Five golden rules for edtech success

Samantha Blyth

Sam Blyth has 12 years experience of working with schools, Local Authorities, multi-academy trusts and teaching school alliances in purchasing and implementing new technology. Formerly national Secondary manager for Discovery Education (formerly Espresso Education and Channel 4 Learning) and national key account manager for itslearning UK, Sam is now responsible for managing the team bringing the hugely successful Canvas VLE/LMS to schools across Europe.

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The subject of technology and education is hotly debated. For every evangelist who promotes the benefits of classroom technology, there’s a report like the OECD’s recent study, which claims that investment in edtech does little to improve pupil performance.

"Look for a system which can speed up the marking process or help create reports."

For Primary education in particular, this scepticism seems to be accompanied by a more innate fear - that our young children, as ‘digital natives’ will lose or fail to develop social skills if they’re bound to computers instead of playing with friends. There’s call for smartphones and tablets to be banned outright from the classroom, and a return to paper, pens and textbooks is supported by many.

But, the more articles on the benefits or pitfalls of edtech that I read, the more I realise that technology proponents and naysayers alike are failing to address the nub of the issue. For me, the problem isn’t with technology itself, but with how it’s being used.

Used badly, or ineffectively, technology can be at best a wasted expense (redundant equipment which gathers dust in the store cupboard) – at worst, detrimental to pupils and teachers alike. But used properly, the right edtech can prove to be the best purchase your school ever made.

I’ve been working with Primary schools for eleven years, and am a parent myself. In all that time of talking to teachers, pupils, parents and carers, I think I have found the most important considerations for any school looking to invest in edtech. These are key ways to ensure that technology is no longer a burden, but instead a genuinely helpful tool in increasing pupil attainment and engagement, and helping teachers out to boot.

1. Work out the problems you need to solve

Primary school teachers face two main challenges: increasing pupil engagement, and easing the burden on teachers. If your main problem is that teachers feel overburdened by admin and bureaucracy, then look for a system which can speed up the marking process or help create reports. If your issue is that pupils don’t care about the lessons, then look for something that will deliver compelling content to support the learning journey. Technology for technology’s sake is bound to fail. If you can’t say, I want my technology to do XYZ, and this is how we’ll use it – then don’t buy it.

2. Don’t leave it to the management

All too often, school technology is bought but not used because systems have been selected ‘from the top’ – by management fulfilling quotas and not by teachers doing the job. If you’re buying technology for your school, my advice is to involve your class teachers in the purchasing decision. It’s often best to get those most resistant to technology involved from the get go, as once you have these teachers on board, they can be truly useful advocates for teaching staff and pupils about the benefits.

3. Engage parents

Parents can be the most fearful group when it comes to new technologies. However, parents can be the biggest advocates your school can have when it comes to edtech, so long as they can see how it can benefit them, and their relationship with the school. Online learning systems bring parents and children closer together, and allow parents to play a more active role in their children’s learning. As with class teachers, engage parents early in the purchasing decision and let them have a say.

4. Open your mind to possibilities…

"Flipped learning allows for teaching to be more interactive and bespoke."

We often talk about a concept called the flipped classroom - where activities that traditionally have taken place in lessons – such as watching online lectures or collaborating in online discussions, are now done at home. Practising activities already learned (traditional ‘homework’) takes place the classroom.

Even at Primary level, integrating the flipped classroom into schools would allow for the in-person teaching that pupils receive to be more interactive and bespoke. Standard rote-type material, which is passively ingested, can be completed at home freeing up classroom time for more tailored discussions; sensitive to the needs of the individual pupil.

This approach can totally change the learning experience for the better. But to get the most out of technology, teachers must be prepared to embrace new techniques and open their mind to a different way of teaching and learning.

5. Evaluate

Businesses are very good at evaluating ‘ROI’ (whether their spend has been effective), schools less so. Stopping equipment from being underused or ignored is vital – and schools must evaluate whether they have achieved significant return on their investment on an ongoing basis. Set rigorous objectives and key performance indicators when you buy any piece of technology, and make sure that you’re achieving what you want to from the get-go.

So there we are. Follow my five golden rules when you’re looking to buy any technology, and you’ll make your purchase a success.

How do you tackle edtech in your school? Share your experiences below!

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