Tech in education: Investment

One of the big challenges with technology in education is going to be investment.  For example, some schools are in inner city locations where access to internet infrastructure is easy.   Others however exist in rural locations where access to appropriate broadband internet is not easy, or in some cases, not possible to come by.    There will also be schools which have planned the replacement of network and server infrastructure on a regular basis where others have not.

Going forward, as there is little achieved in looking back on why things arent as developed as they could be, the key things in my view are:

  1. Investment

Looking generally across all schools and colleges it is reasonably clear that there is a need for investment.  There are schools which lack some of the basics where other schools are streets ahead.   But even across the board there is an opportunity to invest and drive things forward making sure our schools and colleges are set for the future.

  • Sustainability

And this is critical.  Investment cannot be seen as a one-shot deal.   We cant simply invest in devices or infrastructure in the next year and consider it job done.   Any investment must include planning and provision for the replacement of devices and infrastructure, plus the ongoing upgrade as based on the changing needs at the time.   I remember laptops for teachers and the benefits it brought, followed by the issues presented when the centralised funding wasn’t there when the devices came to need replacing.  We cannot repeat this, so any plans must be longer term plans.

  • Support and training

We also need to acknowledge that the technology has to work, and in meeting this requirement there needs to be adequate support.   IT Services teams in schools and colleges need to be put in place to ensure that the technology works on a day to day basis plus need to be there to resolve issues when things go wrong.    And in line with the need for technology to simply work, the teaching staff using the technology need to have the relevant skills and experience to know how and also when to use it.   This is about ensuring training is provided but also that opportunities exist for the continual professional learning and sharing required to make the best us of ever-changing technology solutions.

Conclusion

To get all schools and colleges to the same point, where they all can realise the same potential in the use of technology is a major piece of work.   Schools are at various stages on this journey.    As such the best approach for all is not to seek to make this potentially significant jump but instead to focus on the smaller steps, the little changes in practice and tech use, in the short term, which form part of what will be a big journey over the longer timeline.    Let’s start now, do what we can, collaborate, share and petition those who can support us to ensure all schools can improve in their potential to use technology in teaching and learning.

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EdTech beyond the lockdowns

I thought, following my recent panel discussion at the Schools an Academies Show in London I would write a short post on my thoughts on the 3 key questions posed as part of the session.

Delivering the curriculum beyond the physical classroom: how can schools effectively implement hybrid learning plans?

Some schools have been doing this for some time, using the flipped classroom for example.    The issue is it needs to work for your school, your context, staff, and students.   It needs to work for your hardware and infrastructure, etc, so just because an approach worked in other schools doesn’t mean you can simply pick up that solution and replicate it in your school.    So, for me it’s about experimenting a little, and taking it slow.   A large part of effective hybrid learning, is the same as traditional face to face learning, and about building up effective learning habits and routines, but this takes time;  We need to allow for this time.   Use what has been learnt over lockdown as to what worked and didn’t work in your school and go from there.   But yes, look at other schools and what appears to work, but pick carefully at the elements of their practice that you wish to implement, and then give these approaches time to embed before seeking to advance further.   And make sure to engage the teachers, students and parents in planning.

Do we finally have enough proof of the pedagogical efficacy of EdTech?

Given the variety of uses of edtech, edtech products, planned outcomes (e.g. academic, or soft skills, global awareness, etc), staff skills, equipment level, student tech skills, etc it is difficult to assess general efficacy accurately.   As I wrote in my last post, it is a bit like assessing the efficacy of a bunch of hand tools, including some hammers, screwdrivers, hand drills and saws.   Their efficacy depends very much on what they are being used for (e.g., using a screwdriver to hammer in a nail) and the skill level of the user, that of a DIY’er or an expert craftsperson.  As such I am not sure what value there is in the question, given the large number of variables involved.   I also note that the more variables involved the greater the likelihood of high levels of variation in results from different research studies plus a tendency for the generalised results to regress towards the mean, and a likely insignificant impact being suggested.   I therefore believe we need to look at a different question, and whether EdTech has the potential to bring about positive improvements or impact in teaching and learning.   Her I believe we already have proof that when used well, it can have a positive impact.   We also have proof that without it learning during a pandemic wouldn’t have been possible, or not to the extent that was achieved.   And we can see we now live in an increasing technological world.   So, if the core of the original question is do we have evidence to support the continued use and required investment in Edtech, I would say yes.

