Tech GEARS Framework Overview

University of Idaho
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Tech GEARS provides a robust framework for evaluating technologies in educational settings and can provide teachers, technology coordinators, and administrators with much-needed insight into key aspects of any technology's usefulness and feasibility in educational settings. Stakeholders may have different values that lead them to judge technologies differently, and for this reason, Tech GEARS is based on the identification of four key values that are essential for properly determining any technology’s applicability in educational contexts.

These four key values include: Compatibility, Relative Advantage, Scalability, and Sustainability.

To evaluate technologies along these four values, a number of questions must be asked involving everything from accessibility and cost to efficiency and lifespan. Question responses are organized on a three-point scale and assigned a low-, medium-, or high-rating.  These ratings are then compiled to calculate value scores, with each question influencing one or more values. This page provides a description of each of the four values along with questions and responses.

Tech GEARS stands for Technology General Educational Application Rating System.

Descriptions of the Four Values

Value Scores represent averages of a technology's score on related questions. These scores are reported on a three-point scale: no-star, half-star, or full-star. Technologies that receive a no-star evaluation on a given value do not score well on relevant questions.Technologies that receive a half-star on a given value score well on some relevant questions but poorly on others. Technologies that receive a full-star on a given value score well on practically all items influencing that value score.

Compatibility

Compatibility refers to the alignment of technologies with existing values, practices, requirements, and capacities and reflects potentially disruptive influences.  Though disruption may in some ways be beneficial in educational settings (for instance, if the disruption leads to institutional innovation or rejection of ineffective traditions), disruptive practices are difficult to diffuse within institutions, and there is no guarantee that outcomes will be positive.  Those most concerned with compatibility will be those who are tasked with implementing technologies into current contexts and may include technology directors, principals, or others who must lead educators to buy into the technology and try to make the technology work with existing infrastructures and policies.  Technologies with high compatibility ratings will interface well with existing institutional norms, while those with low compatibility ratings will take significant effort to implement.

Relative Advantage

Relative advantage refers to the recognized value of the technology in comparison to previous technologies or methods.  Not all technologies improve practice, and those that do may improve practice in different ways.  A technology that reduces cost or time devoted to completing a task will improve efficiencies, and a technology that empowers teachers and students to learn, create, and share in new ways can transform opportunities in the classroom.  Teachers, curriculum leaders, and administrators tasked with improving teaching and learning and for producing measurable results will be most sensitive to relative advantage, because technologies with a high relative advantage rating provide clear educational benefits for either improving efficiencies or transforming practice in positive ways, while technologies with a low relative advantage rating may have little measurable impact on teaching and learning.

Scalability

Scalability refers to the ease at which a technology can be implemented at scale within classrooms, schools, districts, and beyond.  Some technologies require extensive maintenance, expertise, and effort to support only one device or user, while others may be supported in the thousands with comparatively little effort.  Those most interested in scalability will be leaders intent on spreading innovation across traditional classroom, school, or district boundaries, including district leaders, state leaders, and legislators.  A technology with a high scalability rating will be able to be scaled to a great number of teachers or students with comparative ease, while a technology with a low scalability rating will likely struggle with initiatives that seek to diffuse its use beyond a single context. 

Sustainability

Sustainability refers to the ability of the technology to be maintained and utilized over suitable lengths of time.  Some technologies are very durable and remain useful for many years beyond their initial implementation, while others break easily and are quickly outdated with newer technologies.  Those most concerned with sustainability will be leaders who must direct on-going innovation over many years and include technology directors, school and district leaders, and state-level leaders who seek to find long-term solutions to persistent educational problems.  A technology with a high sustainability rating will remain useable and useful for many years after initial purchase and roll-out or will be cost-effective enough to allow for replacements and updates, while a technology with a low sustainability rating will become obsolete or unuseable very quickly and will cost a great deal to replace or update.

Example Tech GEARS

Tech GEARS Detailed Item Analysis Descriptors

Area scores are calculated based upon evaluator responses to a number of multiple-choice questions.  Responses indicate a Low, Medium, or High rating with a description of what the rating means in practice.  The following table includes all questions with responses.

