From suitability to software support, choosing the right technology for your school can be daunting. Teacher-turned-edtech entrepreneur Naimish Gohil shares his advice on avoiding the pitfalls
Edtech at its best is like any technology: a catalyst, making our lives easier, enhancing current processes and helping to make our vision a reality. What’s important to remember about great technology is that it doesn’t take over the job of a person – it simply enhances what you already do and enables you to continue doing what you do best, which is to teach.
Finding the right edtech solution for your school is a big task and a relatively new challenge to take on board. It’s incredible just how much the industry has boomed in the past few years. We’ve moved from a closed club of large, powerful companies to multiple start-ups and smaller businesses becoming contenders and spoiling us for choice.
As a person who has gone from trying to make savvy purchasing decisions in school to someone who now provides schools with an edtech solution, I wanted to share my nine simple steps to smart procurement.
1. Does it solve a real problem?
First things first, make sure that the software you’re buying serves a real purpose. It’s easy to get carried away with new products, especially when they’re at the forefront of innovation and promising you the world. However, many of these solutions are “nice to have” rather than things that will make a real difference.
Think about your pain points and the areas you need to improve on, and seek a solution that hits them head on. Don’t settle for something that isn’t going to work for you: ultimately, it will end up being a drain on time, money and energy.
2. Research the company
Do a little digging when you find a company you’re interested in. Look for reviews, testimonials and existing users and ask their opinions on the product. Speaking to people who are currently using it is your best bet at finding an honest review.
If the company is fairly new on the scene this may be harder to do but you still want to know whether you’re taking a risk. In these circumstances, look for reassurance in terms of investments, partnerships and award nominations.
3. Make sure the product is easy to use
If nothing else, you need to make sure that the software you’re buying is easy to use. There are always going to be varying degrees of technical capabilities in schools and you need to cater to each and every one of them if you want to see results.
Schools love to send the most experienced members of their IT teams to meetings with tech companies. It makes sense: after all, they’re the ones who can ask the most discerning questions.
However, they don’t represent those who aren’t technically inclined. When it gets to decision-making time, try the product on the least technically able person in your school. They will ask the questions that an expert will overlook, and if they can understand how it works then everyone else will.
4. What does the support and training package look like?
These are massively important factors when purchasing software and you shouldn’t compromise on either. Training needs to be provided so users are comfortable and competent when using the product and engagement remains high.
Similarly, support needs to be provided as there are, of course, going to be issues and queries that need answering. The success of your software depends on whether or not it is being used. Training and sufficient support are two of the main factors that can secure this, so make sure your supplier can provide you with these.
5. Don’t rush into anything
We’ve all been there: we’ve been given areas to improve on by the headteacher, Ofsted or in conjunction with new government guidelines, and we rush into finding a solution.
The purpose of edtech is to offer improvements to schools in a number of areas, but it’s a huge investment and changes don’t happen overnight. Take your time when finding a solution, do the proper research and make sure it’s the right fit for you to avoid any upset or wasted time.
6. Involve your IT team early
There’s no better way to annoy your IT team than to spring an entirely new software system on them to install out of the blue.
To avoid any upset, make sure you involve your IT professionals from the get-go. Not only will this prepare them for the work to come, they’ll also be able to advise on whether or not it’s going to work with your current set-up.
7. Identify an owner
Any good edtech provider will have a dedicated resource to help the school become successful with the new software. However, in nine out of 10 cases, this is not enough. There has to be an owner within the school who is going to be the driver.
Technology is like any other initiative: it needs someone to lead it and embed it. This is an important part of the overall formula for success.
8. How much is this going to cost?
In a time when finances are so stretched, investing in a new solution is daunting. This is why you need to make sure your research before purchasing is extensive and find out if any other allocations of budget can be put towards it.
Remember, if you’re looking at two products that do the same thing and one is substantially cheaper than the other, ask yourself why. There can be a lot at stake by going with a cheaper product that isn’t as well established, such as the cost of changing to a new solution down the line and the reputational damage it can do.
9. What is the company’s road map?
When investing in software for your school it is important to know where the company is going. If they’re a start-up, query their ability to scale and how reliable they are, but also look to the future. What’s on their road map and what can you expect to see develop throughout your licence?
One of the great benefits of starting out with a relatively new company is that the product will inevitably improve and you will see enhancements during your time with them. If it solved your pain points from the outset, chances are, over time, it will expand into improving other areas of your school system.
*Naimish Gohil is a former teacher and is chief executive and founder of edtech company Satchel