How can leaders empower educators to discover the potential of technology in teaching?

This is about sharing and the organisational culture in my view.  Establishing opportunities for people to share ideas and what worked as well as seeking support on what didn’t.   It is also about encouraging sharing beyond the school using the various sources out there such as Apple Distinguished educators or Microsoft innovative educator experts.   For me twitter is often the go to place and I have heard it described as “the best staffroom in the world”.    So the sharing gets the ideas as to things to try, and then they need to be put into practice and this is where culture and climate come into play.   The climate of the school has to be warm and supportive, and the culture open, thereby empowering people to try things in the knowledge that, they may not work as planned, but where they don’t this simply serves as a learning experience to be shared to help the collective teaching and student body move forward.   In all my years working in education, and using EdTech, or simply technology in education, I have tried lots of different approaches, apps and other tools, with some working well and some not so well.  The key has been I have been lucky to work in schools and colleges which were supportive of these attempts, the potential for them to bring about improvements, but also the acceptance that some might not work.    Now obviously this isnt about throwing out a new app for all students in a school to use and running the risk of a negative experience for all students, but more about piloting and trialling with small groups where, should things don’t work, it is easy to discontinue the trial and recovery or address any negative impact.    Looking back to the question, the key words are discovery and empower;   This requires experimentation, people to feel valued and supported to innovate, the need to share so experiences are collective across staff/students rather than limited to a given teacher or class, plus there needs to be acceptance that the discovery made might simply be that a given tool or approach doesn’t work for your students.

Conclusion

I think the pandemic has both shown the importance of technology in education, plus has helped move schools and colleges forward, driven by the immediate need of the pandemic.    Now the pandemic is (hopefully) receding, we now need to build the intrinsic need and want to continue the development of the use of technology in schools.    It also needs to be something not just put in place now, but something sustainable in the longer term, so a simple purchase of infrastructure and devices in the coming months or year is insufficient if it isnt backed up with a plan for ongoing upgrade and replacement into the future.     I suspect we now stand at the point where the rubber band may be stretched, encouraging a tendency for us to start to rebound back to the “way things were before the pandemic”, so it is now, more than ever, important that we push forward.

Schools and academies Show, London

Am attending the School and Academies show in London this week including being part of a panel session discussing “EdTech Beyond the Lockdowns: Reaching a Long-Term Balance Between Distance and In-Person Learning”.    Firstly, I have my fingers crossed that I can manage to get to London and the event without any of my usual travel mishaps, and if any travel mishaps have to happen the happen after I have finished the panel session.

As always, one of the big benefits to these events is simply the networking side of things and getting to meet and discuss various educational issues with colleagues from schools and colleges from across the UK and beyond.    I note that the Association of Network Managers in Education (ANME), of which I am an ambassador, have a stand (D34) at the event, so it is likely I will spend some of my time there catching up with other ANME members.   Hopefully, I can get a few more selfies at this event, than I did at Bett earlier in the year.

In terms of the panel session, one of the questions posed relates to the efficacy of EdTech and this has got me thinking.    EdTech covers such a broad range of tools, from visualisers to bits of software, AR/VR headsets, the dreaded interactive whiteboard, and many other technologies.  In addition, each technology may be used in different ways dependent on the students, the curriculum content being covered, the access to equipment, etc, plus the impact of EdTech will depend on what impact is being sought, the skill level in tech use of the teachers and the students, the organisational culture of the school plus its climate, along with a multitude of other factors.    In seeking an analogy, I wonder if seeking to access the efficacy of EdTech is much akin to seeking to assess the efficacy of hand tools such as hammers, screwdrivers, saws, etc.    It depends on user skill level, with a skilled tradesperson more likely to get positive outcomes than your average DIY’er.    It also depends on purpose, with a hammer used to nail together your shed seen as more positive, than a hammer being mis-used as a weapon of violence.     As such seeking the general efficacy of EdTech seems a little difficult, or possibly even a little meaningless. 

