The asymmetry of relations between schools and the providers of solutions they use.

During last year a third-party software solution vendor decided to change its pricing model, which in turn resulted in a significant cost increase to the school.   It is only now however that I have had time to write and share my thoughts on this.   Now, I can understand their reasoning for the increase, given their model made them significantly cheaper than the competition when we originally looked to source a solution, and therefore despite providing a similar service, they would have had lower income.   That said, it still felt unfair.

So, what are the factors here?

Communication

In this case the communication wasn’t great, as it wasn’t until our renewal that they communicated the cost increase with us, where clearly, they must have planned the change including modelling its impact on both the company and its users.    I would have hoped that they would have clearly communicated their plan for a price increase in advance, outlining to customers the reasoning for the change and how the new funds would be invested and used to the betterment of the product and therefore its loyal customers.   A little bit better communication, and more information may have made me at least a little more understanding as to the change.   Sadly, in this case all we got was a quote with a price significantly higher than the cost from the previous year.

Training and sunk costs

Following this unfair treatment, it might seem logical to simply change vendors, especially now where this vendor is now comparable in terms of price with other solutions.   The challenge here is that we can’t purely look at the bit of software and its cost, we need to consider the number of users, type of users, training and support, the complexity of the system, etc, if we are truly to identify its impact or the impact of trying to change systems.   This is where it gets difficult as it will always be easier to stay with the solution you have, than to change to a new solution, especially where the solution you have has been in use for several years.    You have already paid the cost of setting the solution up, adjusting processes and training users.   With any change in solution these costs will still need to be paid.   At this point you need a robust motivation to change, where in my case, the minor feeling of unfairness is unlikely to be enough.

So, what to do?

I decided that as the total cost of moving to a new solution was higher and represented more uncertainty, despite the feeling being unfairly treated, I decided to stay with the vendor in question.   I did however make sure our unhappiness as to this incident was made clear.   Maybe there will be some potential for negotiation on cost following this however at the time of writing this is unknown.   I know this decision seems imperfect, but we live in an imperfect world.

Wider implications

The above incident however highlights the wider implication where we invest in solutions for use in our schools whether they be learning platforms, productivity suites, management information systems or other solutions.   As we invest, and use and eventually embed each system, we need to consider what our exit strategy might be.    Although we hope each third party may have us, the customer, in mind it is likely their key focus is on their continued commercial operation and on growth where possible.   As such the customer isnt us as an individual school or MAT, but schools, the collective group of schools they currently or in future may wish to sell to.

We are investing in their platform to provide something to our schools which we can’t provide for ourselves.    They however are less invested in us as we are but one school in a sea of schools to which they sell their product.   The relationship is decidedly asymmetric.

Conclusion

I wish I had a solution for this issue but sadly I do not.   The relationship between a school and the third-party solutions it uses isnt balanced and as such even if the vendors direction is currently aligned with yours, it is unlikely to remain so.

The only recommendation I can therefore offer is to be aware of the asymmetry of the relationship and have an eye on possible alternatives should the push become significant enough to offset any training or other costs.    Also, where unhappy, be sure to make vendors aware as it is likely you won’t be the only person, and if a vendors collective user base all complain the vendor may be forced to reconsider any proposed changes.

The big vendors we are all using, such as Google and Microsoft, may represent the above issue taken to an even large scale.  If their solutions ceased to align with school needs, how easy would it be to move solution, where all your data, your training, etc is so heavily invested in these solutions continuing to remain in alignment with individual school needs.   This may be an even more significant risk, however hopefully one which we will never need to realise.   As such it may therefore be ok to have at least considered the risk.

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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.

EdTech: Foundations

EdTech or Technology use in education, which is my preferred term, relies on some foundational elements.    Understanding why we seek to use technology is the first thing we need to achieve (see my post EdTech: Start with the why? ).  After this we can then seek to put technology to use, but again before we can make much progress there need to be some key items in place.    It’s all well knowing why you want to use technology and knowing how to use technology, but you also need the relevant technology itself along with the infrastructure and other support resources to make it work.    It is worth noting, from my own experience, if the technology doesn’t work due to not having the relevant plan, infrastructure, setup or support, it will be very difficult to recover from, as once the technology appears unreliable it will be almost impossible to reconvince people of its value.  

