‘Technology cannot replace great teaching but it can amplify it’

A Q&A with Sharon Hague, senior vice president of schools for education publisher Pearson

Are the tools, solutions and strategies implemented in response to COVID-19 sustainable long-term?

What we’ve seen this year is a rapid and accelerated shift to digital-first teaching, learning and assessment solutions. And we think it’s here to stay. Teachers, students and parents have learned so much through this period. They’re embracing what worked and they’re weaving it into a ‘new normal’. It’s an exciting time to be developing new digital products and platforms that will support teachers now and in the future. Our aim is to ensure these new solutions and strategies are easy to use, reduce teacher workload and provide value for money. Above all else, they have to improve impact on learner progression.

How has remote teaching and learning affected the assessment process, and how are teachers monitoring student progression?

What we’ve seen is that remote teaching and learning provides us with new opportunities to monitor and understand what children have learnt at a much deeper level. This is an area where technology can make the difference. When learners complete digital activities, it’s possible to return feedback almost instantaneously. Technology can also help teachers collect and track data across time to bring together a more holistic picture of the individual student and their strengths and weaknesses.

“What we’ve seen is that remote teaching and learning provides us with new opportunities to monitor and understand what children have learnt at a much deeper level”

Interestingly, teachers have shared with us that monitoring learning remotely has been their biggest problem to solve during the pandemic. They can clearly see now how technology can help solve this. If the teacher doesn’t have access to the student book, there are still meaningful ways to support students and their progress beyond the classroom, and this signals a potential shift to more online assessment completion now and in the future.

2020 has been called this biggest experiment into virtual learning the world has ever seen – how long until we can measure the true impact of remote education delivery?

I think we already can. Just as families can see the progress their children are making throughout this purely digital learning journey, so too can we help measure the impact through insights and analytics.

However, I do think there needs to be a system focus, too. There needs to be more compelling research into remote learning pedagogy to fuel best practice and guide design. At Pearson, we’re playing our part by measuring the efficacy of all our digital products and services that support online learning. We are just starting a longitudinal study into remote teaching pedagogy and its impact on learners with several of our partner schools. The key thing for us to get right here is how we measure true impact whilst simultaneously protecting the data of the teacher and learner.

Sharon Hague, senior vice president, UK Schools, Pearson

Does the remote revolution risk us losing touch of the ‘human’ element of teaching, and if so, how can we maintain this crucial element?

While it’s clear more people are viewing education not just as a physical, bricks-and-mortar location, but as an activity that you can do anywhere, anytime, it’s also true that students have sorely missed being together in a physical location. A September OECD survey showed that just 22% of schools planned an immediate return to a full schedule of lessons and student attendance. Yet, nearly 60% said they would move towards a hybrid model of distance and classroom learning – a statistic almost unthinkable just six months ago.

For me, the key is finding the best ways to use technology so that it amplifies great teaching and learning, has teacher needs and learner outcomes at the heart of its design, and enables better relationships between teachers, children and parents. I think what we’ll see is a hybrid model of classroom learning and high-quality online education over the coming years.

Following the events of this year, where we are seeing the true potential of digital, will we start to see more elements of teaching succumb to automation?

Technology cannot replace great teaching but it can amplify it. As an increasingly important tool in the teaching and learning toolkit, I think we’ll start to see there are elements of teaching that can be enhanced by technology but that these elements are in support of the teacher and great teaching.

A good example of this is automation that takes away tasks from the teacher that are incredibly time-consuming to carry out, or nigh-on-impossible for a human to do in real-time. It has the potential to reduce the administration burden of assessment and marking and enable them to focus on what they do best – use the data to understand where students need to go next.

We’re also seeing the ability to connect learners to each other and increased access to enhanced learning experiences start to gain attention. This is not automation as such but definitely a step change in the role digital plays in teaching and learning. Can we connect learners from across the globe to collaborate together and can we deliver unique experiences not always available in the physical classroom via the digital medium? The answer seems to be a resounding yes.

How likely is it that education providers will adopt a fully digital offering and what does this mean for student futures?

We’re already seeing education providers adopt fully digital offerings. For example, we recently launched Harrow School Online, a fully online global sixth form, offering A Level education to girls and boys aged 16–18. It’s specifically designed for effective full-time online learning and has attracted students from all over the world.

This very much reflects the findings from our recent Global Learner Survey, capturing the voice of over 7,000 learners worldwide. It showed that learners see COVID-19 as a turning point for modern learning, with online schooling and the need for more digital skills leaving a lasting mark. Eighty-eight percent of learners globally (90% in the UK) said online learning will be a permanent part of primary, secondary and higher education moving forward, with 63% in the UK saying more primary and secondary students will attend school virtually (online) than attending a traditional school within the next 10 years (up from 56% in 2019).

I think, on balance, what we’ll see is a hybrid model of classroom learning and high-quality online education over the coming years. Our focus, as always, will remain on providing best-in-class services that lead to improving learner outcomes.

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