Edtech: keeping up with the pace of change

How should educators stay up to date with tech developments? Sophie Beyer asks a panel of experts in teaching and edtech


Lynne Warham (LW)Programme Leader at Edge Hill University & Teacher Progress

Tony Gurney (TG)Lecturer at University of West Scotland

Matt Wingfield (MW)Digital Assess

Craig Ring (CR)Head of Canvas & Pastoral Leader at Rooks Heath College

Graham Lowe (GL)Deputy Head at Birmingham City University

Greg Hughes (GH)Vice Principal, Learning Technology at deFerrers Academy


Q. What holds education institutions back from adopting technology in the classroom?

LW: 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 are aware of key developments which impact on the classroom and the wider school community. The most significant challenges teachers face are money and time. 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. 

TG: In the early days of edtech the main inhibitor to adoption was money. Devices, software and their associated infrastructure, were prohibitively expensive. Now that, in the main, most students have suitable personal devices and the institutions have perfectly adequate infrastructure the main disinhibitor is fear. Technicians fear the use of untested devices on their networks, management fear the use that may be made of their systems and educators fear that technology will be used for reasons other than those prescribed in the curriculum. 

MW: Advancements in education technology are happening so quickly that it is difficult for educational institutions to maintain the same pace. Therefore, rather than attempting to embrace every new development, educational institutions should prioritise the changes in technology that can assist their existing teaching practices.

CR: Budget constraints, time constraints or fear could be contributing factors. ‘Will it all work, or will my iPad fall apart when an OFSTED Inspector walks through the door?’

GL: In my experience there are two main reasons why the adoption of technology into mainstream education is held back, and neither of them are cost related. Anyone who has ever taught knows two things about teaching – it is difficult and it is time consuming. Whilst the selection and training of teachers and lecturers is clearly important there is a very large element of learning ‘on the job’, by trial and improvement, involved in every teacher’s development. After a period of time the best teachers settle into a form of equilibrium somewhere between confidence in what they are doing and a feeling that they could do it better.

GH: I would say there are four key factors here in the UK:

1. Lack of funding, especially in the last two or three years, means schools are now redistributing funding in other priority areas.

2. Lack of time for effective CPD and training. Regular use is the best way forward but any introduction of new technology needs careful planning and regular time for practice and training.

3. Poor knowledge and lack of appreciation of benefits by school leaders.

4. Little official direction or advice since the demise of BECTA.

Q. Why should educators keep up with the rapid pace of edtech change? And how?

LW: The answer to the first question almost goes without saying, given the fact so many of those we teach are immersed in technology. 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.

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. 

TG: If an educator takes their job seriously then they will make time to keep up to date in many different fields, both professional and personal. Good teaching requires making bonds with students and those bonds can come in multiple ways. Most educators are inquisitive at heart, and it should be a pleasure rather than a chore. Indeed being slightly behind the curve can lead to some interesting exchanges as students educate the teacher.

MW: 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.

CR: It would be impossible to keep up with every change. edtech opens up opportunities for students to collaborate in ways that may have traditionally been restricted to the classroom. Through blended learning content can be viewed at home so that students have a basic understanding before heading into the classroom. 

At Rooks Heath, assessment, feedback, revision materials and worksheets can be delivered through Canvas, and we can take advantage of the hundreds of times students pick up their electronic devices outside of the classroom.

Q. Teachers and lecturers are busy, and time poor.  If they only have 10, minutes a week to stay up to date what would you suggest?

LW: Subscribing to a leading blog or Twitter chat. 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 and edtech speed-dating opportunities offered by companies such as Innovate My School, are also great ways of tapping into new and emerging technologies relevant to the education sector. 

MW: 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.

CR: Twitter is an excellent provider of inspirational ideas. Get an account and search for edtech or particular practitioners of interest. You will find a massive community of enthusiasts and streams of articles that are trending. The best part is, you can find ideas that can be read in 140 characters or less.