Maybe we need to change the question and focus on the potential for positive impact.  On this front I think there is plenty of evidence of specific technologies being used in schools and colleges to positive effect.   From this I think it is also possible to identify some of the features which support technology to have a positive impact in schools, such as appropriate staff training, an open and supportive climate which supports innovation and experimentation, collaboration between staff as to successes and challenges plus students and staff who are engaged in what and how technology is used.  

I am looking forward to being part of the School and Academies Show event and to sharing my thoughts, to seeing what exhibitors are there, to networking with peers and hopefully to NOT getting lost, on the wrong train or a similar travel mishap.

BETT 2022 (including day 2)

After my Bett day 1 post (read more here) I was intending to post at the conclusion of day 2 however having travelled home, feeling a little bit under the weather (but not covid thankfully), and suffering from Bett fatigue this just didn’t happen.   As such I thought I would combined my Bett day 2, and overall Bett post into a single post;  this one.

Day 2

So, day 2 for me didn’t get off to a great start as I woke feeling a bit under the weather, however thankfully the lateral flow tests indicated negative.    As such I decided to cancel a planned breakfast meeting in order to get a couple of extra hours in bed in the hope of feeling better.   I was also concious of having to travel home at the end of the day, having only been able to justify attendance at 2 of the 3 days of Bett, as such I thought the extra bed hours were wise.

I spent a bit of time of day 2 supporting the Association of Network Managers in Education (ANME) on the stand area they had on the NetSupport stand.   This was good as it allowed me to have discussions with IT staff from a couple of schools which I wouldn’t otherwise have talked with, discussing issues and possible solutions.   Again, this highlights the key benefit of the Bett show in the opportunity to network with colleagues.

It was while on the stand that Bukky stopped by for a chat.   I always come away from chats with Bukky feeling positive and upbeat and this time was no different.   We discussed a number of different areas including assessment and how there is a need to explore how technology can be better used to change the examinations and assessment systems which currently still rely on paper based exams.    Mark Anderson also popped by, and I was introduced to Esam from Microsoft leading to a nice group selfie.   I note on reflection, I may have briefly met Esam at a Microsoft FE event some years back however at the time and in the busy day and number of people met, I didn’t associate the face or name.  And this is a problem I often have at Bett, recognising who I have or havent met in the past, including those I have only met via social media;   It is however great when Bett provides you an opportunity to meet someone you have previously only corresponded with online.

During day 2 I also had the opportunity to meet up with an ex-colleague who is now working for a college.  He was at the event with a new apprentice, so it was nice to see them both exploring Bett and was a good opportunity to introduce them to the ANME, which I am not sure FE colleges are as aware of as schools.

Before I knew it, it was time to jump on the train and head home.

Bett 2022

I suspect on reflection that 2 days at Bett is likely to be about the most I could reasonably allocate to the show.   I will admit there were a few people I had wanted to meet, who due to time, etc I didn’t manage to catch up with, plus there were a few presentations I missed which may have been good to attend.   That said, I think this year, although the need for planning your time at Bett was clear, I also realised the importance of allowing some time to support those unintended catchups and meetings which could never be planned.

For me, sadly not feeling so great towards the end of the first day, and into the second day impacted on what I was able to achieve;  Sadly there is little I could have done about this.   It had been a busy couple of weeks leading up to Bett and I think this simply caught up with me.

Again, looking back, the key benefit of Bett is the networking opportunities.   During the two days I caught up with a variety of other educational professionals in different roles and in different educational contexts, and was able to chat and discuss the opportunities and challenges, including how technology is being, or could be used.    Without Bett, and similar other shows, these opportunities wouldn’t exist.     It was at this point I also thought about the ANME trail, which sees visitors to the show encouraged to visit a set of stands to try and win prizes;  I love the way this encourages visitors to follow a path around the venue, and in doing so hopefully encourages opportunities for networking and discussion.   

