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Expert Panel: Discussing EdTech
Educational technology is hailed as being able to improve learning, enhance teaching and slash workload. But what should schools consider when selecting a new technology solution? We ask our expert panel for their advice
Expert panelists: Ji Li, managing director, Plum Innovations; Leonard Sim, head of key accounts at Kyocera Document Solutions UK; Alan O’Donohoe, specialist leader in education, exa.foundation; Andrew Cowling, business development and channel marketing specialist, PFU EMEA
The Department for Education has recognised the power that technology has to inspire young minds and free-up teacher time to focus on teaching. In the summer last year, Education Secretary Damian Hinds called on the technology industry to help tackle the issues facing schools and teachers – namely improving outcomes for pupils, enhancing teaching and slashing workload.
But not all schools are able to benefit from the latest technology without adequate funding.
When it comes to procuring EdTech, many find it daunting selecting the right product when there is so much on the market. And with tech changing at such a rapid rate, many are also scared that what they choose now, will not be suitable for the future.
Damian Hinds picked up on these issues in his opening speech at the 2019 Bett show. He said: “If you are a teacher, a school, a school leader or a head, it can be very difficult to know from this vast range of what is on the market, what is good.
“There can be a very understandable nervousness on behalf of schools dealing sometimes with brands and names that they are not familiar with and wondering if they can be certain that these will be around in a number of years’ time.
“Then there is the issue of making a commitment, once you have signed up for a particular piece of software or a particular programme, it can feel like you are locked in. That can both make people stick with things perhaps longer than they would have otherwise, but also make them more reluctant to take them on in the first place.”
While innovations such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality can no doubt enhance learning, some schools even lack basic computer equipment. A recent parliamentary education committee heard some educational establishments are using ten-year old PCs.
That said, there are many exemplar schools that are embracing technology to its full potential, and the DfE wants to make these ‘demonstrator schools’ where educators can get the peer-to-peer support and the training.
Against this backdrop, we ask our expert panel for their views on how to get it right when choosing EdTech.
Leonard Sim, head of key accounts for Kyocera Document Solutions UK, urges schools to meet the market and not be afraid to do so. He says: “I find that people are unwilling to meet with experts who can show them new market innovations, as they can view it as just another person trying to sell to them. Instead it should be viewed as a way to get the best knowledge. It becomes very apparent the difference of someone just trying to sell, and someone who can offer information, and therefore actually benefit the school.
“Secondly, in an environment where expertise and time can both be in short supply, you can’t make a decision based mainly on price. I would suggest that a school runs any tender based on 60 per cent service, support and quality, and 40 per cent price.”
Commenting on the variety of products on the market, Ji Li, managing director of Plum Innovations, comments: “With more than 1,200 EdTech companies operating in the UK, new products and upgrades are released almost on weekly basis. Schools are definitely benefiting from this fast innovation pace. It means more solutions are available on the market and products are getting better and better.”
Ji continues: “There are normally three situations when a school decides to employ new technology. The first could be a workflow or efficiency problem identified by the management where they are looking for new tech solutions to address the issue. The second could be for a school that is performing well and searching for new technologies to enhance the teaching and learning experience. The third scenario could be a failing school that is looking for cutting-edge technology to turn things around.
“Regardless which scenario it is, schools should be clear about their aims and expectations when choosing new EdTech solutions. A checklist would be handy too, taking into consideration compatibility, training, total ownership, cost-effectiveness, and staff acceptance.”
Alan O’Donohoe, specialist leader in education for exa.foundation, urges schools to be realistic, take a holistic view, and make sure staff training is considered. He says: “It can be very tempting to fall into the trap of believing that spending the entirety of an allocated budget on a new resource will bring about the desired outcomes and impact without considering how the resources will be implemented, by whom, as well as other associated demands, such as ongoing maintenance costs. If the staff that are expected to use the resource have not had adequate training and do not have faith in the educational potential of it, it’s unlikely that the full value will ever be realised.”
