Ask the expert: smartly investing in education technology

Concluding our short series of weekly chats about all things edtech in 2018. Thirdly and finally, here’s John Jackson, CEO, London Grid for Learning

What are the main priorities for edtech investment this year?

LGfL is focused on investing in platforms that save money, reduce teacher workloads and keep children safe. Our priorities are for safeguarding systems that harness artificial intelligence (AI), cloud platforms (both Google and Office 365) and cybersecurity, where LGfL will be setting up a new Centre of Excellence to keep children safe.

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?

The position is variable, but most schools are faced with a Hobson’s choice of cutting staff or chopping non-staffing costs. Inevitably, schools will opt for the latter. Organisations have to help schools get more for less through aggregated procurement, richer services at no additional costs and looking at ways to support financing for schools. I also think it’s vital to help schools make the most of what they have, which is why we’ve set-up a new service called Let’s Get Digital, where we’ve partnered with Google and Microsoft to support schools harness cheaper cloud options.

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

My advice for institutions is to start with a clear set of priorities informed by an assessment of where the institution is with tech, what problems need solving and where does the organisation need to be. This must be underpinned by a ‘change management’ strategy where the institution organises for delivering a major change. Part of that is senior management sponsorship. Equally, part of the change is about empowering front-line staff to make it happen. A comprehensive view of finances is also key in identifying how much is being spent, where, and how much is available for discretionary investment. Schools can also benefit from moving away from capital purchases to pay-per-use models which will reduce upfront costs and ensure money goes where it’s needed.

John Jackson

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

Top of my list is the people and change strategy. Organisations that are successful in harnessing digital platforms not only make wide investments – what I call adoption – but they also embed the technology into the institution – what I call absorption. The lower the delta between adoption and absorption, the more successful the edtech investment will be. Second, ensure you are clear about priorities. There is  nite resource available and the best institutions will ensure that investment goes where it’s needed most and where the return works best. I’d advise institutions to split their demands into unavoidable pressures (things that have to be done, e.g. GDPR), Lights On (things that have to happen or things will break, e.g. cyclical refresh) and transformation (investment that delivers a measurable and significant benefit). Finally, make sure your IT organisation is ready to support you effectively. If it lacks the skills or capacity, then all the hard work will amount to little.

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? 

My advice to UK education is to think about how we fundamentally change the way we teach and learn. I’m excited about the possibilities of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and systems which bring learning at home and school closer together. Security investments are also key. We face severe threats in the future that could disrupt schools and children in a substantial way, and it requires a continuing focus. Finally, we need to invest in the capacity to support change. There is no point spending money if it’s not used. Schools need help and support to make the transition.

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? 

My view is that schools can achieve more with less. Bodies that aggregate procurement will achieve better pricing through economies of scale than purchasing individually. This will generate savings. Secondly, technology partners should be accountable for delivering more for less to schools, which means they avoid spending more money or can make internal savings. Finally, there are a lot of organisations out there who are keen to donate time and effort to help schools, so tapping into this also helps. 

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