The EdTech Big Guns

Microsoft, Google and Apple are the big guns when it comes to EdTech however each of their offerings is somewhat different.  As such I thought I would share some of my personal thoughts as to the big three.


For me, Apple has always been about the hardware and the ecosystem.    Apple were first to the market with an excellent tablet device, in the iPad, which fitted the educational space, being reliable, usable and flexible albeit not cheap.   The reliability was largely built on the fact that Apple operate a closed eco-system and therefore control the software including OS and the hardware.   This also has helped in terms of usability as they can enforce standards for the apps available on their platform.   As to the eco-system itself, having been in play the longest, Apple has built up a comprehensive collection of apps in their store which can be used in schools and colleges with an equally comprehensive number of videos and other online resources to support teachers in using iPads in lessons.     The eco-system includes Augmented Reality apps which are often shown on video case studies from schools due to looking particularly flash and impressive albeit I suspect the longer term usable and impact of such apps across a full school year may not be quite as impressive.   With the addition of pen support in 2015/16 allowing digital inking, plus with the availability of cases, complete with a keyboard, the iPad still continues to present as a great device for use in a school context.    If there was one thing Apple lacks, it is a single productivity suite to pull the educational resources together and to provide the collaboration and communication space needed in schools.   I know they have iTunesU but I just don’t feel that fills the space which Google Workspaces or Office 365 fill.  That said Apple devices can gain this functionality via the use of the Google or Microsoft platforms, but on the Apple device.


Googles main contribution in my eyes is Google Suite for Education, now titled Google Workspace for Education.    This provided a productivity suite in Docs, Sheets, etc but also Google Classroom to pull the whole education experience together.    Accessible on any device either via native apps or via a browser, I have long been a fan of Googles offering and have used it in schools where Windows PCs were the standard hardware.     Adding to this Google then introduced their own hardware in Chromebooks to go with their productivity suite, with this hardware available from several hardware manufacturers.     This hardware quickly became popular due to the lower unit cost when compared with the alternatives plus the overall cloud-based nature making them easier to manage and support, again impacting the cost, but this time in terms of the total cost of ownership.    You could also use the Chromium OS on old PC/Laptop kit to rejuvenate it and get a couple more years use out of it where funds may be limited.   One of the limitations with Google is the eco system which is growing but obviously lags behind that of Apple, however given we tend towards using core apps such as Docs, Sheets, etc, significantly more than other apps, this doesn’t pose much of a problem.   The other limitation I have found is the minor differences between Docs, Sheets, etc and the more commonly used Microsoft equivalent in Word, Excel, etc.   When working with a brand new school this hasn’t been too much of a problem but I have found it to be a more significant challenge where trying to change setup from Microsoft to Google due to familiarity which users build up in prolonged use of a given platform. This familiarity builds attachment in users.


Windows continues to be the most common OS in use in the world as a whole.  It also continues to be the most common solution in place in school IT labs the world over.    In the productivity world, MS Office is almost equally popular with the move to Office 365 allowing the apps to be accessed on any device, either via native apps or via a browser, in much the same was as you can with Googles solution.    The benefit for Microsoft here, is the familiarity which the Microsoft Office 365 solution presents with its natively installed Office counterpart, plus the logical progression it provides students where a Windows environment is likely to be encountered in higher education and beyond.   I also like the extended range of Office 365 apps which allow those who are more adventurous to dig into automation via Power Automate, or data analysis through PowerBI.    From an eco-system point of view Microsoft windows has access to a large number of apps, but managing them isnt as easy as it is for Apple users.   The Microsoft store should help to address this going forward but for now I find this to be rather limited.   Microsoft have also now been in the business of producing hardware for a while now, with the Surface range the most notable from an education point of view, not mentioning laptops from other vendors where Windows is the standard OS.   I myself currently use a Pro 7 however have previously dabbled with the Surface Go as a main device.   The advantage in the Surface range is the full desktop operating system experience but with the added ability to use digital inking and the device in a tablet format.   Cost is a factor here, in that the surface devices come in more expensive than the iPad range, but for the price you are getting a full desktop operating system so I believe this is understandable.  The Surface Go and Go 2 as cheaper devices aim to help to address this, and I suspect would make for a more than adequate student device,


In my current school we have settled with the iPad hardware with the Microsoft Office 365 productivity suite for now, although I see possible benefits in use of something like the Surface or a device with a full desktop OS for older students studying their A-Levels or Level 3 vocational qualifications.  That said, different schools are using different solutions.   This shouldn’t be a surprise given each school is different in terms of its staff, students, parents, community, etc.   Equally the options are complex in terms of hardware, operating system, cloud productivity suite, third party apps, managing devices, ownership of devices, 1:1 or shared, teacher confidence, student confidence and many other aspects.

