Got a problem? Take it up with tech!

Edtech denotes a collaboration between education and technology but how can tech-developers ensure they are meeting the niche needs of schools if schools don’t tell them what their niche needs are? Iain Bell, managing director of Minted Box, considers the potential of edtech collaboration and what can happen when two worlds meet…

When a teacher’s looking for a classroom resource to aid their teaching or impact students’ learning, they might turn to social media for recommendations or, perhaps, Google search – and end up with a very long list of products and resources to choose from.
While in many cases this will be sufficient, there may be instances where the results don’t quite fit the needs; a more niche solution might be required. This is where the challenge to find something suddenly becomes more difficult.

Ah…technology! The solution!

Technology can be used to solve a whole host of problems but with so many different options to choose from – all wrapped and packaged with technical jargon and confusing acronyms – how are educators supposed to know what, if anything, will address their individual concerns?
Throw shrinking budgets into this mix and schools become more reluctant to invest in resources that, in reality, they’re only likely to ever use a fraction of.
So what’s the solution to finding a tailored resource directly addressing unique needs? I believe it’s about connecting educators and technology developers. For too long now, schools have been trying to make use of existing products to fit their evolving needs or, alternatively, are offered products with the ‘assurance’ that it’s the right solution for them. It’s time for the two worlds to work with one another; after all, there is great value in school staff and tech developers sharing knowledge and expertise in order to create highly effective solutions to the difficulties school staff encounter every day.
Through collaboration tech companies can fully understand what schools really want and need and, in turn, school staff can learn what can be made possible through technology.

Taking it up with tech

What we’re seeing more frequently is that technology companies are recognising the need for high-quality equipment and resources in schools and are trying to meet this need in order to stand out from the crowd and appeal to teachers and school leaders.
But what we aren’t seeing – and which we really should be – is the involvement of school staff in the development of these solutions. Rather than creating solutions to problems they assume teachers and school staff face, they need to listen to them and create products based on their feedback. Only then will a resource provide schools with real value.
That’s not to say that the tech companies are deliberately trying to sell things that schools don’t want or need; it’s more likely that they don’t fully understand the school’s individual requirements. The everyday problems faced by teachers, school cleaners, canteen staff and IT technicians are far removed from the work of digitally-advanced tech developers.
Equally, schools may feel obliged to choose from the solutions available on the market because they lack the technical expertise to understand the full capabilities of available software and how technology can be used, in a tailored way, to meet their unique needs.

Putting it into practice

One teacher who has already put the theory into practice is Leigh Adams, former deputy head at George Abbott School in Guildford, and now headteacher at The Costello School in Basingstoke. Leigh was concerned about the amount of time his teaching staff in Guildford were having to spend on administrative tasks such as creating seating plans, reporting on each student’s performance, behaviour and attainment, tracking grades and test scores and making a note of students’ specific educational needs. He realised that, in order to simplify the process, ‘going digital’ was essential.
“I knew that there had to be a way to make our school administrative processes more efficient in order to give our teachers more time to focus on their students,” Leigh explains. “While there were plenty of digital resources offering various features that included some of what we were looking for, the challenge we faced was that most of them provided far more functionality than we actually needed. We wanted something bespoke; a resource that gave us exactly what we needed – nothing more, nothing less.
“So, following some research, I began working with Minted Box and proposed my idea for a solution to the problem our teachers, and undoubtedly teachers in other schools, were facing.
“We discussed the issue and between us, sketched out a tool that is now being used in 400 schools across the country, including The Costello School. The digital seating planner – which also brings together a plethora of student information from various content management systems so teachers have easy access to it at any given time – was developed and brought to market in just four months and, because Minted Box recognised the commercial viability of my idea, they developed the product at a very low cost meaning that our school was able to effectively solve our problem without putting pressure on our budget – so we have been able to save time and money.”

A win-win situation

There is a real need for closer collaboration and with teachers possessing an in-depth understanding of exactly what they need in order to create the best learning environment and outcomes. It’s up to the 21st Century tech developers to listen to what they have to say and, together, devise a solution that addresses their challenges.
Taking the expertise of two worlds and combining them will create a mutually-beneficial relationship where technology developers can create real solutions that appeal to schools and teachers will have the confidence that the products they’re using in the classroom will have a real impact on teaching and learning.

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