Make sure you use what you buy
Hear from Jon Tait, Director of Acklam Grange School in Middlesbrough, discussing real examples of purchasing EdTech products and what impacts this has on schools.
In January 2020, the technology lovers amongst us and self-professed ‘geeks’ will make the annual pilgrimage to the cathedral of EdTech that we have come to know as the BETT Show.
Each year we prepare ourselves to be inspired, challenged and maybe even have our minds blown by the potential of what some of the most innovative and creative companies working in this sector have to offer us.
Virtual reality, mixed reality, artificial intelligence-based software and a multitude of touchscreen devices have started to command prime spots at BETT in recent years, but for every ‘solution’ that has curb appeal and an obvious wow factor, what impact will it have back in the classroom?
Unfortunately, even given the large sums of money spent on educational technology products and solutions in the last few years, many studies have concluded that digital technology has only had moderate impact on student outcomes and raising achievement in our schools.
The latest evidence summary on using digital technology in schools, from the EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit, suggests just this, but more interestingly that there is considerable variation in impact from study to study.
In my experience this has a direct correlation with teachers and senior leaders going to events like the BETT Show without a clear strategy for what they need and how it will impact on learning.
One of the biggest issues with digital technology over the past few years has been due to decisions made by school leaders to buy something because it’s shiny. The desire to ‘pimp up their classroom’ or try to replace traditional teaching methods with a digital solution has invariably led to a waste of money further down the line.
Schools across the country can probably point to hardware or software that is gathering dust in a cupboard somewhere, and, in hindsight, it is another example of a poor decision based on a materialistic approach rather than an evidence-based one.
Take the time to look into the research and it usually tells you that technology can have a significant impact on learning, but as an addition to your traditional teaching methods, not as a direct replacement.
It might streamline communication, develop independent learning due to 24/7 access to resources, engage students in feedback etc, but it certainly isn’t an off-the-shelf replacement for high-quality teaching and building student relationships.
I tend to think of it like performance enhancing drugs in athletics. The drugs don’t make sprinters run faster. They allow the body to train harder and for longer periods of time, together with enabling the body to recover quicker so that more training can take place. This results in higher levels of performance over time, not overnight.
This is the same in the classroom with technology. It isn’t suddenly going to make your students any more intelligent, but it might make them work smarter, access work more independently away from the classroom and ultimately see their performance and exam results improve as a result of this.
Once you begin to understand and appreciate this, you can then start to build your vision for what your school needs and what you might be looking for. However, the key in all of this, is the word ‘school’. It’s very important to understand what your school needs and not just what you might need as a teacher or leader.
Lots of new purchases fall down when they are brought back and unveiled at school because it’s not a solution that all the staff either require, feel comfortable with, or will engage with. Understanding your context, staff needs and IT proficiencies is crucial in making a sound decision to buy a solution.
One example I recall from another school is a set of classroom response clickers to poll student answers on the whiteboard, that ended up languishing in the back of a cupboard because the leadership team failed to get staff on board in the first place, by showing them the ‘why’ as part of its initial launch.
In my experience, the best way to guard against this is to make sure that you don’t go to BETT alone. Having the senior leader responsible for teaching and learning attend with the ICT systems manager will help ensure that you have all the knowledge and experience necessary to make the very best decision for your school.
From a systems point of view, your network manager will be able to advise on whether a solution will integrate well with your current set-up, and from a teaching and learning and staff development angle, your senior leader should be able to pick the right solution for the desired classroom need.
Thought should also be given to how much training is going to be required for both network staff and teaching staff in order to use it effectively. Will the company provide training? Is there a cost to this? How long will it take? How quickly can they deliver it? All of these questions need to be considered when making your decision.
A great example that I have experienced is with Edukey and their ClassCharts software. Training has never been a one-off day at the start of the agreement, but a service where they are always at the end of the phone, are receptive to feedback and have truly worked with us for no extra cost. This is the type of fine print to look out for if you’re looking for best value and no hidden extras.
And finally, although I have some fantastic relationships with the companies that we have bought solutions from in recent years, they will all tell you that the best endorsement of their products comes from schools that are already using them. A sales pitch will tell you everything that they want you to know, but the authentic voice comes from a school that has tried and tested it over a period of time.
It is extremely important for you to seek out these schools and find out the pros and cons of the product, and then, more importantly, what impact it is having in the classroom and on student outcomes before you commit to buy anything.
Hear more from educators within the Bett community over the next coming weeks! Make sure to stay connected and check out our social media channels below.
Bett is the first industry show of the year in the education technology landscape, bringing together 800+ leading companies, 103 exciting new edtech start ups and over 34,000 attendees from the global education community.
Location & Opening times:
ExCeL London, Royal Victoria Dock, 1 Western Gateway, London E16 1XL, United Kingdom.
Wed 22nd January, 10:00 - 18:00
Thu 23rd January, 10:00 - 18:00
Fri 24th January, 10:00 - 18:00
Sat 25th January, 10:00 - 15:00