Jun 212017
 

Last Thursday I attended the Guardian Teacher Network Seminar: Technology in schools: money saver or money waster? at Kings Place, London.The panel was chaired by Kate Hodge (KH), head of content strategy at Jaywing Content and former editor of the Guardian Teacher Network, and featured:

  • John Galloway (JG), advisory teacher for ICT/special educational needs and inclusion, Tower Hamlets Council.
  • Donald Clark (DC), founder, PlanB Learning and investor in EdTech companies with experience of teaching maths and physics in FE in the UK and US.
  • Michael Mann (MM), senior programme manager, education team, Nesta Innovation Lab.
  • Naureen Khalid (NK), school governor and co-founder of @UkGovChat.

These are my live notes from the event – although these are a wee bit belated they are more or less unedited so comments, corrections, additions etc. are welcomed. 

The panel began with introductions, mainly giving an overview of their background. The two who said a wee bit more were:

John Galloway, specialist on technologies for students with special needs and inclusion, I work half time at Tower Hamlets with students but also a lot of training. It’s the skills of adults that is often the challenge. The rest of my time I consult, I’m a freelance writer, I am a judge of the BETT awards.

Michael Mann (MM), NESTA, our interest is that we don’t think EdTech has reached its potential yet… Our feeling is that we haven’t seen that impact yet. And since our report five years ago we’ve invested in companies and charities who focus on impact. Also do research with UCL, and work with teachers to trial things in real classrooms.

All comments below are credited to the speakers with their initials (see above), and audience comments and questions are marked as such… 

KH: What’s the next big thing in tech?

DC: It’s AI… It’s the new UI no matter what you use really… I only invest in AI now… Education is curiously immune from this at the moment but it won’t be… It is perfect for providing feedback and improving the eLearning experience – that crappy gamification or read then quiz experience… We are in a funny transitionary phase..

MM: There has been an interesting trend recently where specialist kit is becoming mainstreams… touch screens for instance, or speech to text… So, I think that is closing the gap between our minds and our machines… The gap is closing… The latest thing in special education needs have been eye games – your eyes are the controller… That is moving into mainstream gaming so that will become bigger… So I see a bigger convergence there… And the other thing I see happening is VR. That will allow children to go places they can’t go – for all kids but that has particular benefits and relevance for, say a child in a wheelchair. For autistic children you put them in environments so they can understand size, lights, noise, and deal with the anxiety… before they visit…

KH: What are the challenges of implementing that in the classroom

JG: The tech – and costs, the space… But also the creativity… A lot of what’s created are not particularly engaging or educational. I’d like to see teachers able to make things themselves… And then we need to think about pedagogy… But that’s the big issue…

DC: I can give you an example in the context of teaching Newton’s Laws with kids… We downloaded a bunch of VR apps… And NASA apps there was great for understanding and really feeling Newton’s three audience… Couldn’t do that with a blackboard… And that’s all free…

KH: How accessible is that… ?

DC: Almost every kid has a smartphone… Google Cardboard is maybe £5… It’s very cheap… It won’t replace a teacher, at least not yet. I wouldn’t teach basic mathematics with VR, but I wouldn’t teach Newton’s three laws any other way…

MM: We are piloting a thing called RocketFund and one of the first people to use VR used it in history… After that ran we have about 10 projects because they’d seen what was possible…

DC: “Fieldtrips” can be free… I’ve also seen a brilliant project with a 360 degree camera in a classroom used in a teaching space – a £250 camera – and brilliant for showing issues with behaviour, managing the classroom etc.

NK: Now if something is free, I would have no objection at all!

KH: How do you measure impact?

NK: Well if someone has a really old PC and it runs slow… that’s a quick and clear impact. But it’s about how they will use it, what studies are there and are they reliable… Could you do this any other way? What’s different?

