Bill MacKenty

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Why ROI is hard to measure for school technology

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership Support on 09 - February 2010 at 08:17 PM (14 years ago). 202 views.

I had an interesting question today: how do you measure ROI on a technology project for learning * ?

The answer? It's really hard. Suppose a school bought a couple of laptop carts for their 8th grade - 60 computers. The average laptop cart is about $30,000. If we add all the stuff (licensing, staff development, extra wireless nodes, etc) let's say the total cost for the whole shebang is $75,000. That's a pretty hefty chunk of change. How do we know if we are getting our monies worth?

This is a very difficult question to answer. Why? All these questions are indicators, but none of them are definitive.

If all the kids get A's after implementation of the laptop carts, does that mean they are learning more?
If all the kids are using the laptops everyday, for every class, does that mean they are learning more?
If the kids produce stunning web pages, documentaries, and interactive applications are they learning more?
If the computers have a very low failure rate, does that mean the program is successful?
If the teachers report the kids are learning more, are they?
If the students report they are learning more, are they? This is especially tricky, because we know kids LOVE technology.
If the parents tell us they see a positive difference, is it working?
If we see increased attendance, is the program working?
If behavioral issues drop (which is common) does the program work?
If the students write substantially more, does the program work?

This question is also completely appropriate. If a school spends $80,000 on 2 laptop carts, they have every right to ask if this investment is worthy.

I believe teachers know best; when I want to know if technology is working, I ask a teacher. I also trust in "supervision of instruction" - so effective instruction is effective instruction is effective instruction. Part of being a school leader is supervising instruction to increase student achievement. If a teacher is using technology, or if a teacher is using dramatic arts, is the teaching making a difference?

The fact is learning is difficult to measure - and it's really hard to comparatively measure this stuff also.

Are we getting $75,000 worth of better education? I would need to look, ask, and assess the whole picture. I would want to understand the context, kids, school, and teacher. I would say, technology opens doors and windows that cant be opened in any other way.

* If you are using technology to increase operating efficiency or make your school run better, finding ROI is much simpler. This blog post is about using tech to teach.