For me there is no one solution which would fit all schools, just the one solution for each individual school.    Each schools solution should be based on their own needs and wants.  If I do have a concern, it is that moving from one platform to another is becoming increasing difficult in terms of staff training and confidence in schools forming silos around a given solution.   As mentioned earlier, the familiarity builds attachment which in turn shows as a reluctance to change. This to me is a concern as it might prevent schools which could benefit from moving, from making such a move.   Thankfully, the increasing ability to mix and match using Microsoft, Google and Apple solutions together, to form an overall solution maximising the benefits of each solution, is only a good one and should therefore make change, if there is a need to do so, more palatable albeit still not particularly easy.


EdTech Cupboard of Doom

Following on from my last post I thought I would have another go at an EdTech graphic but this time focussing fully on the forgotten technologies.

Some are forgotten, but can be found in a dusty cupboard, and when you come upon them you positively reflect on their impact. For me the BBC B micro is one of these forgotten items, which, had it not existed, I am not sure I would have become so interested and motivated by technology.

Some are forgotten for the best. These are the technologies which came and went, possibly with some fanfare by sales people on their arrival, but little more than a whimper as they disappeared from use having had little impact on learning but having costs schools a pretty penny. In some cases these were technologies which were good but just didnt catch on. In other cases these were flashy objects with limited use but high cost. The voting buttons which some Interactive Whiteboard manufacturers flogged is just one example.

And lastly, there are the technologies which personally I wish were forgotten but for now seem determined to stay around. These are the technologies where I am not convinced to the impact, but where the cost seems clear, and therefore the value is doubtful. For me the dreaded interactive whiteboard, that 20+ year old bit of technology, fits this category.

I wonder how this graphic might look 10years from now?

Technologies Past

Further to my last post I thought I would try and encapsulate the technologies which I have experienced, and which come to mind in relation to my time working in schools, in a graphic. The below is what I came up with:

Now I know I have missed some key technologies such as the BBC B however my experience of this was as a student rather than a teacher or someone working in schools, hence why I didnt include it. Given this I may expand this graphic in the future.

But for now, considering the late 1990s, the 2000s, 2010s and early 2020s, is there anything I have missed?

EdTech: Start with the why?

Back in 2013 I shared a framework in relation to EdTech which consisted in 4 layers.   The bottom layer being focussed on understanding why EdTech is important, the next layer concerned with fundamental building blocks, before training/professional development, eventually leading to confidence.

Looking back at this framework, I think there may be some things which could do with being added, however largely I think it still stands.

Considering the first level of my framework, focussed on all involved being aware and embracing the reasoning as to why technology is important, I identified the following:

  • Technology Based World: The world is certainly more technology based then ever before as we live through the current pandemic, as we seek to keep in touch with others via Zoom, we seek to work and learn from home and we use apps in almost every area of our lives.
  • Manager of Learning: In the pandemic, we havent had access to the usual data associated with teaching face to face, however instead we have access to analytics in relation to student interaction with online platforms plus tools such as the replay function in OneNote which provides us insight into students learning in how their answers to questions have developed.
  • Deliverer of Learning: Online platforms can deliver the learning content to students and then guide students through additional materials based on their strengths and weaknesses, all on an individual student level.
  • Facilitator of Learning: Technology has facilitated learning opportunities which wouldn’t have previously been possible including allowing guest speakers to join virtual classrooms or students to explore space via VR.   There are still many further opportunities which we have not yet identified.
  • Research Evidence:  This point I am not so sure on; The evidence which currently exists often presents opposing outcomes.   I think in 2013 having been focussed on the benefits of EdTech I may not have truly appreciated some of the research which found against edTech’s impact.   That said, for me, there is enough research to suggest technology can, in the right context, with the right staff involved and applied in the right way, have a positive impact on learning.
  • Changing Brains: This is another point, on reflection, I am not as confident on now that 8 years have passed.   I think back in 2013 I was concious of evidence regarding changes in how we think, some brought about by requirements of the changing world and some brought about by technology itself.   Technology therefore is important in allowing us to be flexible, agile and adaptive.
  • Globalisation: As the world collectively suffers from the impact of a global pandemic, I think it is all the more evident that the world is getting smaller and that we are increasing living in a global world.   As such we need to embrace technology to help us to make the most of this globalisation.

Considering where we are now, in a pandemic, where technology has become critical to the continuing provision of lessons and learning, my hope is that within education in general we now better appreciates why we need to be making use, or even better use, of technology in our schools.  

Before seeking to use technology in our schools, it is important to start with the why, and understand the reasoning behind its importance.

Technology in schools

Let me first start by explaining I have purposely avoid the term, EdTech or educational technology in the title for this post.   I thought that would muddy the waters before I even started, so instead I will refer to and discuss technology in schools.  

The challenge here is that the subject in hand is complex and pretty broad in its impact on education.   As such I think it therefore is important to state this thought piece is unlikely to capture the true complexities of the situation.  It can offer nothing more than a simplified viewpoint.   But in offering that simplified viewpoint maybe, just maybe, I will offer something which others find useful.

So where to start?

I think the place to start is by trying to break down technology in education into a number of interrelated parts.    I note here, that the purpose of breaking down the technology in education concept is to aid with understanding and for clarity reasons, not because the distinctions I propose exist in any hard real terms.  I also need to stress the interrelationship and interdependence which exists among these parts.