MM: A lot of these technologies do not have evidence on them… But you will have toolkits, ideas that are well grounded on peer instruction, or tutoring… If you can take pedagogical approaches and link it to a tool you are using, that’s great. There’s work on online tutoring, and there is a company which provides tutoring from India… And I want to know how they ensure that they follow established criteria…

DC: I think we’ve had a lot of device fetishism… We’ve seen huge amounts of tablets imposed… and abandoned… You have to regard tech as a medium – not a gadget or a school. I think we’ve had disastrous experiences with iPads in secondary schools… They work in primary schools but actually writing on iPads doesn’t work well… It’s a disaster… And it’s a consumer devices not enabling higher order writing, coding, creation skills… I recommend that you look at Audrey Mullen’s work – she was a school kid when she started a company called Kite Reviews… She said we don’t want tablets or mobiles, that laptops were better…

Comment: What about iPads in schools… I did a David Hockney project with Year 10 students, that riffed off his use of iPads and the students really engaged with it… I’ve also used it in a portrait project as well… And one of the things I’m interested it is how you use it in more than writing and literacy…

JG: I just want to come back to measuring impact… It depends what you want to use it for… Donald gave us an example of using an iPad for the wrong thing, and from the audience that example of using iPads in the right ways… No-one in industry would code on an iPad… We have to use technology appropriate to the context and the wider world.

KH: How would you know that?

JG: As a teacher you have to gain expertise and transfer that to your teaching…

KH: You might be an expert in history but not in ITT…

JG: As a teacher you have to understand the technology you are being given to use… You have to understand the pedagogy… And you have to prove to teachers that the technology will improve their practice… I’m not sure any teacher has ever taught the perfect lesson, you always can think of ways to improve that… And that’s how you consider your work… One of the best innovations in teaching have been TeachMeets – informal exchanges of practice, experiences, etc. The reason technology in classrooms is not as successful as it should be are complex…

NK: I know of someone who purchased an app, brought into it, send people off to training… But it was the wrong app or what you are trying to do… So do the research first before you purchase anything…

DC: I think that the key word here is procurement… And teachers shouldn’t be doing that with hardware… You have to start with teaching needs, but actually general school software too – website, comms with parents, VLEs etc… It’s back end stuff… Take the art example… I know lots of artists… none using iPads… They use more sophisticated computers that enable the same stuff and more… It’s not David Hockney, that’s the tail wagging the dog… It’s general needs… Most kids have devices… I’d spend money on topping up for inclusion… And you have to do that cost benefit analysis first…

MM: Cost benefit analysis and expert approaches isn’t realistic in many schools… Often it’s more realistic to do small scale trialling… If it works, guide their peers, if not, then quite there… Practical experimentation, test and learn is the way forward I would say…

JG: I think that the challenge is often the enthusiast… You need to give things to the cynic!

DC: There is a role for sensible professional advice. In Higher Ed we have Jisc, we are quite sensible… But we don’t have that advice available for schools… It all goes a bit odd… It’s all anecdotal rather than evidence based… Otherwise we are just pottering about… And we end up with the lowest common denominator in terms of skills and understanding…

JG: I’m getting a bit nostalgic for BECTA, and NESTA FutureLab… doing interesting stuff. A lot of research now is funded by companies engaged in the research…

MM: I agree… but there is no evidence for white boards, tablets, whatever as they don’t work on their own… Has to be evidence informed…

DC: Cost effectiveness is always about tech as an intervention in education… The evidence for schools is that writing accuracy goes down 31% and is a huge problem on tablets… Unless…

NK: There’s good evidence that typing notes in class doesn’t work

DC: Absolutely… Although there is plenty of evidence that lectures don’t work ad we still do that… They have power devolved and in my view they are not really teachers… That happens every day…

Comment from audience: That doesn’t happen every day…

MM: We have to be careful about how we use the word evidence… Lectures may not be correlated with success but that may be to do with the quality of teaching staff, of lecturers…

KH: One of you talked about giving technology to the cynic… How do you overcome this…

JG: I think that the doubter, the cynic… will ask all the questions, find all the faults… But also see what works if it works…

KH: Often use of tech comes down to the enthusiasts and evangelists… But teachers lack space to be creative… How can we adopt technology if we lack that time and opportunity…

JG: We have so much more technology now, it has permeated our lives more… Our thinking, our discussion, potentially our classrooms… But I haven’t seen smartphones in schools much yet… We haven’t talked about bring your own device… There is an element of risk.. potential for videoing, for sharing bad practice, for bullying and harassment… But there is a lot of nervousness there…