I didn’t manage to attend as many presentations as I intended during the two days, however I think this is partly due to some incidental meetings, which resulted in me not going to some of the presentations I planned to go to.  On reflection, I think this was a fair exchange.   The presentations I did manage to attend were all useful and informative, so it is definitely worth reviewing the programme of events ahead of Bett and planning which sessions to see, even if you don’t eventually get to them.

Conclusion

Bett continues to be a big event in the UK EdTech calendar.    I am not sure I go for the stands anymore, instead going for the presentations and the mainly for the networking side of things.   And the networking side of things never fails to deliver, especially following a 2 year absence from face to face meetings at Bett.

Looking forward to Bett 2023, I think I will be in attendance once again.   I suspect one area I need to work on is planning to visit more of the stands, and particularly those stands which represent new start-ups and solutions, as opposed to the established brands and products.  

Bett 2022 was another useful, memorable and fun event.   Here’s looking forward to Bett 2023.

What is the role of the IT Network Lead to enhance Teaching and Learning?

The below post is based on my recent presentation at the EdTech Summit in Birmingham, my first face to face conference in over 1 ½ years where I was asked to present on my role, which is effectively leading IT Services and how it fits into supporting and encouraging the use of technology in teaching and learning.

I think it is important to tackle this question by breaking it down a little;   The first thing I believe that is worth looking at is who should lead on the use of tech in relation to teaching and learning.    For me the answer to this is simply that it is unlikely that any single person will possess all the relevant skills and experience in relation to school strategy, technology, pedagogy, curriculum content, classroom management and a variety of other factors.    Leading technology in a school requires a team of people working together with the network lead, director of IT or whatever title is in your school, being one of these people.    So that maybe answer the overall question, that the IT network leads role is to work in partnership and collaboration with other tech leaders in a school to support, empower and encourage others in the use of technology within teaching and learning.

And what does effective use of tech in teaching and learning look like?    This is a really important question.   It is sometimes easy to consider tech use to be high impact, flashy, high tech, etc, but the reality of it is that good tech use should largely be transparent to the teacher and learners, being simply the natural way they do things.   So, it is important to acknowledge this and therefore accept that good technology use may be subtle and nuanced much in the same way as good teaching is, rather than something obvious that jumps out and hits you in the face.

And then there is the word “enhance”.    So, technology can bring more to the teaching and learning experience, making it better?    Am not sure how comfortable I feel with this and the possible implication than teaching without tech might be a lesser experience;  I believe great teaching can occur even without the use of tech.   Tech is simply a tool but a tool which brings with it a variety of options and a flexibility which may not have been as possible or easy to achieve without tech.    Borrowing from the SAMR model, tech could augment, an alternative word to enhance, modify or even allow the redefinition of learning.   The potential is beyond simply enhancement.   It is also worth acknowledging that we increasingly live in a technology enabled world, and therefore technology is likely to be the norm in the world beyond schools our current students will eventually be faced with.

In terms of the wider IT teams and their involvement, here I have a worry that IT teams are often the staff behind the curtain, invisible in their day-to-day efforts, until things go wrong.  This isn’t right in my view as IT teams work hard day in day out to make things work, to set things up, to manage and administrate and to ensure that technology simple appears to work.  The reality is that lots of work goes in on a day-to-day basis, even when things are working well and the technology has become almost transparent in its use in the classroom.   There needs to be greater acknowledgement of this and of IT staff’s role as partners in teaching and learning.    And this from someone who has been a teacher, a teacher and IT admin and an IT Director.

Conclusion

IT Network Lead, IT Manager, IT Director, or whatever you want to call them should be actively part of discussions regarding technology strategy.  They should be seen as partners in the process of teaching and learning using technology;   They may not necessarily bring the pedagogical knowledge or curriculum content knowledge, but they bring the technology knowledge.   And above all leading tech in a school is a team effort!

EdTech Summit 2021

It was March 2020 and I was attending the JISC DigiFest conference in Birmingham.  Little did I know that this would be the last face to face conference I would attend for over 1 ½ years, and it would November 2021 before I would once again venture to Birmingham this time for the EdTech Summit and Schools and Academies Show.   Reflecting back, it was to a year and a half of significant challenges but also massive progress in how technology is used in schools.

