Teachers need more support when choosing expensive technology for schools, said educators and tech industry commentators at a recent roundtable discussion event hosted by Instructure ahead of the Bett Show. Bett, the UK’s largest edtech conference, expects more than 34,700 visitors, many of them teachers looking to buy classroom equipment or software.
The UK edtech market is expected to reach £3.4bn by 2021 and is growing at 22% year on year, according to research released at London Edtech Week in 2017.
Some teachers are reluctant to spend time experimenting with tech when their day is already full, especially if they have had a bad experience with older equipment, according to Craig Ring, Pastoral Leader and Music Teacher from Rooks Heath College. Craig spoke of the need for guidance that isn’t too rigid and said: ‘Because there are no universal guidelines it is very difficult to convince teachers, particularly old-school teachers.’ Without leadership from the government or the school’s senior team, it’s down to individual teachers to drive change within their classroom.
At the moment, there is little formal assessment of the efficacy of the use of technology, as Ofsted mainly focuses on safeguarding according to Andrew Murden, former deputy head and e-learning consultant. He spoke of the importance of clear expectations and realistic timeframes: ‘Ofsted inspectors should know what good use of tech looks like, and should recognise accreditation such as eSafety. The key driver is school leadership, they really need to know why they are using tech and government can facilitate this with guidance…There seems to be a bit of a blind spot in some schools.’ He noted that some academies have a strong vision but in other schools “digital is just a PR exercise”.
Rachel Matthews, Director of International Communications at Instructure said: “Procurement is a significant barrier to tech adoption. Other territories such as Scotland and Scandinavia manage the process more effectively. Other areas of need included dealing with legacy systems and equipment, a closer look at how to measure the ROI of technology – and the need for adequate training to ensure adoption.” She stressed the importance of grassroots collaboration to help schools incorporate more tech in their teaching.
Anna Wolffe, secretariat to the Education All Party Parliamentary Group observed that there is currently considerable freedom on the use of tech in schools, and spoke of a history of ‘mixed rhetoric’ from the government on whether to teach digitally. She said: ‘I don’t think we have got it right, as there has been a seesaw from edtech to textbook, but the two can work happily side-by-side in the classroom…Government doesn’t want to be too prescriptive, but wants to tell schools the end goal, but how they get there should be up to them.’
“Bett is mind-bogglingly huge, and teachers need to do their research before they go to make the most of their time there.’ Anna went on to say that there is a fundamental lack of understanding into how much tech can help education and that schools want advice.
Emilie Sundorph, who works on edtech for the think tank Reform, said that leadership in schools was key to helping teachers make the choice to adopt digital teaching tools, as some still felt tech is a distraction. Emilie said: ‘There is still a feeling that edtech is an extra. We need to show how edtech can contribute to closing the attainment gap.’ Edtech is an upfront investment in terms of time and money, and schools want to be seen as fiscally responsible. In the long term though, Emilie predicts that adoption of digital technology will reap rewards in terms of pupil attainment.
Instructure say that the current guidance is fragmented and sourcing digital equipment is left to schools and teachers with little support. Instructure owns Canvas, which provides virtual learning environments for education, and their white paper Driving Digital Strategy in Schools was published last summer. The conclusion calls for government guidance which is flexible enough to meet institutions’ individual needs but prescriptive enough to provide security and recognises the importance of continued grassroots collaboration between students and teachers.
It was widely anticipated that new Digital Strategy would be included in the Secretary of State for Education’s speech at Bett, but a spokesperson for the Department of Education said the strategy will be announced “in due course”.