Edtech: the Cinderella of the education budget?

Analysts Gartner value annual investment in technology in UK schools and unis at £900m. But how can institutions ensure a good return on investment?

Enhanced lessons, improved learning, streamlined data collection and analysis, as well as increased parental engagement. This is the ultimate educational technology sought by all schools, colleges and universities. 

Most teachers are very enthusiastic about using technology, recognising the advantages in pedagogy, student tracking and teacher workload. The 2017/18 report ‘State of Technology in Education’ by Promethean shows that of the 1,600 educators surveyed, 55% of teachers also believe that effective use of edtech improves engagement and behaviour. 

Managing Director of Calibre Secured Network Solutions, Karen Nelson, says that “edtech is evolving at a phenomenal rate,” and that schools and academies “must prioritise their budgets,” to avoid falling behind. Nelson goes on to say that a properly designed system can offer significant savings and can be delivered cost-effectively. 

Nelson also recognises that there is “reticence to invest in IT” in the face of decreasing technology budgets. This is confirmed by the Promethean survey, which shows that 64% of educators believe that budgetary constraints limit their plans for implementing and maintaining an efficient technology network. This includes effective ongoing professional development for teachers and support staff in using new technology, without which much of the investment is lost.

The Jisc Student Digital Experience Tracker survey of 74 UK institutions in 2017 collected over 22,500 responses. While 67% of all respondents to the survey agreed that edtech is ‘a great way to engage students,’ almost 20% of teachers claim that they don’t feel they have sufficient skills or training to implement the IT system to its best advantage. This is particularly the case for interactive touchscreens and associated software. In addition, only 50% of students responding to the survey felt prepared for the digital workplace. 

Sarah Davies of Jisc says: “Most of the factors determining the success of learning technology implementations are down to people; culture, change management, communication and staff skills.”

Staff training is, therefore, essential in realising the best return on investment. The report comments that “teacher training must become a priority if we are to maximise the performance of technology and how it affects teaching and learning”. 

Even primary schools are aiming to future-proof the youngest children by “teaching skills for jobs which don’t yet exist,” says Gary Hall, a teacher at Wawne Primary School in East Riding. Wawne Primary School has recently bought into the Digital Schoolhouse model, which has designed software to teach computer science to primary school children through play-based learning.

Teachers are enthusiastic. Hall says: “We see massive benefits already; the children’s confidence has really risen,” while Nicole Anand, a teacher at Gearies Primary School in Ilford, says: “You can see [the pupils] getting excited.” Children from Coleridge Primary School in Haringey also commented on using game-based learning at school, saying: “It’s great because we’re in charge of the game. It’s really fun and [we’re] learning at the same time.”

Secondary schools have also chosen Digital Schoolhouse because of its flexibility. Teacher Nazeen Chadee, of Woodford County High School in Essex, says: “It’s fun, it’s creative, [and] it’s not just lines of text,” and IT Director of Highgate Wood School, David Talbert, describes Digital Schoolhouse as “easy to adapt”. It seems clear that technologies which integrate with current systems and which can grow and adapt easily to new developments will yield the best return, both financially and educationally. 

A step further

The Jisc survey also shows that the most requested technology by HE students was for lecture capture, which enables students to make up contact time or to revisit lectures. Ranking effective learning tools, HE students favoured Duo and Scholar, while FE students preferred Kahoot and showbie. YouTube, Facebook and Messenger were all also used extensively by both HE and FE students as ways of sharing and collaborating on projects.

The HEPI Report 93 shows that 70% of higher education students felt their learning improved when tutors were very knowledgeable and confident in using digital technology in the classroom. Universities have taken this on board and have installed a range of technologies to suit different courses, many of which are designed to broaden and enrich learning and understanding, with input from a number of sources. 

For example, science students at the Universities of Strathclyde and Bristol prepare for practical lessons by watching a video and completing a learning activity online, followed by an automatically marked assessment. Students enter the lab with a high level of knowledge, therefore creating more time for effective practical experiments. Following the practicals, different groups discuss and work together online to analyse the shared results. 

Nottingham Trent University has also implemented a similar flipped learning approach with a variety of written texts, podcasts and videos, so that student contact time is spent working on ideas in small groups as well as with the tutor.

On-campus tech is not the only way to ensure a return on investment. The Promethean survey on technology in education shows that 48% of teachers work remotely with systems like Classflow, a totally integrated and collaborative system linking tutors and students, which is accessible at all times from any location. A similar concept has been implemented at Coventry University where photography students share their work across the world. This ‘borderless classroom’ generates discussion and analysis, far extending their classroom learning.

But the tech itself is not the only issue. A vast amount of money is invested in edtech in schools and universities across the UK but, according to the Promethean study, fewer than half of educators believe that staff training for new technology will be a priority in 2018. And yet the key components to the best return on investment are a fully integrated system, which is flexible and simple to customise and develop, delivered by teachers who are confident, well-informed, and completely up to date with the technology in their institutions. 

It seems then, that training for staff and development of their digital literacy will be the next big challenge for edtech, moving away from a focus on the tools themselves, and turning more to how they are most effectively used. After all, as tech master Bill Gates said, “technology is just a tool […] the teacher is the most important.”  

The ‘State of Technology in Education’ survey by Promethean shows:

100% of heads state that their school has a clear strategic vision for the year ahead 

67% of all respondents believe that technology is ‘a great way to engage students’

63% of teachers use technology to track formal assessment 

61.6% of teachers believe that ‘technology is best used when appropriately adapted’

55% of teachers believe the use of technology improves behaviour and engagement 

54% of teachers believe technology is ‘a necessary life skill which should be reflected in lessons’

35% of teachers use technology to track informal assessment

To learn more about Promethean, please click here.

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