a webinar addressing this question. Dr. Omid Fotuhi, WGU Labs’s Director of Learning Innovation, acted as moderator for this discussion. He expressed his hope that this conversation would be the first of many, as CIN brings EdTech innovators and education institutions to the table to discuss methods for decreasing the gaps in connecting the right tech to student needs in the time of COVID-19 and beyond.
Dr. Fotuhi grounded the conversation in the common pain points many educators experience when adopting new technologies such as: transactional costs, implementation, evaluation, scaling, equitable access for students, and constrained budgets and resources.
This post presents discussion highlights and offers tips to both EdTech vendors and educational institutions on ways to form effective partnerships and create ideal conditions for optimal EdTech adoption.
EdTech Vendors: “Learn to Speak the Language of Alignment”
Panelists James Wiley, Principal Analyst for Technology Eduventures, and Sarah Bauder, Chief Transformation Officer for the Pennsylvania State System for Higher Education (PASSHE) both agreed that one of the most important things EdTech vendors can do to better position and design their products is to “learn to speak the language of alignment” with an institution’s goals. They offer four main takeaways for how to do this:
1. Research the Institution’s Problem Space: “Start from understanding the problem space, and then saying to yourself, does my tool, my solution even help with that? And if so, how?”—Wiley. Be careful of assuming that the problem space is the same for all educational institutions. Take time to do the upfront research to understand the nuances of the problem for that institution for different audiences and at both macro (e.g., higher ed in general) and micro (e.g., the institution) levels. Review the institution’s mission statement to see how or if your product aligns with their goals.
2. Work Toward Metrics Together: Bauder states: “[If I were an EdTech consultant] I would start the conversation [by finding out if they] understand the measures and metrics [the institution] currently grades itself on.” (e.g., accessibility, retention, graduation/completion, and workforce attainment). According to Bauder, the questions the innovator needs to ask include:
- How will my product help with these metrics? What does that look like?
- How will we partner together?
- How can we generate revenue together? Where’s the financial benefit?
- Where is the sustainability of the product?
3. View Innovation as a service: “I think about innovation being at the service level, the value, and less about the technological level….it should be measurable in some way.”—Wiley. When approaching institutions, many EdTech companies start by talking about the cool tech features of their products, but often forget to address how their product could provide value or acknowledge the university’s problem space. Instead, center the conversation around services your product provides. Consider the ultimate value of your product:
- What behavior will it enable or support?
- What has to happen alongside your technology in order for that outcome to happen? (for example, executive buy-in, new initiatives).
4. Understand the Ecosystem: Wiley says,“Most vendors, when I speak to them, don’t fully understand that [their product] will be part of an ecosystem if adopted; that they’ll have to exist with something else.” For Wiley, the term “ecosystem” refers to the tech stack or tech collection that the institution is already utilizing. He suggests that tech providers should consider questions like:
- How does my product fit into that ecosystem?
- How does it contribute value to the existing solutions?
Educational Institutions: “Know Your Data”
The panelists also address the power that “knowing your data” has to help educational institutions thoughtfully and intentionally consider which EdTech products to adopt. Institutions can craft a mission statement that guides them in decisions to partner with EdTech vendors: Wiley and Bauder offer three main insights about this topic:
1. Start by Understanding Student Needs: “When we think about how we identify our students’ needs there’s really three high-level ways we’ve done this that involve really looking at your data.” —Bauder. These three methods include:
- Analyzing student engagement data through quantitative means
- Looking at the student’s personal experiences through a qualitative lens
- Mapping the student journey to understand the touch points, entry points, and fail points
These methods help the institution and the vendor view the student as the customer. Both Wiley and Bauder believe that the pandemic will accelerate students’ desire to take more ownership over their education, instruction, and the modalities used. To match EdTech with student needs, the student journey must be the starting point.
2. Overlay the EdTech with the Institution’s Mission Statement: Bauder states,“If you take the five keywords of [an institution’s mission statement] and overlay them on to Ed Tech solutions,” you’ll uncover several questions that can help you navigate the highly saturated and competitive EdTech marketplace. These five keywords include:
- Accessibility: Who’s accessing it? What are the access and entrance points? How does EdTech shore them up?
- Affordability: When thinking about teaching, we’re thinking about affordability, is it changing the price point of our campus?
- Accountability: Is it agile? Is it flexible? Does it provide a student experience with longevity?
- Sustainability: does it provide an experience for the student that has longevity to it? Is it extensible? This is the most important consideration. Designing for the future rather than just for today is pivotal.
- Differentiation: how does it differentiate our high ed institution in terms of market space?
These keywords are the portion of the institution’s mission statement that EdTech innovators should look for working to align themselves with institutions.
3. Identify decision points and gaps in your data: “Your data is the foundational cornerstone to building a tech solution… you’ve got to know your data.” —Bauder. Looking at the campus’s system map, their decision points, and the ways they thought about acquiring new tech in the past can help with making the decision what type of new tech, if any, your institution needs. Looking at this map can show if there are overlapping and duplicate systems, but may also illustrate where there are still gaps that need filling.
Wiley suggests that institutions must be able to rationalize how they got to this point before acquiring a new piece of technology because, realistically, they do not know where the gaps are in their data. Figuring out those gaps can help you know the best way to proceed.
When creating stronger connections between vendors and institutions, setting clear goals is key. Doing the work to communicate, speaking a common language, and getting on the same page goes a long way in building more effective partnerships and ensuring that both parties benefit and thrive.
Director of Learning Innovation, WGU Labs
Research Associate, University of Pittsburgh
Principal Analyst, Technology Eduventures
Chief Transformation Officer, Pennsylvania State System for Higher Education (PASSHE)