Finding a Diamond in the Rough

By Coby Enteen

Attending regional, national and international professional conferences are often times a confusing experience for educators, whom are sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer number and scope of technology solutions presented.  Vendors are trying to promote products and increase sales, often with little regard to the actual needs of the educators. It becomes difficult to decipher what is useful and what will really provide the much-needed boost to a specific school system, district or program.  In this brief posting, I will provide a method for finding relevant solution, or finding that ‘diamond in the rough’ that will give the much needed boost to your educational programs.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the annual British Educational Training and Technology (BETT) Show, which is one of the largest in the western hemisphere, showcasing hundreds of educational technology solutions and best practices from around the world.  Every year, the BETT show brings together approximately 50,000 educators, exhibitors and vendors in a week-long event in central London.  Visitors spend days circulating around the exhibit hall, networking with peers, attending professional sessions and participating in marketing events.  The average educational leader becomes inundated with knowledge about products and solutions; some relevant and others less-important, making the decision making process overwhelmingly difficult and vendor-driven, which begs the question: do we want our public funds to be spent on the technology that is most effectively marketed?  Should schools and students exposed to technology and content solutions that we are pressured into buying or is there another way of going about this process?

The correct response to these questions are that effective decision-making should be based on instructional/pedagogic need alone.  One of the most effective ways of  addressing the educational technology selection and purchasing process should include the following:

  1. When attending a professional conference or show it is important to first and foremost act as an observer and develop a sense of orientation.  Observe the products from a ‘birds eye view’ perspective and get a general understanding of what is offered.
  2. Learn to categorize products and solutions based on function and perspective educational needs.
  3. Evaluate your organizations specific educational goals and needs – What problem are you trying address and how do the product types/categories that you’ve observed solve these problems?
  4. Select product categories that are relevant to these needs and examine them further.
  5. Prepare a list of specific questions, locate and approach the key product vendors with solutions that fall within these categories.  Examine each product extensively from an educational perspective and select only the ones that meet a pedagogic need (even then, do so cautiously!).

The effective selection of education technology products is often a daunting task.  The key is to begin with educational and instructional needs and avoid the lure of marketing efforts.  The five-step process listed above provides a way to find that diamond in the rough that may significantly advance your program.

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