Taking a similar view, Andrew Cowling, business development and channel marketing specialist at PFU – a Fujitsu company, believes that schools need to understand the key drivers and factors behind technological change when modernising and implementing new technology. He says: “There are many third parties who can do an audit and it would certainly be recommended to understand not just whether the infrastructure meets the needs of all parties but that it will improve teaching and learning, as well as support strategic goals against national standards. Key as well is the staff who will need to be involved in the process, trained and fully immersed so you have their backing when rolling out.”
Leonard Sim highlights the need to consider the sustainability of the technology. He says: “EdTech is moving so fast that today’s innovation is tomorrow’s abacus.
“From a technology point of view, I think the secret to implementing practices is to try and do more with less, and with a sustainable view.
“These rules stand regardless of new technology. But if it isn’t providing less administration and burden on the staff or isn’t giving more to the staff and students in terms of credible content, and doesn’t look to be sustainable (around in five years time) – why get it?”
Transforming learning and teaching
Talking about the revolutionary properties of education technology, Ji Li said: “Steve Jobs once described computers as a bicycle for our mind. We should therefore not be too far away from thinking EdTech is like a vehicle for educational improvement.
“Teachers are the ‘drivers’ for EdTech advancement to facilitate innovative teaching practices. But they must also have appropriate skills and willingness to harness technology if EdTech is to be successful.”
Alan O’Donohoe believes that technology can be used to compliment the learning process. He says: “Technology is able to offer learners and educators a convenient and efficient manner of supporting learning and progress. For example, if a teacher chooses a blended learning approach, technology allows students to interact with support materials in a way that some students may find more engaging and accessible than say a printed resource.”
Highlighting how technology can be used to facilitate feedback, Andrew Cowling says: “It is clear through research that better feedback has a big effect on improving learning and achievement, and as such schools need to explore how the use of technology can increase feedback without putting undue workload on teachers.
“In particular, developing an approach to capturing evidence of progress which can help the learning and outcome process, schools have to be aware of two requirements; the requirement to help the child learn and the requirement for the teacher and school to be able to demonstrate that feedback on progress is effective in improving learning.
“If schools allocate time and sufficient technology to encourage feedback then the expectations of all parties to develop further innovative techniques and methods can only help the process.”
Tech for SEND pupils
In the last five years, the number of children and young people with a education, health and care (EHC) plan has increased by 35 per cent, up from 237,111 in 2013/14. While there are various reasons for the dramatic rise, such as better diagnosis and a greater population, the government is accused of not providing enough support for SEND students. As such, the Department for Education has announced £350 million to support children with complex needs and disabilities.
Catering for those complex needs is one area where technology can really become innovative and make a significant difference.
Highfurlong School in Blackpool, for example, is using technology in very innovative ways to support their students with special education needs and disabilities, to get the very most out of their education.
Commenting on the innovations that can come out of technology for SEND pupils, Ji Li says: “From cognitive difficulties to mobility or physical difficulties, technology has always been one of the leading drivers for SEND innovation. Products with adaptive learning features can make inclusion support much easier for students with learning difficulties. Assistive technology also provides many creative ways for teachers to present knowledge and information for children with physical difficulties like visual and hearing impairment.
“Augmented reality and virtual reality have opened a whole new world to SEND children, from a virtual tour in the Mayan village to space exploration between planets, the excitement and experience created are so powerful for maximising children’s learning engagement.”
Ji adds: “I really hope the use of motion sensor technology in SEND could continue to advance to the next level. Imagine if Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair model became affordable for children in special schools?”
Alan O’Donohoe agrees that technology for SEND pupils can be transformative. He says: “Pupils with SEND may report that they find it more enjoyable to engage with particular software platforms or devices leading to a more positive learning experience. There are a variety of tools that act as aids to communication as well as highly customisable accessibility options, such as voice recognition and audio descriptions. But there is a careful balance to achieve between over simplifying the experience and limiting accessibility by maintaining unnecessary obstacles and challenges.”
