SEPTEMBER 2017  by Ji Li, published on Telegraph and Business Reporter

Educational technology has the potential to transform classroom learning and can improve outcomes for young people

Steve Jobs said the computer was like a bicycle for the mind. Can technology be the vehicle for improvement in education? Does edtech really have a positive impact on it? These questions preoccupy leaders in education. With the right training, relevant performance measures and a transformation of classroom culture, technology can begin to drive better education in classrooms.

What is the link between edtech and improved learning?

The process must begin with a clear link between technology and learning goals. Speaking at a British Educational Suppliers Association (Besa) insight event, Bob Harrison, a UK educationist who works with the Department for Education (DfE) and Stanford University, said there was a correlation between how teachers used edtech and learning outcomes.

Mark Chambers, chief executive of Naace, the national edtech association, supported this claim by noting that more than 700 UK schools accredited with Naace ICT Mark and Third Millennium Learning awards have consistently demonstrated that the use of edtech provides a multiplier effect leading to improved outcomes for young people.

According to Mr Chambers, well-managed edtech leads to significant savings for schools in many aspects of resourcing and can markedly improve their systems – including, for example, their communication process with parents, carers and community.

Mr Chambers said: “Naace members report that, where schools continue to invest in their staff and the competent and appropriate use of edtech, significant gains can be achieved across the whole range of activities of the school – but critically in student achievement in English and mathematics.”

How best to measure the impact of edtech?

Perhaps the hardest area to set out clear markers is the measurement of technology’s impact on school success. According to recent Besa research, teachers were the most valued source for measuring the effectiveness of edtech (44pc in primary schools and 36pc in secondary schools).

The research also found there was insufficient information available for schools to assess the efficacy of edtech systems, with only 11pc of primary and 10pc of secondary schools feeling there is “definitely” enough information. The survey was conducted among 454 primary schools and 252 secondary schools.

Caroline Wright, director-general of Besa, said: “Naturally, teachers highly value the recommendations of their colleagues when it comes to deciding what edtech product is best for them. It is only natural, given they have the first-hand experience of what is working in their classrooms.”

She also stressed it was important for schools that the wide range of edtech solutions was fully considered, and information needed to be available to make an evidence-based decision. The initial inquiry would be to check if the edtech provider had signed up to the Besa code of practice, developed in consultation with teachers to ensure quality products were being offered.

Fitting education for students’ futures

When considering the culture change that needs to take hold throughout schools and wider education, John Camp, senior executive headteacher at the Compass Partnership of Schools, said: “It is important that young people grow with a deep understanding of the transformative potential of technology on the way we live but also have an acute understanding of the inherent threats that come with it.

“We should aim to embed digital intelligence into the way we work so that children become informed users and creators.”

Mr Camp felt his newly formed and fast-growing multi-academy trust had an opportunity to shape education for its pupils so that it was fit for their futures. He said: “We are living through an emerging age of connectedness that compresses time as well as distance and also completely democratises access to specialised knowledge and skills.

“We have to begin to know the new age, try to understand it and operate effectively within it.”

Mr Chambers, a former headteacher, added: “To serve the needs of our students for a relevant and empowering 21st-century learning experience, to improve outcomes for young people and to save money for schools, we need to re-evaluate our thinking with respect to edtech and we need to urgently prioritise the professional development of all staff, not just teachers, so that we use it effectively right across our schools.”

The cloud – a castle in the sky?

For this cultural transformation to take hold, the foundations on which edtech is rolled out need to be in place and fit for purpose. This largely depends on schools’ broadband connectivity and wider IT infrastructure – for instance, whether they have systems that allow them to connect to the cloud.

At the start of this year, the DfE released its cloud computing services guidance for schools. It emphasises the essential conditions that must be met before migrating to cloud services: readiness to transition, broadband and ICT infrastructure. Broadband connectivity easily sits on the top of the requirement list.

According to research by Besa last year on ICT in UK state schools, only 44pc of primaries were feeling well resourced for broadband.

London Grid for Learning (LGfL) and TRUSTnet, a charity based in the capital that provides high-speed broadband and learning resources to more than 2,500 schools and 50,000 school staff across Greater London and England, announced at their annual conference for computing leaders and school business managers that TRUSTnet would offer a free upgrade to a minimum of 100Mpbs supercharged fibre connection for all schools. The announcement has been hugely welcomed by schools that wish to move on to cloud services but are yet to have the budget to do so.

John Jackson, chief executive of LGfL and TRUSTnet, said: “Our organisation is committed to an acceleration of next-generation digital platforms to enable a fundamental transformation of teaching and learning in UK schools that enables children to fulfil their potential and schools to save money.”

He added that all these digital developments would be provided securely as part of their CyberProtect initiative, which will deliver protection in multiple layers – including firewalls, web filtering, IP transit and malware protection. New centres of excellence for safeguarding, technology architecture and cyber security are built to oversee the implementation of their strategy and the delivery of positive outcomes and savings for schools.

A cog in the machine

School IT must work and be capable of underpinning digital evolution. If WiFi or local network devices do not have the capacity, edtech efficacy is irrelevant. Although technical support is only a small cog in the progress of the fourth industrial revolution under way in education, well-prepared school technicians are able to help the whole platform run smoothly and make edtech happen.

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