The first in our series, Steve Wright speaks to Osi Ejiofor, Educator and EdTech 50 judge/founder of Osi’s Tech Tips website.
Q. As schools, colleges and universities across the country ready themselves for the new academic year, what are their main edtech focuses?
Institutions are in different places when it comes to technology implementation. Some schools, colleges or universities are beginning to embed technology in their offering, whereas others have an established approach towards the usage.
The focus for those schools beginning this journey would be on implementing an approach based on the success of other, more established institutions – yet tailored to their own particular setting and student needs, especially with younger pupils.
Studies from the US analysing data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the 2017 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) show “little evidence of a positive relationship between student performance on PISA and their self-reported use of technology, and some evidence of a negative impact”. [Link on page 36*.]
This doesn’t show that technology has no positive impact on performance: instead, it’s more a reflection of how technology is used in classrooms. We need to focus on tech that redefines learning and affects outcomes – rather than tech for the sake of it.
Q. What are educators most concerned about in terms of back of house/administrative/non-teaching tasks?
Time is a commodity much sought after by education professionals. One of the biggest concerns for teachers is the amount of time they spend on administrative tasks that do not directly improve classroom outcomes, or which could be made more efficient through the use of technology.
Assessment tasks such as marking, data entry, data analysis, report writing, test marking, risk assessment and performance monitoring; administrative tasks such as lesson planning, registering students, parent communication, staff briefing, staff training: these can all take too much time, or could be streamlined using technology.
However, most institutions stick to what is most comfortable, rather than most effective. It is difficult for practitioners to transition from knowing much (although inefficient) to knowing little: even if the latter saves time and improves productivity, people would rather stay in their comfort zone.
Providing the right training and development for staff is essential to ensure a smooth transition to a new system. However, in most cases teachers are trapped in a time vortex in which the systems are dated and inefficient. Some blame lack of funding, others blame the pressure to produce results: but the end result is that teachers are spending too much time on administrative tasks.
Q. What edtech skills are teachers keen to focus on for 2019–20?
There is a steady, swelling movement away from an ‘instructionist’ towards a ‘constructionist’ approach in teaching. Resources such as Lego Mindstorm, Scratch, Minecraft, Raspberry Pi, and Makey Makey have been leading the way in creating a hands-on approach towards learning through technology.
This approach is beginning to spread across the curriculum, and resources such as Google’s Applied Digital Skills are making it more accessible for practitioners. This resource is helping teachers to become lesson facilitators, and encouraging students to take a more self-paced, hands-on, collaborative approach to learning.
The UK platform has a growing bank of resources and lessons for teachers to draw from, with more being added as we speak. The US has double the amount of these lessons, and its bank is also growing.
Q. Which edtech products and services are garnering most excitement?
A number of products are generating excitement. Alongside Google’s Applied Digital Skills resource, Microsoft OneNote and other Office applications have really changed the way teachers plan and conduct lessons.
The new features of OneNote enable students not only to make jottings as they would on paper, but also to have calculations explained to them when their answer is incorrect: they are given the correct answer with an explanation and given the chance to try another one. This saves teachers time when dealing with misconceptions.
Products that save teachers time will always be most attractive. Socrative, Google Forms, NearPod and others cut down on some of the administrative and assessment tasks that teachers have to carry out. What could be more exciting than that?
Q. What edtech topics are at the top of the agenda right now?
Assessment is definitely a hot topic. The success of education is shown in the progress and development of the student. Senior leaders want to know what services can ensure that they are assessing in the most efficient, accurate way possible.
This has led to many schools adopting tools such as Google Forms and other self-marking online questionnaires/quizzes to reduce teacher marking time, allowing teachers to focus on analysing progress and targeting areas for development. Tools such as Texthelp enable students to identify errors in their writing, and also to have the text read out to them – excellent for students with English as an additional language or others who require additional reading support.
Another hot topic is the effective use of support staff in classrooms, and the potential that AI could replace certain teaching assistant roles. It is never easy discussing the possibility of people losing their jobs to technology, but for teaching assistants this is something that is coming closer to home as school budgets in the UK continue to be cut.
Q. Should we be looking to any other countries/systems for inspiration as we seek to get the best from the edtech out there?
There are many examples of how technology is used throughout the world in ways that are both innovative and inspiring. The fluid learning approach from Orestad Gymnasium in Denmark aims to constantly test new ways of teaching (including virtual teaching) exemplified in the architecture as well as the curriculum.
However, we need to be careful when looking elsewhere for effective tech-led teaching practices, as our use of technology is closely related to culture.
The needs of each culture drive the creation of technology. We now find that technology is able to influence cultural changes. With this in mind, we have to be careful not to assume that an approach that works in Silicon Valley will have the same effect in Brixton.
It should also be mentioned that there is a wealth of good practice across the nation, as highlighted by the Education Foundation’s publication of its EdTech 50 Schools earlier this year.