Leonard Sim said: “Schools need to create the back office savings so they can re-invest in SEND technology. For example, I have been to countless schools who are spending large amounts of money on the storage and administration of SEND student data. There are lots of ways to reduce that spend and put it to better use.”
Andrew Cowling said: “Capturing evidence of progress (such as through Fujitsu scanning solutions) for pupils with SEND as well as across the whole pupil spectrum can be instrumental in raising pupil’s achievements. Technology is a key enabler that enables the ability to radically extend the amount of evidence of progress and to extend the ways that it is used. A strong focus on progress can massively increase the self-esteem and confidence of pupils and this is important in raising achievement levels and accelerating progress. The more the involvement of pupils and parents in the learning process allows for the increased reflection and actions relating to engagement and attainment of pupils.”
Budget issues, workload, inspection changes, and recruitment issues will continue to pose challenges for schools in 2019. But can technology help address any of them? “I’d expect more and more schools will start to review their business processes and work flows in order to improve general efficiency and effectiveness,” says Ji. “With appropriate training and spot-on solutions, technology can definitely help schools to achieve cost-saving and reduce workload.
“There will be challenges during the process of re-shaping workflows and procedures. However once worked out, schools will find huge amount of time and resources saved and be able to re-invest them into innovative teaching and learning.”
Leonard Sim sees one way in helping ease admin on teachers is to reduce the burden of compliance. He says “The Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) has partnered with KYOCERA to create a new, free to use app which collects information about the copying of textbooks and other copyright content. Schools have a duty to demonstrated they’re meeting the terms of their CLA licence, and the app automates the otherwise burdensome process.”
Andrew Cowling believes that schools need to move away from paper systems to simplify their workload. He says: “One of the key opportunities and drivers for schools this year is the move away from paper systems to online systems. Schools need to address the climate of fear that technology can sometimes breed and it is the job of school leaders to actively lead the change to digital processes.
“There are a number of drivers promoting the need to digitise. These range from compliance, the need to access material from any location, spiralling costs associated with paper processes, and the demand from pupils, parents and teachers alike for enhanced collaboration, instant access, instant decisions and more of an involvement in the learning experience.
“The issue of workload is also something that will be more prominent and technology will help with better access, reduce unnecessary dead-ends, greater sharing for more tailored resources, and greater security. Longer term aims need to be children using online support to enable learning anywhere.”
Alan O’Donohoe recommends working together with other schools to help address challenges: “Through sharing experiences and networking with other schools, a lot of time and money can be saved when schools pool their knowledge and experience. There are many online networks and communities that schools can take advantage of to avoid re-inventing the wheel, thus ensuring that any expenditure on new technology is wisely considered and reflects the wisdoms of others.”
Meet the experts:
Ji Li, is managing director of Plum Innovations, a London based technical service provider for schools. Plum’s aim is to help reinforce the positive impact of EdTech products on pupils’ learning outcomes and assisting schools to employ technologies in the most effective way. Ji is the vice chair of EdTech group at BESA and a member of board at Naace. Interact with him on twitter here @lijiukcn
Leonard Sim is head of key accounts at Kyocera Document Solutions UK. He has been promoting the use of technology to help the public sector in time and cost for seven years.
Alan O’Donohoe, specialist leader in education at exa.foundation. He has more than 20 years experience teaching and leading technology, computing and ICT in schools in Northern England. He converted to teach computing in 2010, and first introduced computing into his school in Preston, then supported others to do the same through professional development.
Andrew Cowling is business development and channel marketing specialist at PFU EMEA. The company is responsible for the marketing and sales of Fujitsu Scanners. Andrew is a strong advocate of the drivers and opportunity that digital transformation can bring to organisations and the benefits thereof that technology driven processes can offer.