The start of a new school year is a favourable time to review technology trends in education and consider those that will help you achieve your learning and teaching goals, writes Caroline Wright, director general for BESA
September. It can feel a bit nostalgic, can’t it? Summer holidays are over, children and teachers back at school. An opportune time to reflect on what has been achieved and what is yet to be done. It’s a favourable moment to review technology trends in education, trends that can help you achieve your teaching and learning goals.
Growing in stature in the last few years, education technology (EdTech) is here to stay. And it has to answer some pretty hard questions and solve some pretty real issues: is EdTech easy for teachers to use? Is it reducing the attainment gap? Is it introducing new methods of learning? And, crucially, is it working – is EdTech helping drive school improvement?
For more than 25 years, the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) has carried out annual surveys on ICT use in UK schools. The 2017 report, published in June, focused on the types of EdTech used in English-maintained schools and the impact they have on management, teaching and learning.
Using educational technology
The research found that almost all (96.5 per cent) of the 545 primary schools and all of the 252 secondary schools who responded to the survey use a management information system. Among those secondary schools, 89 per cent use a learning management solution and 85 per cent use a parental communications solution and an assessment system.
Primary schools mostly use EdTech content solutions for reading (70 per cent) and maths (67 per cent); 86 per cent of them also use cross-curricular EdTech content solutions. The secondary schools overwhelmingly (81 per cent) use EdTech content solutions for maths, 58 per cent for reading and 47 per cent for modern languages.
While 42 per cent of the secondary schools say the benefits of content solutions are “very important”, not all of the schools reported seeing time and cost benefits from using EdTech. The lack of connectivity and budget represent common barriers to using EdTech solutions.
The survey highlighted a different challenge, too. Senior leaders and headteachers identified willingness to use EdTech and teacher understanding of the benefits of EdTech solutions as the main issues facing the implementation of EdTech in the classroom.
This finding sheds light on the need for more CPD for teachers, as many teachers do not feel confident enough using new technology with children. It is vital that schools invest time in allowing staff to get to grips with tech.
Another solution to increase the effective use of EdTech in the classroom is the presence of an EdTech champion in schools: someone to act as an in-house advocate of technology and its trouble-shooter, leading technology adoption across the school.
With the capacity to reduce teachers’ workload and increase their teaching capacity, as well as improve children’s learning experience and their educational outcomes, EdTech can, when used to support school’s strategy and vision, lead to workload efficiencies.
However, with their ever-shrinking budgets, schools must be sure of the efficacy of EdTech before investing, in order not to waste money that could be better used elsewhere.
Assessing the efficacy of EdTech
And there’s the challenge, our research shows, that teachers felt they lacked information about what EdTech solutions are available and how to assess the efficacy of EdTech.
Only 11 per cent of the primary and 10 per cent of the secondary schools said they “definitely” have sufficient information to assess the efficacy of EdTech systems or content solutions. Most turn to teachers in and outside of their school to ask for recommendations on using an EdTech solution or another.
Currently, suppliers are trying to fill the gap by investing in stronger, long-term relationships with schools. This way they can ask schools for constructed feedback and improve their offer regularly, a virtuous circle of schools and industry working together.
EdTech to support learning
Exploring EdTech and the need to assess its efficacy prompts broader questions relating to how we measure learning, which is a process that EdTech has the power to radically change. Many EdTech solutions give teachers the opportunity to record children in real time, so that they can see learning as it happens and input that in their assessment of the child.
For exams, too, we could make better use of EdTech. While exams are still taken using pen and paper – which is archaic in our digital world – including technology in exam sittings could massively reduce administrative time and make marking quicker and more efficient.
In addition, EdTech resources can help reduce the stress levels of disadvantaged children and children with disability during exams. The Joint Council for Qualifications recognised this and included EdTech solutions in the Access Arrangements and Reasonable Adjustments in 2015.
For example, children with dyslexia can now use a range of technological solutions to help them read, without being at a disadvantage against other students.
Homework represents another area of children’s lives where EdTech could improve their experience. Instead of doing their homework alone, children could work together through collaborative online platforms.
They would then be helping each other rather than reproducing inequalities – some having help from their parents.
Of course, schools and government will need to address social inequalities by ensuring disadvantaged pupils have access to tech outside of school, another challenge in itself.
What’s next for BESA and EdTech?
I look forward to the day we stop talking about EdTech. That day will be when these challenges have been addressed and when schools feel confident enough to use EdTech, both in supporting back-office functions to reduce workload and across the range of teaching and learning at all ages and in all subjects.
That day is some way away. In the meantime, at BESA, we are committed to working with members of the global EdTech eco-system, UK EdTech suppliers, the Department for Education’s EdTech team, the Department for International Trade and school leaders to help ensure that technology that supports teaching and learning is given the attention it deserves. Last month, we became delivery partners of the EU-funded EDUCATE project, based at the University College London.
Bringing together educators, researchers and the EdTech industry, it aims to help companies use research evidence to inform the design of their products and services and demonstrate their effectiveness.
We at BESA are passionate about helping to improve educational outcomes for children across the country and around the world. And we will do everything we can to help showcase and work with suppliers of educational technology that share that ethos and are committed to driving school improvement.
Science Minister Chris Skidmore spoke at the BETT Show, reiterating the government's commitment to education technology and working with industry to create solutions that address some of the challenges in education.