In the last two instalments of this series, I have been looking at who the gatekeepers in technology are and why it is important to convince them to invest in technology. In the image above, there are some key findings from the research I have conducted. In this post, I am going to share the suggestions I have curated from my research. I have to thank a number of schools, colleges and individuals for their input in this research, particularly Dave Leonard from Matthew Moss High School, Rick Cowell and the amazing team at ANME and Steven Hope from Leeds City College.
In terms of ways to convince gatekeepers, here are the top 5 tips on how some of the schools and colleges around the UK are finding success and some ways you might want to tackle this in your context. The caveat from me is that everyone must be contextualised. What works in one place might not work in your school or college. Think about your students and culture - make decisions or suggestions based on your context.
1. Think long-term
I cannot reiterate enough that there is too much by the way of 'Shiny New Toy' syndrome in schools. The Wow Factor often becomes the Why Question: "Wow that device is fast and cool; it looks amazing" becomes "Why did we buy so many of these and now they aren't working or being used?" I know what I am like in the supermarket when I see a deal or an offer and I am drawn in (usually around cake or chocolate!) so how are we thinking strategically as an organisation? How are we being responsible with the public or parent funding we receive?
I am advocating the following questions that must be asked before we ask for any financial investment from the gatekeepers:
- What will the return on this investment be in 1, 3, 5 years time?
- What is the training plan required to ensure that there is longevity in this project?
- How much do we need to invest in network and WAPs (infrastructure) first rather than devices, software and peripherals?
- How does this align with our organisation's KPIs and educational objectives?
- What will the impact if we DON'T invest in this technology?
Give yourself time to not get sucked into decision making; other offers will come and go - you don't always have to make the choice today! Two of the most important elements of leadership are the ability to communicate vision and then helping everyone to align themselves to that vision. Your school leaders will be working towards a School Improvement Plan (SIP) and a Self-Evaluation Framework (SEF) - or their equivalents in colleges or universities - which means that any suggestion of investment needs to have longevity and an ability to be scaled and aligned to key priorities.
2. Try before you buy
Many companies now offer 30-day or 12-month trials of products or devices. Many hardware re-sellers use this as their sales strategy. Trial products/devices/solutions and then evaluate the impact - this final part is often the most neglected. EdTech Free Trials offers an example of a number of free trials in this sector. I know many of the Chromebook sellers like C-Learning and hardware companies such as BenQ are also interested in helping schools and colleges with thoughtful purchasing.
In terms of evaluation, here are some ideas of ways to measure whether the investment is worthwhile after the trial:
- Who used it and for how long?
- Which groups of students benefited from this technology?
- How easy was it to train staff in its use?
- How much time and money would it cost to implement this on a wider scale?
- Who else is using this tool and what can you learn from them?
- What are the pinch points and key wins?
We don't need any more expensive paperweights as Steven Hope mentions on the podcast; let's think strategically by having a go and evaluating the trial.
3. Get buy-in
This does not mean that you need to get people on your side against the powers that be. What it does mean is that it makes sense to find key staff in your organisation and give them tangible solutions - anything that helps with teachers’ marking workload, student engagement, or subject-specific resources. From a leadership or gatekeeper perspective, you need to be able to measure why your suggestion is going to make a difference in their staff's day-to-day.
One way this could be done is through developing a working group (I would get permission before you do this!). You could get free trials or demo accounts (using #2 from this list) and get ideas of how and why this would work in various settings. Things to discuss in working groups could be:
- SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) of the tool
- Variety of use-cases (look at customer testimonials)
- Try and break it! Take it to the limits and look at how and where it might not work
- Find alternatives - cheaper, more expensive, easier, harder - and compare and contrast these to your trial tool
A group of advocates, whether they are students or staff, or a combination of both, help to build a use-case beyond your individual bubble and sphere of influence.
4. Think outside the box
The Google Innovator Academy taught me a lot about design thinking and how I needed to stop focusing on the problems AND solutions. What that means is that if I focus too much on the problem, I become negative about the scale of that problem - what I focus on develops. However, if I focus on solutions, I tend to pigeonhole my ideas towards one particular idea. Design Thinking in its purest form requires you to focus on the user. In this case, the user might be the teacher, the student, the parent, the administrator - whoever it is that would benefit from your investment.
The idea of thinking outside the box is often banded about and it has become a tad cliched in the education sphere. What I think this means is that we need to exhibit at least one of the skills we are often asking of our students: creativity. We need to stop staying with the solutions that we know and love and start asking questions of everything. In it all, we need to ask the question: what is the best solution for the school and the progress of the students having looked at all our options? If that means our jobs have to change, so be it! If that means, we need to move away from our comfort zones, bring it on! If that means we need to undertake more training and learn a new skill, we have no choice!
5. Talk about impact Perhaps most importantly in terms of speaking the language of the gatekeepers is the conversation regarding impact. I have hinted at this throughout this post because I want to help you speak the language that gets listened to! This is more than just about cost-saving and financial efficiencies but it does include this. It makes good sense to have scenarios and facts/figures up your sleeve before you go into any conversation where the stakes are high. For example, to convince the headteacher of ways technology can save time and money - show the facts & figures - “This printing solution will save us £X and reduce our waste bill by £X per year which could be invested in X" or "Rather than spending £X on fixed site servers, save that money on moving storage to the cloud and reinvest that in new Wireless Access Points or upgraded internet connections."
But impact is more than just that which is found in budgets (although this is the itch that often needs scratching at some point in the conversation!). Moreover, the impact is often found in improved outcomes (which are often measurable and recognisable) and staff & student engagement (which is often more qualitative than quantitative). Saving teachers 10 minutes per laptop login time equates to X number of hours that could be used for planning or other worthwhile activities. Lack of server updates and IT support for cloud storage is equivalent to £X of staffing that could be reinvested in teaching staff, resources or coaching.
Indeed, the Google Stories of Impact are designed to express the very essence of how GSuite is having an impact way beyond just the pounds and pennies. Here are a few of my favourites:
So there you have it, some of the ways we can convince the gatekeepers to invest in technology. Good luck on the journey of persuasion - it's never an easy one and I know from experience that it often rarely happens the first time around. They do say that customers often have eleven touches from a company before they eventually buy from them so don't stop on 10! I also did some more generic research from my PLN (professional learning network) and these are the ideas suggested from some of the best minds out there in the UK. Thanks so much to them for taking the time out to offer suggestions and to the scores of others who I couldn't include here.