Harnessing the power of edtech in schools

Ahead of the release of the Government’s edtech strategy, Cypher Learning’s Livia Bran outlines how technology can alleviate workloads and tailor learning

Technology has the power to harness real change and bring education to life; something that the education secretary, Damian Hinds MP, is championing. Since August 2018, he has challenged the tech industry to launch an education revolution for schools, colleges and universities.

In January of this year, he announced a £10 million investment to help develop technology to cut workloads, support professional development and improve student outcomes; the Government strategy will launch in the spring. While this plan is hugely welcome, with many schools already embracing the benefits edtech provides, a majority still aren’t taking advantage of these opportunities.

Following the strategy announcement, it’s important for schools to understand the importance of investing in the right resources and platforms; not simply to elevate teaching and learning, but to ensure that it addresses schools’ overall aims, as well as supporting staff when it comes to reducing workloads and streamlining processes.

It is a waste of money if a school is only using 10 per cent of a resource, or even using two or three different products, when there might be one that caters for all needs

The education secretary emphasised that edtech needs to be cost-effective and help reduce overall costs to schools. But, with so many apps, platforms and resources available on the market, where do schools start when identifying the most appropriate and effective tools for them?

What do we already know?

The education secretary is keen to support innovation and raising the bar in schools, colleges and universities across England. Uniting with education experts and those within the sector, the Department for Education has been busy working out the most effective ways to tackle the oft-talked about challenges facing the sector.

Teaming innovation with technology, the Government is confident that we will be able to address key education challenges. These include using edtech to reduce the time spent on lesson preparation and marking homework; harnessing technology to leverage training opportunities and ensuring teachers have access to the latest and best professional development opportunities; tackling the recent focus on anti-cheating software; and automatically tailoring and personalising learning for all children, to level the playing field for those children with special educational needs (SEN).

Whatever detail the strategy outlines, the most important thing is that the Government is recognising the power of education technology

Technology sometimes gives the impression of adding to a workload, rather than easing it. However, with the right tools and training, it can have far-reaching benefits. More often than not, investments are made by schools simply when things go wrong, or existing systems become outdated. This is an ineffective use of edtech; instead, schools need to assess their infrastructures and recognise the full potential of technology.

What should schools look for?

In order to truly meet the needs of pupils, teachers should consider the following factors when investing in edtech:

  1. Don’t buy technology for technology’s sake;
    It might not be right for your school, so make sure you look at existing resources and infrastructure. For example, there is no point spending thousands of pounds on new equipment if you don’t have the wifi connectivity, infrastructure or broadband speed for it
  2. When software or hardware is installed, take the time to train your staff on it
    It might seem like an arduous task, but, trust me, it’ll be short-term pain for a long-term gain. It is a waste of money if a school is only using 10 per cent of a resource, or even using two or three different products, when there might be one that caters for all needs. Whether it’s an interactive board, robotics resource, parent communications app, or a learning management system, ensure that all staff are clued up and understand the benefits to ensure that processes – both in class and behind the scenes – run as efficiently as possible
  3. Look at the ways that technology can be used to further professional development for staff
    Find a system which hosts and/or recommends courses for staff CPD, and logs appraisals and performance. Again, being able to streamline all of this information and keep track of progress throughout the year will be extremely helpful when it comes to mid- and end of year reviews, and evidencing achievements
  4. More and more tools are enabling teachers to automatically personalise and tailor learning
    This is a really effective way of ensuring that all students in the class are both engaged and active in their learning. This is especially useful when it comes to levelling the playing field for those students with SEN. Being able to tailor learning content to various levels and abilities, without adding to teachers’ workload, is essential. Consider technology which automatically identifies a student’s ability and recommends activities based on their level. In addition, resources that can be adapted in different ways – for example, gamified content for those who work best getting hands-on, or audio and visual adaptations for those who learn best through listening and viewing
  5. Look for those resources which provide an automated way of marking homework
    This is key in addressing the challenge of reducing workloads. With so much time spent on marking and planning, if teachers can source a tool which not only sets homework but automatically marks and assesses students’ progress, then they can focus on what truly matters: teaching children

From the archive: Damian Hinds’ call to industry for an education tech
revolution is fantastic news – but schools need more than rhetoric from the
Education Secretary, says Rachel Matthews, director of
international communications, Instructure

Whatever detail the strategy outlines, the most important thing is that the Government is recognising the power of education technology, and the ways it can be used to improve the school day for both pupils and teachers. It is now up to us, as edtech professionals, to listen and work with schools, and develop products which address the key challenges and truly take teaching and learning to the next level.

Livia Bran is content manager at Cypher Learning