A gadget-first approach won’t bring procurement success

Sam Blyth, director of schools and further education at Canvas, explains why managers need to include educators and students in the discussion

It’s an understatement to say a lot has been written about tech in the classroom – on both sides of the argument. Between Bett and Digifest, there has been no shortage of time dedicated to the topic from a varied range of voices. Self-identified gadget enthusiasts tell us they’re attracted to the latest technology developments, while naysayers report misgivings about the efficacy of classroom tech in improving learning outcomes.

At Canvas, we see both sides of the coin.

While the majority of teachers believe technology can fundamentally enhance the teaching and learning experience and are willing to embrace digital learning in some form, we know there remains a fundamental need for guidance. Many schools still need help to understand what tech can do, how to buy it, and what it really means.

Firstly, we’d urge a move away from talk of tablets and laptops, the focus of many tech strategies, to understanding that hardware is just one piece of a rich tech ecosystem.

Technology doesn’t mean iPads. Technology means systems that can help teaching and learning, from video and virtual learning systems to data-capture and analysis tools. Simply giving every student an iPad isn’t going to improve the learning experience in any lasting way, no matter the trial process you employ. 

Secondly, know that a tech-first approach to procurement won’t get results. Schools need to start by identifying what they want to achieve, and then decide what tools will help – not the other way around (“What tech do we get, and what will it do for us?”).

Beyond objective-setting, there’s little advice on how to choose the right technology. And, admittedly, procurement is not a topic renowned for inspiring passionate debate. Excluding finance teams, most of us have little idea how our institution goes about buying essential goods and services, and when it comes to purchases where wider involvement is necessary, the process can be muddled, inefficient and even frightening.

But we believe that the key to successful technology use is in the way schools approach the purchasing process. We believe technology is bought, but not used, by institutions that apply a top-down approach: when tech is selected by governors or managers and not by the staff who will be using the equipment or programmes.

Put simply, a more democratic approach to procurement is required to ensure adoption. The most successful tech projects call students, teachers, lecturers, IT staff and managers to evaluate providers ­– and help pick the final product.

Talking about gadgets in education, which we find to be fairly common when it comes to tech discussion – can certainly be a good starting point and helps piques curiosity more generally. But we think it can mean we miss some important points which are crucial for ensuring tech success. The conversation needs to move on quickly from laptops and iPads to a much more holistic, and fundamental, approach.