So how might technology in education be broken down?

I would suggest the below areas:

  • Learning about technology
  • Teaching with technology
  • Learning through technology / Technology enabled learning
  • Assessment through technology

Lets have a look at the first two items which I think are the most critical, starting with the top one and most likely the easiest one.

Learning about Technology

This is in relation to how we teach students about technology.    In the past this might have been the Key Stage 3 IT curriculum, or in more recent times Computing, or it might be teaching students about the benefits and dangers of social media via Digital Literacy lessons.    This is where the learning outcomes are clearly related to technology related skills, knowledge and understanding.

The issue with our current setup, in my view, is that the Computing offering is far to specialist for most students, and the reduction in student numbers taking GCSE Computing or IT seems to be indicative of this.  When IT was removed the students didn’t move over to take Computing but instead went to other subject areas.      Additionally the IT qualification, which was removed at KS3, provided students a lot of the basic IT skills plus also provided an opportunity for Digital Literacy to be covered;   Without IT it is down to schools themselves to choose and to find time to cover these areas, with not all schools doing so in any real meaningful way.

In terms of my suggestion for this area I think Ian Yorston put forward a good suggestion via Twitter  with Computing becoming Computer Science and joining the other sciences as part of the core offering.   This therefore retains an element of computational thinking within the curriculum including in Primary education.  Computing would still then, like the other sciences, be offered as a separate specialist subject at GCSE/A-Level.   This would obviously require the science curriculum to be looked at as the time available would be split 4 ways rather than the current 3-way split.

In addition to the above there is a need to deal with the basics of technology.   Given previous perceptions of the old IT current I don’t think IT or ICT would be appropriate names.   I would go for Digital Literacy.   This would cover some of the basic of technology use, must in the same way that English lessons start with the basics of the written and spoken word.   It would then develop as students progressed through school to cover more complex issues such a the impact of big data, ethics and AI, and how social media can influence the general public, much again in the same way as English develops to eventually cover an appreciation of poetry and more complexity literary theory.

Teaching with technology

This area is most likely the one which most might refer to as using Educational Technology.    Here the learning outcomes can be related to maths, geography, history or any other subject you can think of.   The technology learning isnt the endpoint, but technology is a tool used by the teacher and students to get to their endpoint.

The key current challenges as I see then are investment and professional development.   Schools cannot make use of educational technology if they simply don’t have access to it and access to educational technology continues to be highly variable across schools.   It is also important to acknowledge that the technology in question needs to be reliable and also come with adequate technical support for when things invariably don’t quite work as they should.

Professional development is also key as having the tools available is not enough if staff don’t know how to use it.   Now my belief is that the professional development question goes much further than simply having access to it as I have seen many professional development courses which have had limited long-term impact.   The professional development available needs to be of high quality but additionally, and more importantly in my view, it needs to be underpinned by a school culture of continual improvement, of sharing or openness.    If the culture is right then internal self-fulfilling professional development, occasionally supplemented with outside visits or training, can be achieved.

Another related issue to be considered here has to be Initial Teacher Training (ITT).    Developing the knowledge, understanding and skills of new teachers in relation to how they can effectively use technology will be key in the longer term, as these new teachers join schools and eventually become the backbone and leadership teams of schools of the future.

The Challenge

The challenge in all of the above is the scale of the problem.   Changes to the curriculum, time to adapt to a new curriculum, professional development, infrastructure investment, etc are easy to write about on Twitter or in a blog like this however to make it happen is so much more difficult.   There will be those who oppose curriculum changes due to it being a departure from “traditional” education.   There will be those who see investment as diverting funds from other government priorities.   There will be those who are concerned that yet more educational changes would be disruptive.   There will be the issue of the actual timeline as changes would take time.

Change is never easy.

It also needs to be acknowledged that this change needs to be backed at the highest levels of government, of the educational authorities such as Ofqual and ner I say it, Ofsted.   This potentially makes the proposed changes political, meaning the good of education may be sacrificed in the interests of gaining or retaining political office.

So what are we to do?  

We could continue our current approach doing the best we can in our own schools, while coming together in groups wherever possible to proclaim the need for change.   I see this as the default position.   It may not quickly get us where I believe we need to go but as we share our thoughts and views I hope that momentum will build with regards the need for change.

We could decide to focus on one particular area, such as teaching about technology or teaching with technology, thereby allowing efforts to be more focussed.   The issue here is that this may lead to a lack of big picture planning and eventual inefficiencies or even issues resulting from overlaps in concepts or differing viewpoints over time.   That said, could we consider any progress made to be progress, irrespective of any issues which may, and I highlight, may, occur in the future.

I am not sure what the answer is.   I am not even sure there is an answer however I am sure there is a need for change.

