How to determine the ROI behind EdTech Initiatives

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Technology is changing classrooms and education all over the globe. New devices, software and digital platforms are helping enhance the in-class experience. Access to learning materials at home is increasing.

But any educational technology (EdTech) initiative costs money. Institutions need to have systems in place to determine the return on investment (ROI) of edtech spending.

How should the educational stakeholders who put edtech in place, approach and understand measuring the ROI of these programs? What metrics should they follow and what processes can are useful to gain a clear picture of success?

1. Develop an ROI Metric Plan

The first step is to develop a clear ROI metric plan for any edtech initiative. This is where it’s best to “work backwards”, and focus on the specific learning outcomes you’re trying to achieve. This could be anything from higher standardized scores to increased GPA. Or raising the number students admitted to college.

One example might be implementing a strictly qualitative metrics plan. Instead of focusing on hard benefits, like electricity saved by replacing an old projector with a new one, qualitative metric plans focus on measuring participation rates, graduation rates and attendance.

North Carolina Law School took a qualitative approach to measuring the ROI. While the hard cost benefits were difficult to measure, there was a significant change in quality of life metrics.

Whatever metrics you decide are best, they should be a part of your district’s long term strategic plan. These are more high-level goals, like improving student behavior or increasing engagement. Even if your goals are more behavioral than academic, you can still develop a metric plan. In this case, measuring things like truancies and suspensions over time.

The Anaheim Union High School District in California, for instance, launched a mobile technology initiative to reduce truancies. A combination of mobile access to virtual mentors and GPS tracking to monitor physical whereabouts. The result was a 15 percent increase in attendance, and 31 percent GPA increase for students that participated. On the flip side, schools that implement technologies but don’t use them on a daily basis see a much lower ROI on their edtech initiatives.

2. Understand what you’ll measure

Once you’ve developed a metric plan, you’ll need to dive into what metrics to track. Some of these will relate to educational outcomes, while others will relate to the costs of the technology project. One standard measure is Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), which is the complete cost of a technology initiative. This includes both implementation and ongoing costs. This will service as a base from which you measure the ROI of any edtech initiative and can be calculated as follows:

TCO = Startup Costs + Operational Costs + Retirement Costs

You’ll then want to calculate the revenue savings along with potential revenue. Technology that replaces textbooks with digital books can be evaluated based on the cost differential, for example.. If certain projects increase student achievement, schools then become eligible for federal grants and other financial help.

But also attempt to measure the qualitative effects the initiative will have, which aren’t measured in dollars. Things like community engagement and public perception of your institution. These are in many ways even more important than the direct financial benefits.

3. Build the Right Measurement Tools

You now have a plan and knowledge of what you’ll be measuring. You then need to build out the right tools and infrastructure to check your progress over time. There are a variety of measurement tools geared towards edtech that can help you do just that.

Take the BrightBytes platform, for example. BrightBytes allows schools to choose the metrics they want to track. The software then provides constant reporting and feedback to show where the ROI is. If you’ve introduced iPads into the classroom to improve test scores, for example, BrightBytes will track scores over time to see if the iPads are helping.

There are various platforms and tools available for measuring edtech outcomes. But the most important thing is to work with your technology partner to make sure your tools are in alignment with your ROI roadmap. If the goal is to decrease truancies, know which sub-metrics are going to feed into that. Take number of student referrals to the principal’s office, for instance.

A recent study by the Indiana Department of Education found that consistent use of computers, scientific equipment, multimedia and internet were all factors that contributed positively to student engagement and decreased number of office referrals. The result is that teachers and administrators get to focus more on learning, and less on handling behavioral disruptions.

It’s an exciting to be an educator. There are so many technologies becoming available to help students learn more and better. By following the steps outlined here, you’ll be able to have proof of ROI that your edtech initiative is paying off.