Mullah Nasrudin was in a village he was visiting for the first time. He rushed into a shop, and demanded of the shopkeeper:
“Have you ever seen me before?”
“No!” answered the owner.
“Well then,” asked Nasrudun. “How do you know it’s me?”
You might think that an ancient Persian folk hero would have little to say a 21st century citizen, but I think you’d be wrong.When the world is at your fingertips in terms of access to information, how do you know what – and whom – to trust? Specifically, whom can you trust when it comes to ICT-related services or products? This was the question I was asked when I gave a talk recently on the subject of how to determine what educational technology to purchase. The question is especially acute in the UK, where we no longer have the benefit of Becta, an organisation which undertook research and made recommendations, without standing to gain commercially from doing so.
I’ve thought about this, and I have to say that most of my answer has nothing to do with technology at all, or even education for that matter. It’s far more prosaic than that. I based my conclusions mainly on the steps I take when choosing someone to advise of damage to the roof, or undertaking other work around the house. I think the same sort of advice applies when seeking an ICT supplier – by which I mean a provider of services, such as a consultant, as well as products. So, here are my seven suggestions:
The first thing I do when I need a plumber is ask my neighbours and friends for a recommendation. They’re not going to deliberately give me poor advice because they still have to see me again! Some of the people we get to do various jobs rely solely on recommendation for new work, which is a recommendation in itself.
In the context of ICT, you can ask colleagues you know from other schools, or on social networks like Twitter.
Another key factor to take into account is how long the person or company has been on the scene. This is a difficult one these days, because so many people have set up on their own having been ‘let go’ by their employers. It may look like they have been in business only a month or two, but they may have been giving advice for years.
If they have a website, try to find out more about what they have been doing, and for how long.
By their friends ye shall know them
Check out their client list, if they publish one. Otherwise, if they have a website, see who links to them. You can do this by searching Google for:
Also search for them in Google and other search engines, to see where they are mentioned, and what people are saying.
Drop them an email or phone the. How long does it take them to respond? Is their tone friendly but professional?
How much do they charge?
It’s a good idea to ask around for quotes, even if it’s a relatively small amount of money involved, because it will give you an idea of the range and average. If someone is too cheap compared with most of the others, you may wish to be cautious. I always take the view that if something seems too good to be true then it probably is.
What are they talking about and what are they saying?
If they write articles, eg on a blog, what sort of things do they wright about, and what do they say? Does it sound reasonable, or do you find yourself completely disagreeing with their ‘world view’?
What’s your gut feeling?
I think intuition, ‘gut feeling, is important. Malcolm Gladwell based a whole book on it (Blink)!
I realise that all of these could apply to any product or service – but that, I think, is the point. There is nothing so special about educational technology that you need to suspend all your normal ways of working out which suppliers are right for you.