Back in 2013 at the GESS conference, I sought to try and suggest what the foundational elements might be, in the 2nd layer of the framework I proposed.   The elements I proposed were as below:

Resources

This is very much about the required infrastructure, devices, software, etc.    It is also about making sure that the items chosen are reliable and sustainable.   Having poor Wi-Fi or internet bandwidth which doesn’t support your use of technology is only going to turn users off quickly resulting in them choosing not to use available technology.   Within this area I would consider things such as your internet bandwidth, firewall, core and edge switching, wireless access points and overall wi-fi system.   I would consider the devices being used, classroom display technology, the apps and software, device peripherals and printing/scanning resources.   I would also consider the long-term sustainability of everything, avoiding seeing each item as a one-off cost, but instead considering the long term replacement and disposal costs, maintenance, licensing, etc; Basically the total cost of ownership rather than just the initial purchase cost.

Now, on reflection I listed this on my framework on the left which given an expectation of reading left to right, means it comes first, where clearly shouldn’t.   If there was one thing I was going to change about the 2nd layer of the framework I proposed, it would be to put Strategy first, on the left, followed by Culture then Resources.   It is important to have a strategy and plan before having investing in what can often be costly infrastructure or support.

IT Support

Users will always need some support whether it is to resolve technical issues, to help them get initially set up or to migrate devices for example.   It is important users feel supported and have somewhere to go where they need help.    There is also the requirement for the maintenance and operation of the infrastructure including making network changes in response to changing needs of teachers, students and other users, plus responding to changes in software, cyber risk, etc.   As such some form of IT support is key.      I feel one key feature of successful IT support is for them to be seen as a partner in the processes of learning rather than simply the people that need to make it work.   I have long heard about the importance of not allowing the technology and the IT team to decide what can and cannot be done within teaching and learning, however we also need to be aware that sometimes there are things which may be appropriate from a teaching and learning point of view however would be extremely costly, difficult to support or introduce significant IT risk.   As such we also need to be wary of teaching and learning dictating to IT services what must be done.   The ideal situation therefore needs to be a partnership.   In considering this partnership and resultant balance, I will however always lean slightly towards supporting the teaching and learning side over the IT technical side given this is what schools are all about, but it still needs to be a more balanced and partner based decision making process over a hierarchical, teachers over IT support staff, process.

Strategy

At a virtual event regarding EdTech during the pandemic an attendee stated that the key feature of those schools particularly successful in their use of technology during the pandemic was simply having had an established plan as to technology use in their school.   I think the need for a plan, the need for a strategy, which is both shared but also lived is key.   How can we seek to decide what technology to use, how to set this technology up, how to deploy technology and how to support and train staff if we don’t have at least some sort of plan?    For me the first step is having a strategic overview of the schools direction in relation to technology, where the stated aims should align and ideally enable the schools overall strategic aims.   It should be written in a way to be easily accessible and understandable, and therefore should be at an outline level, with more specific plans regarding projects or specific technologies then springing out from here.   It should include both content looking at the here and now but also towards the future.   I also believe it is important to get a strategy in place, without too much time spent on wordsmithing it and making it perfect.  Instead we need to accept it may evolve and change with time.

Ethos (Culture)

I have always felt that culture plays such a significant part in the life of schools and other educational establishments.   Technology requires a little bit of experimentation to find what is right, it requires us to step out of our comfort zone, it requires acceptance that sometimes things will go wrong or not as planned and it requires an embracing of change and the challenges which accompany it.   There also needs to be a culture which supports an open sharing of ideas and experiences, both those which work and also those that have not worked.   The culture and climate of the school should therefore be open and positive or warm, such that this will then support the use of technology, enabling it to be as effective as possible.       I am not going to discuss here how such a culture can be developed; There are plenty of educational books which focus solely on this.

