Two weeks ago we had the opportunity to attend the Edtech Podcast launch, a live podcasting event held at Loughborough University, celebrating six months since former Head of Content at BETT, Sophie Bailey, decided to follow the growing trend towards independent working and air her first podcast dedicated to all things edtech.
We have previously blogged about our attendance at the annual BETT show, commenting on how it can just feel like an opportunity for tech companies to sell their wares without any real understanding of what educators want or need. Perhaps the Edtech Podcast can be seen as an attempt to answer the call for more ‘meaningful conversations about the direction of travel in education’.
Looking for new ways of content creation and responding to the continued growth of the podcast, with a reported 11% of people in the UK listening to a podcast every week, Sophie decided it would be the perfect medium by which to engage educators, innovators and anyone else who may be interested in the future of edtech.
She has succeeded in securing 20,000 downloads in the first six months of being on air and her listeners span 69 countries worldwide, with her fourth biggest audience coming from China. Previous episodes have featured interviews with key figures such as Joanne Bersin, Head of Education at Kano, currently making waves in the edtech world, and Dr Rose Luckin from the UCL Knowledge Lab discussing the importance of efficacy.
The live panel debate comprised former Head of ICT turned edtech consultant Mark Anderson @ICTEVANGELIST; founder of the early years app EasyPeasy, Jen Lexmond; former host of the TES modern languages forum Joe Dale; Team Leader of Digital Programmes at the V&A, Alex Flowers; and teacher and ICT enthusiast at Lauriston Primary School in Hackney, Tolu Oyenola.
A number of burning issues in edtech were discussed over the course of the evening, crucially how the dialogue between ed and tech could be improved. Although it was suggested that teachers needed to develop a ‘growth mindset and be willing to push themselves’, all the panelists acknowledged that severe time constraints placed upon teachers made this difficult, with a recent report from the EPI suggesting that a fifth of teachers in the UK work at least 60 hours per week, longer than all but two other countries worldwide.
Teacher confidence was also flagged as a key barrier for teachers engaging in technology, with half of the panelists suggesting more continuing professional development (CPD) was essential for any new edtech purchase, with educators needing to feel like they have ‘permission to explore’.
However the EPI report also suggested that teachers in the UK receive an average of just four days CPD a year, compared to the worldwide average of 10.5 days. How then are teachers supposed to make effective use of any new purchases authorised by the powers that be, or indeed get enthused about digital innovation in general?
It was suggested that there was a ‘dichotomy between connected educators and those who aren’t’, and that sharing of practice was essential in getting more teachers engaged. This is certainly true but there are currently few platforms for them to do this, and the key issue remains that it is headteachers, not individual teachers, that hold the budgets.
Edtech companies are keen to stress the fact that effective use of technology can in fact save teachers time, but exactly how this manifests itself is perhaps not being demonstrated to decision makers in a clear enough way.
Which brings us onto the importance not just of efficacy but of good and methodically rigorous research as one of the main ways tech companies can show the value of their products. Jen Lexmond pointed out that the Dartington Social Research Unit, whose job it is to test the rigour of research presented by edtech companies, currently finds that only one percent have the level of evidence required.
Nesta has long believed in the importance of using evidence to display real learning impacts and that edtech for the sake of edtech holds little value.
Jen also spoke about the importance of research not just for the rubber stamp to prove the value of your product, but also in terms of product development to make sure you’re responding to user feedback and your product is of real value to your intended audience.
This is key if edtech companies are to make sure their product is of real value to teachers, and responds to teacher feedback that investment in technology was made to ‘serve the needs of specific learners or groups of learners’ and is in line with specific school development priorities.
Then came the Mark Twain quote from one audience member that ‘schools get in the way of education’, and the rate of digital growth will mean the future climate of education will be far beyond what anyone can predict, so tech companies should continue to innovate anyway.
The panel agreed, pointing to both pioneers within schools who are setting their own agenda and recent technological advancements such as Google Expeditions as a sign of things to come in the future of education.
However, this smacks of a ‘we know best’ attitude and the problem with this over-emphasis on what the future might hold, and deciding to work outside existing structures, is that it ignores the current reality of the educational climate and risks further fragmenting the worlds of ed and tech. It also ignores the fact that teachers are in fact experts in the field of education and that time and time again, studies have shown the importance of having a teacher present in order to guide learners and respond to individual learners' needs.
It was a great evening full of people who clearly care about the future of education and were willing to open up the edtech dialogue. However, it would perhaps have benefited from having more currently practising teachers of all levels, including those not so sold on the virtues of edtech, to ensure the industry is not preaching to the converted and listening to genuine concerns from educational professionals. Listen to the debate and previous EdTech Podcasts here.
Editor's NB: Sophie has contacted us about plans in the pipeline for a Pro-Tech vs Anti-Tech teacher debate so watch this space...!
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