Remote Learning TweetMeet

school-3765919_1280Last nights Microsoft TweetMeet focussed on Remote Learning.   It was certainly a busy session with my tweetdeck updating faster than I could think; it was a blur of activity.   Overall it was an excellent session and probably the best TweetMeet I have been involved in so far.   I therefore thought it might be useful to summarise the key messages I took away from the event:

  • We are all human

I think this is very important; to recognise that we, teachers, our students, their parents/guardians and the wider school community are all human.  This is a difficult time; unlike anything we have experienced before and for many the unfamiliar circumstances we find ourselves in can be very scary.  Add to that concerns relating to the health and wellbeing of loved ones, of family and of friends plus for some the actual loss of people close to them and we find ourselves significantly outside our comfort zones.  We need to recognise and accept this, and to ensure we consider it when interacting with others.   We need to ensure we provide space and time for these concerns to be shared and discussed and we need to support each other.   High expectations are great but may need to be considered carefully in the current context we find ourselves in.   As we seek to use remote learning to continue children’s education we must maintain our focus that the most important thing in times like this isn’t the curriculum, assessment, EdTech, etc, but is in fact our teachers, students, their parents, families, and the wider school community;  What matters most is people.

  • We are better together

Related to the above is the fact that as humans we are social animals.   We are designed to be at our best when working with others and in this time of isolation this is no different.  For me the TweeetMeet was a perfect example of this.  There were lots of people involved in the session each individually doing excellent things in relation to remote Learning but by coming together and sharing, discussing and exploring things together we are all the better.    At this time of isolation we need to ensure we build the opportunities to collaborate and to share experiences.   Where individually we identify things that work or don’t work, we should seek to share this.    It may be that ideas shared by others won’t work in your particular context, but by at least considering such ideas you will have gained some insight;  Think Edison and 1000 lightbulbs.    The more we share the better.   My favourite phrase in relation to this being “the smartest person in the room is the room”.   And thankfully we live in a time where we largely have the technology available to achieve this through blogs, vlogs, podcasts, video conferencing, webinars, etc.  The world is a pretty big room!

  • Technology is here to stay

For all the discussion about whether EdTech makes a difference or not, whether we should embrace technology in schools or ban it, we often miss an important fact.   Technology is here, and it is here to stay.   Social media, on-demand TV, sat nav, video conferencing, artificial intelligence, user tracking and many other technologies all exist now and they aren’t going to disappear, in fact they are likely only to continue to evolve and to take an ever greater place in our lives.   Given this world how can education avoid technology;  I don’t believe it can.    Technology provides us many tools which can allow us to do new and exciting things and we need to seek to use it.  Just think where we would be in this current crisis without technology.  How would learning work without it?    So, if technology can act as an enabler of learning in a sudden crisis like the one we find ourselves in now imagine what we might be able to achieve with a bit of time, planning and people working together.  This is what we need to consider in relation to life beyond Covid19.

  • The Digital divides will be our biggest challenge

I have written about this already and you can read my post here.   Our biggest challenge is likely to be the lack of parity which exists in relation to technology.   It isn’t just about access to devices such as laptops or tablets for use by students at home, or access to the internet at home.  We also need to consider the many other divides.   Parents at home may have differing abilities to support their children in using technology at home plus students themselves will have differing abilities.  Schools will have different amounts of IT support available to help out staff, students and parents with issues and problems.   Additionally, schools will have different amounts of professional learning and training resources again for use by staff, students and parents.    There will be different levels of IT equipment in schools with some schools having 1:1 devices while others might be limited to a single IT lab or less.   Experience with the pedagogical aspects of using technology to support learning will also differ across schools or even within schools across departments.  Confidence levels and motivation to experiment, plus the school culture with regards technology is another factor which is inconsistent.    If we are to achieve equal opportunities for all students in relation to the opportunities to use technology in learning, these and many other divides will need to be considered.

  • Safeguarding

The final point that stuck out for me from the TweetMeet related to safeguarding and the need to keep students and staff safe during this period of remote learning.    This is an issue which in my view is very complex and is for individual schools to reach a decision in relation to their own context.   That said I have a particular view on this and in particular on the use of video to allow students and teachers to interact.  I am aware some schools have disabled the ability for video calls to be used citing safeguarding concerns, with the view that by turning off video within the schools technology solution they are protecting their students.   If we accept that we are human and we are social animals, then students will seek personal contact independent of our actions, so by disabling video we force students to use other non-school platforms to achieve the personal contact they seek.   I believe this represents a risk.    I also think we need to consider the fact that learning is a social experience so the more social we make remote learning the more successful the learning will be.   Removing the use of video complete with the various visual cues it presents reduces the impact of learning.  I will acknowledge that there is a clear safeguarding risk where video is enabled, however life is never without risk.   For me, it is about engaging parents, students and staff about managing the risk as much as is reasonably possible while still enabling the best learning opportunities possible.

When I started writing this piece my plan was a short summary of the TweetMeet session;  Failed on that one as this isn’t exactly short.   I also must admit this post also only covers the highlights of the session as I saw it and most likely missed loads of other excellent points or discussion threads.   That said, and in acknowledging point 2, I thought I would share.  I hope the above is helpful and look forward to reading any thoughts or comments people may have.


