Tools of the trade: Phil Spoors

First in a series exploring how teachers can hone in on the right tech to suit their needs

Phil Spoors is a regional research lead for the Teacher Development Trust, and also assistant headteacher with responsibility for eLearning at Cramlington Learning Village

What are teachers looking for when it comes to edtech training?

Much of the time, teachers are looking for quick wins. They want something that works, and that will either save them time or engage students.

Beyond that, what teachers are looking for really depends on what they are trying to achieve – as well as their role in school. For example, senior leaders may be looking for technology to make analysing or collating data easier. In terms of training, they would simply need a ‘how to’ guide. However, a teacher wanting to use a new technology tool to help students learn might need training both on how to use the tool, and on the pedagogy behind it.

Much of the time, it’s what teachers might not actively be looking for that will be of the most benefit. For example, for a new technology implementation to be successful, teachers should first consider why they need this tool. Then, an exploration of how it has been used elsewhere and what type of use is effective would help to guide them in their own use.

Finally, support in evaluating the impact of the technology once they have used it will help to make sure that it’s successful and likely to remain a part of their practice – rather than a gimmick they pull out every once in a while to engage students.

What training is available for free, and how effective is it?

Many of the main suppliers of technology tools provide training – either with their product or online – although training is rarely provided in the contexts that teachers will encounter. However, I believe it is every school’s responsibility to facilitate staff training in ways that allow those teachers time to consider the training in their own context.

In this sense, time is the key resource needed.

Another observation of free training is that, often, there is a lot of ‘needless’ training around technology. A lot of tools are fairly self-explanatory, and teachers may be better served having time to experiment with tools rather than receiving direct instruction that walks them through things step by step.

My view on edtech training is that providers should focus on training a key member of staff within a school, who is then in a better position to cascade this in a more relevant and applicable way to staff. Schools should also be sure to set aside that all-important time for teachers to explore, try, evaluate and refine their use.

It is important to share the basic tools available and then allow teachers to consider, discuss, decide and plan for their use in the ways that make most sense for them.

Can educators access online training? How does this work with their teaching schedule?

Some online training is created by the organisations selling/sharing their tools, but often it is created by users. There are pros and cons of online training. Often, because it is online, staff will leave it with the intention of returning to it later. Later sometimes doesn’t come during the busy schedule of most teachers. The best online training (in my opinion) allows users to dip in and out of what they need in order to match their needs and experience with the tool. An active community around the tool (a forum, for example) can also be useful for sharing ideas.

Where are teachers currently getting their training? From their institution, from tech suppliers, or from their own independent research?

This will vary depending on the tool, the teacher’s role in school, and the culture of the school. For many of the larger tools, such as MIS systems, assessment systems, etc, schools may well tap into the training on offer from providers. In the case of tools such as Google Apps for Education, many teachers explore themselves or rely on in-house training from enthusiasts who become internal experts. Some staff go looking for support groups/advice online and get training and ideas from there. There are also conferences aimed at edtech, where experts will carry out training and workshops.

Speaking from my own experience, I find very little of value in the conferences or online training that I can’t discover myself by simply trying the technology and experimenting. However, this may well not be the case for everyone, and for some people this will be a starting point to help them get ideas and to enthuse them to try a particular technology. At Cramlington, we do the vast majority of our training in-house.

How would you sum up the current state of teachers’ edtech competencies? And how much edtech is currently untapped, as teachers aren’t getting the training to use it?

Many teachers ‘dabble’ with edtech, particularly if it isn’t their subject specialism. As such, some only scratch the surface of what can be achieved with the tools they are using. Key examples of these are where schools are providing 1:1 technology, but have no accompanying training for their staff. A handful of staff will use this tech to its full potential, while others will stick to tools they know or features they understand.

There needs to be time set aside to constantly revisit use of edtech, to explore what others are doing, and to share ideas. Personally, I feel that opportunities for collaboration and sharing are probably more powerful than more direct training, as teachers tend to be at varying levels of confidence and competence.

