Roundtable: Elliot Gowans

In this issue’s roundtable, we ask how tech could start to help promote inclusivity for disadvantaged students

Elliot Gowans, Vice President EMEA at D2L, joins the discussion.

Q. Is tech in education inclusive, divisive or neutral?

Elliot Gowans: The lack of social mobility and inequality of any kind is a problem that won’t disappear overnight, especially when it comes to education. However, technology is paving the way for more adaptive and personalised learning, which ensures that each and every student, regardless of their background or ability, receives the attention they need to reach their full potential. 

Delivering “education for all,” with barriers such as distance, time and accessibility, remains one of the biggest challenges facing the education industry. Students from remote locations, poor families and unstable backgrounds are all much more vulnerable to challenges in the classroom. Without the right kind of school setting, support and flexible programming tailored to their unique needs, these students can fail to thrive in the traditional school system. 

Technology is playing a significantly bigger role in bridging these gaps and enabling learning for those that are on the margins. Blended, adaptive and personalised learning models are key, and can only be implemented practically on a large scale via modern technology. 

Q. How can tech make education more inclusive?

Elliot Gowans: Data-driven technology that captures every student’s actions in the classroom, identifying areas of strength and weakness, also enables learning strategies to be tailored, keeping every student engaged and on track for success. Teachers are time-strapped and often faced with a class of 20–30 students, all with different needs and capabilities. Technology that evaluates individual students’ struggles and progression is key in combatting the traditional blanket teaching model where each child is taught in the same way, at the same pace. Pupils need more personalised, adaptive learning that recognises barriers – whether it’s weaknesses, location or time – and adapts the teaching experience accordingly. Technology allows teachers to design learning that accommodates each student, helping them show what they know and interact with content in a way they are comfortable with, at their own pace.

Q. What software or equipment can help?

Elliot Gowans: Tools such as video, social and gamification add a flexibility to learning that can match any student’s skills or time requirements. Whether they’re in the classroom or doing their homework, technology allows students to understand key concepts by allowing information to be presented in multiple ways, wherever they are, and at a pace that suits them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, research from Common Sense Media revealed a few years ago that 75% of children under eight have access to a smartphone or tablet, while 38% of babies as young as two are using mobile devices. Technology is a much bigger part of young peoples’ day-to-day lives than it was of their parents’, and backgrounds or skills rarely change this. With nearly every child familiar with modern mobile devices, technology has the ability to transcend nearly every cultural barrier.

For many students in the UK, English is not their first language, or they may struggle with reading and writing. By failing to communicate with teachers and other students, it can be difficult to develop, often leading to exclusion and lower levels of performance. Technology that includes translation tools, picture dictionaries and text-to-speech capabilities can help overcome these challenges, improving engagement and providing a level playing field.

Q. If money were no object for education, what equipment or resource could be provided for students that are disadvantaged in some way?

Elliot Gowans: Financial constraints are among the biggest barriers preventing real equality in the classroom. It’s often been debated that only the more affluent and privileged students have access to learning technology, but this is a situation that is being increasingly addressed by educational institutions.

Overstretched budgets are a common challenge for schools, which has, in the past, made it harder to prioritise spending on technology. Fortunately, the benefits of modern technology are proving too strong to ignore. A well-thought out and holistic approach to technology can remove inequalities in the classroom and make schools much more inclusive and efficient. It’s also becoming more cost-effective.