5 tips for remote learning

ipad-1721500_640 (1)As we head towards the end of the Easter break and into the new term and for a lot of schools, a period of remote learning, I thought I would share my thoughts and tips on remote learning.

The first point I would make is that there is no one solution to remote learning.  It depends on your context including the age of your students, previous experience using technology and online learning platforms, individual subject requirements, teachers confidence with platforms and their own personal experience of those that are available and the equipment available to teachers and students, to name just a few factors.

  1. Seek feedback from students: Be clear and open with students, for most the use of technology in this way is new, and for all the current pandemic is new.   As a result, things may not be perfect and issues/challenges will be experienced however if we accept this we can then all work together to review, revise and improve, and to get to the best possible use of technology.  It is therefore important to seek feedback from students often in order to then revise how remote learning is delivered.
  2. Use video conferencing to regularly check in with students learning: A key part of teaching and learning is the interactions between teachers and students. Video conferencing is a key method to achieve this however we should not simply seek to substitute classroom teaching with video conferencing sessions of the same length as traditional classroom-based lessons.  We should however ensure that at the minimum there are regular check in opportunities for teacher and students to interact, discuss and share by video conferencing however this could be at the start of each lesson, once daily, at the start of a short unit of work, etc.   We need to experiment to identify which works best for the teacher and each class taught.
  3. Set clear expectations for video conferencing: Video conferencing presents challenges in relation to background noise, interruptions, talking over each other, etc.   This can clearly be seen simply by watching the use of video conferencing technology within BBC news broadcasts.   For teachers this is no different from working in a classroom, albeit the challenges when interacting virtually via video conferencing are different to those which occur in the traditional classroom where working with students face to face.   Like in the classroom it is therefore important to establish clear expectations as to how students should behaviour while on a conference call as part of the class.   It is also important to review these expectations via feedback from students, especially in the early use of video conferencing to support remote learning, to ensure all, students and teachers, share ownership of these expectations and that they meet the needs of the teacher and learners alike.
  4. Set personal boundaries for responding to students: Remote learning, the use of video conferencing, email and other online platforms can lead to teachers feeling they are always working, and even more so in international schools where students may live and therefore interact with the teacher from different time zones. This is not good for teacher wellbeing.   Boundaries need to be set as to during what times a teacher will interact, how quickly responses can be expected, etc.   I find a useful technique to address this is to have a dedicated workspace meaning the rest of the house means I am not working.   It is also important to consider what devices emails and other platforms are installed on plus how notifications are presented on devices.   On my phone, for example, I have do not disturb enabled for the evenings to stop me from instinctively responding to emails simply by suppressing the notifications outside normal working hours.
  5. Find your balance in lesson delivery: Learning can be delivered in a variety of ways both in real life and via remote learning. In remote Learning you may choose to create video content in advance similar to flipped learning, or you may do live video sessions.  You may provide students presentations to work through, or links to videos online or even worksheets or workbooks for more self-study style learning.  You may ask students to work collaboratively in groups using video conferences or you may ask them to complete questions where you can provide remote live feedback, such as via OneNote.  I do not believe any single of the above approaches to be correct as each has strengths and drawbacks with some requiring significant prep time.  You need to experiment and seek a blend of these and also other approaches I have not listed.    A point that I have seen multiple teachers state is that this is a “marathon not a sprint” so we need to be careful to not burn ourselves out by creating lots of content and exciting learning experiences in the short term, only to find this quickly used up in lessons.

The five points above are the key suggestions I would make in relation to remote learning.   You will notice they are inter-related in a number of ways.  They are purposely not over specific, as given the different contexts of teachers across a single school never mind across the globe, I don’t believe it is possible to be specific and precise without either ruling out some learning opportunities that would work or proposing approaches which in some contexts may detract or damage learning.

To all engaging in remote learning, good luck, and please do share your thoughts, successes and what hasnt worked as together we can get through this, and together we can learn a lot from this experience which may help us start to reshape the educational experiences of the students yet to grace our classrooms.

Digital Divides

leap-456100_640The digital divide has long concerned educators in considering those students who have access to the internet and devices at home, plus support from parents in relation to device use, and those who do not.   Covid-19 has had me thinking about this, what this now means for schools and students and how we might leap the divide which exists.


The digital divide as a concept seems quite simple and tangible; either they have access, or they don’t.   This disguises the complexity of the issue and in my mind the existence of divides, plural, rather than a singular divide.

Firstly internet access; Some households will have super-fast broadband while others may have nothing whatsoever with a multitude of options in between.   The issue being this isn’t necessarily an issue of parents choosing not to have access but could relate to the location of their home and the available options in relation to internet connectivity.

Devices; Some families may have a computer/tablet at home while others may not.  Where a computer does exist, it may be a shared device or even a device used by parents to enable working from home.   Where a shared device this represents a challenge for a child to gain access especially where other children or even adults need the device while a child is seeking to undertake time bounded work.  This device also may or may not have some of the software used within school.   It may not have an up to date operating system and may therefore represent a cyber risk to users using it.

