The fourth in our series, Steve Wright speaks to Stephen Phee, Headteacher of St Mungo’s School, Falkirk (an EdTech 50 school).
Q. As schools, colleges and universities across the country ready themselves for the new academic year, what are their main edtech focuses?
There are a number of key priorities for schools. The first is to continue to ensure that edtech is being used effectively to support learning, raise attainment and close the attainment gap. Providing staff with high-quality training to get the best out of the edtech is essential.
We also need to be investing in edtech, although this is becoming increasingly difficult due to cuts in budgets. Government and local authorities must decide whether edtech is a priority that requires ring-fenced funding direct to schools.
When pupils leave school, we need to ensure they are developing the appropriate IT skills that are essential for life, learning and work. Pupils must be able to demonstrate and articulate these skills and, where possible, obtain qualifications to show their competency.
Q. What are educators most concerned about in terms of back of house/administrative/non-teaching tasks?
The biggest concerns are around money and the necessary investment in edtech. Without this, our hopes for young people will not be realised.
Schools also need support when things go wrong or break down. Each school will have an element of IT support that can overcome most day-to-day issues as and when they arise, but this should be backed up with an appropriately funded local authority IT team big enough to meet the needs of all local schools.
Q. What edtech skills are teachers keen to focus on for 2019–20?
Individual schools will need to decide this themselves – what are their priorities and how well placed are the teachers to deliver on these priorities? Once these are defined, the school should identify, plan and deliver effective edtech learning opportunities for its teachers. For one school, these might include getting the best use from interactive whiteboards. For another, it might be how to use Microsoft OneNote or Microsoft Teams.
Staff need time, support and resources. Each school will have its ‘champions’ – staff who are keen, know what they are doing and are willing to support other staff. Use them! Try to find other schools that are working on the same thing as you and pair up.
Or schools that are further along the road than you are – what can you learn from them? Don’t be afraid to ask.
Q. Which edtech products and services are garnering most excitement?
There are just too many to mention.
You could look at artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality or blockchain technology. All very exciting – but do you need the latest, shiniest or most expensive? Look around at what is available for your needs. Get a demonstration, talk to schools that are already using the product/service and ask for a trial.
It is not new, but Office 365 has had the biggest impact on learning and teaching in our school and I would recommend it to any school. And it is free!
Q. What edtech topics are at the top of the agenda right now?
Unfortunately, with school budgets being cut by local authorities, the main issue is funding for edtech. Consequently, we look to the future with a degree of worry rather than with excitement. We should be excited by the roll out of Windows 10, but our main concern is how many of our PCs, laptops and netbooks can actually load it. However, no matter how difficult things get, teachers are totally dedicated and will go the extra mile to support their pupils.
A major topic in Scotland is the shortage of computing studies teachers. Some schools are having to cut back on the courses they offer, remove computing from the Broad General Education or shut down the department entirely. Worrying – and something that only the national government can solve.
Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) and STEM are huge priorities, and edtech has a major role to play in supporting both of these.
Q. Should we be looking to any other countries/systems for inspiration as we seek to get the best from the edtech out there?
It is useful to see what other countries are doing. Why else do we have exchange visits and educational trips?
However, we need to be careful because what works in one system might not be the right thing for your school. The best thing is to know your school, work with your staff and the wider community to agree your vision, and then form a strategic plan that will help you realise that vision.
Forbes magazine: Does Education Technology Help Students Learn? www.forbes.com/sites/helenleebouygues/2019/06/14/does-educational-technology-help-students-learn
Jisc’s Janet Network: www.jisc.ac.uk/janet
Imperial College Edtech Lab: www.imperial.ac.uk/business-school/programmes/global-mba/learning-experience/edtech-lab
European EdTech Network: www.eetn.eu