Keeping up with edtech: Rachel Ashmore

Third in our panel discussion on how educators can make the edtech sector work for them, we hear from Rachel Ashmore, teaching and learning consultant at Promethean

Rachel Ashmore, teaching and learning consultant, Promethean joins the discussion

Q. Is there a new genre of technology (e.g. the recent focus on VR and AI) that is currently taking over, or is likely to soon?

Rachel Ashmore: AR and VR are hot topics in regard to technology at the moment but are unlikely to become mainstream in education anytime soon. VR, in particular, is quite specialised and there are limitations in how it can be used across the curriculum, in addition to funding challenges. Instead, we are seeing a positive growth in the number of schools updating their interactive whiteboards to panels. New front-of-class displays have far more intelligence and connectivity than their predecessors, with access to endless education resources and apps. We are also likely to see significant growth in online assessments in the next few years as they continue to develop, reducing the pressures of workload and placing the emphasis back on teaching.

Q. How is edtech affecting pedagogy, and vice-versa?

Rachel Ashmore: Pedagogy should always come first and edtech should fulfil a purpose in enhancing education practice. It is exciting to see how innovations in edtech are improving engagement in classrooms and helping to reduce the workload of teachers, though funding remains a significant challenge across the education sector.

Q. Is there anything happening behind the scenes in edtech now, that will change how we view education in the next five years?

Rachel Ashmore: There is a prominent caution around data protection and safeguarding of children with the continued growth of social media. We are seeing a surge of ‘digitally native’ children passing through schools where digital devices are second nature to them. Throughout the sector there is a nervousness around mobile phones and how much time should be spent using digital devices, but when we look at future employment prospects, children need to be increasingly digitally competent. The digital curriculum has seen some major advances, but I think we can expect to see some even larger strides in the next few years.

Q. How can teachers keep up with the fast pace of tech? It’s notoriously lightning speed, whereas education lags in adopting change. Can we consolidate these two approaches? How?

Rachel Ashmore: Educators need more time and training on new technologies, but in a sector where time is scarce and budgets are dwindling, this is no easy change. Despite lack of training it must be noted that educators are doing an excellent job in aiding their own development with new technologies and striving to utilise them to their utmost potential. For education technology providers there must be a commitment to providing basic training where possible and responsibly supporting schools with the implementation of edtech.

The pace of change in which we are witnessing new innovations in edtech is not going to slow down. It is crucial that manufacturers carefully consider usability of products to allow edtech to make a valuable contribution to education. Technology must be intuitive for both teachers and pupils alike to use with ease. Easy adoption is pivotal to getting the most out of edtech and maximising its impact.

Q. Technology can be a fantastic tool for schools and universities, but can also cause a lot of resistance in decision-makers if they don’t see the benefit. How can advocates get higher management and those that control the purse strings on board?

Rachel Ashmore: Investment in technology should never just be for the sake of getting new tech. When looking for new technologies, advocates must have an agenda which identifies what they are looking to gain from the investment. Edtech must fulfil a purpose in areas such as improving engagement, raising standards or saving valuable time. By showing how edtech will support teachers and improve teaching and learning, you are far more likely to gain the support of senior leaders and fellow teachers.

Q. Edtech suppliers often raise the issue that they don’t know how to break into the education market, and that the disparate nature of the sector means they don’t know where to start. What advice do you have for both providers and educators who would like to make connections?

Rachel Ashmore: The prime focus should always be on knowing what challenge you have a solution for. Edtech suppliers need to make procurement and support as easy as possible in the education market where time to explore solutions can be limited.

Q. Is there a time in history when technology has had such a huge impact on education? Do you think it will continue to do so, or can we expect a plateau at some point?

Rachel Ashmore: In the UK, the period of government funding for interactive whiteboards was a huge stride in making classrooms digital. Interactive whiteboards made a big difference to planning. For the first time, teachers could prepare lessons on a desktop or laptop and easily project them onto boards at the front of the classroom.

Internet connections in classrooms were also an important milestone in education, opening up the enormous and instrumental resource which is the world wide web. Internet connections were initially beneficial for research exercises and have quickly grown to support video assessment for a multitude of educational apps.

Edtech will continue to enhance teaching and learning best practice but mostly through blended learning. We are likely to continue to see edtech used in conjunction with traditional learning resources rather than completely replacing them.