Mobile Phones: I mention mobile phones separately to devices above given how common mobile phone ownership is among students these days but even this assumption hides a layer of complexity.   Some students may not have phones, albeit a small number these days, however those that do have phones may have limited data packages meaning use for schoolwork could quickly become costly to families where Wi-Fi at home is not available.    The size of screens may make phones less ideal for work set or, like devices, phones may not have the needed software.  I note that many schools are deploying homework or school management apps currently and therefore I believe most schools are already taking a stance that parents will have a mobile phone;  In the most cases this is true but I do wonder about what is in place for those where it isn’t true.

Support: In schools the availability of IT support is critical.  If staff, as users, have difficulties, they may quickly disengage and re-engaging them with technology is often much more difficult once this has happened.    In schools this is easy enough, although as I will explain later even this is an oversimplification, but at home this is dependent on parents.   Parents need to support the specific usage of a tech tool as set by the teacher as well as providing the required technical support.   Some parents are likely to be very tech savvy and quickly able and willing to support their children in engaging with technology and learning through digital tools.   Equally though there will be many parents who themselves will feel out of their depth and unable to support their children in using what technology they have access to at home.

Schools: And even in our schools there are divides.   There are divides in terms of the equipment available with schools, with some school issuing devices to all teaching staff whereas in others there is little available beyond a classroom computer fixed in each classroom.   The available internet bandwidth may differ between schools as may the availability of IT support and training.   Also, the overall school attitude to IT and to IT strategy may differ with some schools engaged in experimenting and innovating and other schools scared to explore, scared of risks around GDPR, etc, or where EdTech may even have been given only passing consideration.

Moving Forward

The above divides can easily be seen as providing an impossible and wicked problem; How do we address all these different issues?    In my view when presented with a problem like this our best option is to seek to make progress and avoid overthinking or spending too much time in planning.   It is simply a case of act, review, adjust, act again, and a continuing process of iteration.   But where to focus?

I would propose three key areas first:

Infrastructure: One of the biggest limiting factors continues to be access to fast reliable internet across the country.  Here I am referring to the UK however this issue can be applied to any country.  Generally, this is a governmental issue and needs addressing at a national level however it is one which schools can have some impact either through access to the schools infrastructure outside normal hours or possibly through mobile service provider solutions as two possible approaches.

Devices: Next is access to devices for students to use at home.  How these devices are provided isn’t important, whether this be devices the students/parents own, or devices provided by schools or other organisations, the key thing is that students have access to a device.   Ideally this should follow internet access however at a push it doesn’t have to; If students have devices they can at least use software locally installed, or free Wi-Fi hotspots should they not have access to reliable Wi-Fi at home. Yes, this will require funding and I am under no illusions as to the extent of funding required, however in the meantime we can at least attempt to achieve what is reasonably possible through partnerships between schools and also with charitable and commercial organisations.

Training: My next focus area is training for parents not in the technical issues of IT but in how they, as a parent, can support their child in using technology in their learning at home.   I remember my old man helping me with Maths homework but at that time it was all pencil and paper, so he didn’t need anything more than a bit of maths knowledge and an interest in supporting me.   Now we still require the above but in addition parents need a little IT know how to access online platforms and understand how information might be stored/organised and what might be expected of students using these platforms.   Schools need to seek to support parents in this area.   Now there already are lots of examples of this in resources being created in schools and shared online.   Each school needs to consider what it offers and look to build on this.


Providing printed copies of worksheets to all because some may not have reliable Wi-if is no longer the answer.  Sending worksheets to student via email or via an app may be progress, but is it enough and should we be doing more?   We first must seek to find out what our students and their families have in terms of technology.  Armed with this information we can then look to how schools can support students learning using technology at home.   This will take some creativity to get correct and for some schools with limited resources I suspect this may still be printing out booklets, but for many there are at least steps which can be taken now or in the near future.  The digital divide (or divides) is an impossible problem for which a solution may not exist but at least we can seek to continually improve and give students the best technology enabled learning experiences possible, preparing them for the technological world we now live in.  And if you needed evidence of this technological world we need to prepare students for just take one look at the world today with the massive growth of work from home during this period of isolation and the use of video conferencing tools to stay in touch and even to socialise.  I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg.


EdTech beyond Covid-19

I believe things will never quite be the same again following Covid-19.    These unprecedented events have the potential to act as the catalyst for a number of EdTech changes in particular.   For example, I have read a few comments over the last week where EdTech initiatives which have been slow to progress, often being discussed in schools over a number of years with little movement, have suddenly been quickly progressed due to Covid-19 and the immediate need for online remote learning.   Due to this I thought I would share some thoughts as to what might change beyond the current crisis:

Flipped / Blended Learning

ipad-1721500_640 (1)Over the last week or so since schools closed teachers who previously hadn’t had much experience of creating video learning content have suddenly found themselves creating content.   Some of this video has been live through Zoom, Hangouts or Teams, or has been posted for on demand access through YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, FlipGrid and even TikTok or through school Virtual Learning Environments.    Although discussions of flipped or blended learning have been ongoing for some time, Covid-19 has led to a peak in interest plus to a rapid upskilling of teachers driven by a specific and immediate need.    With this greater interest and skill level I would predict that we will see greater use of video, and in particular pre-prepared video which can be used or accessed on demand within schools and learning, similar to the lecture capture concept which has become more common in Higher Education.

