Is edtech realising its potential?

Murray Morrison, founder of the formative assessment tool Tassomai, presents his view on edtech’s relationship with the wider education sector

At a recent edtech conference, I was asked in a panel for my overview of the education technology landscape. Despite the prevailing mood of excitement and optimism from other panellists and delegates, I found myself arguing – somewhat more pessimistically – that we risk missing out on tremendous opportunities to effect social change if we cannot better join up with schools.

While this conference brought technologists and publishers together in the run-up to the Bett Show, I had spent that same morning at a separate conference for UK secondary headteachers. Over 1,000 school leaders had gathered to talk about the issues they face. Particularly at this time of year, their focus was on the final weeks before national assessments. And though the problems schools face and the solutions they consider marry up so well to solutions we offer, in five hours of conference, education technology was barely mentioned. But why?

Mistrust in edtech providers

A survey conducted by Teacher Tapp said that 54% of teachers were unlikely to trust claims made by edtech providers. Every school has a story of a piece of technology or a service purchased that was misunderstood, mis-sold or poorly implemented. Every school has their ‘cupboard of shame’, real or virtual, where ill-advised purchases gather dust out of view.

It’s not without justification – schools have always faced pressures from parents, governors and government to perform, get results and show progress. Accountable for results, they must feel that they are ripe for exploitation. It’s no wonder that a fair few fads have come and gone over the years; nor is it surprising that schools have become inured to the promises of tech and are a little more conservative than classroom teachers might wish them to be.

  Every school has their ‘cupboard of shame’, real or virtual, where ill-advised purchases gather dust out of view  

Working together for the greater good

As an industry, we must do better to educate the educators on what our products offer in their context. We may all think our product will benefit all who use it, but the message that we have a silver bullet risks further eroding that trust. We should be brave enough to work with schools to assess whether our products fit their context. Do we have evidence they can use to inform their decision? 

Do they have the structure and strategy to implement the product well enough to realise the value? We should all have the confidence to push back against an easy sale in favour of a more lasting relationship.

In the past few years, students have answered almost a billion Tassomai questions – unfathomable to me when I was just making a tool to help my own few students. But beyond a nice headline, our dataset offers incredible opportunities for further research – something we’re actively engaging in thanks to the growing network of technologists, practitioners and researchers trying to improve the level of evidence in edtech.

A number of like-minded edtech founders, concerned by the lack of collaboration and the damaging misperception of our industry, have recently launched the Edtech Evidence Group with a view to raising awareness of the importance of research, collaboration with practitioners, and setting a standard to which we can all aspire.

There is no doubt that the 21st-century classroom has changed thanks to technology, and the pace of change is increasing. But we must nurture the relationship between tech and schools. 

If we can continue to prioritise the long-term benefits of better evidence, greater integration with independent researchers, and deeper collaborative partnerships with schools, we have the chance to make the phenomenal impact that edtech offers. Doing so will confer benefits not only to our community, but more importantly to those who matter – our children and those who educate them. 

You might also like: The role of technology in student wellbeing

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