[Guest Blog] 4 ways to enhance your free offer to schools

Author: Terry Freedman

Terry freedman is a freelance ed tech writer and consultant. He blogs at ICT & Computing in Education, and tweets as @terryfreedman.

Many edtech companies have stepped up to the plate in these unprecedented times. Perhaps your company is one of them. That’s wonderful, and certainly very helpful to schools — in the short run. Unfortunately, having a plethora of free services and products can cause a few headaches for schools in the longer term. The reason is quite simple: at some point each school will have to decide which of all the free services are they going to keep, and which ones are they going to ditch? Assuming that you would like your product to be put in the “must keep” category, you’re going to have to provide a little extra. Here are some ideas to consider.

Provide a checklist of questions

When schools are evaluating hardware, software or apps, they will need to ask, and have answered, a few questions. The trouble is, teachers struggling to do the best by their pupils, especially in these strange times, may not have the mental space to think about this sort of thing. But you do. Here are a few sample questions:

  • Is the product “permafree”, that is permanently free of charge?
  • If there is a paid-for option, what are the differences in the functionality of the two versions?
  • What is the cost per pupil of the paid-for product?
  • Schools already have what we might call an “ecosystem”: learning platform or VLE, Windows or Mac, a particular management information system…. Will your product integrate easily with those others?
  • What about technical support? Do you have a guaranteed “fix time”? Quite frankly, a guaranteed response time doesn’t tell us anything useful. It just means that you have a protocol of, say, having an email autoresponder stating that someone will respond at some time. 

Provide a comparison table

A step further from the checklist is a comparison table. Many products which have a free and paid-for version display a table on their website showing the versions along the top, and the features or benefits down the side, with ticks in the appropriate boxes. 

Make sure you include blank slots for the products, so that a teacher can add other companies’ offerings to the table. Also, have extra sloots for the features and benefits, because a teacher may have specific requirements unique to their school.

Provide a dynamic comparison table

This is a souped-up version of the comparison table, in the form of a spreadsheet. If a school is making decisions strategically, it will want to make comparisons using numbers. Therefore, your spreadsheet, instead of having ticks, will have a score — say out of 5. At the bottom of each column, the score will be added up using a SUM() formula. With a dash of conditional formatting, the product with the maximum score can be highlighted.

Alternatively, as that would be a bit like adding apples and pears, have the conditional formatting highlight the maximum value for each feature/benefit.

A spreadsheet like this will not take long to construct, and can be made available either through Google Sheets or provided as an Excel spreadsheet in return for an email address.

You can make it even more functional by duplicating each sheet, so that different users can fill it in. A “front page” which displays the sums of all the scores, complete with conditional formatting, will give the final decision-maker the big picture at a glance.

Create a white paper

Another useful tool for schools would be a “white paper” outlining the steps they should take to evaluate a product and then make a decision about whether or not to adopt it. 

For example, one approach would be for teachers to agree to try different products from each other, and then report back to each other (via a Zoom meeting of course!), or fill in your spreadsheet. Unfortunately, a global pandemic in which teachers and pupils are stuck at home does not make it easy to carry this off smoothly — but it’s not impossible.

But…?

You may be thinking, these ideas are all very well, but they wouldn’t they help your competitors too? Possibly. But the fact remains that so many ed tech companies are giving stuff away at the moment that free is no longer enough. Why shouldn’t your company be one of the few that goes the extra mile?

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Terry Freedman

Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT consultant and writer, having had a long career in Education, including teaching, advising schools and inspecting. He publishes the ICT and Computing in Education website at www.ictineducation.org, and the Digital Education newsletter at www.ictineducation.org/diged. You can follow Terry on Twitter @terryfreedman.

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