For those of us who went through school in the 1990s or earlier, a K-12 classroom held a small number of very important technologies. Today, a classroom may include digital tablets or laptops, apps and e-learning modules that teach kids to code or read, tools for improving accessibility, as well as administrative programs (student ID management, school-wide Wi-Fi, basic productivity tools, privacy and security programs).

Managing technologies in today’s classroom is, in short, a tall order. Many school boards in Canada have a single edtech procurement official responsible for researching, vetting, and managing this stack of technology solutions: schoolboards with more resources may have a team. As publicly funded organizations, schoolboards in Canada must guarantee transparency and accountability in their procurement processes, while balancing classroom needs and the complexity of rapidly changing technologies. Traditional procurement may use competitive, solution-based requests for information (RFIs), requests for quotations (RFQs), and requests for proposals (RFPs), posted on a school or government website for proponent bids. Here, we list four innovative procurement methods that were raised in ICTC’s recent study, Buying into Learning Outcomes. Canadian edtech procurement personnel and edtech companies can adopt tools like these to help deliver innovative, safe, and affordable educational technology solutions to students.

Four Innovative Approaches to Edtech Procurement

Problem: You are one of 10 different teachers requesting 20 different digital learning games that promise to teach introductory coding to fourth-graders. On a tight budget, it is hard for schools to try out a wide variety of tools not knowing which will catch on with teachers and students.

Solutions: Usage-based Pricing and Digital Sandboxes

Usage based pricing is when, instead of charging a per-head license fee, an edtech company monitors how many students enroll in a program and how much it is used, then charges accordingly.

“For me, usage-based pricing would be a real differentiator in a saturated market where there are so many [otherwise] comparable products.” – Canadian EdTech Procurement Officer

Digital edtech sandboxes are platforms that offer libraries of edtech solutions for schools to learn about and try out free-of-charge before deciding whether to adopt the products on a larger scale. Companies looking for greater exposure for their products might work with a digital sandbox.

Problem: You know your use case or the problem you want to solve (e.g., to improve visual accessibility for colourblind students on school devices) but don’t know the perfect solution. A traditional RFP, RFQ, or RFI process may require significant research, including a specific and detailed scope of work.

Solution: Challenge-Based Procurement

Challenge-based procurement provides bidders with an explanation of a problem or challenge, allowing them to identify a solution. In addition to reducing the burden of research for time-pressed educational officials, challenge-based procurement can help districts adopt a “tool-for-task” approach whereby technology solutions are procured to support specific tasks, needs, or curriculum areas (as opposed to one tool being adopted to support all areas of learning).

“We normally put out an RFP with very detailed specs, but we just recently changed our approach and put out an RFP that described a few different learning scenarios [instead]—a STEM scenario, a general learning scenario, and a library scenario. The scenarios provided context about the types of situations we wanted to [be able to] support and the needs we had. Vendors would apply and explain why their solution would work in that scenario. Previously, we’d put out a call for devices with very specific specs, and the vendor would need to tell us how their product meets them.” — Canadian Edtech Procurement Professional, School Board Level

Challenge-based procurement also prevents solutions from being screened out of the procurement process by an overly detailed or limiting scope of work. That said, there are some drawbacks to challenge-based procurement: it can be more difficult for vendors to quickly identify what procurement opportunities are relevant to them, and it can be more difficult for schools to evaluate bids consistently.

Problem: There is a new edtech solution that some teachers are very excited about—let’s say, a kinesthetic learning tool that lets kids learn about spelling through dance—but it would be an expensive investment. You’d like to know if it works, and if students and teachers will actually use it, before moving ahead.

Solution: Pilots

A pilot program or trial means that a company has partnered with a school district to allow them to use a small number of tools (sometimes at no cost, or a discounted price) and gather feedback on learning outcomes and usage before moving ahead with a final purchase. Pilots and trials give companies the opportunity to demonstrate their value, while enabling school districts to de-risk and evaluate potential new products.

Pilots that publish their findings become a resource for other educators. That said, a good evaluation takes careful planning and knowledge of research methods. Several organizations offer guidance for conducting a strong evaluation during a pilot:

For more detail on each of these topics, please consult the full report, Buying into Learning Outcomes: Educational Technology Policy and Practice in Canada.