Time

I listed time as a fundamental resource given I know how busy schools can be.    Creating a strategy, identifying and purchasing technology, setting up and deploying technology, supporting and training users, etc, all take time.     If we are to be successful in the use of technology within schools we need to have time.    This will always be a significant challenge as in order to provide more time for one thing, such as for staff to become skilled in using technology, we need to reduce the time given to something else.   Technology can help here by either automating or making processes easier however I also believe we need to regularly look at processes, which often become complicated over time and in attempts to improve and try to simplify these where possible.   We need to constantly ask ourselves where is the value in what we are doing and can we achieve similar value but with reduced resource cost, often in time.

Conclusion

Looking back to my conference presentation, I think some of the details may need to be changed, but the first two layers were correct in their overall theme.    We need to first know why we are seeking to use technology, then have the foundational items in place, including a strategy followed by the necessary time, hardware, software and support.

Mobile phones in schools: Again?

We have just been through a period in history where the technology in our schools has suddenly became critical to continuing teaching and learning.   And yet, we now are once again contemplating banning some personal technology, in the form of students phones, in schools.   How can this be the case?

Before I go any further let me acknowledge that schools operate in vastly different contexts across the world and even within the UK.    As such all I can offer is a general viewpoint based on the schools I have worked upon.   I will therefore accept that there are contexts where it is totally appropriate and advisable to ban student mobile phones.   I suspect the most common reasoning is likely to be due to challenging student behaviour.     I do not however accept that banning mobile phones is the correct approach for all or even most schools. 

So, what are my reasons for this view:

Digital Citizenship

We wish to develop our students as digital citizens ready to live in an increasingly digital world.    In our digital world the mobile phone and other mobile devices, plus the apps that run on them are becoming more important.   As such we need to work with students to understand how to best use mobile phones and also how to use them safely and responsibly.    If we don’t tackle this in schools then we leave it to chance that students will be able to manage their mobile technology use themselves.

Digital skills and familiarity

The pandemic required us to quickly pivot to online teaching and learning.   For those schools which were already using technology widely in face to face lessons, this was easier than it was for those schools who were teaching in a more “traditional” and technology-less manner.    If we accept that online teaching and learning may happen in future, whether due to a pandemic or maybe just a snow day, then we need to get students used to using technology across the curriculum and their studies.  Using mobile phones constructively in lessons helps towards this, whereas banning mobile phones removes a potentially beneficial technology from the classroom.

Cyber Security

One of the key security features to keep online services safe is the use of Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA).   This is something we need to be applying to our school services including student accounts, plus something we need to encourage students to enable for their personal accounts.   Mobile phones as the second factor are key to this.   Banning mobile phones means we cannot enforce and encourage MFA use, thereby making our school systems and our students less secure.

Conclusion

As I said, I understand that contexts exist where banning mobile phones might be acceptable and even the best solution.   I don’t however believe this to be an approach which should be applied to all.   I very much believe that school leaders are the best people to judge their own schools context and the approach they wish to take towards technology use and the use or not of student mobile phones within school.

My view is that student mobile phones are a technological swiss army knife of tools.   With them students can search for information, record key learning from lessons, explore new worlds and many other things.   They are also likely to play a key part in students lives beyond school and therefore it is important we start developing the relevant skills and understanding as to their positive use, starting in schools, starting now.   Mobile phones, with their biometric authentication, combined with MFA, also help to make students digital existence more secure.

Given all that has happened over the last year or so, and the critical part that technology played plus the issues around access to appropriate student devices, I find it strange that we are still discussing a blanket ban of mobile phones, a technology device, from schools.    We should be seeking to make more and better use of technology in schools not banning it.

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?

Technologies past

My last post looked forwards, considering what next, so it seemed natural to also do a little bit of reflection.   I have now been involved in schools, including my teacher training, for around 26years.   In that time I have seen a number of technology items come and go.

1990s

I went through my teacher training in the mid-90s working as a “technology” teacher in departments where craft and design was still the most significant part of the taught curriculum.    Overhead projectors were still widely in use as were the traditional chalk whiteboard.   I remember on many occasions arriving home to find the left hand side of my suit covered in chalk dust from where I had brushed the board while writing on it.

