Delivering on the edtech promise

Unless tech is having a demonstrable impact on teaching and learning, it’s not good enough, says Nancy Knowlton, CEO of Nureva

It has often been said that if someone had fallen asleep 100 years ago and awoke today, the only thing recognisable would be what takes place in a classroom. While that might be true in some locales, I’ve seen a transformation quietly underway in classrooms around the world. 

Everywhere I go, educators are helping students develop crucial skills with the aid of technology products – from interactive displays to personal devices to new solutions like our Nureva™ Span™ classroom collaboration system that brings both together.

Since Dave Martin and I introduced the interactive whiteboard to the world 25 years ago, we’ve spoken with countless educators. The conversations may have shifted over the years, but the core message we’re hearing remains the same – unless technology is having a demonstrable impact on teaching and learning, it’s not good enough. We couldn’t agree more. 

A real impact

What makes the difference between a real impact and a negligible one (or even a negative one)? The right product is crucial – one that puts the emphasis on learning through technology rather than learning about technology. 

Usually success comes when schools start by deeply considering what their students most need. Only once that topic is fully explored do they move onto analyzing technology options. Schools that take shortcuts in engaging with those big questions often pay for it with implementations that never reach their expected potential. 

I’ve also learned that it’s not enough for a product to be brilliant on its own. It must fit into the existing technology landscape and the long-range vision in schools. Unless new solutions work with (or, better yet, enhance) the other products that are already in use by students and teachers, even the most innovative won’t gain traction.

Investing in teachers

Improving schools and learning outcomes isn’t just about the purchase of hardware or software. Teacher professional development and readiness are both critical. Not everyone learns in the same way, so professional development activities must accommodate a variety of learning styles, satisfying those who like to learn on their own and those who learn best in a more structured environment.

Many types of training materials are available online, including videos, quick reference guides and tutorials in a variety of formats. Free webinars are increasingly available. And longer instructor-led group sessions can be a great way to get teachers united in their efforts. 

Often the most effective professional learning involves teachers learning from other teachers on the same journey. Professional learning communities in schools and local education authorities can be invaluable in creating a culture of learning. And with Twitter, TeacherTube and other emerging sites, there are more opportunities than ever before for teachers to connect with each other. 

The value of time

Experimenting, sharing, reflecting, reinforcing – they are all part of the learning experience that teachers need. They require an investment in time for PD and appropriate planning to deliver the intended results. Teachers usually learn how to use a technology product’s basic features and functions easily. What takes more time to develop is mastering the strategy around the use of the new products.

For example, with one-to-one initiatives, teachers are presented with innumerable possibilities, but what they might really want to know is how personal devices can be employed to help students collaborate. Deep answers to their questions require time to experiment with various approaches and discuss with colleagues.

The bottom line is that there is no more expensive a product than the one that doesn’t get used or that gets used poorly and does not deliver an impact on learning outcomes. Placing the right technology products into the hands of students is an investment, but enabling teachers to comfortably use them in pedagogically sound ways is what will truly set them up for success for years to come. 

As the co-founder of SMART Technologies, Nancy Knowlton brings a depth of perspective to education. She and her husband, David Martin, now create collaboration technologies at their new venture, Nureva Inc. The company’s Span classroom collaboration system uses a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model to enable collaboration on an expansive 40′ (12.2 m) digital canvas. Nureva will be on stand B409 at Bett 2016 (20-23 January, ExCeL, London).

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