My trip to Birmingham this time was to present a session on the role of IT leads and IT teams in schools in supporting the use of technology to enable, enhance and even transform teaching and learning.    It was also going to be a chance to catch up with staff from other schools face to face for the first time in quite some time.    Notable in the catch ups were a group of ANME members plus Dave Leonard, Abid Patel, Osi Ejiofor and Tony Sheppard among others.

As to the event itself, a couple of messages or themes came out for me in the various talks I attended:

Investment

This was mentioned in the ministerial opening speech at the start of the schools and academies show.    Additional funding for schools.    For me some of this clearly needs to go into investment in technology to ensure we are ready for a future event like the current pandemic, but also to equip our students for the future and to allow schools to make use of technology to enhance and even reimagine the learning experiences students receive.    And linked to this point is the need for sustainability such that any technology put into schools has the required investment in the longer term to ensure the training, support and eventual replacement of hardware/software is all planned.

Collaboration

The importance and power of collaboration within schools and also between schools and other educational establishments was mentioned by a number of individuals.    I suspect the pandemic has encouraged collaboration as people share their experiences, their successes and challenges, along with their resources online for others to benefit from.   This is something we need to actively encourage and support going forward.    The best training is just in time training, and the best just in time training results from 1000’s of educators and school staff sharing and collaborating through the medium of technology.

Agility

The pandemic proved that schools, which generally are slow to change, can be more agile and change quickly to adapted to changing situations.    The pandemic forced such change.   Going forward though we need to be better at change, we need to be better at accepting “good enough” and we need to be like industry and seek greater agility.

Conclusion

As always I suffered my usual travel mishap as is customary, this time being rushing between trains following a train delay, and then managing to get on the wrong train.   This is the usual pain but on reflection the pain was worth it.   I got the chance to catch up with other IT and EdTech professionals, discussing a variety of matters, I got the opportunity to share my thoughts with an audience and to discuss my thoughts with a number of individuals following the session and I got to have a look at a variety of product offerings from various IT vendors.    I also benefited from the act of presenting which forced me to carefully think through and structure my thoughts in relation to technology and teaching and learning.  

Roll on BETT 2022;   See you there!

Devices for all students

I recently read with interest the plan for the Scottish government to issue “devices for 700,000 children”.   My first reaction was a positive one in the potential impact this could have on learning for the children concerned.   Taken as a simple headline, issuing a device to every pupil in Scotland seems like a good thing.    I suppose that’s part of the reason it works as a headline as it conveys a simple positive message, although as with most headlines it fails to encapsulate the complexity.   But then I started think a little more deeply and this raised concerns.

Infrastructure (in schools)

The article mentioned they would be “considering how to deliver consistent digital infrastructure” across schools.   This was my first concern.    Students might all have devices, but they wouldn’t necessarily have access to reliable infrastructure in schools to allow them to access online resources and services.   They also wouldn’t have access to allow them to keep the devices up to date with operating systems and other updates.     The article mentioned “an internet connection” where required, however without an internet connection I would see devices as limited and potentially a security risk. So limited use in the short term, and a sustainability issue in medium term.

Infrastructure (at home)

Even if school infrastructure is eventually supplied, devices will spend a significant amount of time at home and therefore ideally we would want students to be able to access resources and services while there.   This would also be critical in any situation where online learning is required, such as snow days or pandemics.    The challenge here is that not all students are likely to have internet access at home. Provision of internet at home didnt appear to be mentioned

IT Support

700,000 additional devices in Scottish schools;   This makes me wonder what additional resourcing will be put in place within IT teams to support all of these devices and the increased usage which school infrastructure and technology solutions will see should this project be successful.   It is also worth noting, as with the beginning of any new academic year, the introductory period will be the busiest, so if this project is to be successful there will likely be a massive need for IT support immediately following any rollout.

