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What can we learn from the past decade of edtech?

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Image credit: Flickr // Maurizio Pesce. Image credit: Flickr // Maurizio Pesce.

We posed this question to a selection of edtech leaders from a wide variety of backgrounds. These people come from a variety of organisations, countries and areas of expertise, taking in fields such as SEN, interactive displays, cybersecurity, computing and small, colourful Danish bricks.

What can we learn from the past decade of edtech?” Here are their responses:

Joslyn Adcock, senior marketing manager at LEGO Education

There has been a big focus on coding and STEM learning over the past few years and, more recently, how this can be applied to real-life examples through the use of hands-on technology in the classroom. Teachers are able to use versatile resources, such as robotics kits and practical tools, to enrich the once ‘challenging to teach’ Computing curriculum. Technology is allowing today’s classrooms to become more than just note-taking and reading from a textbook. And, when it comes to STEM subjects in particular, it’s giving teachers the opportunity to provide pupils with learning opportunities that are truly beneficial and engaging. It’s about helping them to really delve deeper into topics and understand the purpose of what they’re learning, and how it works in real-life practice, which, in turn, helps them to develop mastery over topics.

Naimish Gohil, CEO and founder of Satchel

Technology in schools has come a long way in the last 10 years. However, edtech still remains a relatively new concept, so during this time span there have of course been many a growing pain and lesson learned. The most important of these lessons, I believe, is when a school finally realises that despite technologies offering innovation and impressive results, edtech is not a miracle worker. Simply purchasing a licence or product does not lead to school improvements - teachers need training on the software, upkeep needs to remain consistent and the software has to be solving an issue you want to address in your school - otherwise it’s not going to be effective.

Professor Steve Molyneux, chief executive of Tablet Academy

Having been in the sector for over 30 years as a customer, academic researcher, and supplier, my answer would have to be “Never trust what the product says on the tin, nor what the vendor promises you it will deliver”. Ever since the development of IT-based educational technologies back in the 1970s, we have been promised the dream of technology that will transform teaching and learning, and yet almost 50 years later we are still teaching using the same paradigms and pedagogic models. In essence, we are the only sector of society that has not undergone a 21st century transformation. Reflect on the way you shop, communicate with family and friends, bank, and interact with government - now do the same with the way pupils are taught and you will see what I mean.

Beverley Dean, director of Special iApps

30 years ago, the revolution had only just begun. Eight-out-of-10 schools had a single BBC microcomputer, access to “the school computer” was strictly rationed, and their potential was limited by a lack of computational power. Today, the internet, tablets and smartphones have revolutionised the way children communicate, learn and develop. Young people are natural early-adopters of technology, and forward-thinking teachers are using that to help advance their learning. Schools tell us that the biggest lesson they have learnt in the past 10 years is the adoption of proven, cost-effective technology that actually delivers results.

Sanjesh Sharma, founder of Spongy Elephant and director of New Ways to Learn

The biggest lesson is that the device should never have mattered. All those meetings talking about devices - be those interactive screens, tablets, laptops, computer suites, desktops, headsets and even Chromebooks - shifted the focus and budgets towards shiny bits of kit rather than the amazing things that can be achieved by applying them effectively. It was always going to be the innovative software, apps, and now the huge move towards subscription web services, that led the way towards edtech having a positive and sustainable impact in schools and classrooms. We are beginning to see schools making notable investments in ongoing professional development. We’re seeing good, engaging training as being the differentiator between schools as happy places where technology transforms everything that happens daily, and the ones where teachers and staff feel overwhelmed with technology and merely scratching at the surface.

Uri Tamir, sales director at AXON-School by Neurotech Solutions

10 years ago, awareness for attention difficulties in general - and ADHD in particular - was quite low. All kids were considered to be the same, and were treated in that way by the educational team. In the last 10 years, however, there has been a significant growth in the awareness of attention difficulties. Parents and educational teams are more familiar with the need to understand each and every child, and have much better tools to support those children in need. Such support will help children with both their academic and social barriers. Nowadays, schools have the option to implement technological solutions that will help screen the children and support them in order to reach better grades, reduce the existing gaps between different children in class, reduce the number of dropouts, and create better school environment.

Meir Malinsky, CEO at Unio By Harness

Schools have learnt how to better evaluate learning technology tools over the last 10 years. Consider that many teachers will recall the huge popularity of ‘Brain Gym’ technology and VAK learning tools circa 2008, which were later proved to have no educational merit. There is now greater recognition of a ‘pedagogy-first’ approach to technology, with frameworks such as SAMR and TPACK used to evaluate and integrate educational technologies in a way that best supports student learning. Classroom teachers now have better access to information and resources, such as the Education Endowment Foundation website and research-based impact studies. We also owe a great deal to teacher-led ResearchEd conferences and campaigns, which aim to help classroom practitioners become ‘research literate’ and evaluate the evidence for themselves.

Roy Harris, senior vice president at iboss (EMEIA)

10 years ago most classrooms had at most one computer for everyone to share. Today, schools around the world are managing 1:1 initiatives where every student has a personal device. While these programmes are a great opportunity, schools have learned the hard lesson that they also come with challenges related to cybersecurity and content filtering. It has taken a lot of trial and error for schools to find the right mix of learning enablement and security. The forward-looking schools have deployed comprehensive security solutions that are capable of protecting student devices at school. Schools need to focus on finding advanced content filtering solutions that allow students to access legitimate educational material while blocking illegal or inappropriate content.

