Thoughts on EdTech

I’ve been strangely busy for quite a while now and my posting has dropped quite a lot. In the last few months I’ve been doing a lot of work planning, creating and curating curriculums, supporting schools and just getting my life in order. I’ve been in a lot of schools recently and have had some great experiences with lovely teachers and schools, but it has highlighted that we still have a long way to go before technology usage in schools becomes seemless and useful.

So, here, in no particular order, are my thoughts on the current state of EdTech.

computer computer keyboard contemporary displayFirstly, very few teachers and schools are in a place where they can use technology effectively. This isn’t a criticism of teachers in anyway, but without training and support, or even just sharing of ideas and information, why would an English teacher think to use 3D printing to help students understand the importance of objects within the text they are exploring? Why would a history teacher think to use Google Earth to explore the battle sites of WW1? Why would a maths teacher realise that using Scratch to draw shapes can help pupils calculate exterior angles? There are so many valuable resources out there that could utilise technology to make teaching all subjects more engaging for educators and students alike, but teachers don’t necessarily know how to access them or just how valuable those tools might be. The trouble is, most teachers experience of using technology involves an arduous booking process to try and get access to sluggish and outdated machinary. Or else, they’re handed a tablet or even a class set of tablets and told that it will revolutionise their teaching even though they’ve not been shown how to use it and nor have the students so then they become glorified web browsers and cameras with very little useful educational value.

Which brings me onto my second point – we’re living in an age of the ‘quick fix’. Far too many EdTech products seem to be offering a ‘quick and easy’ way to use their tool in the classroom to make a difference. Half of the time, the tool in question has been rushed out of the factory in China full of hardware faults and the promised resources are weak at best, non-existent at worst. The educators are assured that by using this shiny new product, children will magically become engaged and education will become a delight… what they assume is that every teacher has the time to sit and learn how to use the tool, how to troubleshoot the tool and how to come up with innovative and exciting ways to use the tool. While it’s true that some educators will do all of those things, for the majority, there isn’t the time or the energy to become world experts on whatever has been bought. And that’s the bigger problem… usually this quick fix tools end up eating away the majority of the ICT budget because they look flashy and will impress the governors/Ofsted/parents even if they won’t end up being used beyond the first half term.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some amazing products, some amazing teachers and some amazing tools out there, but they are still too few and far between.

turned on black acer laptop

My thoughts are that technology needs to become an intrinsic part of teaching. Look at the world around us – computers, phones, tablets are ubiquitous, we can’t get away from them and yet often pupils will spend days without touching technology for their learning. In the world outside of school, they are likely to be surrounded by technology and yet our teaching methodology is based on a time before computers even existed. BUT, and it’s a big but, we need to make sure that when technology is used in education, it’s used purposefully so we’re not just using the tablets for searching up on the Internet or using a fancy app to impress a visiting dignitary. It’s difficult, but once pupils are shown how to use tech, they are actually pretty good at suggesting ways to use it themselves and we should remember that a lot of EdTech is actually designed to make both teaching and learning more simple.

GfE_Logo_3fkBssr.max-1300x1300That’s one of the reasons I’m really enjoying doing freelance work for Google lately. I can see that their Education team has been thinking about ways to support teachers – it’s obvious in their constant updates in response to feedback from teachers that they have educators at heart. G Suite for Education is designed to be interactive, intuitive and collabrative. I tend to find that a day of delivering G Suite training usually involves introducing the tools and letting teachers discover for themselves what they can do and then discussing and suggesting ways of using it in their classroom. I’ve delivered the Google Applied Digital Skills curriculum a few times and it’s a fantastic set of resources (that doesn’t HAVE to be used with Google products). The idea behind it is to offer cross curricular teaching ideas using technology that will link to real world, for example planning a bake sale using spreadsheets and designing posters; or how about using Google Slides to create an interactive choose-your-own-adventure style story, planned on a collaborative doc of course – and with a bit of thought, you could fit the project into your teaching for any subject – what about an interactive exploration of a historical period?

But, regardless of whether you are a user of Google, Microsoft or something else in your school, it’s so important that students (and teachers) understand that these web-based tools are here to stay and should become part of our daily teaching, otherwise we’re letting our students down and not properly preparing them for the future.

Another thing I often see furiously debated by teachers is the value of computers/laptops/tablets and I find this to be an interesting discussion. While I loved having iPads one to one in my classroom as a primary school teacher, I still valued the computing suite and access to desktop computers or laptops on occasion. You see, I think tablets are great for quick and effective learning. You can easily access your mail and camera as well as get onto the web, there are some wonderful tools out there and yes, you can add a keyboard to make it ‘like a laptop’, but I would also add that I almost never used a tablet myself – we’ve got a handful of iPads at home and I would rarely pick one up to use it for anything. The last thing I used one for was to create an animation for a project in November. My laptop, Chromebook and phone are all used much more frequently – my laptop for the majority of the work, but the Chromebook if I just want to get onto a G Suite tool quickly and easily or I want to take a light, affordable laptop somewhere without the stress of my MacBook Pro in my bag.

When it comes to teaching, I don’t think it’s fair to only expose children to tablets – it pains me when I teach KS2 pupils who don’t understand how to click a mouse and who take ten minutes to type their name on a keyboard – these, to me, are basic lifeskills and I know that people argue that with touchscreen and voice-to-text you don’t need those skills anymore, but I have both of those tools on my Chromebook and yet still prefer to navigate using the touchpad and type with the keyboard.

So, my general opinion is that iPads and other tablets are wonderful, and they certainly inspire enthusiasm from staff and pupils when they are new and shiny, but it is important that you have either desktop or laptop computers a) to teach some basic digital literacy skills like navigating an OS, b) so that you have access to tools that might not be possible to use effectively on a tablet and c) to expose students to a broad range of different tools because we don’t really know what hardware or software will need to be used in their future workplace.

And again, I circle back on to training – whatever hardware your school decides to buy, if teaching staff aren’t given the opportunity to learn how to use it, to understand how it applies to whatever they teach, then it just won’t be used effectively and you’re back to a cupboard full of unused tech – it’s not just the computing staff that need to know how to use technology – everyone should be trying to use it across the curriculum.

One of the projects I recently worked on was a computing scheme of work for a company called Kapow and the key things we discussed was to make sure that the lessons for computing were accessible to even the least computer-literate teacher – we had a a very fine line to tow between being  patronising and supporting teachers and I’m pretty proud of what we achieved. In my role, not only did I create content, but I proof read and edited every single lesson to ensure those accessibility goals were met and the main feedback from schools so far has been that it is easy to follow for everyone. While we were creating the lessons, at the back of my mind and I kept thinking – how could this tool also be used in another subject? What could we suggest as next steps for cross-curricular teaching? For me, that’s what primary school computing teaching is all about – understanding how to use technology across all subjects. The skills are taught in computing, but applied more generally.

I guess I’m not really offering any solutions here, just highlighting some of the issues that I’ve seen recently as well as some projects I’ve worked on. What are your thoughts? Do you think EdTech is heading in the right direction or the wrong direction? How can we support educators across the curriculum to use technology more effectively?

Let me know what you think, but just remember – the students of today will likely be using the tools of tomorrow in their workplace so we, as teachers, need to arm them with as much understanding of technology as we can possibly provide!

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