During my teacher training, I took a laptop and LCD panel into a school I was attending as a trainee teacher;   The panel was basically an LCD matrix, which fitted over a conventional OHP, allowing the OHP to provide the light which then projected the LCD image onto a wall or pull down screen.   I was using the unit to display a little 3D animation I had created for a lesson on orthographic projection.   The hope was the little animation of a 3D object would help students visualise the 3, 2D projection planes.    For me this panel was the precursor for the common data projector now seen in classrooms everywhere.

2000s

The start of the 2000s saw me now teaching Computing/IT in an FE college.   Data projectors were now much more common, and from what I can remember, were available in each of the Computing/IT classrooms.    It was at this point the Interactive Whiteboard seemed to start to make an appearance.   My first experience was of Promethean whiteboards and the often lost pen which came with them, an expensive item for schools given the loss rate.  I need to admit to being quite eager in the use of IWBs back then;   They were an infrastructure item which was dealt with by the IT Services department so all I saw was their potential, and not the cost;  Who would fail to be positive about a new technology item with an apparent zero cost.   It would be later in my career where I started to consider cost vs. benefit of IWBs and develop a less than positive view of them.

Around the same time there was a big push on all schools and colleges having a virtual learning environment.  Again, I was positive about the potential at that time.   I didn’t fully appreciate the amount of time that would be taken creating and keeping content up to date, plus the tendency for VLEs to simply end up as a dumping ground for worksheets.   I will however note, the VLE did start to push the boundaries in terms of where learning could take place, suddenly allowing students to access learning resources provided by their teachers at any time and in any place, or at least any place with internet access.

Laptops for teachers came and went during this period.   It was great when the funding was available as schools bought their staff nice new laptops which helped in preparing resources, marking, record keeping, etc.   The issue was to come 3 or 4 years later as laptops reached the end of their lifespan yet the funding to replace them no longer existed.

Gaming was also something I got involved in back in the 2000s, introducing cross college gaming competitions initially using some Xboxes, then Xbox 360’s and latterly on PCs with the Halo series of games being particularly popular.    As I returned to secondary education, my teachers desk drawer hid a PlayStation 2, connected to my classroom projector, while most of the PCs had a number of strategy games such as Age of Empire on them for LAN gaming after school hours. 

It was at this time I made an attempt at paperless assessment.   As a visiting moderator I was astounded at the amount of paper I was presented with when moderator the BTec IT qualifications so set myself the challenge of presenting our moderator all of the evidence electronically rather than as printed copies.   It did take a bit of explaining to the moderator, who like me normally would be presented by reems and reems of printed copy yet was now just presented with a CD-Rom and a PC.  

2010s

The start of the 2010s saw me in the Middle East where some schools which hadnt embraced technology yet while others were in similar situations to schools in the UK.  Those schools which hadnt embraced technology might have IT labs but these were often not networked and were without internet access.  The schools themselves often only had a basic domestic internet service available in a limited number of areas and there were certainly no PCs or data projectors in the average classroom.    For these schools, heavy investment would see the basic infrastructure put in quite quickly with training quickly following.

In the schools where technology had been embraced, the 2010’s saw the start of discussions around 1:1 devices with the iPad being a particularly favoured device.   Students could now enjoy the power of technology to communicate, to collaborate, to problem solve and to be creative in their lessons, all supported by their own individual bit of technology.

Cloud based productivity suites also made their appearance in the 2010s with Google Classroom being a favourite.   I myself made use of the Google suite of apps in a number of schools although when I returned to the UK in the middle of the 2010’s I then switched to the competing solution provided by Microsoft in Office 365.   Office 365 quickly developed to catch up with Google, who stole the initial march in this area, with the launch of Microsoft Teams being a key moment in the development and use of Office 365 in schools and colleges.

The flipped classroom idea made an appearance; So, teachers using technology so students can do the learning at home, and then practice it in class with their teachers, rather than learning in school and practising, through homework, at home.

2020s

Its early days.    A pandemic has accelerated the use of technology in schools but also highlighted the issues such as a lack of general investment in infrastructure, devices and in professional development around technology use in schools.      I have already posted some thoughts for what might come next in this decade however additionally I think its worth mentioning esports and Virtual Reality.     I see esports as a key area of growth in the years ahead with Virtual Reality also showing some very clear potential although I do worry that VR may go the way of the 3D projector, and be something which doesn’t quite live up to the hype or mainstream use.