Digital Skills


The current situation has required the rapid upskilling of teachers to facilitate online remote learning.   Lots of resources have been quickly pulled together and curated by various groups of individuals and organisations.    The importance of a teachers digital skillset has become never more apparent and with this it is likely to see increasing levels of importance beyond the current crisis.  Schools will need to asses what their strengths and areas for development are in relation to the use of EdTech by staff, and how they might address the identified needs.    I should also mention that infrastructure and IT support are also likely to need to be considered as these are cornerstones of successful EdTech usage.

Remote / Distance Learning

The benefits in the use of video to engage remote learners, allow for remote teachers and also provide on-demand learning materials has become clear to a significantly greater number of educators during this period of lockdown.    It may even be that parents and our students are now more aware of what is possible, and therefore are likely to have greater expectations as to what schools should provide once we progress beyond the current crisis..    As such I believe the student absent from school may no longer be excluded from the days learning in the way they have been in the past, and we may see students accessing learning remotely becoming more common.

Personalisation rather than differentiation

Remote learning has shown us how students can actually access learning in their own time, space and also personal way.    In addition, some of the tools such as Microsoft’s Accessibility tools, for example, also allow for the language to be changed or the font size or background colour, all customizable to meet the end users, the students, needs.   This customization at the point of consumption, as opposed to differentiation at the point of delivery, is likely to significantly increase.   As such teachers are likely to need to think about how the learning they design, deliver and facilitate will offer sufficient flexibility to allow for students to personalise.

Work from home

When we talk about schools we immediate think of the physical buildings, same as when we talk about work, there is a physicality about it.   I saw a great tweet referring to school being the students as opposed to the physical building.   What covid-19 has taught us is that this physicality is in our heads, an illusion, and that in reality our school or place of work isn’t as reliant on the physical space as we thought.    Our school or work can, to a greater or lesser extent, exist virtually and online.    This is likely to be a significant challenge as we are, as humans, creatures of habit and therefore not travelling to a physical place of work, or to a physical school, may be a difficult change for us to adjust to however I think we will see increasing consideration around flexibility.    Workers may be allowed work from home days and some schools may adopt timetables or schedules including virtual school time or virtual school days.  We may also see a growth around online only schools.

Online socialising

twitter-292994_1920For me our students online social media habits have to date been seen in a very negative light, being thought of as being anti-social or changing in their behaviour or attention spans.   The last week has however shown how the online world can provide opportunities for socialising as much as the real world can, albeit in different ways.    We have seen virtual pubs, lots of online Karaoke, community groups and much more form quickly online to overcome the challenges of social distancing and the potential harm of individual isolation.   Thinking about children, and how parents may be overprotective and concerned of the dangers in the real world, therefore leading our students to be more isolated than they would have been in the past;  For me I remember parental comments about returning home “before the street lights come on”.   This kind of freedom to socialise in real life isn’t afforded in anyway to the same extent for the current generation of children.  Is it therefore any wonder they would look to use the online world?    I think going forward there will be a greater acceptance of the benefits of the hyper connectedness which our students already experience through the many apps they use.

The Bigger Players

We have seen over the last week a number of school services overwhelmed by increasing demand and traffic as schools and workplaces across the globe shifted to remote learning and remote working.   Even the big players like Microsoft and Google have had some issues in this period of unprecedented demand.     In looking at these issues, although the bigger services were negatively impacted by demand they also tend to have greater capacity to upscale and recover quickly, greater resiliency, where need arises hence I think we will see a number of small EdTech companies disappear as they loose out on business to the big players.   This shift will have both positive and negative implications.  We may lose some interested and useful solutions to a difficult financial climate while homogenising on common functionality which will be seen across all schools.

Data Protection/Cyber

legislation-3231548_640Although most of the above is positive I do have some concerns.  I am worried that as people rushed to find solutions to overcome isolation, maintain social connection, etc, that they didn’t show due care for the protection of their personal data and for the resultant cyber risk.   Great communities may have formed overnight using free services but what data did we give away regarding these groups and the individuals within them.    It worries me that when things do settle down, we may realise that some decisions made have negative consequences.   I suspect the pendulum which swings between individual privacy and public good, and which previously tended towards individual privacy may have shifted somewhat and may now tend more towards the public good.   In some ways this may be a good thing, but what may be a good thing in a crisis may not be a good thing when everything returns to normality or near normality.


