EdTech purchasing is a complex process with many stakeholders. Administrators, educators, students and the surrounding community all have a vested interest in knowing that your next purchase will offer real value to your institution, whether you’re purchasing at the school or district level. It’s tough to weather that level of scrutiny! You can certainly ask your peers and leverage your PLN for external validation of whatever specific technology you’re targeting, but the best way to validate your purchase before you make a major investment is to take advantage of the pilot programs offered by your vendor of choice. But how do you make sure that you get the most out of a pilot program?
Get a Dedicated Team Together to Manage the Pilot
This is a critical first step. One of the main objectives of any pilot program is to familiarize your intended end users with the product, so necessarily your pilot program should be staffed with educators who are definitely going to participate. Your best bet is to find enthusiasts that are likely to approach the pilot program with authentic interest, as they’ll give you the most useful feedback and can act as internal evangelists for the product if you ultimately decide to pursue a full implementation. We also recommend choosing an educator “lead” for the pilot program, as that person can act as the point of contact for the vendor and synthesize the feedback generated on your side.
Not All Pilots are Free
While pilot programs are designed to mitigate your investment risk, many vendors do require some level of payment for the pilot. This is intended to cover the vendor’s labor and material investments, in the spirit of mitigating their own investment risk. That being said, paid pilot programs tend to be much more feature-rich than a free pilot program, and you should pay careful attention to the offerings that a vendor considers viable for piloting when reviewing proposals. Any vendor should be able to provide you with a breakdown of the costs your pilot payment covers, to give you peace of mind that you’re making an equitable investment. You might also find that free pilot programs are comparatively anemic and considerably less useful to make an informed decision about what it’s like to implement the full product.
Don’t Forget the Professional Development
Using new technology requires a bit of training and on-ramp time to gain proficiency and extract maximum utility, and education technology is no different. If your pilot users are not tuned in to half of the product’s feature-set, they’ll miss out on half of its value, and their feedback will reflect that omission. We recommend conducting brief, thorough professional development to kick off a pilot program, covering the fundamentals of the product and providing some common use cases, so that your users are equipped and ready to make the most of their time with the pilot program.
Efficacy and Data
Measurement is key to knowing which aspects of your chosen product work for your needs, and which aspects miss the mark. When you approach a vendor for a pilot, ask what they offer in terms of efficacy and data measurement within a pilot program. Strong metrics will help you understand how the product offers value to you and your colleagues, and will also help you validate the purchase to your various stakeholders when you decide to pursue a full implementation.
Set a Deadline
Lastly, you’ll want to make sure that the pilot has a tight and finite schedule. This creates urgency for your users and promotes consistent engagement with the product. Your team’s time is precious, and it’s important to make sure that the initial labor investment is buttressed with strong follow-through on the part of your users so that every box is checked and every feature is vetted when it’s time to make the final call on implementation.