Conclusion

Its interesting looking back.  When I think of each decade I have clear memories of the technologies which were becoming common or trending in education.    I suspect there are other technologies which I have missed from my post but these are the ones which stuck out in my memory.    I also note, that maybe as I have got older I have became a bit more balanced on my views as to new technologies, whereas when I was younger my eagerness may have got the better of me.

Or maybe I am just becoming a little more cynical when speaking with Technology salespeople?

What’s next?

The last year has seen schools and other educational establishments jump forward in their use of technology.  Note, I say Technology rather than EdTech as I think EdTech represents a narrower, and often slightly biased view on the technology actually in use in education.   The question I now find myself with, when thinking about technology strategy, is where next?

The last year saw 1:1 devices, whether school issued or bring your own, grow massively as schools sought to continue learning despite students being at home.    It also saw a massive jump towards cloud platforms including Office 365, Google Workspace for education (I think that’s what its now called!), Showbie and many more.  Additionally, video, either pre-recorded or live, became a key part of lessons.  Some of these things are now very much hear to stay or at the very least will be significantly more common than they were prior to the pandemic.

But what comes next?   What are the next jumps forward?

I decided to give this some thought and try to do a little future gazing.   I will acknowledge one thing the last year has taught me, and that is that we cant accurately predict very far into the future;  Who predicted 2020 would start with a pandemic?    But that said, I think it is important to look forward and at least try and imagine where we might be going.

Learning anywhere, anytime

The pandemic saw creation of massive amounts of learning content largely in the format of videos.   There is an increasing amount of learning content which students can access independently both available on the internet, but also within their own schools learning platforms.   The pandemic has shown us that learning can take place outside the classroom.     As a result I think we will start to see more of this learning anywhere and anytime although possibly it will start of with a growing number of students being directed to, or self-engaging in, such content rather than a momentous shift of learning in general.   Maybe we will see the revenge of the MOOC, but maybe not in the same format/shape as in 2012 when the fanfare of MOOCs never quite came to all that they promised.   Or maybe we will just see the continued creation of free to access learning content, by educators across the world followed by the curation of such content ready for teachers and students to access as needed.  Another possibility might be an increasing in the number of virtual schools.   There are certainly a number of options as to how learning anywhere, anytime might progress.

Micro Credentials

Linked to the above, we will likely see students potentially engaging in learning broader than the taught curriculum, but maybe only dipping in and out of subjects or topics of interest at a given moment in time.    I think there is the potential for this to reignite the need for micro digital credentials or badges;   A way for smaller units of study, much smaller than a traditional GCSE or A-Level, to be recognised with some sort of digital badge.   Now, I note that digital badges have been around for some time, however I think the current situation may see them become a subject of discussion, development and greater use.  I myself am already looking to make use of digital badges with at least one programmes run in my school.

AI (Artificial intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning)

AI and ML are already in use in schools, in the automatic transcripts created from Teams meetings, in our grammar and spellchecker and in a number of other almost transparent ways.   We have also seen the growth in educational products which allegedly use AI or ML, however often in my view this is just these terms being used as buzzwords as opposed to products actually using AI or ML.   This is something we need to challenge by asking vendors to explain how their product uses AI or ML.   Going forward though, I think we will see increasing applications of AI and ML to teaching and learning, to assessment and to drawing conclusions from the massive wealth of data which schools routinely produce.   I see the use of AI and ML in identifying patterns and correlations in school data which will allow teachers to be more responsive to our learners and their learning.   The potential is significant however I believe it needs to be led by schools/colleges rather than the tech vendors seeking to sell the next big thing.   I therefore think we need more projects like that at Bolton College and all the work the have done on Ada, their student assistant.

Conclusion

The three items above, learning anytime anywhere, micro credentials and AI/ML are the three areas I can see growing in the next five years.   There are other areas such as virtual or augmented reality which I also see scope for growth, however the three areas mentioned are the ones I see to be more likely to see significant progress.     It is always very difficult to predict the future, and even more so when it comes to technology, however I wonder if in five years’ time I will look back on this post and prove to be correct?   Or maybe I will be miles off the mark.

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