Ask the expert: smartly investing in education technology

Welcome to a short series of weekly chats about all things edtech in 2018. First up, we welcome Jeremy Cooper, VP Europe, Blackboard

What are the main priorities for edtech investment this year?

The education industry is rapidly changing, with institutions increasingly pressured by multiple issues including financial and regulatory changes, evolving learning models and data privacy complexities. Also, the learner’s journey is becoming more and more complex. Students are no longer limited by geographic boundaries and thanks to the ubiquity of mobile devices they engage in learning in new ways and expect institutions to keep up with these challenges. 

One of the largest roadblocks for schools and universities in implementing tech is budget constrictions. Do you think current budgets reflect the importance that the education sector is placing on technology?

Universities have been affected by budget restrictions for a number of years and always face difficult choices on where to allocate money. My view is that investments in education technology should be safeguarded as much as possible. These investments help reduce overall costs in the long term and allow people to focus on value-adding activities, freeing up talent. Finally, technology plays a key role in driving, supporting and improving both student experience and learner outcomes.

For example, we are seeing an increase in the number of clients looking to adopt SaaS solutions. Besides immediate savings in terms of infrastructure investments, and technical advantages including zero downtime updates, fast roll-out of new features, and quicker delivery of fixes, SaaS implementations allow institutions to focus resources on improving services to students and teachers, rather than on maintenance and technical support activities. 

How can education institutions work to keep pace with evolving edtech without blowing budgets?

I think it is paramount that institutions clearly define their near-term, medium-term and long-term goals. With this ‘big picture’ in mind, schools and universities should work with an edtech company that can be their partner in change, rather than a simple vendor, bringing technology innovation into the hands of teachers and students. Edtech investments usually cover several years and it’s essential that the edtech company’s portfolio has the depth and breadth to answer the needs of today and tomorrow.

Jeremy Cooper

What are the top three most important considerations for schools and universities when considering edtech investments?

First of all, universities should take a more holistic approach and think about a comprehensive digital learning environment, rather than ‘single point products’ that answer only one specific need. That’s why they should look for a partner that provides solutions compliant with interoperability standards and designed to be part of an educational ecosystem so they can easily integrate with existing and future solutions. Secondly, institutions should evaluate the level of support they will get from the partner not just for technical issues but also in areas like student services, course design, technology adoption and strategy delivery. Being able to access world-class consulting services will help maximise the return on investments. Finally, they should consider how big the partner’s user community is and take into account the great value they can get from sharing knowledge and insights with other institutions implementing the same solutions.

There are many voices in the sector promoting tech for certain causes. Which elements of education do you think are most in need of edtech investment? 

Each university is unique and has its own needs. Indeed, GDPR is a hot topic for European institutions at the moment and we are seeing a huge interest in the Middle East and Africa around our teacher certification programme on the use of edtech. That said, I think one area in which institutions should invest is accessibility, enabling all students to achieve success regardless of their specific learning abilities or styles. At a minimum, universities should implement solutions that improve online content accessibility and give them a better understanding of the current state of content accessibility at both the course and institutional level. 

Some schools and universities are struggling with a lower budget than their peers. How can institutions be proactive in raising extra funds for tech investment? 

Universities need to show their stakeholders the return on investments in technology by measuring student success: improved outcomes, fewer dropouts, increased enrolments and enhanced student engagement. These metrics will show that education technology solutions are not just infrastructural investments, but a critical means to accomplish institutional goals.

For further info on Blackboard, please click here.