Procuring a Learning Platform

Written by admin

Topics: E-Learning, Education

Having procured a number of E-Learning solutions – a LA, schools and more recently a 14-19 partnership. I thought I would try and share with you some of my thoughts on the procurement process – some of the pitfalls that I have encountered along the way as well as what I hope, are some some useful guidelines to help this process run smoothly and for the good of the organisation.

Procurement is something that cannot just be triggered by a need within a school or learning partnership/LA. It has far deeper roots that creates a need for very careful strategic and succession planning. One of the biggest problems I have hit during procurement processes is that many staff are not fully aware of the (a) E-Learning agenda (b) technical vocabulary (c) Innovative use of ICT to support work in the classroom. When this is evident procurement becomes very difficult as staff are not in the driving seat, not in an informed position to make decisions based on an evaluation of the marketplace against a requirements specification. As a result there are a few pre-conditions that a school must create before they initiate any procurement process. At Costello we tackled these issues in a number of ways. We ran staff training sessions – one that was compulsory which was a really inspirational and visionary session on the future of E-Learning in education and this helped to establish a collective vision between the staff, at all levels, as to where the college wanted to go.

The other session was an opt in twilight session that really ended up as a process of natural selection. Those that attended were keen to show a commitment to driving forward the E-Learning agenda and as a result this group of staff become my targeted group of staff to get involved in a more hand on way in our procurement process. Of course, whilst all of this was taking place we had already our E-Learning school improvement group working hard on defining our vision for E-Learning, along with our requirements specification. It was this work that was presented and showcased at our initial INSET session.
E-Learning is all about a cultural shift within the school, realigning expectations and shaping what teaching and learning in the 21st century may look like. A variety of leadership styles need to come together to fuse a strong, collaborative working partnership. Any procurement process needs to embody this sentiment by ensuring that all stakeholders are represented, that at all levels people’s ideas and opinions help shape the processes that will eventually decide on a product being brought into the school.

Procurement processes do vary from one LA authority to another – so my initial advice is to make contact with them asap and get the procurement guidelines and read them thoroughly. Doing so will ensure that you do not fall foul of any timescales or protocols that you have to follow – these are often dependant on the capital outlay of the project.

Procurement can be a lengthy process and the school needs to set aside adequate time – maybe 3 months. At Costello I made sure that I put the procurement process in at the beginning of a new financial year – so that the decision would be ratified by the end of the academic year so that all development work and implementation can be put in place over the 6 week long summer period. Again, this will depend to some extent on the provider that you elect to go with. The difference in time needed between a solution that is a generic off the shelf product and a bespoke solution can vary considerably – with some providers needing upto 10-12 weeks to take design work from conception to implementation.
Costello Process For Procurement
  • Formalise requirements specification (involvement by teachers, students, parents, governors)
  • Identify those stakeholders involved in procurement process and brief
  • Used Learning Platform group to investigate marketplace – talk to providers and use specification as initial rubric
  • Post advert in appropriate press to invite companies to tender
  • Based on responses to tender initial shortlist created using requirements specification
  • Invites to shortlisted providers to attend procurement day
  • Procurement day (all 3 providers) – presentations to various stakeholder groups (SLT, teachers, parents, students, governors) followed by live product demonstrations where stakeholders could ask questions and use this time to formulate own views on products – completion of evaluation forms for each provider
  • Data from feedback and evaluations aggregated and analysed.
  • Discussion of results by SLT – initial strategic decision made
  • Ratification of decision by governing body
  • Contact all providers with outcome
Requirements Specification

I cannot begin to say how important this is, (a) to shape the schools vision but (b) to satisfy procurement regulations. The Becta site has a good starting point with the functional and technical specifications but this should be the basis and start of open talks and discussion within the school to identify what is important – not just now, but also in the future.

Procurement Day

When procuring the learning platform solution for Costello it was really important to put together a high profile procurement process. As a school it was very important for us to embrace as many of our stakeholders in the process as possible.

The procurement day was set up so that all providers presented a formal presentation to SLT, Governors, parents, members of the Learning Platform Group (representing teaching staff). The providers did not see each others presentations, each was given a 30 minutes slot with time for questions at the end. After this all the providers were based in an IT suite and had 5 machines each to showcase their product to the groups. Each group had an hour at the procurement event, running on a 20 minute rotation around the providers asking lots of pertinent questions. In fact the providers were put under the most pressure by the very insightful and probing questions asked by our students – they did us proud! The groups that went around were 1. Learning platform group 2. Governors/Parents 3. Students. The event ran for the whole day – with all members of the teaching staff being invited during lunchtime and in the afternoon should they be free.
Each person involved has a series of evaluation sheets (1 for each provider) that we had designed in house to collect the feedback – ensuring that it was being driven by teaching and learning. Some of this was based on quantitative returns, other more qualitative. Some questions were asked to rank elements such as usability etc… others weere very much more opended to capture peoples opinions and views. It is so important to involve the students -after all they are going to be the main consumer of the product and should be involved from the outset. We used representatives from our student voice to be involved – not just at the procurement stage but at all stages we have been through so far – this is an approach we will continue to follow in the future.

 

Calculating TCO

 

Calculating the total cost of ownership is important, in the current marketplace you have to be very careful when trying to compare costings of different providers as there are so many permutations on how these can be derived. In the UK sector at the moment there are two main costing models that providers seem to be using. Those that charge a one off set up fee plus lots of yearly subscription fees (cost per learner (maybe even teacher/parent), maintenance costs, MIS extractor, updates – the list goes on and those with an upfront capital cost for the implementation (often locally hosted solutions as you are buying a server) along with a year support/maintenance contract. At Costello I made sure that for those providers we shortlisted I calculated the total cost of ownership over a four year period. This was a very interesting activity to follow through and the results did surprise us. What appeared to be the most expensive solution at first glance was not (this was a locally hosted solution).

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