Prioritising enrichment over cutting-edge

Keeping up with edtech doesn’t mean having to have the latest product, says Matt Wingfield from Digital Assess

By Matt Wingfield, Chief Business Development Officer of edtech firm Digital Assess

Advancements in education technology are happening so quickly that it is difficult for educational institutions to maintain the same pace. Currently, the majority possess neither the resources nor the internal advocacy to do so. Therefore, rather than attempting to embrace every new development, educational institutions should prioritise the changes in technology that can assist their existing teaching practices. A selective approach ensures that efforts are focused on the real benefits that technology can bring to teachers and students alike, and avoids superficial pursuits of keeping up with changes and innovations in technology purely for the sake of it.

At the heart of this issue is the educators themselves. The benefits of advanced technology need to be clearly articulated to teachers so that they actively seek to usher it into the classroom, instead of holding back. Generally speaking, there exists an inherent tension between teachers and technology that needs to be alleviated. Many teachers feel that technology is disruptive in a formal learning context, whilst others lack confidence in using it. In both instances, the potential for technology to be used effectively in the classroom is not being realised.

In order to not fall behind in developments, the profession needs to acknowledge that there is a distinct difference between successfully adopting technology in the classroom and using it as part of your everyday personal life. Being good with social technology does not automatically equate to having a good understanding of how to use technology in the classroom. As such, teachers should not be perturbed if they have little grasp of the digital platforms their students might use in their personal lives, as this has little relevance in a learning context. More CPD time should be dedicated to introducing teachers to education technology, demonstrating how it can be used effectively in the school environment, and making it less daunting. Eradicating the feeling that technology is not their ‘thing’ may make teachers more willing to embrace new developments.

Teacher engagement with new technology can also be improved by showing them that good quality, well designed edtech is not disruptive, and can sit comfortably alongside existing teaching methods

Teacher engagement with new technology can also be improved by showing them that good quality, well designed edtech is not disruptive, and can sit comfortably alongside existing teaching methods. One such example is machine learning, which is now being introduced in the classroom by Digital Assess to augment teachers’ capacity to be able to mentor students. This technology can simulate the role of an expert mentor, allowing students to engage in early stage discussions of project work with an avatar. This means that having already thought through initial ideas, student discussions with teachers are more meaningful, and the quality of that interaction is improved. In this instance, the technology is merely enriching an existing process; it is not acting independently of that. If teachers were aware that edtech could facilitate learning in this way, they would want to employ it and would be quicker on the uptake.

Identifying what products will be the best fit and will have a significant impact in the existing learning environment is the best way for teachers to approach an overwhelming and increasingly saturated edtech market. Looking for advances in technology where the technology will support everyday teaching scenarios is the most rational means of ‘keeping up’ with developments. Finding the level of technology that complements teaching style,and exploiting it to its full potential, is infinitely more important than focusing on the latest gadget.

Investing in this type of technology is also more financially sound, because technology that can be incorporated into the ordinary will never be a fad. Futureproofing the investment in this way means that, so long as teachers make the most of the technology, keeping up with new developments will no longer be a concern. This is particularly important when over-stretched budgets are a major factor inhibiting educational institutions adopting edtech.

All of this raises an important question, and unfortunately, we are still searching for the answer. How do teachers know what is going on in the edtech world? There is a vacuum in availability of general information. There are excellent points of reference online, but these tend to focus on one specific issue. The e-Assessment Association, for example, is a good place to turn if you want to learn how technology can aid the formative and summative assessment process. Undoubtedly, more centralised effort is required to provide a broader overview to help teachers discover and understand the latest developments.

Keeping up with edtech should not mean that an institution feels the urgency to install the latest product. Instead, the focus should be on identifying developments where the benefit is transparent because the technology will become a valued partner to existing pedagogy. Teachers only need to keep up with developments to the extent that it will truly benefit them and their students, and this approach should be championed across the sector.