Innovation is great – but in edtech you need to understand schools and create partnerships to really make a difference

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It was great when we learned that ONVU Learning had been shortlisted for the BETT Award for Innovation for 2019, one of those confirmation moments that makes you feel that you have been working in the right way with schools.

Yes we have innovated a considerable amount in the development of Lessonvu technology but our real innovation was to take technology and expertise and apply them to solve the real problems that our partner schools are facing. And that’s a huge lesson for anyone working in education technology – it’s not a sector that will go for the latest ‘fad’ or spend money to see if something works and write it off if it fails; especially in the tightened budgets that we are all facing.

So how do you do this?

The first key element in education technology innovation is to really understand schools, school leaders, teachers and teacher trainers. At ONVU Learning we spend a lot of time in schools, supporting conferences such as ResearchED, and at networking events where we can find out the real pressures on schools and where the latest research is driving schools. This means that we’ve been able to talk to schools and universities about how our solutions can help them cope with the forthcoming Early Careers Framework, retain staff to help mitigate the ongoing teacher recruitment crisis and carry out practical research to improve exam performance.

Secondly, it’s vital to find a few schools to work with first that recognise that they have a specific problem and can see how your solution might help. We started down this path four years ago with one camera recording lessons in one school. A school that trusted us to record lessons, trusted their teachers to review and share footage that might not show them at their best but would help them improve over time and a school that was also open to sharing with us how they would improve the process. We’ve been able to work with this feedback and change what we do – for example focusing on making it easier to find key parts of a lesson and speed up sharing.

And thirdly, we’ve been able to find and share improvements within schools and wider using the language of teaching. Teachers and school leaders aren’t interested in technical IT language (some IT staff may be, but they are probably not the key decision-makers!) – to buy into new technology they need to see that it has made a difference to people and schools like them. So, we’ve asked more questions and done more research to identify improvements in classroom behaviour, better test results and more engaged teachers – and shared them widely.

The results of these three actions? As well as being shortlisted for prestigious awards, we’re getting enquiries from schools around the world and we’re being treated as equals, not as pushy salespeople, by senior staff who recognise that we have some real value to share that could potentially benefit their schools and students.