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The power of technology to improve outcomes
Last year, the government urged the technology industry to work harder to help teachers and schools harness the power of technology to improve outcomes for pupils and reduce workload for teachers. So how has this manifested itself in recent months?
Back in August, Education Minister Damian Hinds issued a call to arms for the technology industry – demanding they work harder to help teachers and schools harness the power of technology to improve outcomes for pupils and reduce workload for teachers. So how has this manifested itself in recent months and are schools benefitting from the added focus on education technology?
We, the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) have been working alongside the DfE on two initiatives to help deliver on this promise. The first is a series of one-day CPD training events around the country called LearnED, where senior leaders and ICT leads have the opportunity to hear from other schools about how they have successfully used education technology in their schools. The second is the launch of our online lending platform LendED which enables teachers to search and trial EdTech solutions for free.
Here are some of the key findings that are coming out of these initiatives.
Build it and they will come
We’ve run four LearnED roadshows so far in Rotherham, Newcastle, Cambridge and Manchester and the response has been overwhelming. We’ve averaged 150 teachers per event and had over 300 registered for Manchester alone. There is a real thirst for knowledge and a desire to hear from other teachers about what works and what are the pitfalls to be avoided. All schools are juggling the demands of impossibly tight budgets, pressure for results and the desire to do the best for their students. Many of the teachers who attended LearnED have said they see EdTech as a possible solution to all of these problems by offering cost savings, time savings and products that deliver measurable results but they just don’t know where to start.
Failure is an option
Each of our speakers have stressed that EdTech is not a fix all solution. There are just as many bad products out there as there are good, but when properly sourced and introduced, there are solutions that have the power to deliver great change. Many of the speakers shared stories of failure with common challenges including not having sufficient support both within the school or from the supplier; not embedding the technology in every day teaching of using it as a ‘sticking plaster’ or a bolt on and hoping that everyone will get on board; or of technology that was just too complicated to set up and use and so became redundant pretty quickly.
Pretty much every speaker stressed how technology needs to be introduced as a whole school approach or with whole school support, if it has a chance to make a difference.
Top down, bottom up
So just how do you create a whole-school change? Should you drive this from the top down, or hope that it develops organically from the bottom up? Well both, as it turns out. Initiatives that are borne out of a need identified by the classroom teacher, or are championed by teachers themselves, are those that are going to be readily accepted and possibly the easiest to implement. But there are times when the type of programme being introduced or the type of change required can only happen with clear leadership from the top.
Chelsea Sandbrook, assistant head teacher at Manor Leas School showed how her school had eliminated marking through their use of Renaissance Learning’s tools, saving teachers hundreds of hours. But she also shared how they had to work hard to persuade some of the more traditional teachers to move away from paper-based marking. The transition would not have worked if only some of the school was on board, it needed to be a whole school change.
Nowhere are these two approaches more apparent than in multi-academy trusts (MAT). Whilst member schools may be free to pick and choose the teaching and learning resources that best suit them, assessment regimes and IT infrastructure are likely to be a central decision enabling economies of scale and like for like comparison of data across the group. Dominic Norrish, group director of technology at United Learning Trust spoke passionately about the need to support every school and ensure that all schools have equal access to the same high quality provision within the MAT. And for some this will be a steeper learning curve than others.
Follow in the footsteps of giants
It’s been clear from the feedback that teachers have most enjoyed hearing from and learning from other teachers. This peer to peer platform is unusual and yet shouldn’t come as a surprise that it is a popular approach. Schools have long formed both formal and informal networks amongst themselves for the sharing of information and best practice. The challenge comes when you have exhausted your own network for advice, or when you are seeking answers to questions your colleagues can’t answer. Here we had panels of teachers offering examples of what they had tried in the real world; practical solutions and advice that attendees could take away and use for themselves. From tiny primary schools with no IT support as highlighted by Sam Hankin, head of the computing deptartment at The Priory School who had to learn on the job to become the IT specialist; through to busy secondary schools rolling out one to one devices throughout their school.
Do your homework
The driving force behind attending the days, and the mood that Damian Hinds had rightly picked up on, has been the need for teachers to see for themselves what is on offer. With not much choice and such tight budgets nobody can afford to make a poor purchasing decision that results in products that are cast aside like Wheezy the Penguin. LearnED has given teachers the chance to learn from their peers and to see some EdTech in action via the demonstrator classroom and exhibition.
It is this need to ‘try before you buy’ which is also behind our second initiative LendED.org.uk – a free-to-use online platform that designed to match teachers with EdTech products and services that best meet their need, and give them the opportunity to trial it for free before making a purchasing decision.
Overall the mood is positive. While EdTech is not a fix all solution, the schools we’ve showcased so far are all positive examples of the type of transformation that EdTech can deliver when done right. By bringing teachers together to share their experiences we hope that the ripple effect will result in more schools, and ultimately students, benefiting from these types of transformations in the future.
To book your free place on the remaining LearnED roadshows visit www.besa.org.uk/events-learned-roadshows.