Three traps the edtech strategy must avoid at all costs

1 Mar 2021, 5:00

The Covid lockdowns have provided a golden opportunity for government to work out a well-thought-through strategy for edtech, writes Mark Anderson

Three national lockdowns in, by and large most schools and trusts are making a good go of blended learning. It’s been challenging, even for those who have been successfully using edtech for years, to say nothing of the vast majority who were thrown in at the deep end without much support. The truth is, the challenges of the pandemic have been exacerbated by a lack of clear communication and poor strategy from the top.

A Damascene conversion in Whitehall with regards to edtech’s sustained place in the education landscape creates a golden opportunity. But if they are to make a long-term success of it, there are three key things the government must avoid at all costs.

  1. Do not throw technology at schools as a panacea

For too long, successive governments have thrown technology at the sector with a hope and a prayer that it will act as a silver bullet. For all our focus on the digital divide, the greatest problem isn’t a lack of technology or gadgets but a lack of support and training for using them effectively. The failure of the Interactive Whiteboard initiatives still stands as a totem of this failed approach.

With blended learning here to stay, teachers require specific equipment, such as laptops – preferably without Russian malware. More importantly, training on how best to use technology should be a core part of their CPD from day one. There is no one-size-fits-all technological solution, and training should reflect that. It should be autonomous, contextual and ongoing if it’s going to be part of a clear and effective digital strategy, rather than another sticking plaster.

  1. Do not keep edtech infrastructure fragmented

Unlike in Scotland and Wales, there is no central infrastructure that acts as the backbone for education in England. Students, teachers and parents are left to jump between different systems and programmes each day.

We can’t build a robust system without solid underlying infrastructure. Scotland’s Glow, based on Microsoft 365, is used by all teachers and students in the country and all other tools hang off this core infrastructure. But while Microsoft and Google offer solid foundations, what’s really needed is a central management information system (MIS) that joins the dots.

Teams has a great feature called Insights, which lets teachers see which assignments students have attempted, how long they spent on it, whether they answered part or all of the questions and so on. This intelligence is great, but only if it can be pulled through to teachers alongside other insights, such as attendance and past performance in an easy-to-digest manner.

The cornerstone of any effective strategy is people

While this has been frustratingly absent, new MIS providers are disrupting the market with cloud-based solutions that provide a backbone that can be accessed anywhere, any time. Technology cannot work in isolation, and this fragmentation creates workload. Schools need a MIS that links all tools together and puts intelligence into the hands of teachers and senior leaders regardless of where they are located.

  1. Do not ignore teachers when making policy

There have been glimmers of hope in the past few years. The EdTech Strategy Group set up by the previous education secretary showed government was starting to listen to teachers. This needs to be much more strategic. We need a clear approach to how it will work in practice.

The cornerstone of any effective policy is people. It’s not about whether teachers can use this or that package. It’s about finding out what tools they need to do their job efficiently to improve the life chances of students. If government doesn’t listen to the profession, it won’t matter what technology they throw at the sector. It will be wasted money. Without involving teachers and leaders in the decision-making process, there will be no buy-in, and technology will become more of a hindrance than a help.

The education sector doesn’t need another Whitehall diktat. It needs a real strategy based on ongoing training and a solid infrastructure created in partnership with those charged with using it.

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