Run a Successful Classroom Software Pilot with These Tips
One of the most important elements of choosing software for managing laptops in the classroom is engaging in a trial or pilot program to make sure it’s right for your faculty and students. Many software vendors offer the opportunity to try their solution free of charge for 15 to 30 days. That’s a generous testing period, but it can fly by if you aren’t prepared.
We’ve helped many educators navigate the free trial process over the years and have curated a list of our top tips for each stage of the pilot:
Selecting Your Pilot Group
The real work starts before your trial begins — selecting your pilot group. It may be tempting to choose only the most enthusiastic teachers, but it’s important to include a variety of personalities in order to accurately assess how your staff will respond to the new software.
If possible, it’s a good idea to ensure your pilot group includes a mix of the following personalities:
- Tech champions
- Tech late adopters
- Seasoned teachers
- New teachers
- Positive / supportive allies
- Critical / outspoken voices
- Variety of departments
Preparing Your Pilot Group
Once you’ve invited your pilot group, you’ll need to meet with them to set expectations and begin the process of communicating with each other.
During this meeting or meetings, your job is to lay a solid foundation for the trial by doing a few things:
- Setting and sharing precise goals – Define how you’ll determine whether the software is successful.
- Setting comparison expectations – If you’ll be running trials of competing software solutions, be sure your pilot group understands they’ll be asked to compare the options.
- Defining expectations – Let teachers know what will be expected of them during the trial. Will they be expected to use the software daily? Weekly? How should they record and share their experiences (more on that in a moment).
- Addressing criticisms and concerns – It’s possible that not all teachers in your pilot will be excited to incorporate a new software (e.g. “I’m juggling three new edtech products as it is,” or “There’s nothing wrong with the way I’ve been teaching”). It’s very important to validate these teachers’ feelings and understand that they are coming from a place of genuine concern. Do not minimize any challenges they present — remember, you can acknowledge concerns without agreeing with them.
- Praising participation – Rally support by asking these teachers for their help. Connect their participation to the bigger long-term outcomes you’re hoping to achieve for students. And make sure to praise the group for their participation. They deserve it!
Working with Your Technology Team
Before launch day, it’s important that your technology leads be in close communication with the vendor whose software you’re testing. They should run a soft test in advance and have a support plan in place in case of any hiccups during the rollout.
Kicking Off the Pilot
Be sure to communicate with your pilot team in advance to reiterate your expectations — and appreciation — for their participation. Be clear on:
- When the pilot will start
- Any downloads or other responsibilities that fall on them vs. IT
- Who they should contact if they experience any challenges with getting started
Running the Pilot
It’s important that your pilot participants document their experience throughout the trial because days are busy and memories are short.
Ask them to keep a journal on any day they use the software. You can give them some prompt questions related to your specific goals for the trial, including:
- How did you use the software?
- How easy was it for you to use?
- What did you like?
- What did you not like?
- What other observations would you like to list?
You may want to include quantitative scales where possible to make the feedback more digestible.
Ending the Pilot and Gathering Feedback
A few days before the trial ends, remind your teachers that the pilot is coming to a close. Ask that they submit their journals for your review on the final day.
Regrouping and Making Decisions
Once you’ve had a chance to review the teachers’ journals, regroup for an in-person discussion. Ask for open comments and allow discussion before sharing with the teachers an overall summary of their journal feedback. If you do not have any other trials to complete, get the team’s input on whether to move forward with the software, making it clear how the final decision will be determined.
Turning Your Pilot Team into Early Advocates
One side benefit of running a pilot is that it familiarizes some of your faculty members with the software before wide-scale roll out. This makes them excellent advocates and resources for the remaining faculty who may have questions when getting started.
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If you’ve completed a few free trials and are ready to begin developing a request for proposal, download our Request for Proposal Tool Kit. You’ll receive 6 questions to ask before getting started, a step-by-step checklist to help keep you on track, and a template you can use to write your proposal.
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