GL: An easy way of keeping up with edtech trends is through the range of websites and blogs available. Many of these offer sign-ups to free regular e-mail newsletters or, for the more tech aware, provide regular updates on social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

GH: For individuals, go on Twitter and pick up ideas from #edchat or #ADEchat as they will get hundreds of ideas and tips from a global network of experts. For institutions, find a forum or event to share best practice such as newletters and Breakfast CPD clubs.

In most cases misuse of technology is a behaviour problem, not a specific technology problem – students need to develop responsible behaviour patterns

Q. Will the changes in education funding have an effect on the adoption of edtech? Will less resources mean slower change? 

TG: The changes in edtech are now driven by users’ experiences and expectations. Funding will be less about providing the technology (other than where individual family circumstances require some extra help) and more about ensuring that resources are usable on the array of devices already in circulation. A responsibility that will, inevitably, fall on the educator.

CR: Funding cuts seem to only be getting worse and I fear that this will mean that some schools will see tech as a luxury. However, the opportunity to save on admin expenses, saving time with workflows using Google Docs and enticing new students with modern systems may help management teams view technology as a worthwhile investment. 

GH: Not in the best schools; they will prioritise to have the biggest impact. Strategic planning will allow them to fund big ICT projects like 1:1 tablet deployments for less money than they spent before, through reduced spending on outdated tech (printers, shared laptops, sets of quiz handsets, etc).

In other schools, I think it will slow down progress, combined with the other factors mentioned above. We already see this as hundreds of visitors have been to see our 1:1 iPad programme at The de Ferrers Academy and other Apple Distinguished Programme schools. The good schools are getting better, those that are reluctant to engage with technology are being left behind! 

I also think that globally, many countries are catching up to and overtaking the UK. Having worked with several groups of teachers around the world, it is clear that municipalities or education bureaus overseas often aid schools with organised CPD and strategy on using technologies effectively, to ensure consistency.

Q. Should technology be more integrated with teachers’ and lecturers’ CPD?

LW: Regardless of approach, edtech, in some form or other, will be part and parcel of whole school strategy and school CPD provision. Many edtech companies, leading practitioners and sector experts are sharing their expertise and resources via TeachMeets, blogs and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. 

TG: Of course. The whole arc of history is following a technology trend that has implications for every area of life. Education is no different. The sooner that technology is regarded in the same way as a whiteboard, which is to say as an absolute minimum requirement, the better.

CR: We now use Canvas for Performance Appraisal and this has helped us to make informed decisions on CPD needs across the school. Staff earn badges through Badgr for their attendance at chosen sessions. The time it takes to complete administrative tasks for CPD has been significantly reduced.

GL: If teachers and lecturers can see the technology first-hand and can appreciate the benefits for themselves, they are more likely to want to take this into their own teaching and accept some of the initial issues around inconvenience and workload increase. Having the benefits explained by an enthusiast is never as effective in changing the views of a sceptic as a steady realisation for themselves that there are benefits to be had. This means that teachers need to be given time to work out for themselves what pedagogical or organisational problems will be solved. It may take a little longer, but is almost certainly going to be more effective than any top-down imposition.

GH: Definitely, as teachers need to see the value in using technology or it will impact on teaching and learning for them and their students. You want them to drive themselves passionately to harness it rather than feeling that it is another ‘pointless’ initiative foisted upon them. Ideally, the CPD should be as hands-on as possible, mirroring what happens in the classroom. 

Q. Can teachers and lecturers still operate effectively without knowledge of what technology is available?

LW: To those of you who embrace edtech, keep doing so as 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? What have you got to lose?

TG: Both yes and no. It depends on what is meant. Do educators have to know about and/or use every piece of technology available? Of course not. Should any educator consciously disregard the benefit that technologies can bring to the learning environment? Of course not. The technology should be used to enhance the teaching, not to show how much one knows about technology.

MW: Teacher engagement with new technology can 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. 

