Any respite from COVID-19 is still at least 6-8 months away. School leaders understand that schools will not reopen and life will not be normal until a successful vaccine is widely available. And therefore, many school leaders have been quick to adapt and get their school running online. Teachers are teaching from home and students are learning from home with technology enabled learning.
But many school leaders are still left scratching their heads about which technology to adopt and which app to select. The question on everyone’s minds is, “How to select an app to get my school online?”
Worry not! Here are eight tips to help school leaders figure out how to select an app for their school.
1. More features does not mean better
Often apps boast of many-many features which may seem like a good idea at first, but most schools end up using only 4 to 5 features and never actually use the rest. What usually happens is that the user-interface is so complex and difficult to use, that after the initial enthusiasm, users tend to use only the most essential features and forget the rest. Also, many of the features are there just for the heck of using technology or automating, but don’t actually solve any real problems of the school.
2. Define Your Needs
Most school leaders are already experts at the day-to-day school processes. Using technology to automate them just for the heck of it may be counter-productive. Thus, school leaders need to clearly define their needs and what are the most burning problem(s) they want to solve using technology or an app. The most common app types available in the world are:
- School management software (also known as School ERPs) - they primarily help the school to automate many day-to-day processes. But be mindful of the usefulness of the features they offer, especially during Covid times.
- Learning Management Systems (LMS) - they primarily offer a content management and student learning system and may or may not offer content like videos or lesson plans.
- Parent-School Connect Platform (PCP) - they are designed to create a high-level connection with parents and engage them for parent delight and positive word of mouth. They often include LMS features as well.
- Fee Collection Apps - they enable school to collect fee online
Often apps will fall under one of the above categories or be a blend of two or more categories.
3. User-interface (UI) and user-experience (UX) is what breaks or makes an app
Many similar apps to Facebook and WhatsApp came before and after the same, but what made these apps more successful was the ease of use and attractiveness of the user-interface and the high-quality user-experience. How the buttons are spaced, what colors and fonts are used, how does the user interact with the menus and buttons, how easy it is to complete a task, etc. All such things are an important aspect of good user-interface and a good user-experience.
When selecting an app, it may be better to go for a nicer user-interface, even if it has lesser features. Remember you have to make your teachers and parents adopt this app and use it on a regular basis, many of whom will not be so tech-friendly. The best apps always prioritize user-interface (UI) and user-experience (UX) over everything else.
4. Do not fall into the trap of price vs features
As discussed before, more features do not mean better. Similarly, more features do not mean more expensive, and the vice versa, fewer features does not mean the app should be cheap. What matters most is how well the app is solving the school’s problem(s).
It is better to ask the questions: If the problem is not solved what is the potential loss to the school? If the problems are solved, what are the benefits to the school? Such questions are a better approach to evaluating the pricing of an app, rather than counting features.
Sometimes the benefits to the school may be non-monetary, yet still far outweigh any costs incurred; benefits like increase in school reputation, parent delight or teacher motivation.
5. Always ask for a free trial
Always ask for a trial, before you spend a single Rupee. All good app companies are happy to give free-trials of 1 to 3 months. It easily takes 1 to 3 months to understand an app, establish it and have the best possible use. The trial may be school-wide, or just 1 or 2 class levels.
6. Who are the designers of the app
This is an important question to ask, because you should know if the app is being developed and designed by a software company or if there is an educationist, with the relevant experience, at the helm. Nothing could be better than a school leader, who is currently actively working with a school, to be part of the app design team. Nobody can understand the problems of a school better than a school leader.
A second question to investigate is, how is the design team actively seeking feedback on their app, and how quickly are they responding to the feedback.
7. Fee collection apps
Often fee collection is understood to be just bank transactions facilitated by a payment gateway offered by the bank. But school leaders know that the real work is not the transaction per se, but the conciliation of all fee received, the status of outstanding fee, and most importantly, quickly generating a pending fee list. Often the school accounts team spends painstaking hours to generate a pending-fee list, but by the time it is generated, it is already obsolete.
School leaders must investigate the capabilities of fee management software. How easy is it for the parent to make the fee payment? How easy is it for school leaders to track fee payments? How easy is it to generate various reports? How easy is it to generate a pending fee list? Does the app send automated reminders to parents for fee payment?
8. Some basic technology elements to check
School leaders may not understand the internal workings of an app, but can surely check a few technical aspects. For starters is it a cloud-based app? Gone are the days when a school needed to set up its own server.
The second question to investigate is if the app is mobile-first or web-first; that is, was the app created for smartphone usage from the group-up and is optimized for the same, since most of your users will be smartphone users. Or was the app originally created for the web (laptop, desktop) usage and later extended for mobile use, which may or may not be optimized for the best smartphone app experience.
The third thing to check is whether the app is made for both iOS and Android smartphones.
Every school has its own set of needs and problems to solve and thus must select the best app suited to them. Rest assured there is a perfectly suited app out there for each school. School leaders just need to make the efforts and a few trials to find and settle with the app best suited for them.
Best wishes on your app journey!
An educationist for the last 15 years, is at the helm of his family owned K12 school, Modern school at Lucknow - an IB World School also offering ICSE/ISC. He has also been the Chairman of North India & Nepal Network of IB PYP Schools from 2013 to 2015.
Siddhartha is passionate about communication, brand-building and marketing of schools. LERNIO is his 3-year-old EdTech startup, offering a beautiful smartphone app and services to enable schools to have better communication with parents to drive trust, word of mouth and school growth. LinkedIn