By Lynne Warham, Programme Leader Secondary PGCE at Edge Hill University and Managing Director of Teacher Progress
Given how rapidly technology is changing and evolving, it’s no surprise that the EdTech industry is one of the fastest growing – and this poses challenges for educators. It would be unrealistic to expect teachers to keep apace of this change in its broadest sense; what is important is that they’re aware of key developments which impact on the classroom and the wider school community.
Recent conversations I’ve had with both trainee and experienced teachers have highlighted that the most significant challenges they currently face in using EdTech are money and time.
The money issue is perhaps predicable given that squeezed school budgets have led to tough spending decisions in recent years. This has inevitably meant that investment in technology has, to some extent or another, reduced. For many schools, this will worsen in light of the recent shake up of school funding. When weighing up whether to spend money on EdTech or on staffing and basic resourcing, there’s really no contest. The danger here, of course, is that this could see some schools fall behind when it comes to innovation and engaging students with emerging technologies.
Then there’s the time factor. If teachers can’t fully rely on technology to work when needed, contingency planning becomes a must. This means that teachers have an additional layer of planning and resourcing to consider, should it all go wrong. Added to this, confidence in using technology effectively and intuitively is essential, meaning that time must also be invested in either school CPD or development at individual level.
Given the financial and time constraints involved, we might justifiably ask whether teachers should use EdTech at all
Given the financial and time constraints involved, we might justifiably ask whether teachers should use EdTech at all – and, if the answer to that is ‘they should’, how can schools and individual teachers effectively engage with it?
The answer to the first question almost goes without saying, given the fact so many of those we teach are immersed in technology. If you consider even the most basic of safeguarding and e-safety legislation, the onus upon schools is clear – to effectively safeguard students, teachers must have at least a baseline knowledge and awareness of the technologies being used by them; both within school and in the world beyond the school gates. This doesn’t necessarily mean that teachers need to be active and avid users of popular social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat; but they should have a good awareness of them and their potential benefits and risks.
Schools will have some existing infrastructure and capacity to use technology – so a solid starting point is making sure that all staff are able to use what’s there and are aware of freely available technology which could enhance their teaching, learning and assessment. When it comes to using students’ own devices, schools have varying policies and approaches, with some embracing their use and others having strict bans in place. Where permissible, and where school infrastructure is limited, knowing how to harness the potential of personal device use, can bring the benefits of greater variety of resource and increase engagement in learning. Of course, it can throw challenges into the mix too. The key is ensuring that any technology use is fit for purpose, genuinely enhances the teaching, learning and assessment dynamic, and observes any relevant E-safety legislation.
Regardless of approach, EdTech, in some form or other, will be part and parcel of whole school strategy and school CPD provision
Regardless of approach, EdTech, in some form or other, will be part and parcel of whole school strategy and school CPD provision. There’s also plenty of free CPD out there if you know where to look. Many EdTech companies, leading practitioners and sector experts are sharing their expertise and resources via Teach Meets, blogs and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Taking part in Twitter chats and subscribing to carefully chosen Twitter lists are easy and quick ways of tapping into expertise and sharing resources. So, if you only had 10 minutes to spare each week to update your EdTech knowledge, I’d suggest subscribing to a leading blog or Twitter chat.
If you need some starting points, for Twitter chats join in with #edtechchat (Monday evenings) and #BettChat (Tuesday evenings). Mark Anderson, a former school leader, turned consultant and trainer, not only has an active Twitter feed (@ICTEvangelist), but has an excellent blog and a range of free resources via his website. To stay up-to-date with the latest technology developments try watching the BBC’s Click programme or visit websites such as Click Online. Technology shows, conferences run by organisations like BETT, and EdTech speed-dating opportunities offered by companies such Innovate My School, are also great ways of tapping into new and emerging technologies relevant to the education sector.
To those of you who embrace EdTech, keep doing so – your classrooms are all the richer for it and, I would argue, better prepare students for life in the world beyond school
To those of you who embrace EdTech, keep doing so – your classrooms are all the richer for it and, I would argue, better prepare students for life in the world beyond school. For the sceptics out there or those who are scared witless of it all going wrong – why not try one thing? Seek out the best practice in your own school and consider how you might use it; join Twitter and start networking with some of the incredible practitioners out there who are using even the simplest forms of EdTech to excite and engage their learners; or start exploring the array of free resources and ideas out there on websites and in blogs. What have you got to lose?