CR: Traditional approaches still resonate, but tech could make them more effective. I am a firm believer that teachers are vital for students to succeed. Technology is not replacing teachers, but instead providing new ways for teachers to deliver top-notch pedagogy.

GH: I think they will not operate as effectively without knowledge of technology, compared to those that have it. If you look at something like the TPaCK model, a teacher’s knowledge of how to link technology and pedagogy is the weakest link, so this is a priority area to address. Teachers who embrace tech realise that they do not need to be the experts in technological specifics, more the learning focus that needs to go with it.

Q. How important is it that teachers understand what their pupils use? Should teachers use platforms like Snapchat? 

TG: Extremely important. Teachers cannot exist in a bubble, divorced from the real-life landscape inhabited by those they teach. That doesn’t mean they have to obsessively use every new service that is available but it should at least be on their radar as being a possibility. 

MW: 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. 

CR: I have mixed feelings about this. It could help you choose your method of online resource delivery. However, secondary school students dislike teachers trying to be ‘down with the kids’. Once parents found Facebook, students found somewhere else to play. That being said, ask a class to teach you about tech and they will be invested. They’re the experts! It goes without saying, but keep your personal accounts locked up. 

GL: It is almost impossible to keep up to date with every individual development in edtech in terms of the wide array of products, services, software and hardware released every year. However, it is sensible for all educators to keep abreast of trends and understand the direction of travel of educational technology, keeping up to date in the general sense will enable educators to both anticipate and engage in debates around procurement and implementation in their settings.

GH: Teachers should use whatever tools and platforms offer them the best learning possibilities. We always advise teachers against private communications with students, but having official social networking accounts that are transparent can be very useful.

For those of you embrace edtech, keep doing so. For all the sceptics out there or those who are scared witless of it all going wrong, why not try one thing? What have you got to lose?

Q. There’s a wide variation in practice and attitudes towards some edtech. Some schools have embraced BYOD, others ban phones. How do we reflect modern life in the classroom with tech? 

TG: The question assumes that we have a choice. Technology will bleed into all areas of life, including the classroom. Smart teachers will embrace it and figure out ways of including it in their teaching. Modern-day Canutes will scream at the encroaching tide before they are swept away.

CR: Personally, I would like to embrace technology and teach students how to use it appropriately and effectively. However, as Pastoral Leader for Year 7 I have seen my fair share of misuse and can understand why schools are nervous about it. Establish a list of expectations and build them into the school’s BFL policy. Rooks Heath are now moving from a school-wide ban to a BYOD model and I feel it is going to introduce more opportunities than problems.

GH: The world is increasingly embracing mobilisation of technology in all areas of life and business – it is the world that students inhabit socially and it is the world that they will spend most of their adult lives working in. It is foolish to create a bubble for education that does not embrace the genuine learning and engagement possibilities this offers.

Enabling all students with a personal device as part of a 1:1 scheme not also provides the most cost-effective and highest-impact options, it also mirrors real-life technology use. In most cases, misuse of technology is a behaviour problem, not a specific technology problem – students need to develop patterns of responsible behaviour and appreciate when it is or isn’t appropriate to use certain tools.

Q. Some schools and teachers are still sceptical of the benefits of tech. How could they be engaged with the benefits that tech brings?

TG:  Staff should be sceptical. There have been far too many blind alleys and ‘next big thing’ pronouncements. It is only when scepticism morphs into cynicism that they should worry. Everyone should keep an open mind – just not a blank one.

CR: It is important to find leaders to push technology forward and show others how easy it can be to use. Leaders can emerge from teaching staff, associate staff, senior leaders or even the students.

GH: 1. Show them how the most effective and immediate uses of educational technology such as instant feedback, metacognition hooks and 24/7 access to exemplar resources can benefit them.  Also, how these areas agree with most of the pedagogical research on what makes effective learning.

2. Encourage visits to exemplary schools to actually see how transformational technology use works in action.

3. Share savings in costs, time and the lack of need for multiple platforms. 

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