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Elementary technology icon (cut off)A white elementary technology icon that's been cut off
Elementary technology icon (cut off)A white elementary technology icon that's been cut off
Elementary technology icon (cut off)A white elementary technology icon that's been cut off

EdTech planning and digital strategy is a balance between understanding where your school has been, where you are now and what your aspirations will be in the future.

Many schools I work with don’t quite get this balance right, and make decisions based on where they were five years ago, rather than where they need to be now, or even better, where they need to be in three to five years’ time.

Take the school I spoke to recently who were exploring upgrading their interactive whiteboards.

A dim projector, with the blinds closed, from a pupil perspective
A dim projector, with the blinds closed, from a pupil perspective

Teachers needed to use their old resources, they explained, in spite of them being in obsolete format stored on the local PC rather than the latest format in the cloud. These lessons were also not designed with pupil devices in mind, so their use means both teachers and pupils would miss out – self-paced learning, formative assessment, storing and sharing and so on.

The new whiteboards also needed to have VGA ports as some teachers’ laptops had VGA, they advised. VGA is already long-obsolete though, superseded by HDMI and more recently, USB-C.

So by shackling new technology to old, in five years’ time, their new whiteboards would be at least ten years out of date.

Long term investment

A large part of why schools don’t buy with a long-term strategy is because they see purchasing technology as gobbling up two of their most valuable commodities; time and money. It’s often quick and cheap to buy what’s worked in the past.

We’ll all still be here in 2026 or 2028 though, and it’s on this timeline that costs, savings and benefits should be measured.

The value of longevity is core to this - will my technology stand the test of time in terms of compatibility, cyber-security, physical durability and warranty? What will be current in 2026 and therefore what do I need to consider now?

Cyber security

One example of this; most whiteboards now include an on-board PC, usually one with an Android operating system. This allows teachers to use it as a standalone device without plugging it into a laptop for things like browsing the web, using apps and sharing the screen of a pupil device.

#AI prompt: an interactive whiteboard in a classroom with a blue holographic overlay of a cybersecurity padlock
#AI prompt: an interactive whiteboard in a classroom with a blue holographic overlay of a cybersecurity padlock

Doing so means it’s connected to WiFi, and connecting to WiFi with an obsolete version of Android, which in turn is connected to the school network, is a cybersecurity vulnerability.

The Android PC on some whiteboards is upgradeable – some automatically and others manually. Others are not upgradeable, meaning what you buy now is what you have in 5 years’ time. You can quickly see the problem.

Choosing a printer, investing in CCTV, buying a new server, renewing some software, buying a replacement screen for reception signage and many others have the same pitfall - buying based on criteria from the past.

Sustainability issues

This legacy mindset, rather than opportunity mindset, can also distract from the need for sustainability - more essential than ever with technology. How can choices we make now reduce the environmental impact we will have in future?

This is important for all schools, not least due to the requirement to produce a Climate Action Plan by 2025.

The Department for Education explains that this will be ‘a detailed plan to enable your education setting, or trust, to progress or commence sustainability initiatives’.

A written policy which considers biodiversity, pupil and staff understanding, carbon emissions and lots more will be needed, overseen by your school’s designated sustainability lead.

Reducing energy use will be an essential part of this plan (whilst also reducing your energy costs), and so energy consumption of your new technology is an essential consideration.

This is particularly true for the school above considering whiteboards across twenty-five classrooms, each switched on for 30 hours per week across forty weeks of the year over their life-span of five years or more.

Stretching the life of an old asset might appear cost effective, but hidden long-term realities mean it can be anything but.

Reap the rewards

Understanding all this is not as easy as it sounds – the school cited at the start will be one of many who do not consider the long term picture when addressing their technology.

Unconscious ignorance, where we don’t know what we don’t know, is a big thing here. How is a busy school to know what the future holds with technology? The past is easy criteria to base a decision on – we’ve all been there!

#AI prompt: a confused headteacher in their school office surrounded by different types opf technology
#AI prompt: a confused headteacher in their school office surrounded by different types opf technology

Longevity, long term value and understanding what the future holds are essential considerations though. Schools need to think long and hard when making any buying decisions in this area, and if they’re not sure, they should ask challenging questions of their suppliers.

Seek advice, speak to peers, look for evidence of success and so on.

Ultimately, the key is to avoid investing time and money in what’s no longer current. Instead, invest in technology for the future of your school.

A white elementary technology icon that's been cut off


Date: 15th August 2023

Written by Ed Fairfield

Commercial Director, Elementary Technology
Vice Chair of Naace – the EdTech Association - a charity supporting schools on effective use of technology

Email: e.fairfield@elementaryuk.com

Twitter: @mreddtech

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