Software Request Review Considerations in a K-12 Environment

In a previous post, I discussed the need to slow down and breathe during tech adoption, especially while under stress.  Based on that post, I thought I would share some policies written in regards to software adoption in an educational environment. Several years ago, I was responsible for authoring my employer's Software Steering Review Committee policies and considerations for approval. In a time when the school district I work for was pushing hard on instituting personalized learning, it was difficult to maintain a balance between flexibility and appropriate review.

The district already had the initial request process documented, so I was simply left with the review process documentation. Originally, there was a Software Steering Review Committee that met to evaluate requests. Unfortunately, that process was cumbersome and difficult to schedule, which resulted in many successful attempts to completely bypass review. (Please keep in mind, the purpose of this post is not to discuss the technical controls that could have been implemented to prevent bypassing review.)

One of the first things I decided on was to split the approval levels into two tiers. Different tiers would allow the district to offer different levels of evaluation, making the process for trying new things more flexible. I labeled the first tier as "Supplemental - District approved but NOT supported" and the second tier as "Core - District approved AND supported."  First tier software, now known as Supplemental Software, could be reviewed quickly for a limited amount of factors, while second tier, Core Software, requests would require more thorough evaluations.

The Supplemental Software review process consists of four steps:

  1. Submitting the request to the Teaching and Learning Department to evaluate for the following:
    • The content supports the educational goals and outcomes of the school district.
    • The terms of service and privacy policy are acceptable and in compliance with FERPA.
  2. Passing the work order to the Technology Department to evaluate for the following:
    • Does the software require actual installation, and if so what technical limitations may be needed.
  3. Notification to the client of the results/status.
  4. Posting the type of approval on an internally facing site.
Software approved in the Supplemental tier is subject to additional limitations.  Included in the approval is the explanation that use may be restricted if the software is found to cause conflict in the future, it may not be available for all school sites, and district staff cannot make guarantees to provide technical support.  

Faculty and staff are also allowed to submit review requests for Core Software.  The process for review of core software is slightly longer, and requires official documentation of the request through some forms found in the administrative regulations.  After the paperwork is received, the members of the Software Steering Review Committee evaluates the proposal with the following additional questions in mind:

Teaching and Learning Considerations (Sample List Only)
  • Will the software duplicate a service or content already provided by the district?
  • Is the software expected to be integrated into other provided software, such as the Learning Management System?
  • How much, if any, management will be required by district level personnel and is there capacity for that management?
  • How will training be provided for the software?
Technical Considerations (Sample List Only)
  • What are the hardware and operating system requirements?
  • Will the software require rostering, and if so how will that rostering take place?
  • Does the software allow SSO and how is that supported?
  • Where and how is data aggregated and stored?  What is the data retention policy applied, either in house or by the vendor?
  • What, if any, additional access permissions will be needed for the software to function?
  • What data privacy/security concerns are involved with implementation and how will they be addressed?
After the committee reaches a decision, the requestor is informed in writing, and if necessary purchase approvals are submitted.  When software is approved as Core Software, it becomes eligible for training time and technical support provided by the district.

Dividing approved software into categories has allowed the district to maintain a flexible stance, while doing the best possible job to maintain safety standards for both staff and students.  Additionally, it has assisted to narrow the scope of support to a reasonable level for the capacity available.  Striking a decent balance between responsiveness and responsibility is sometimes difficult, but documented policy and procedures can make it possible.

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