I hear many stories of how Digital Brain, Fronter, MS Class Server etc have been introduced into schools by the LEA or RBC, then after some initial training, left to rot.
Why is this? A lot of thought, and money, has gone into making these systems suitable for school use. Surely they can’t be that useless?
Dig a bit further, and we find the stories fall into two groups:
- “I’ve been told this thing is great but I’ve not seen any real evidence. I’m too busy/not inclined to explore it so I ignore it, other than to resent the expense.”
- “I’ve been championing elearning within the school for years but in my opinion system X, Y or Z is much better-suited to my needs. I resent both the expense and the fact that my hard work has gone unrecognised.”
These stories were in my mind when I was reading An Adoption Strategy for Social Software in the Enterprise by Suw Chapman yesterday. She’s using blogs and wikis as examples, and her ‘enterprise’ looks more like a corporation than a school or LEA, but the lessons are the same.
If you don’t feel like reading the article, she’s essentially saying that imposing technology from above is a hiding to nowhere. Rather, you start by working with the existing enthusiasts (who are often quite low level in the organisation) and work outwards.
In my examples above, person (2) is the enthusiast. Being present in the school, he or she will eventually win round person (1), but only after having first personally committed to the new system. Gaining that commitment doesn’t happen overnight. You have to demonstrate consistently that they system will deliver results and that the support will be there (and typically that it will be there late into the evening).
It’s difficult for traditional VLEs to do that, because they are bought and paid for, typically, by LEAs or RBCs. The decision is made by a committee who will never actually have to teach with the chosen system, and who are applying highly abstracted criteria.
To sell to them, the VLE vendors must field expensive sales forces. Once they have those guys on salary, they must chase the high-value RBC/LEA sales in order to pay them. It’s a vicious circle that leads to bad outcomes.
I am more persuaded than ever that our approach with Yacapaca of “sell to the teachers first” may be slower, but will produce a better result in the end. The early adopters become enthusiasts, and enthusiasts become champions. Usage spreads organically within the school. It’s true we don’t make much money, but 15 years of selling books has convinced me that giving solid value is both right livelihood and better business in the long run.