You’ve found an educational software product that you’d like to purchase for your school or team. Perhaps you’ve been won over by the free version and want to upgrade to a premium account, or you’ve had a chance to demo a program and would like to do a pilot.
Pitching your software to an administrator can feel like a daunting task. You might be worried that he or she won’t support your idea, or that there isn’t enough room in the budget for a software pilot. But administrators genuinely want to hear from teachers and figure out the best software solutions for their school. They cannot figure out what you need unless you tell them.
The key, however, is to prepare for the conversation with your administrator and consider what he or she needs to know before making a software purchase. A structured approach will ensure that you convey what you love about the product and that it is a good fit for your school or team.
Below is a series of questions that administrators often have about software products. This framework targets the pedagogical and practical considerations of administrators, and offers you a convincing way to organize your thoughts.
How does the software fit with your school’s mission and goals?
Whether your school is aiming to integrate technology into the classroom or raise reading comprehension levels, it’s important to understand the top priority of the administrator and figure out how (or whether) the product you want to buy fits into those goals.
For instance, let’s say your school’s mission is to prepare students for global citizenship. It’s easy to see how a product that offers students access to a wide variety of news sources could support that mission by informing them of what is happening around the world and engaging them in thoughtful dialogue about issues that matter.
Or perhaps your department has decided to emphasize applying skills to creative problem-solving. Software that enables students to showcase their content knowledge by creating a project addresses that need.
Ideally, you can show that the product furthers the mission and goals in a way that could not be accomplished otherwise. How does the software that offers access to news sources differ from the periodicals provided by the school’s library? Does it provide more content, make it easier for students to search through a library of resources, or fundamentally change what they can do with those resources by allowing them to annotate, store data, and share articles digitally with their peers? Pointing this out will help the administrator to see that the product is a good fit for the school, and that it may even be necessary to achieve the school’s goals.
How does this product transform teaching and learning?
Administrators do not want to purchase software products based on their shiny features or flashy design. They want to ensure that software purchases are motivated by pedagogical best practices and that they will impact students in a positive way. Steven Anderson, a former Instructional Technologist and Director of Instructional Technology, cautions teachers to think carefully about how educational software will impact teaching and learning:
“Technology is great when it’s used to allow kids to do something they couldn’t do without it. Technology should always be used to create new knowledge and open doors. But teachers should think critically about the technology they want to layer into the classroom and ensure it will only serve to enhance learning.”
Rather than listing the features of a product, think carefully about the benefits of the software for your students. Does it increase engagement? Encourage and facilitate collaboration? Give data-based insights into student learning? How does this software radically change the way you teach, and the way your students learn?
One way of thinking about this would be in terms of a problem-solution. Define an obstacle that you face in your teaching, and identify how the product solves the problem in a unique way. For example, let’s say you struggle to teach students how to read deeply because you do not have insight into their individual thought process as they read. Mention other solutions you have tried--having students keep a reading journal, encouraging students to take advantage of tutoring, or asking them to self-assess their own reading abilities. Describe why the other solutions have failed: the reading journal seems tedious to students and is cumbersome for you to monitor, students with after-school activities are unable to seek out tutoring, or students often struggle to diagnose their own reading problems. Then explain how the software you want to purchase solves this problem and what the impact is for you and your students.
Thinking in terms of impact in the classroom rather than features shows administrators that you are thoughtful about the need for this product. You have not been swayed by clever marketing, and are instead thinking of what is best for your students and how the product achieves your own goals in the classroom.
Will other teachers use this product?
Now that you’ve convinced the administrator that you love using the software in your classroom, it’s time to think about broader implementation. For a pilot to work, the software will need to be put into use in other classrooms. Administrators want to know that other teachers will adopt this product, because the worst case scenario is paying for a software product that goes unused.
Ideally, you will already know of other teachers at your school who have tried the software and are as enthusiastic about it as you are. Getting those teachers on board with your request and inviting them to the conversation with the administrator will make a strong impression. The administrator will sense that there is already momentum around this software and be more willing to make the purchase.
If you don’t know of other teachers who are using the software, you might want to at least make the case for why other teachers would enjoy using the product in their classrooms. Have other teachers expressed similar frustrations with their old way of doing things? Does your department share the curricular goals that make this software a good fit for you? The administrator will want to know this in order to figure out how to get other teachers on board.
Can your school's technology situation support a rollout of this product?
Now that you’ve presented the pedagogical benefits of this product, you will need to think about whether it is practical for your school in terms of implementation. The most promising product will turn into a worthless investment unless it’s actually in the hands of students and teachers and being put to use.
Consider the technological infrastructure that needs to be in place in order to implement this software. Do students have the necessary devices? Does the software run on a particular operating system? Are headsets and microphones needed for the program to work?
It is worthwhile to consult your school’s technology director to figure out if the software can be successfully implemented. Kathy Schrock, educational technologist and former school district Technology Director, has this advice for teachers:
“Make sure the hardware in the district is capable of running the software. If if it web-based, also find out if the bandwidth can handle x number of students using it at the same time. And, if it requires the ability for devices in the classroom to ‘see’ each other for some collaborative component, make sure the IT department can make that happen.”
Administrators do not want to invest in software that will end up being underused due to poor management. They also want to avoid hearing complaints from teachers, technology support staff, and parents concerning unforeseen technical issues that take up valuable instruction time. The more you think through the process of implementing this product, the more attractive it will be to administrators who want their investment put to good use.
How much will this cost?
Another practical consideration at the top of every administrator’s list is price. If you are upgrading from a free account, detail the benefits of the paid plan and why it’s worthwhile to switch. What are you unable to do now that you would be able to do with the premium account?
You may want to consider the price of the software relative to that of other products. If the software you like is cheaper than other alternatives, it could be a great selling point. If not, figure out why it makes sense to pay for a more expensive product. It could be worthwhile to pay the extra money if the software is easier to use or offers more benefits for teaching and learning.
The software company may be a great resource in preparing for this part of the conversation. Ask the company how it justifies its pricing, especially if it’s more expensive than the competition. Are there ways that the product actually saves the school money, perhaps by eliminating the cost of photocopying worksheets or buying textbooks? The sales team at the software company is used to having this conversation with administrators and will know the best way to justify its own cost.
So what’s next?
Your initial conversation with an administrator will likely lead to a longer process of evaluating the software. The administrator may want to talk with other teachers, contact the software company with further questions, request a demo, or coordinate with other teachers and IT staff to implement the software. Don’t hesitate to ask about the timeline and next steps in the decision-making process. The administrator will understand that you are eager to start using the software in your classroom and value your initiative.