Devising a successful EdTech strategy

Putting the needs of learners and staff at the heart of your digital strategy will allow your school community to fully reap the rewards of education technology. Al Kingsley, chair of Hamptons Academies Trust, explains how

Education technology (EdTech) has long been touted by numerous educators as having the potential to revolutionise the learning experience. However, consensus is emerging that EdTech is not being used to its full potential in learning communities.
UNESCO recently published the Global Education Monitoring Report, which partly acts as a check-in on the fourth of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – ensuring “inclusive and equitable quality education and [promoting] lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Eight years on from the creation of the SGDs, it would appear that the use of (or demand for) technology in education is creating as many barriers as it is resolving.

The findings illustrate this, reporting that the use of technology is often lagging behind the promised potential. The research points to numerous barriers preventing the full range of benefits that EdTech can offer from being accessed – many of which can be relatively easily resolved through simple interventions such as better CPD provision.
Other issues, such as device shortfalls for teachers and increased levels of distraction for students, will require more far-reaching problem-solving. The UNESCO report found that in the US alone, nearly all education software licenses are not used to their full potential (a shocking 98 per cent) and, perhaps worse still, over two thirds of such licenses are totally unused. Coupled with explorations of the capabilities of AI in alleviating teacher workload, conversations are rightfully being had around correctly leveraging EdTech to unlock the full potential that has been promised to deliver the best working conditions for teachers, as well as the best outcomes for pupils.
Technology and education ought to be operating hand in glove; indeed, a glance at any curriculum in the last 20 years or so since computers became more widespread in schools will reveal increasing prioritisation of IT lessons. However, adequately preparing the next generation of learners for the workforce they will enter involves more than sitting students down in a computer lab once or twice a week.
A comprehensive modern education system should reflect the realities of the future, a world which will be defined by technology and therefore by those who are able to work most effectively with it. Central to achieving successful outcomes will be providing our educational communities with the tools that serve their needs and the systems and skills to access the full benefits.

A well structured strategy

The answer of how to deliver these outcomes lies in the development of a well-structured, coherent digital strategy which places the needs of learners and teachers at its core. Such a strategy will support staff to use the technological assets at their disposal and will ensure that students are being taught in a way that intertwines digital skills and tools throughout the curriculum, providing engaging and pedagogy-focused lessons that can best support their learning.
An indispensable starting point in the development of a digital strategy is a complete audit of the technological assets and resources at your disposal. A comprehensive, detailed report of what is currently used – or unused – across the school will allow you to make informed decisions throughout the digital transformation journey. This can seem daunting at first, but there are numerous solutions which can do much of the heavy lifting for you, cutting through a potentially arduous task and giving you invaluable oversight. Once this audit is complete you can monitor usage levels going forward which allows you to evaluate whether resources need to be reallocated, as well as whether additional or alternative resources or solutions might better serve your needs.

Device control

The natural next step to getting the most from your devices is to ensure they remain in optimal working condition. Keeping them in top working order with the latest software updates is essential to maintaining high levels of functionality and performance, allowing your teachers and learners to work and learn as efficiently as possible. Most devices require regular updates, which can make keeping them fully updated seem impossible; however, most operating systems take the sting out of this by offering the option to automatically schedule updates – ideally at times when the device is not in use to minimise disruption. Many EdTech solutions will offer an invaluable at-a-glance overview of which devices are falling behind their update schedule.
An audit may also reveal where you have overlapping EdTech solutions with duplicating functions. If you can reduce the number of solutions by finding just a few which will meet your needs more efficiently, not only does this cut the cost of the number of licenses you are paying for, it will also free up disk space on your devices, and minimise the number of platforms you are asking your staff to use.
This is where listening to your community is essential; choosing the right solutions means choosing ones that meet the needs of your teachers. Gaining their perspective on the features they want is critical in ensuring the solution is used properly, preventing it from becoming a burden. EdTech solutions can offer wildly different capabilities, and it is vital to carefully consider the context of your learning community; each one will only be as good as how effectively it meets the needs of each stakeholder. Not every feature offered by every solution will be of use to your students or teachers. Whilst some solutions have a tighter focus on mitigating digital distractions and managing classroom behaviour, others will be for storing and sharing learning materials. Choosing the right EdTech solution can maximise your investment and deliver direct results to your students and staff.

The importance of training

Up-to-date and regular training is fundamental to the successful implementation of a digital strategy. Teachers must receive adequate training in order to have the knowledge and confidence to effectively use an EdTech solution, and any EdTech solution worth its salt will have a thorough how-to guide for users. However, it is also essential that the school does everything possible to support staff to learn how to make effective use of every feature. In addition to initial training, regular training on updates and refreshers will help ensure staff remain able to get the most out of the software and prevent it from becoming burdensome. For less tech savvy staff members, it is important E
F to have continuous support on hand if they have questions or need extra guidance. This can be from the EdTech provider itself, figures within the school or Trust (such as a digital lead), or a forum in which teachers can share tips and ask questions. As well as helping them maximise the potential of the software, thorough and consistent training will also help to upskill staff members as they adjust to an increasingly digitised work environment.
Taking the time to develop a strategy in which EdTech is a user-friendly tool is a thoroughly worthy investment. Rather than wasting valuable resources and time on technological solutions that end up creating more issues than they solve, intentionally putting your learners’ and staff’s needs at the heart of your digital strategy will allow your school community to fully reap the rewards of EdTech.

About the author

Al Kingsley is the group CEO of NetSupport, chair of a Multi-Academy Trust and chair of an Alternative Provision Academy. As well as his CEO and chair roles Al is chair of his region’s Governors’ Leadership Group and chairs the regions SEND Board. With 20+ years of governance experience, Al also sits on the Regional Schools Directors Advisory Board for the East of England. He is a FED Co-chair, Chair of the BESA EdTech Group and chairs his regional Employment and Skills Board.