"Since the introduction of the internet to schools in the 1990s, classroom technology has changed drastically."
I am very excited to see everything on offer from the edtech sector at Bett Futures this year. Since the introduction of the internet to schools in the 1990s, classroom technology has changed drastically and continues to evolve today. There are a number of possibilities for the next trend in classroom innovation: perhaps we’ll see an acceleration in the use of robotics, in virtual reality, or maybe the introduction of haptic technologies to create multimodal experiences in learning?
Amid the enthusiasm of all the new developments this year, however, there are some key issues that must first be addressed in order for schools to implement technology effectively; whether the goal is to make administration easier and more intuitive, or to help teachers in developing truly innovative, modern and relevant teaching practices.
The most important consideration is that of connectivity and infrastructure. Many schools are still facing challenges with their broadband provision, especially in more isolated areas. In fact, BESA’s 2015 Tablets and Connectivity report revealed that only 53 per cent of UK primary schools had adequate broadband capability, further claiming that teachers continued to expect slow progress towards improved connectivity.
The technical requirements of new investments mean that a complete review of the school’s infrastructure as a whole is needed, as any weak points in the central servers or routers could leave large parts of the school’s investment in new technology unused. For example, we have recently seen a huge uptake in iPads and other tablets in classrooms, often being used for research work and online activities. As such, these devices rely upon a secure and capable wireless connection in order to work effectively - unfortunately, these are often not in place!
Another thing that schools should always consider as part of any new investment is making sure that teachers are properly equipped with the skills to use them. When dealing with suppliers, making sure that continuous professional development (CPD) is included as part of the package and that it is of an assured quality is vital. Without this, less confident teachers may struggle to make proper use of the technology or avoid using it altogether. There is also a risk that, without a full understanding of what can be achieved, teachers may simply use technology as a replacement for perfectly functional learning techniques already in place within the classroom (eg reading books on tablets when physical copies are available). There are some fantastic examples of where teachers are using technology innovatively and effectively, but these cases are, even now, in the minority and there is so much more that can be done to support less confident teachers in extending their practices.
Today, there is an understanding that technology is important in schools and that students have an entitlement to digital learning. The figure of 300,000 jobs to be available in the technology industry is widely quoted, and these roles require a great deal more technical knowledge than has been expected until now. This means that ensuring pupils know how to use technology efficiently is absolutely essential. It also provides the opportunity for schools to offer a number of alternative courses that are relevant to young people as employees, rather than just because the qualification is "part of the EBACC" or because the range offered "suits the school".
"Ensuring that CPD is included as part of the package is vital."
There are a number of tools that teachers can use in the classroom to enhance the learning experience, such as interactive activities and having work stored on a central network so that it can be accessed and worked on collaboratively. This doesn’t necessarily require 1:1 tablet provision, but teachers need to know what will be needed for their students to achieve their learning goals. Students must learn to search independently for information online, be discerning in assessing the value of data and the veracity of sources and then quickly follow information across the web. This form of active enquiry develops cognitive process and deepens learning far more than just through passively absorbing facts from a restricted range of textbooks.
Schools need to acknowledge the pressure from society to adopt new technologies, but until they have put effective foundations in place, any investment into exciting additions for the classroom will run the risk of "disappearing between our fingers".
When looking to invest in any new resource, it’s important to develop a need-cost-benefit model for evaluating potential solutions. Firstly, what are your goals and priorities? Are you hoping to save time on administration through more efficient data management, or are you looking for ways to increase engagement in the classroom? Once you’ve established a clear plan of action, you can evaluate the features of products against your list of criteria. During this process, it’s important to ask questions of your potential suppliers. Will they perform the installation and help in inspecting the school’s infrastructure? What training is available and is there ongoing support? These questions will ensure that you are receiving value for money and that the product corresponds with your school’s priorities.
So as you’re enjoying the buzzing atmosphere at Bett and exploring all the ways in which you can improve your students’ learning experience, be sure to think about what these investments will mean for your school. There are opportunities for us to use technology in education in ways we never have before, but we must look back and address these long-standing problems of infrastructure, environment and staff development if we are to truly move education forward into the digital age.
How do you handle edtech in your school? Let us know below.