iZone Short-Cycle Evaluation
Since January 2014, the NYC Department of Education, with support from the Fund for Public Schools and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has embarked on the Short-Cycle Evaluation program to help educators make informed decisions about technology tools that support teaching and learning, and guide edtech companies’ product development to be more relevant for NYC classrooms. The program allows the DOE’s Office of Innovation (iZone) to build processes and methodologies to partner with vendors and ultimately train educators to evaluate emerging products based on their classroom or school needs – dramatically expanding the potential for new adoption.
iZone supported 11 school-product teams through the Short-Cycle Evaluation Challenge during the 2015-16 school year. School teams engaged in an initial needs assessment process and edtech product evaluation, choosing a product that they believed would best fit their students’ respective needs. Products ranged in focus from digital portfolios and gradebooks to math fluency, reading, and vocabulary. The participating school teams implemented their respective chosen product in classrooms with professional development support, which included structured opportunities to provide feedback directly to the company and the project’s research partner.
In spring 2015, iZone launched the 2016-17 cohort, which will enable 18 teams across 14 schools to pilot edtech products that support learners of English and other languages, with special emphasis on enhancing vocabulary and reading comprehension.
The Short-Cycle program is complemented by pipeline initiatives that are designed to promote early engagement, wide appeal, and multiple entry points to implement education technology that is responsive and aligned to authentic student needs.
Under one of these initiatives, iZone holds ‘Office Hours’ for early-stage companies and companies new to iZone to provide context on the landscape of New York City schools, discuss teacher needs and introduce programs like Short-Cycle. These convenings have widened iZone’s network of products and has deepened institutional understanding of the current edtech landscape.
Another, #SharkTankEDU is a frequent and popular engagement event which brings early-stage edtech companies in for low-stakes feedback from teacher, principal and parent ‘sharks’, providing opportunities to learn about new products, ask questions and make suggestions.
The iZone’s Blended Learning Institute supports early-career teachers with blended learning; both Fellows and Mentors have become ‘sharks’ or Short-Cycle participants. Other iZone-facilitated professional development opportunities, through the iLearnNYC program, offer platforms through which edtech evaluation processes and practices can be shared and improved.
The DOE’s ultimate goal is to support educators and school leaders in making informed decisions about which edtech tools they purchase, by creating a shorter, more valid pilot process that not only provides reliable measures of edtech product efficacy, but also provides educators with the tools to share their findings with each other. As one elementary school teacher shared, “I love the program and the opportunity to explore new products without the cost. I feel like my opinion counts, that my voice is being heard and that what I say affects education. It is wonderful to know that even if things don't go well, it’s okay.”