Thomas Moule is Mathematics Curriculum Lead at CENTURY Tech.
Can you give us examples of how edtech companies and education institutions are already using technology for the greater good?
Technology, when used purposefully, can be a powerful resource for addressing social injustices. With technological advances, learning has been made more flexible, more adaptive and more scalable, meaning that learners can learn at the rate and in the quantities they want or require. Ultimately, this has had the greatest impact on the most vulnerable learners.
With online courses, learners can continue to develop throughout their lives and can upskill as needed, without having to make major sacrifices in their personal lives. Institutions such as the Open University have had a considerable impact on the life-chances of those who may otherwise have been excluded from higher education, by using this scalable approach.
The most advanced forms of technology, such as artificial intelligence and big data, are being used to ensure that every single learner can learn in a way that is personalised to their own complex needs. As pupils learn, intelligent software can adapt to ensure that their learning journey provides them with optimal challenge and support.
It can do this by, for example, changing the content that they are learning from, the questions they answer, and/or the order in which they move through the content. At Century Tech, we have analysed the data of our students and have found that through AI-driven, adaptive learning, the gaps in understanding between pupil premium and non-pupil premium children have been closed, along with gaps in understanding between special educational needs (SEN) and non-SEN pupils.
Personalised learning is a powerful tool for every learner, but it is perhaps of particular importance to the pupils who are often left behind, as far too often they miss out on the best resources and support.
… and any other examples you expect to see gaining traction in the education sector over the next few years?
For edtech solutions to gain traction both in schools and in the broader education system, they must improve teaching and learning in a purposeful way. Virtual reality, for example, is an exciting innovation that certainly can enhance students’ learning experience. VR allows students to have immersive learning experiences, which are visceral and leave a lasting impression.
For instance, I have seen students using VR to experience what it was like on the battlefields of World War I. Whilst VR will never replace real-life experiences like visiting the Somme, as it becomes more affordable, all students will be able to have these high-impact experiences. Those who so often miss out on these kinds of extra-curricular opportunities will, of course, benefit most from such innovations.
Can you highlight one edtech-for-good development that particularly stands out for you?
Continuing with the theme of purposeful innovation, I believe that the biggest and most impressive shift that technology will bring about in education will be a fundamental change in the role of the teacher.
In many industries, innovation and automation are a huge threat to the workforce. Jobs are lost, security is reduced, and wages are driven down. But this needn’t, and shouldn’t, be the fate of the teaching profession. The simple reason for this is that inspirational, highly skilled humans will always be able to add value to the development of young people.
In the near future, technology will pick up much of the heavy-lifting that teachers are currently doing themselves, thereby freeing teachers to spend more time planning how they can intervene to support all of their pupils so that each of them can make maximum progress.
As this is achieved, teachers’ jobs will become profoundly more enjoyable. Recent studies have shown that 74% of teachers have considered quitting the profession, with 82% of these citing workload as the main reason. As technology continues to be used purposefully, the workload of teachers will be reduced as lower-level tasks are automated. As well as overall workload being reduced, teachers will be spending a higher proportion of their time on the aspects of the job they love.
Over time, this will make teaching a more attractive profession, the recruitment and retention crisis will end, and a greater number of outstanding individuals will enter the profession and, ultimately, improve learning for young people. As optimistic as this vision sounds, it is possible: and we should strive to realise it through purposeful innovation.
How would you sum up where we find ourselves currently in the edtech revolution?
Many of the great innovations above have been driven by new and exciting software. But for learners to benefit from these innovations, they need access to the necessary hardware.
Many of the schools I visit, and have worked in, have a modest supply of devices that pupils can use in school for learning. And from conversations with teachers and senior leaders, it is becoming increasingly common for students to not have access to a range of devices at home.
This is not universally the case, however. Many schools have invested in 1:1 devices for their pupils, meaning that everyone can access innovative edtech solutions in school and at home. Other schools are using pupil premium funding to provide vulnerable students with devices to ensure that these pupils are not excluded from the purposeful use of innovation for learning.
The bottom line is that we need to be mindful of the impediments to innovation that a lack of hardware can present. Above all, we must ensure that this does not exclude the most disadvantaged from innovations in learning.