It may be possible that I am wrong about the above and that the world simply acts like an elastic band and springs back towards the normal which existed prior to Covid-19.  It may equally be that Covid-19 acts as a catalyst for wide ranging change and a new normal, distinctly different from what existed before, is established.   The likelihood is that the world will find a position somewhere between these two possibilities, with some schools embracing change and others not.    It is also worth noting that the world education sector is likely to see some significant change especially around fee paying schools operating internationally.  I know from my own experience working in the Middle East that some of these schools rely fully on fee income and that this period where parents may be unable to afford fees due to job losses will result in significant uncertainty and some difficult decisions.   For ex-Pat teachers this will be a period of great concern.   My thoughts go out to these schools and their staff, and in particular to the schools and staff I personally worked with.  My thoughts are also with those who have lost loved ones, and to those who will likely lose loved ones on the weeks and months to come.

The above represent my thoughts on what might change following this crisis.   Only time will now tell how close or far I am from the truth.




EdTech: Supporting schools in a crisis

virus-1812092_640The current outbreak of the Corona virus has highlighted a particular educational need which I believe EdTech is well placed to fill;  the need for learning to continue when staff and/or students are unable to actually attend school either due to forced closures or individual illness or through forced isolation such as is required in relation to containing the Corona virus.

There are a wide variety of platforms in use in schools which can support remote learning plus platforms which can easily be put into place and even some companies offering their platforms free during this current crisis such as Centurys offer to Asian schools.    Sadly, as the list of options is very long plus I don’t personally have experience of all possible solutions and configurations, for the purposes of this post I am going to focus on the solutions I do have experience of.

RE2Z7GWI am going to start with Microsoft Teams as it is the one which immediately jumps to mind, in particular its “Meet Now” functionality.     The reason this functionality is first to my thoughts is my belief in learning as a social experience and therefore the need for interaction beyond simple file sharing, ideally in a video format complete with all the non-verbal cues present in our normal day to day interactions with others.   Via Meet Now lesson content can be shared as a live video stream including the ability to share desktop content such as presentations or worked examples, etc.   This is very useful for conducting a lesson remotely or allowing students to access a lesson remotely however it also includes the ability for the video stream to be automatically recorded so that students can also view it after the event, in an “on demand” basis.    Microsoft will also automatically transcribe the video making it easily searchable however I note that this very much depends on the quality of the audio within the video and the pace of speech, the accents of individuals speaking, etc so it isn’t full proof.

As well as in a class or group context Teams can also be used on a 1:1 basis to allow teachers to conduct video calls with students independent of the device they are using and their location.   Using the Chat facility, a video call can easily be started and again both student and teacher have the ability to share their desktop and/or share files as needed.    Where bandwidth is an issue, rather than using video, teachers and students can fall back to a text-based discussion albeit I believe video is generally preferable.  A student with a mobile phone and a cellular contract could therefore interact with their teacher from a quiet room at home or even while on a bus or train.

In relation to using Teams Microsoft have already shared some advice for where schools want to enable and use of Teams.  You can view this info here.     If seeking to setup Teams quickly, assuming an Office 365 tenancy is in place complete with student accounts, my suggestion would be to enable teachers to create teams for their classes and support them to use Team Codes to allow students to join the relevant class.  This means everything can quickly be put in place to allow for use of Teams.

In terms of more static content such as learning resources, worksheets, etc, which you might want students to access, this ideally could be delivered through whichever learning platform is in use within a school.   Teams can also provide this facility or a SharePoint site, another component of office 365, could be quickly created to host the relevant learning content files.    OneNote could also provide such static content however additionally OneNote can allow teachers to provide written and even verbal feedback to students on their work allowing a more realistic two-way communication and learning experience to be developed.    I suspect I could actually write a piece on OneNote on its own however for now the above will need to suffice.

topDevicesPersonally, I also think Flipgrid is worthy of mention as another possible video related solution which can be put in place quickly allowing teachers to share video content with students and students to reply again with video.  I think this could be useful for creating the feeling of group discussion where the students are in diverse locations and may not be able to access the video stream at a specified time.     Another app worthy of mention would be Wakelet in its potential use by teachers to collate resources quickly and easily ready for students to access as, when and where needed.

The options are many and I have barely scratched the surface.   I have focussed on the Microsoft solutions however Google offer similar functionality for those schools using G-suite rather than Office 365.    The reality is that there isn’t one correct solution, there are many possibilities and a schools chosen approach needs to fit the individual school.   I also think we need to share ideas and thoughts on this as situations like this may become more common either related to illnesses like currently, due to natural disasters or environmental conditions or due to other events, hence this post.   Mark Steeds comments are particularly useful as they come from actual experience of this rather than simply theory which I need to admit my views above are.    I also think we need to acknowledge that outside of dramatic events, the ability for remote learning to be possible and even encouraged is something we need to give more consideration to.   Using technology to enable and support remote learning is another tool in the teachers toolbox;  A tool which is particularly powerful in reaching individual students with individual needs.  Why, therefore, should it be restricted to use during special circumstances such as viral outbreak?

[Updated 06/03/2020]

A couple of additional Microsoft resources have been brought to my attention and are listed below (thanks to Ian Stuart, @IanStuart66 for highlighting):

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