Pedagogy and confidence

Probably one of my biggest concerns is that this project feels like it may focus too much on devices and not enough on the support and training in relation to how devices and the apps they allow access to might be successfully used in teaching and learning.   We have already seen examples of a focus on devices without the training and support, and the resultant lack of impact when compared with cost;  The Interactive whiteboard is but one example.

Sustainability

There is also the issue of sustainability and the long term.   I experienced this years ago with the laptops for teachers scheme.  It is great for the government to fund or supply devices now, however will they commit to continuing the funding or supply of devices in the future, when the devices become worn or obsolete.    Assuming they will likely look at tablet or laptop devices, I would suggest this will be in around 3 or 4 years of use before needing replacement, although it might be possible to push this out to 5 years. After this additional funding will then be required to mount a renewal/replacement scheme.

A single solution

I am also concerned that this centrally driven approach will likely result in all schools getting the same device, albeit with some variation based on the ages of students catered to within the school.   This fails to take into account the local context of individual schools, staff interest, experience and skills, students viewpoints and preferences, parents, etc.   I increasingly believe the wider you try to deploy a singular solution the more likely it will be unsuccessful due to increasing variance in the context and people, students, staff and parents, involved. I think looking for solutions at a local level is more likely to work over trying to apply a single consistent solution.

Conclusion

It is important to acknowledge this is a good attempt at enabling technology in schools.   It needs to be lauded as such as at least there is clear evidence of an attempt being made by the Scottish government.   The same cant be said for other countries or regions. My concern is it seems to fall into the common trap of focussing on devices without considering the other factors which are needed for a successful educational technology project.    That said, I very much hope I am wrong.

Eggs in one Microsoft/Google basket?

At the start of the week an issue arose which appeared to impact on a number of schools, in relation to syncing of OneNote on iPads or where using the Win 10 OneNote app.    This got me to thinking, should we be concerned where we are increasingly having all our technology eggs in one basket, being either the Microsoft Office 365 or Google Workspace for Education baskets.

Benefits

First, I think it’s important to acknowledge the benefits of having your eggs in one basket.    Taking Office 365, which is the solution my school uses, one of the key benefits is integration.    Each of the apps integrates well with the others, be this using Outlook to setup Teams meetings or setting up a Microsoft Form based quiz, as an assignment in Teams.   As each of the apps are part of the same wider platform, they generally play well together.   As soon as you start to look at number of different apps from different vendors, integration and interoperability very quickly become problems.

User interface is another significant benefit.   Each of the Office 365 apps, as part of the wider platform, has a reasonably common user interface.    This makes it that bit easier for users, both staff and students, to gain familiarity and confidence in using each app and the overall platform.   Again, as soon as we look to different vendors, we find ourselves with different user interfaces across different apps, and therefore an increased learning curve for staff and students.

Security is also worth remembering.   As a single unified platform, I consider it easier, but not necessarily easy, to secure Office 365 versus similarly securing a number of platforms from different vendors, with integrations and potentially third party integrators involved.

Drawbacks

The key draw back is the single point of failure.   When it doesn’t work the impact is huge.   Now in the recent case it was only OneNote which experienced an issue so staff and students could still make use of Teams, OneDrive, email, etc.   This is a lesser issue.   Had the issue related to the Office 365 platform as a whole then all apps within the platform would therefore be affected.    Thankfully, given the size of Microsoft, they have backups and resiliencies in place to reduce the likelihood of such an issue, however statistically over a longitudinal period the likelihood of such an incident eventually reaches 100%.    I would however suggest the exact same is the case where using multiple vendors to supply your solutions, however given the complexity of different systems and the resultant integrations required I would suggest the time period in this case before probability reaches 100% is much less, therefore representing a more significant risk.

It is also worth noting that where we are referring to SaaS (Software as a Service) there is also a risk that the vendor might choose to change the service such that it no longer meets our needs or may even discontinue the service.   In both these cases we find ourselves in the difficult situation of needing to find an alternative and needing to migrate potentially massive amounts of data. With Google and Microsofts productivity suites I would say the risk here is minor, however the possibility that an individual app within the wider platform may change or be discontinued is a more likely occurrence.

