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Partnering for Success - Keeping Pace With Rapid Change in a World Where Digital Learning is the New Normal

By: Devin Vodicka

In communities across the nation, we want all children to be prepared for success in college and career, equipped as lifelong learners who will make positive contributions in our world. As a result, we work diligently to ensure that all students have access to powerful learning experiences, equipped with resources to support their development. In addition, we are working with young people who depend on educators to ensure that they are safe and secure online. We therefore dedicate time and resources to vetting resources, protecting data privacy, and ensuring that students are provided with developmentally appropriate materials.

Even before the pandemic, schools and districts have struggled to adapt systems and structures to keep pace with the rapid development cycles of ed tech providers. Where we used to be accustomed to textbook cycles that might last seven to ten years, new tools are emerging daily and those that are already in existence are being developed through rapid prototyping, sprint cycles, agile processes that are often misaligned with purchasing, evaluation, and research cycles. In a world that is increasingly digital and dependent on technology partners and providers, schools and educational systems must adapt to a “new normal” that has been revealed through the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March of 2020 when the pandemic began, we quickly adapted into a phase of “Emergency Remote Instruction” and then many systems propped up virtual and hybrid models over the summer for the start of this school year. Decision-making has been necessarily hastened and the importance of high-quality, trusted digital resources and technology partnerships has never been more apparent. Given all of these changes, how do we know which resources and partners are the right ones? 

We recommend that all schools/districts immediately implement these three critical strategies:

  1. Don’t go it alone: Become familiar with third-party certifications and other ways to “vet” potential partners and resources. Examples include the Product Certifications from Digital Promise, Common Sense Media Ed Tech Ratings and Reviews, and the What Works Clearinghouse. The Texas Learning Exchange project has also launched an Open Educational Resources Library that is tagged to multiple criteria to help you find relevant and free resources to fit your needs, as well as published an Instructional Supports Guide and an EdTech Leadership Guide with additional recommendations.
  2. Develop purchasing policies and strategies that leverage a “pilot to purchase” approach: For most technology and digital resources, it makes sense to conduct small-scale trials to work out challenges related to interoperability and so that you and your community can have direct experience with the partners and their resources before making a significant commitment. As an example, see this flowchart that we put into place while I was Superintendent in Vista Unified School District (CA). This approach should further be codified in district policies and procedures. The Texas Association of School Boards has developed a webpage with guidance on purchasing that includes references to relevant legal requirements to guide your local process.
  3. Develop and implement routine evaluations to inform next steps: In Vista Unified we had a relatively simple framework that included feedback from our Information Technology team, feedback from teachers, and a review of usage and easily-accessible outcome data. We conducted step-back conversations about once per quarter to determine if use of specific resources should be stopped, modified in some way, or expanded. In addition, we partnered with a local university and their research team conducted a more comprehensive annual external evaluation of various products and services. Regardless of how formalized or extensive your process is structured, having a plan with routine evaluation of the efficacy of digital tools is imperative.

To get started, it is helpful to conduct an inventory of your existing resources. Purchasing records and engagement of curriculum and instructional team leaders are a helpful place to begin. There are also a number of cloud-based plug-ins that can be helpful to get information about which software tools are being used on your networks. Review your goals and then establish a simple framework for evaluating the existing resources. If and where gaps and new needs emerge, review third-party certifications, set a plan for small-scale piloting of resources that have a high-probability for success, and then implement your evaluation and monitoring process to inform next steps. In parallel, we suggest a review of your current Board Policies and purchasing protocols and make adjustments as necessary.

By adjusting your approach, your schools and systems will be better aligned with the context of rapid changes outside of education. More importantly, as you build capacity to make informed decisions that lead to strong partnerships, students and communities will be better served. Through evidence-based partnerships, we can build a brighter future together.


The Texas Learning Exchange (TxLx) facilitates the sharing of resources, solutions and best-practice models with districts to ensure students succeed despite these unprecedented times ahead. Please let us know if you have any questions or suggestions (email: info@txlx.org). We look forward to staying connected.

Author

Devin Vodicka is the CEO of Altitude Learning and the author of Learner-Centered Leadership. Find Devin on Twitter at @dvodicka.

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