The chicken and the egg of EdTech

EdTech can save schools time and money whilst transforming teaching and learning. But it takes time to get it right. Al Kingsley, chair of Hampton Academies Trust, explores the importance of aligning EdTech purchasing with a schools’ unique needs and how to ensure that schools get the most out of their investment

Choosing, implementing and using an EdTech product is an investment of time and money – two resources of growing scarcity in schools. The right “evidence informed”  product can save teachers hours of work and deliver excellent outcomes for students, but the wrong product, however, can generate frustration for both staff and students, exacerbate inefficiencies and be a poor investment of already stretched school budgets.
While the benefits of implementing the right EdTech solutions can positively impact student outcomes and wellbeing whilst also possibly saving schools time and money, many education institutions struggle to afford the initial investment of both resources needed to find the technologies that will work best for them. Chopping and changing EdTech platforms many times over is simply not a luxury many schools can afford.

Getting it right
Careful, regular planning and evaluation of your school’s digital needs, as well as collaboration with your school’s staff and a wider community of peers can help ensure the EdTech is maximising any return on investment.
Taking the time to identify the exact needs of the school community is a vital first step in ensuring the successful adoption of any EdTech product. EdTech solutions are not one-size-fits-all; not every product is going to solve every school’s problems. The creation of any digital strategy in a school should have the school’s specific needs at its heart.
Having staff input at this stage is crucial; ensuring that they are involved in the process of selecting the EdTech product by allowing them to voice their priorities, concerns and areas in which they need support boosts the likelihood that you will choose the right product in the first instance. This will help to avert a situation in which staff feel that the product is being forced on them, as opposed to it being a tool at their disposal.
If one of the primary purposes (alongside the core impact on learners) of adopting an EdTech product is to reduce the burden on school staff, it’s necessary to ensure that the chosen product will deliver solutions that will truly improve their day-to-day teaching tasks. For instance, if teachers have flagged a need for greater support with targeted student interventions, a classroom management system which can be used to more easily track student attainment, and therefore highlight where a student may be struggling, would be best suited to meet these needs.

Gaining teacher buy-in
Teacher buy-in is an essential factor that must be considered and can be achieved by including educators in the process from the start. This prevents there being a mismatch between teachers’ attitudes towards the solution and therefore the use of the solution. Staff and students can potentially have uneven experiences of the use of the same technology even within one school. This lays bare the importance of proper and continuous CPD following the introduction of a new EdTech product – and not simply in terms of ability and functionality, but also in terms of staff attitudes and understanding of the purpose of the product. Taking the time to cooperate with teachers and discuss the product’s intended use and outcomes is an essential part of laying the groundwork for successful use of EdTech products.
Adopting a highly sophisticated technological solution is not always necessary; services are available which directly address specific needs. Of course, maintaining a lean, targeted approach in the selection of EdTech solutions in this way will also save money; avoiding paying for services which your staff are unlikely to use, as well as ensuring to consider solutions that meet more than one of the needs, will guarantee the investment of money and time will allow the schools to reap the benefits of EdTech in an efficient way.

Do a tech audit
Tech audits are crucial in establishing whether the EdTech currently in use at your school is delivering the expected solutions, and whether it is in line with your digital strategy. Regularly taking the time to assess your assets and products in use will reduce the likelihood of purchasing any additional unnecessary equipment or paying for subscriptions which are going unused. The audit also serves as an opportunity to evaluate whether the service you are paying for is of adequate value and providing an acceptable return.
It is important, once again to ensure that staff are using EdTech solutions in an effective and efficient way. Gathering feedback from staff and students can be one helpful way of flagging potential issues with the use of technology, and any areas of improvement going forward. This will help to ensure that EdTech is not encumbering staff with extra work, and is in fact saving time for them. It can also signal potential CPD opportunities for staff.
If, following an audit of tech assets and subscriptions, you find that you are significantly overspending or your solutions are not adequately meeting your needs, the next step is exploring alternatives. Independent evaluations of EdTech products are available from organisations such as Education Alliance Finland and the EDUCATE programme from UCL Institute of Education. These bodies provide product analysis from an educator’s perspective, and can be a useful tool.

Talk with service providers
It is always worth communicating with providers to determine whether you can customise your package of services to solely what is necessary and most aligned with your digital strategy. As with any service provider, discussing potential discounts is never a bad idea – particularly on the basis of loyalty if you have been using the service for a long time, or perhaps establishing whether a trust-wide discount could be possible if multiple academies within your trust are interested in a product. Reaching out to your community of peers can also help to gather information and share recommendations for particularly useful products. Many trusts already do this in the form of ‘tech clubs’, but online forums and EdTech conferences can also be fruitful in this regard.
Whilst good EdTech can certainly provide boundless opportunities to support improving education outcomes, transform the learning and teaching experience and even cut costs for schools, the time and effort required to make the investment worthwhile must be acknowledged particularly as the education sector is currently so time poor. It would be foolish to presume that the mere fact of paying for a product will lead to improvements and in the current pressured climate, any decision to implement a new EdTech solution must be carefully researched in advance to ensure that it will be in keeping with your school’s digital strategy and the needs of your staff. Decisions and purchases should be made with the long-term view wherever possible and it is essential to communicate that effort to undertake useful but time-consuming steps like audits and feedback gathering will be crucial in determining the value that an EdTech solution can bring if only the right one is implemented in the right way.

Al Kingsley is chair of Hampton Academies Trust and Group CEO of NetSupport.

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