Review Products - Verizon Innovative Learning Schools

Review Products

Review Products

Once you have identified the current reality of your technology, identified growth plans for the department, and determined the total cost of ownership, it’s time to review solutions to see what is available on the market. Technology is rapidly changing. Current solutions you are using may be obsolete or the products/services provided could be bundled into more integrated systems. Review products and possibilities frequently so that you have a full view of the solution landscape.

Now is also the time to consider investing in purchases that will extend the life of the devices. An example may be purchasing screen protectors and ruggedized cases for tablets to protect against drops or pressure. For laptop devices, considering a snap-on shell case, screen protectors, and carrying bags with reinforced corners to help prevent excessive pressure on the laptop screen are all preventative measures you can take to help technology last longer.

When researching products and drafting Requests for Proposals (RFPs), remember to include environmental sustainability in addition to financial sustainability. From the start, when “green” sustainability requirements are included in the RFP, vendors are forced to consider ways to reduce waste to provide a competitive bid. Basic “green” requirements that can be included in an RFP include:

  • Use of multi-pack boxes to reduce packaging waste
    • Ask vendors to use packaging materials made of paper and cardboard instead of plastics and styrofoam
    • Keep boxes and packing for internal and external device transfers
  • Use of universal components that can be easily replaced or transferred to other devices
  • Vendor buy-back programs where devices are refurbished and reused
  • Operating System availability to prevent end-of-life product obsolescence
  • Self-service repair and parts supplies to reduce shipping expenses and greenhouse emissions by shipping companies
  • Ability to recycle both the product packaging and the product itself when it is obsolete

As you review products, keep in mind that there are parts of the technology that will need to be treated as consumables. Intentionally budget for items like replacement power cables and adapters, stylus pens, and cases/carrying bags.

Ask staff to test or pilot solutions, and be sure that you include a wide variety of staff to provide feedback. Be mindful that solutions may not fit the needs of all your learners. By including practitioners of different backgrounds and experiences in teaching a variety of students, you will receive authentic feedback based on student need.

Collaborate with others who use the solutions you are looking for or are willing to pilot the solution you’re considering. This provides a user experience free of vendor bias. Collect pain points and victories, both to ensure a thorough consideration of the solution, and to build future support systems around this solution.

Learn more about product review: Purchasing and Preparing Devices and Software

Avoiding a future funding cliff

Lady stepping down stairs connecting a platform representing COVID relief funds to a platform representing a return to a regular budget in 2024-25.

Funding cliffs can occur when districts receive allocations of funds outside of their typical annual budget, such as the COVID-19 relief funds, which result in unplanned expenditures in the future. Examples of expenditures that can lead to a funding cliff include:

  • Purchases made with one-time special project funds, such as a grant or gift
  • New construction projects that expand the amount of technology equipment, services, and staff
  • Budget “bubbles” where the annual budget has significant variances each year
  • Not planning for future licenses, maintenance, or replacements
  • Staffing and purchasing based on enrollments that can vary from year to year
  • Personnel salary and benefit cost increases
  • Shifts in instructional programming that require large one-time or recurring expenditures

Keep district sustainability plans top of mind during times of budget windfalls because once the additional funding goes away, you do not want to expose your department and your entire technology plan to large and painful cuts.

Some general rules of thumb for avoiding the technology funding cliff:

    1. Do not spend additional money on hiring additional personnel if you do not have a solution for how to fund the positions once the budget windfall has subsided. Salaries and benefits increase yearly, and any new positions require realistic plans for continued funding sources.
    2. Make one-time purchases that will last a long time. For example, replace data projectors that have short lamp life with displays that have a longer life expectancy. By doing so, you extend the lifespan of the solution, plus maintenance or replacement is moved farther down the road.
    3. If purchasing software, commit to keeping it for three or more years. The vetting and testing process is essential to ensuring that you have chosen the best long-term solution.
    4. Look for software or hardware bundles that offer solutions to multiple issues, and consider multi-year contracts for longevity.
    5. Purchase solutions that provide backside analytics that show the use of the tool. For instance, can you access how many times each software application is opened, how many logins take place into the system, or when the applications are used? This kind of solution will assist down the road on deciding which solutions need to be purchased when funding shortfalls arrive. If funding is significantly reduced in the coming years, the usage data will help to determine which priority solutions it will continue to support and which solutions need to be dropped.
    6. Build key performance indicators (KPIs) early in your windfall program and maintain emphasis on these original indicators when funding declines. You do not want a decline in performance as funding wanes. Documentation of the department’s high performance can be used to justify future continued funding.
    7. Use your windfall time to build a network of collaborative problem-solving leaders. Develop a monthly meeting with job-alike technology leaders from area school districts to serve as thought partners. Leverage the time for colleagues to act as thought partners for each other. Leaders who share their pain points and solutions will benefit from others’ experiences. There also may be opportunities to work together in professional learning for technical staff or consortium group purchasing.
    8. Uneven technology funding between schools creates an imbalance in the technology available to students from school to school in the district and is a barrier to digital equity for students. Districts should establish an equitable baseline feature set of the required technology and software each grade level will need to support learning. They should ensure that the district-supported baseline of technology is present at every school in the district. After it is established what is district-supported, additional technology items can be supplemented via Title funds. Using this method ensures Title funds are used appropriately to supplement needier schools and do not supplant what should be purchased by the district. The IT department needs to work closely with other departments such as Student Services to ensure adaptive technology and special education needs of the school are considered and accommodations are made for the individual learners of the school.

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