Tech GEARS Detailed Item Analysis Descriptors
ItemValuesFocus Question Low Rating Medium Rating High Rating
AccessibilityCompatibility
Scalability
How accessible is the device for every user?The technology's design prevents some individuals from being able to effectively use it, and add-on features and adjustments do not adequately compensate for this lack of accessibility.The technology's design prevents some individuals from being able to effectively use it, but add-on features can be utilized or adjustments may be made to compensate for this lack of accessibility.The technology is universally accessible.
Classroom-FriendlinessCompatibility
Scalability
How well will the technology work within existing K-12 classroom cultures (i.e. avoiding disruption in the negative sense)?The technology will not work well within existing K-12 classroom cultures.The technology might work well in existing K-12 classroom cultures with minor cultural adjustments.The technology will work well in existing classroom cultures with little or no adjustment.
Cost - Add-OnsSustainabilityHow much will necessary add-on items for the technology cost?The technology will require add-on items to effectively support learning, and these items will be comparatively expensive (more than 1/3 of the item's cost).The technology will require add-on items to effectively support learning, but these items will be comparatively inexpensive (less than 1/3 of the item's cost).The technology will not require add-on items to effectively support learning.
Cost - InitialScalability
Sustainability
How much does the technology cost?The technology costs significantly more than other brands of the same type of product.The technology costs significantly more than alternative devices that provide the same functions (e.g., laptop vs. desktop) but is less expensive than or comparable to other brands of the same product.The technology does not cost significantly more than alternative methods or other brands of the same product.
EfficiencyRelative Advantage
Sustainability
How readily will the technology be used to improve efficiency?It is unlikely that the technology will improve efficiencies.It is likely that the technology will improve efficiencies.It is certain that the technology will improve efficiencies.
FlexibilityRelative Advantage
Scalability
How flexible or adaptable is the tool for supporting a variety of learning activities?The technology type is designed for a single, fairly narrow purpose and cannot be used for other purposes.The technology type is designed for a fairly narrow purpose but has some flexibility for new uses.The technology is flexible for a variety of purposes.
Infrastructural CompatibilityCompatibility
Sustainability
How well will the technology work with existing K-12 school technology infrastructures (technical, policy, etc.)?The technology will not function well within existing infrastructures.The technology will function within existing infrastructures, but will require significant leniency, adjustments, or autonomy to do so.The technology will function well within existing infrastructures without making significant changes.
LifespanRelative Advantage
Sustainability
How long would the technology last in a typical K-12 classroom setting wherein it was used daily?The technology would be expected to last less than two (2) years in a typical K-12 classroom setting wherein it was used daily.The technology would be expected to last between two and three (2-3) years in a typical K-12 classroom setting wherein it was used daily.The technology would be expected to last less longer than three (3) years in a typical K-12 classroom setting wherein it was used daily.
Management EaseScalability
Sustainability
How easy is the technology to manage?It would take a specialist (e.g., someone with a degree in an information technology related field) to effectively manage this technology.It would take a tech-savvy classroom teacher to effectively manage this technology.A typical classroom teacher could manage this technology.
Measurable OutcomesRelative AdvantageHow readily will the technology be used to improve student learning on measurable outcomes?The technology cannot readily be connected to any measurable student outcomes.The technology could be used to improve student learning on measurable outcomes, but could also be used for a variety of other purposes that may not be seen as educationally valuable (or at least measurable).If used at all, the technology will help to improve student learning on measurable outcomes.
Management ScaleScalability
Sustainability
How many technology users may be managed by a single user?A single administrator must manage technology users individually to be effective.A single administrator may effectively manage up to a classroom level number of technology users.A single administrator may effectively manage technology users beyond the classroom level.
SecurityCompatibility
Sustainability
How secure is the technology?The technology does not comply with FERPA or other privacy requirements or does not utilize industry standards of information security.With significant effort, the technology can be made to comply with FERPA and other privacy requirements and to utilize industry standards of information security.With little effort, the technology can readily comply with FERPA and other privacy requirements and utilizes industry standards of information security.
Tranformational ValueRelative AdvantageHow readily will the technology transform schoool or classroom cultures in valuable ways (i.e. disruption in the positive sense)?It is unlikely that the technology will transform school or classroom cultures in valuable ways.It is somewhat likely that the technology will transform school or classroom cultures in valuable ways.It is very likely that the technology will transform school or classroom cultures in valuable ways.
User-FriendlinessCompatibility
Scalability
How user-friendly is the technology?The technology is difficult for a lay user to use or has a steep learning curve.The technology is generally easy to use but may have a significant learning curve.The technology is easy to use and has little (if any) learning curve.
ZeitgeistCompatibility
Scalability
How much traction and interest does the technology have within the larger culture?The technology is generally unknown or of little interest in the larger culture.The technology is of great interest to one or more subcultures (e.g., business, engineering), but not the larger culture generally.The technology is of great interest to the larger culture (as evidenced in widespread adoption, media coverage, etc.).
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