Independent advisor Royden Gothelf explains the importance of a clear IT strategy and improvement plan when it comes to procuring new edtech for your school
Going to a technology show is exciting – and a quick way to find a product – but it can also be overwhelming, with so much on offer. Often, we have a good idea of what we need, think it will be easy enough to find something and come away with brochures and demonstration bookings. The next step is to tell colleagues about it, find the budget and start to use it.
What will it be like in my school, though? When you have a clear IT strategy and improvement plan – linked to whole school improvement plans – these questions are easier to answer. Educate.uk recommends you ‘try before you buy’ – and try not just the features of the product, but also work out what is required by the IT manager to support it (whether a smart board or a teaching application) and what training staff will need to use it. I call these the ‘hidden costs’ of the product that can add to your overall IT costs.
There are products that are click-and-go, and easy to use – and there are products that require integration with other systems in school and/or training to use. For new, cross-school solutions I have yet to find a school that can easily find time to train users and update procedures and policies or create new ones. Factor this into your planning so that what is bought is used.
Out with the old…
As the number of education technology companies has grown – 600+ at Bett 2019 – and new start-ups coming into the market – up from 30 at Bett 2015 to more than 100 at Bett 2019 – so, too, has the choice increased.
Schools have been using technology for more than 10 years, adding in new infrastructure of software year-on-year, so new products need to be compatible with the existing ones. The starting point for incorporating the use of the new tech is not a green field; it is often layer upon layer of what was put in over the years. We need to be ruthless in switching off what we don’t want to use – often adoption of the new does not happen if we keep the old.
It is much easier going to such technology shows as you are formulating your strategy for the use of technology, or when you have a strategy and clear plan of what you want. Be it a large or small school, segment the IT into three areas:
- Infrastructure – eg. network.
- Common software – eg. email, documents, MIS.
- Subject specific technology – eg. STEM.
From a cost point of view, it is easier to segment these resources as it puts accountability for the cost and, more importantly, the benefit, with the right people. For example, an infrastructure solution can be recommended by the IT manager, common software by the SLT (often an assistant headteacher or business manager) and subject-specific by the subject lead or head of teaching and learning.
I use frameworks that ensure the decisions on the infrastructure are informed by what the teachers are needing to deliver the curriculum, and by the common software, in order to support everyone in the school community. For example, if all curriculum resources are in the cloud, make sure the infrastructure always gives reliable and fast connectivity to the internet, If the students require the use of portable notebooks, get a good wi-fi and replace PCs with portable devices.
In my seminar at EdExec Live we will talk about strategic planning for term-to-term management and explore simple methods you can use to link the use of technology to improving whole school outcomes, as set out in the school improvement plan and IT plans.