The Complicated Relationship Between Schools and Software Vendors

The Necessity of School Software

Software is no longer a privilege or a nice-to-have, it is a necessity for a functioning school – with student data, learning data, and the myriad of other details that entail running a school, and supporting the education of the school’s students.

At this point in time, the question isn’t whether technology is necessary, it’s what kind of platforms are creating the innovations schools are looking for? More often today, online learning programs, personalized learning programs, adaptive learning, and other transformative technologies have become useful and coveted in the classroom. Aside from the more exciting software to come into the market, schools use student information systems, and other data heavy tools to effectively function.

The (Somewhat Unfortunate) Necessity of School Software Vendors

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This may be the sentiment teachers and administrators have when it comes to the tools they use in the classroom.  They work within the confines of the software that their school district has chosen, in many cases. They may not be singing the praises of these tools, because the reality is they are often difficult to use, clunky, and challenging to extract data from.

Why is this so often the case? Unfortunately, most vendors are focused on creating their own trademarked product, and not acknowledging that their product lives within an ecosystem of other products, software platforms, and applications. How can developers address a teacher’s need for their programs to “talk” to one another? Creating better application programming interfaces (API’s) can help with that, but it will also take a focused perspective from software vendors on solving school problems, instead of only selling a product.

In terms of ease of use when collecting a ton of data, some programs create unnecessary boundaries to access that frustrates the users. There are only a few big-name brands that seem to be the most popular, oftentimes making them “gatekeepers” to the data they store. Google Apps for Education is certainly shaking up the industry though, allowing integration with many platforms and products.

Here are some tips for software vendors to improve their relationship with schools.

Remember That the Data Your Product Stores or Creates Belongs to the Users

Software developers take note, if your product allows for the input and creation of lots of data, make that data easily accessible, without the hurdles that teachers have unfortunately come to expect from some platforms.

Furthermore, products and platforms that help schools access and organize their data are in high demand.

A new idea of “data standards” are also becoming a reality, where if those standards are met, other programs may access, view, and utilize that data. Ed-Fi is a good example of this modernization. Why not live in an ecosystem, instead of attempting to create a fortress around your product?

Remember that Integration is Key

Schools don’t want to have to piece together different components of different platforms. But, that is unfortunately the outcome of using many different programs that address a variety of needs and learning goals that do not integrate together. It would be great if the results from an online learning program that teaches math, for example, were accessible in the same interface as the courses offered through a school’s learning management system.

If a unifying product came into the market that could upload or transfer different assessment components from different apps, into one place, teachers would be jumping for joy. Perhaps, simply enabling easier-to-download results in PDF format, and then allowing those documents to be easily uploaded to a schools platform of choice, would be a good start.

How to Establish Trust with Those Schools You Intend to Do Business With

Ed Surge investigated the question of what makes a particular product or company more “trustworthy” than others. This was a major question they explored at the EdTech Efficacy Academic Research Symposium in May of 2017. The most common factors, according to their research, included the “company’s capacity to deliver high quality products at scale, track record, product road-map, financial stability, and quality of partner relationships.”

Moreover, a number of interviewees were dubious about the reliability of vendor-provided information, research, and publications. They argued that vendors sell products instead of useful workflow, or an idea, and ignore or don’t fully appreciate real pedagogical needs. It’s important to remember the needs of your target audience.

Aim for mutually beneficial relationships with schools and customers as “partners,” rather than simply offering a product. Why not find a way to allow your customers to use the product in the manner they prefer, and in return utilize their data to create great original documentation or research?

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