Why a digital strategy has to be a teacher's responsibility
Rachel Matthews, Director of International Communications at Canvas, looks at the results of their Driving Digital Strategy campaign
Posted by Lucinda Reid | April 06, 2018 | Technology
canvas, digital-strategy, procurement, training

Our work with schools across the UK has highlighted the need for more coherent guidance when it comes to buying and implementing technology. But, at present there is no digital strategy laid out by the government for education.

Last summer, as part of Canvas’ Driving Digital Strategy campaign, we spoke to educators, thought leaders and policy makers - and they all, without exception, asserted the urgent need for help and guidance from government to make sure that tech really delivers for their teachers, learners and schools.

We were expecting progress at Bett in January, but the announcement we anticipated, unveiling an impending digital strategy from government, didn’t arrive. So, in the absence of any developments from the Department for Education, we want to take steps to gather this guidance for schools ourselves.

Our report detailed the biggest barriers to successful tech adoption in education - and we believe that it’s now down to us, and to teachers themselves, to work together to share ideas and help each other to navigate the sometimes confusing world of education technology.


The first issue that many teachers cited as a barrier to edtech adoption is procurement. Many of the testimonials we see from schools and colleges are that the procurement process is muddled, inefficient and even frightening. Purchasing is difficult to achieve, and we believe that streamlining this process is key to ensuring investment in technology is maintained.

For many, this is an area where UK government can take lessons from other territories, and indeed other areas of education. In Scotland, the Advanced Procurement for Universities and Colleges (APUC) combines a balance of technical and commercial award criteria and means that institutions are able to choose the technology which best fits their needs, from a roster of rigorously vetted suppliers.

But even without government intervention, schools can take steps to improve the way the buy tech, For us, technology is bought, but not used by institutions when a ‘top down’ approach has been applied – when tech is not selected by the staff who will be using equipment or programmes, but by governors or managers. Put simply, a more democratic approach to procurement is required to ensure adoption.

Many of our customers tell us that when they bought Canvas, students, lecturers, IT staff and managers were all called upon to evaluate the shortlisted providers - and help pick the final product. Importantly the most successful implementations have been led by teaching staff, not by an IT department removed from pedagogy - with firm objectives to enhance teaching and learning. Simply put, procurement must empower teachers and learners to be involved in choosing the tech they’ll ultimately use.


Closely related to procurement is the requirement for educators to be properly trained in using technology to the fullest extent. In November last year, our education customers reported that almost four in 10 (38 per cent) believe their school isn’t providing sufficient training to either teachers or students in how to employ mobile and other technology in the classroom.

Ensuring that educators are adequately trained in using technology in the classroom must be a big focus for schools - and we believe that some of the inertia we see in edtech adoption is from a fear of the unknown. But, when schools don’t have resources to invest in training in silo, they need to work together to share experiences. Our own Canvas Network allows teachers to come together to discuss best practices and  learn from each other - and we’d welcome many more forums like this.

So, there is clearly huge benefit to teachers collaborating to fill some of the gaps, in the absence of a more coherent government strategy. But our work with teachers and education leaders across the UK has highlighted the need for more coherent guidance when it comes to buying and implementing technology. We know that that tech only delivers on its potential when it is purchased to fulfil concrete objectives, and when it's chosen by a knowledgeable and considered procurement team. And, to choose the right technology, from a raft of options and vendors, outside help is often needed.

At present there is no digital strategy laid out by the government for education. Although there are a number of publications that refer to the role that technology can play in education, these documents together do not form a cohesive plan. And our customers tell us that they need help and guidance from Government to make sure that tech really delivers for their teachers, learners and schools.

During June and July last year, we embarked a nationwide series of consultations with schools - aimed at gaining a grassroots perspective on the challenges of implementing the right tools for digital learning in classrooms. Industry heavyweights such as the Department of Education Reform and FutureGov were also called upon for insight and guidance.

The result of these in-depth, country-wide, consultations is an instructive report, providing concrete guidance to government representatives and educators. The report highlights five key areas where government guidance is required for a  successful digital strategy in schools:

Simplifying a currently prohibitive procurement process

Improving access to training on technology use

Support for dealing with legacy equipment and services

A requirement for technology provision in the Ofsted framework

Reevaluate the way that progress in education is measured

However, our teacher consultations warned that grassroots change must be a catalyst for improving the way tech is used in the classroom, with government supporting this and offering a framework rather than dictating how schools should use technology.

It also showed the need to look to other countries for inspiration. While the UK as a whole lacks cohesion, Scotland has a clearer strategy. Scotland’s digital strategy offers instruction on developing educators’ skills and confidence in using technology - and helps ensure that that digital technology is central to curricula. Other territories like the Nordics benefit from a framework approach to procurement, which helps to remove the barriers for institutions implementing procuring education technology.

For more information on our Driving Digital Strategy initiative, please visit our website.