Tracey Tomme, executive vice president and CEO of Cosmosphere

The edtech challenge for schools, especially in rural areas starts, is finding funding for cutting-edge technology, and then becomes another issue entirely when it comes to what to do with the technology. Once funding is secured, educators may be afraid to have equipment broken by students, bandwidth may be slow and frustrating, and even finding time for learning a new system and implementing it into the curriculum can be difficult. Too often I have seen schools begging for more and better technology, yet have a storage closet in someone’s room filled with unused equipment, software, and so on. Once educators are able to get comfortable with tech, they wonder how they taught without it.

Gary Spracklen, headteacher at The Prince of Wales School and member of the Education Technology Action Group

Technology in schools should be like electricity: always there. You wouldn't expect to walk into a school and find no electricity in any one of the classrooms. Keeping computers behind closed doors, where every effort is made to make every device the same, does not reflect the world of work now, nor does it represent the future. We live in a device-agnostic world. We should be teaching our learners to be confident across multiple-platforms and promoting a strong BYOD culture.

Stefan Stavrev, CEO of TRI Soft

The most surprising development for me is the use of virtual reality headsets for educational purposes. Nowadays, there are VR learning environments for: safety on the road, language classes, e-sports, collaboration, shared learning environments, etc. Some of them are even designed for kids with special educational needs. It is nice to see how pure entertainment technology, still emerging in the commercial market, has already been integrated in several educational institutions. Still, VR has a long way to go - both for pure entertainment and serious gaming as well.

Tim Clark, UK sales director of Classoos

The pupils are always ahead of the curve, and the teachers are always playing catch up. So sometimes teachers need to be prepared to let the pupils show them how to use it. Schools need to continuously plan to invest, implement, manage, maintain, improve and refresh technology. They cannot hold back the tide. Making use of the technology that the pupils already have is preferable to banning it. Demonstrating this kind of trust can be motivational, and it can enhance learning in a way that many traditional teaching methods do not. Of course, edtech is no replacement for a good teacher, who will always shine. Just remember: e-safety is paramount!

Shaneila Saeed, head of education at Ukie and director of Digital Schoolhouse

We need to help our students see behind the screen, to understand how the technology we use works, especially if we stand a chance of tackling the digital skills gap. We must turn to creative ways of demonstrating the design and mechanics of the technology that learners use in their daily lives - such as video games - and then apply it to the wider world. That’s the next lesson we must learn: showing how Computing skills, such as computational thinking and problem-solving, can lead to cutting-edge careers through stronger connections with industries.

Gareth James, chief of education and strategy at Micro:bit Educational Foundation

I would argue that many schools appear not to have learnt the lessons about tech over the last 10 years. Too often schools don’t consider the life-span versus cost of devices, integrations of new software and hardware into existing networks, the need to access outside sources of information, and so on. The purchasing of hardware and software, as well as the installation of tech infrastructure in schools, is often done without specialist, non-partisan advice to avoid commercial interests over-riding the needs of students and staff.

Carl Sheen, head of training and development at Genee World

Schools have always been innovators, and are willing to embrace new technology. However, after installation teachers have not always found technology to be used to its full ability. Over the last 10 years, schools have learnt that the best technology solutions can only be truly effective when it is accompanied by strong training for all associated parties, teachers, teaching assistants and even students. Technology can be used to help facilitate cross-curricular learning across various subjects and lessons. Nevertheless, adopting this mentality for some teachers can be difficult if they aren’t confident in using the technology themselves, often retreating to what they know best, and therefore limiting their existing knowledge and ability to explore new classroom activities. More recently, schools are beginning to understand the importance in investing in high-quality training in order to teach staff and students alike how to maximise the technology available to them. This will, in turn, ensure that they are getting the best return on investment.

Jesse Lozano, CEO & cofounder of pi-top

First, as the global reliance upon modern technology has grown, so too has the urgent need to bring it into the classroom, enabling practical, experience-based learning. Building on this point, leading education gurus are advocating making learning more collaborative, more personalised and less formal, whilst encouraging the development of soft skills that will be invaluable in later life. Technology will change the classroom further according to UNESCO's 'Future of learning'. We are seeing that subjects can no longer be siloed; STEAM represents the merging of Science, Computing and creativity, allowing students to find something engaging in everything they learn. Critically, we are beginning to understand the need for more constructionist approaches to learning. It’s the future of education, as it will drive engagement and prepare the students of today with the skills needed in this transforming world.

Sam Warnes, founder of EDLounge

I think the biggest lesson from the last 10 years is that ‘the classroom’ doesn’t just have to be a physical space. It can be anywhere if we have the right technology. A decade ago, students who were in inclusion, or couldn’t access mainstream education due to long-term health problems or special educational needs, would be given paper tasks for independent study with very little involvement from the teacher. Now, teachers have been given the tools to reach every child, with technology bringing us virtual classrooms, connecting all students to their learning regardless of their situation and breaking down barriers to the learning.

[Comment courtesy of Mango Marketing]

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