Related feature: Overcoming barriers to digital transformation in the classroom

The biggest untapped part of edtech – and the reason it often fails to have an impact, in my opinion – is a lack of thought around why the tech should be used, how it will actually help and whether it has actually made a difference. Teachers and trainers should be looking at the pedagogy of what we think actually helps students to learn. Then, and only then, should they see if there’s a tool that can help to achieve or enhance this.

Many tools are used solely to engage students and have very little impact on learning, or they are used as an alternative way of doing things that can be done already. All of this completely misses the potential that technology has, to expand practice and provide new opportunities. For example, can the technology break down barriers of time and location? Can it allow collaboration not otherwise possible? Can it provide resources ‘just in time’? Help students to organise themselves in a way they otherwise couldn’t? Facilitate more debate and discussion between teacher and student, peer and peer? Allow instant assessment and feedback of work? Help a teacher or student decide whether they understand something and can move on, or provide a way for them to get additional support with a topic if still needed? Help teachers to share ideas more effectively?

There are so many ways that technology can be effective and can move learning particularly when use is sustained, becomes a habit and is very purposeful.

For a new technology implementation to be successful, teachers should first consider why they need this tool.

How should teachers’ edtech training vary between, say, a primary school and a secondary school? What competencies will be key in each case?

Training will be very different at different stages, and probably even within a school. Again, it comes down to the purpose of the training and prior experience with the tool.

In a primary school with a small number of teachers, a demonstration may be enough to allow teachers to go away and try something in their classroom: even then, though, the needs of different year groups will be very different. In a secondary school with 100 teachers teaching very different subjects, the training will need to be more bespoke and targeted.

In both cases, it is important to consider staff background and student needs. Providing ideas and information on how to use a tool may well be useful, but you must then give staff time to consider how they will actually use the tool, and to experiment with it.

Another consideration is to think about how students will use the tool. A teacher using a tool with students in a secondary school will explain its use very differently to their primary school counterpart. Training should take this into account. It should also help teachers to consider the pace at which they introduce the tool, and when they should expect students to be able to use it with confidence.

Similarly, how will edtech needs, and training, vary across different departments within the same school?

That depends on the tool. If it is generic, such as an online mind mapping tool or Google Drive, you could provide the same training and ideas to all teachers, who could then decide how to best apply it in their subject. However, where a tool is more bespoke (for example, an online programming integrated development environment (IDE)), you’ll need to go into far more depth for that specific subject area in order to be able to use the tool with students.

Often, the same tool can be used in many different ways by different departments. For example, a shared presentation tool may be used in humanities to allow students to collaborate on a topic they are researching. The same tool could be used in a different subject to allow a teacher to provide electronic assessment of work. In drama, the tool could provide a backdrop for a performance. It is important to share the basic tools available and then allow teachers to consider, discuss, decide and plan for their use in the ways that make most sense for them. However, it is also important that they are all exposed to each other’s ideas, so as to gain inspiration and ideas they may not have thought of themselves.

Are any UK schools leading the way in edtech CPD for their teachers?

One point of reference here would be the E-Learning Foundation’s champion schools (of which we are one). These are schools who have consistently used technology effectively, with a coherent approach and strategy across their school.

Evaluating the impact of the technology will help to make sure that it’s successful.

How does the UK compare with other nations when it comes to teachers getting the latest edtech training?

There is a large network of schools in Portugal using Microsoft products very effectively and a good community around training there.

The European Schoolnet provides some high-quality online courses around edtech, and involves a number of countries in this.

My own experience of working across various countries was that there was often more freedom for trying new technologies in some other countries than here in the UK. However, I also found that funding seemed to be used better in the UK, with better access to resources. Training and use of technology also feels more focused on students and outcomes here.

Useful websites:

The Digital Teaching Professional Framework:

Microsoft free courses:

Google for Education:

Adobe Education Exchange:

Apple Teacher/Apple Professional Learning:

Futurelearn MOOCs:

Education and Training Foundation (ETF) Enhance Digital Teaching Platform:

ETF report on barriers to edtech adoption:

ETF national training needs analysis for the FE sector: and

2019 EdTech Schools:

European Schoolnet:

Enhance Digital Teaching Management Dashboard: