edtech product performance

[Guest Blog] How does your product really perform?

Author: Terry Freedman

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


Companies sometimes have reference sites, which can be very useful for other potential customers. Indeed, I always recommend that when a school is shopping around for a particular kind of product that they ask companies for examples of schools using their products.

However, there is a bit of a catch. If a company has provided a school with a wonderful deal, or possibly even supplied the product free of charge, with lots of training and optional extras thrown in, it would be rather surprising if the recipient of this largesse did not recommend the product. So, while the school makes a great reference site – because they are demonstrating what the product is capable of in ideal circumstances – it’s not necessarily going to generate word-of-mouth.

I’ve always thought that putting a product into a school with loads of money and training thrown in doesn’t really show how well the product would perform in more usual circumstances. As a Head of Department, it seemed to be an invalid test, and didn’t impress me much.

That’s because I did most of my teaching in deprived areas, in schools whose buildings were decades old, and therefore not designed with technology in mind. In some schools, even storage space was at a premium. Put simply, installing a new ed tech product or service could be quite challenging.

Just to take one example, as a new Head of Department I discovered the reason that no teachers ever took their classes into the computer rooms. It was because the network kept breaking down, unpredictably. The cause turned out to be a broken cable behind one of the walls. I found out by employing a technical support service because the school had no IT technical support.

Now that’s exactly the kind of school I wanted to see as a reference site when looking to buy new technology goods or services. A real school, with limited resources and where things go wrong! There’s even a term for what I’m talking about: ecological validity. Ecological validity is summed up in this question: is this school reference site similar to the school I work in? That is, a similar type of area, similar sorts of kids, and so on. 

Obviously, you can’t advertise for really bad schools to demonstrate your product, or pen marketing copy that includes sentences like “Even works in school X”! What it does mean, I think, is that you need a wide range of reference sites, and to put them into a searchable list on your website. Make it easy for potential buyers to filter the list by various criteria, like the number on roll and percentage of free school meals. If a subject leader or senior leadership team can see your product working in a school like their own, they are probably going to have more confidence in it.

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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