Conclusion

I don’t believe there is a perfect solution.   If you wanted to protect against a single point of failure, and having all your eggs in one basket, you would use more than one system, possibly using Microsoft as primary with Google as a secondary solution.    The issue here is that of resources and that of users.    Managing two platforms, keeping one ready to use if needed, and ensuring staff are ready to use the alternative platform will take at least twice as much in the way of IT support resources.   I would also suggest it is highly unlikely you could train users up to be able to be capable across two platforms. I think even trying to do this would impact on users confidence across both platforms. And this is without mentioning potential cost and financial implications.

Alternatively using different vendors for your video calls, emails, collaboration, etc and splitting up the functionality of your solutions is equally unlikely to work due to usability but also due to complexity and resultant fragility of combined systems, with each vendor focussed on their platform and not on others, or on the integrations you may have between platforms.

In Microsoft we trust

This brings me back to an acceptance that the benefits of having all my eggs in one basket, a Microsoft basket in this case, provides more benefits than risks.    It offers easier management, usability and security.

That said, it doesn’t hurt to have a little bit of insurance and to have the basics of Google in place just in case;  Yes it may not be ready to go, so may take some time to setup, but at least having it around means it is there should the worst ever happen.

EdTech: Layer 3

I have previously shared a couple of post discussing an EdTech model I shared at the GESS conference back in 2013, now being up to the third of four layers within the model.   The third layer assumes you have already decided the key reasons why you want to invest in and use Technology in your school, this being layer 1. I note that Technology is my preferred term to EdTech.  Layer 3 also assumes you have put the relevant fundamental building blocks in place as part of layer 2.     So, what is the third layer about?

Layer 3

The third layer focusses on what I considered to be the three dimensions of technology use within a school, and the need for relevant training in these areas.   These areas being:

IT Skills

This is the basics of using IT and using tools so includes understanding file types, sizes, sharing files, using email, etc.   It is being able to log in, connect peripherals and change your password.   All staff need to have a basic understanding of the technology they are using, as without this it is unlikely, they will ever reach a point of confidence and then mastery of using technology in school.   I often described this as Teaching of IT as the focus is on developing IT Skills.   We need to ensure staff are supported in this area.  Thinking about it further, I believe this area would include cyber security and data protection although back in 2013 I am not sure I had included these areas.

IT for Management

There will also be some administrative work in teaching with IT generally being part of this, whether it is writing student reports, gathering performance data, following up on behaviour issues or many other issues.    Technology can allow us to streamline processes to make these tasks quicker or simpler.   I am often surprised how often staff don’t know about simply email rules in outlook or how they can use categories to help manage emails.  Note: I mention emails as so much of the administrative load seems to revolve around reading and responding to emails, or to messages now in Teams or other platforms.    At a more advanced level we can then move on to the use of solutions such a PowerAutomate to try to automate more and more of the administrative workflows however I will admit there is much more work that can be done in this area.

I also think we need to continue to examine the administrative side to teaching and identify where it adds value, for if a task doesn’t add value, I would suggest it isnt worth doing.   There is also an opportunity to make use of technology to do things differently such as replacing termly reports with more live, but automatically generated, performance data derived through the use of machine learning and AI based platforms.

IT for Teaching and Learning

This is the likely most important element in this layer, that of using technology in the classroom.   It is about ensuring teaching staff have the ability to use technology effectively in their classroom, their lessons and the learning activities they create.   I suppose on reflection this particular layer could be sub-divided further.  Thinking about the TPACK model, this section could include Technological Pedagogical Knowledge (TPK) and Technological Content Knowledge (TCK).     Looking at it a different way it could include teaching using technology, where technology enhances or redefines a learning activity or process, plus teaching through technology, where the technology is an essential vehicle for the learning.   Now I admit I find these two categories sometime difficult to separate however I will try to clarify.    Teaching using technology might be the use of OneNote to allow students to collaborate on a project so technology is just another tool in the learning experience, whereas teaching through technology might be using VR or Minecraft, in which case the technology becomes central to the learning experience.   Am hoping the above clarifies this however please forgive me if it does not.

