#10 Is there support for the content and are updates provided?
Content installations often don’t go as planned. You will have questions as you begin to use new content, and there may be connectivity issues with web-based solutions. At a minimum, you should expect a basic level of technical support via phone and email. You should place even more value on content from companies that go beyond the basics to help you integrate the content into classroom instruction or to assist you in locating specific resources via phone, email, and newsletter support.
Updates are a known part of content development, so you should expect updates to your content at least once a year. If the content is installed locally on your computer, find out if the company provides regular updates. If so, how do you know when updates are available? How are those updates delivered, and is there an additional charge? If the content is web-based, will updates appear automatically? How often are updates provided? How will you know what has been updated? Is there an additional charge?
#11 How is this content delivered, and what program does it require?
Content will be either web-based or installation-based. Web-based content is delivered online. This means content can be accessed on any computer with an internet connection via a web browser. Some advantages include no installation, automatic updates, quick response to technical issues within the content, and easy student/teacher access from any computer anytime. Installation-based options require installation on your school’s server or on individual computers where the content will be used. Access to this type of locally hosted content is not dependent on an internet connection.
As with any type of software, basic computer operating requirements should be explored. Many content providers offer a free trial which should be taken advantage of to test how the content performs on your specific hardware. Beyond the basics, you should also consider whether the content requires a specific program to operate. For example, if content is created in SMART Notebook software, that software must be installed on every computer on which you will want to access the content; and if you change IWB software or use multiple brands of IWB software within your building, the content will only be accessible by teachers with access to SMART Notebook.
#12 Is there added value or additional costs?
Choosing the right content is only the first step. The quality of the professional development will determine the effectiveness of its use with your teachers. Find out the professional development plans offered by the content provider. Are there on-demand video and webinar options for teachers who want to get started right away? Are there user guides for teachers who like a printed reference? What is the cost for personalized professional development? Is it conducted via webinar or in person? Investigate the company’s ability to support your teachers after the initial professional development. What additional training is available and at what cost? Does the company have a newsletter or periodic emails to help teachers progress in their knowledge of the content and how to use it most effectively.
The type of professional development is also important. A content company should offer not only initial professional development to help teachers learn to navigate the program and find appropriate content, but it should also provide training on how to integrate that content into classroom instruction. Particularly as teachers make the shift to the Common Core, they will need to have professional development on how to integrate digital content into their instruction in ways that are supported by the Common Core.
Keeping in mind that teachers are always pressed for time and that each teacher is as unique as each student in their technological skills, consider ease of use when choosing your content solution. Professional development is always necessary to be sure you are getting the best return on your content investment. However, if your teachers are spending days of valuable professional development time just trying to learn how to navigate a program, that leaves little time for learning how to use that content effectively. Be sure to ask how much professional development is required to get teachers up and running with the content and how much is required to show them how to use that content effectively.
If your chosen content includes a classroom management system, find out if the company will create your teacher and student accounts so your teachers don’t have to spend their valuable time entering data. And be sure to ask if the account creation service is free or at an additional cost. And remember to ask whether there will be assistance with account creation every year or just the first year of purchase. Always take advantage of free trials offered by content providers to facilitate your evaluation, yet keep in mind that the trial may only offer access to a portion of the available content. Contact the content provider or attend an online demonstration for a more thorough evaluation of both the content and the company.
As schools increasingly invest in technology hardware, teachers will need content to use those technologies effectively. All educators must be informed digital content advocates to help their schools select quality content that provides the most value. Visit starrmatica.com/twelvequestions to download the 12 questions in an easy to use table format to assist with your personal content evaluations.