Looking back, I would also suggest that my focus was very much the bricks and mortar school and classroom and I underplayed the potential for technology to allow for learning beyond the physical confines of a school and also beyond the confines of the curriculum.    The potential for online learning has certainly been highlighted over the last year and a half during the pandemic, something I don’t think I fully considered back in 2013.

Conclusion/Reflections

Looking back on the third layer I feel the balance implied by the three triangles of equal size suggested an equal value to the three strands I proposed.   This clearly isnt the case.   If anything, the teaching and learning section should likely be the largest, and further subdivided, while the IT for Management section should likely be the smallest, as we should be trying to reduce the administrative burden on teachers, to allow them to focus on teaching and learning.

That said, the final peak of my model, layer 4, was always about staff being confident enough to use technology or to be more exact, to experiment and try different tools and technology solutions.   Only through experimentation will teachers find the tools that work best for themselves and their students, and they will only do this if they feel safe and confident enough to do so.   For this confidence to occur we need the basic skills, the ability to do the management side of education using the technology tools provided, and most importantly the skills to use technology in teaching and learning itself.   So maybe this layer could be more nuanced, however at a basic level it may still be correct.

Invisible Success, Visible Failure

Do we see EdTech failures more easily than the corresponding successes?

In the past I have found it easy to quote some key EdTech failures.   Examples include the general deployment of Interactive Whiteboards without any training as to their use, a similar issue where iPads were broadly deployed across a district in the US and the limited funding for laptops for teachers in UK schools without plans for an eventual refresh cycle.    These and many other examples come quite easily to mind, yet similar stories of success don’t come as easily.   This introduces the availability bias as we start to perceive the events which come more readily to mind are therefore more likely to occur:  That technology implementations therefore are more likely to fail.

Given we are often looking for proof of the impact or value in EdTech the fact that successes don’t come easily to mind is of concern.   This makes me wonder about the potential for the availability bias to impact on technology decisions and in particularly in some reluctance to embrace technology use.   If it is the failures of technology implementations which come easy to mind, is it any wonder why there is reluctance in investing in technology solutions.   Combined with the overall cost of technology, which is generally one of the three most expensive items on a school budget, it seems predictable that, without an outside stimulus, technology adoption will be slow.   

Added to the above you also have the complexity of technology use in schools, requiring skills and understanding in relation to the technology itself, but also subject content and pedagogical knowledge, combined with the interrelationship between each.   This therefore requires a team of staff to be involved, which brings with it the usual social dilemmas associated with teamwork.   In turn this may increase the likelihood of failure or may at least encourage a sub-optimum solution to be accepted as team members each have to make compromises, finally arriving at an acceptable, but less than best, solution.

And where we do see successes, most often in a conference presentation or a case study, they seldom outline the difficulties which occurred during their relevant project lifespan.   I think any significant IT project which went perfectly as planned lacks credibility in my eyes.   I put the probability of such an occurrence within a busy operating school, where the project was significant enough to take months or years of work, to be low to nil.    This might help explain why the successes don’t come mind, as they lack the believability or the detail to make them memorable, whereas the failures each have a clear cause and effect.

This leaves us with limited options for the implementation of technology projects.   As I see it the options are the small pilot project, which is grown, a significant external stimulus or some heroic leadership forcing implementation.    The pandemic has certainly been an external stimulus however isnt something we would want to repeat.   For now, we simply need to try and use this stimulus to drive forward with appropriate technology projects, while the impetus still exists, for I don’t see this will continue for more than 6 to 12 months.    Heroic leadership as a solution, isnt something I would advocate given risk of going down a rabbit hole and/or negatively impacting on organisational culture.    As such the best option appears to be to continue with pilot projects and growing those which appear to have a positive impact, but the issue here is that this approach is slow and not particularly agile.

So what is the solution?   

I don’t think I have one, other than to be aware that what we perceive is likely influenced by bias.   As such, although we can learn, more often, from the failures, and only occasionally, from the successes of others, we might simply need to get on and try things, success or fail, then iterate from there.    We need to find our one solution, that which what works for our own school, its context, staff, students, parents and wider community.

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