DC: I think we have to move away from just thinking about technology in the classroom. I’m dead against it. Bring tech into a room in a one-to-many context… I’d rather use learner technology… Good teachers are teachers in the classroom… Kids really use tech at home, with homework… When you struggled when I was a kid you got stuck… but now you can use devices… to find the answer but also the method… And we have adaptive learning that can tailor to every kid. I think learner technology and away from the classroom is where it needs to be… Rather than the smart board debacle… Where one minister brought that in, Promethean made millions…

JG: I don’t recognise the classroom you are describing… I see teachers using technology, with big changes over the last twenty years… It is the appropriate use of technology in the appropriate places in learning… And thinking about the right technology for the job… If we took technology out of the classroom we’d just have lectures wouldn’t we?!

DC: The issue of collaboration is interesting… There is work from Stanford that many group works/collaborative technological driven things in the classroom… That most kids aren’t doing anything, but it looks collaborative… versus a good teacher doing the Socratic thing…

MM: I don’t think the in/outside the classroom thing is as important as the issue of what works, how things adapt, immediate feedback to with FitTech…. But it all comes back to pedagogy….

NK: It all comes back to what the problem is that you are trying to solve…

KH: What about the right way to do this… There’s the start-up like run fast, fail fast approach… Then the procurement approach…

NK: We want evidence based procurement… I don’t want to fund trials… Schools are poor…

KH: Start ups don’t throw it and see if it works… They use data to change their approach…And that’s what I’m talking about… Trialling then using evidence to inform decisions…

DC: The last thing I want to do is to waste time or money with start ups going into schools… I think taking risks in schools like that is very risky… I’m also not sure governors should be procuring… The senior team should… But often there is no digital strategy… It needs to be tactical not strategic…

JG: Suppose we get the kids to assess the start up product… There is a great project called Apps For Good… It gets kids to engage in the idea, the design process, the entrepreneurial aspect… There is a role for start ups for teaching kids about how this happens… I think education is a risky business anyway… We think something good will happen, kids have to trust the teacher… I think risk can be quite a healthy thing, and managing risk… Introducing something new can be edgy and can be quite invigorating…

NK: As a governor I don’t want my school going into the red financially… We need to operate within our means…

KH: It wasn’t about start ups in the classrooms… Even a small spend…. Can be risky…

MM: Isn’t there a risk of a big roll out of something that doesn’t work for your school? Some risks will feel riskier than others… School culture and character all mater…

JG: We do have examples of technologies that didn’t work but now do… VLEs didn’t take off… Schools don’t use them… It was an expensive risk… But many use Google Classroom which is essentially the same thing… It’s free but needs maintenance…

DC: Actually with new start ups… you want evidence, you want research to prove the usefulness. 50% of start ups fail, and you don’t want to adopt stuff that will fail…

JG: But someone has to try things first, to try new things, to bring something new into the classroom.

KH: How do we take Ed Tech forward… ?

DC: At risk of repeating myself… Professional procurement, technology strategy, strategic leadership in this…

Comment from crowd: Where do you get the evidence if you don’t test it in the classroom…

DC: I am involved in a big adaptive learning company… We are doing research with Cambridge University…

Comment from crowd: so for the schools taking part, that is a risk!

DC: No, it’s all carefully set up, with control groups… Not just by recommendation by colleagues…

JG: Setting up trials in schools in incredibly difficult, especially with control groups… Even if you do that you have to look at who was teaching, who was unwell then, etc. It’s very very hard to compare… And if it is showing improvement then morally should you withhold that technology from some pupils… One of the trials I can think of was around use of iPads… Give them own budget for apps.. But give them free choice… And then have them talk about that… It’s a trial but it’s very low cost, it’s very effective, it’s judging fit of tech to the space…

NK: I’ve known schools go for the iPad whether or not it works… Why go for the most expensive tablets… to try them!

DC: In the US there was a 1.3bn deal with Apple in California… And iPads are not there now… They now use Chrome Books…

JG: But that was imposed from the top.. And that’s an important issue…

Comment: I want to take issue with something Donald was talking about… I am all in favour of evidence based research and everything… But it is hard to find time to find the research, and a lot of effort to actually read through it… 3 pages of methodology before the conclusion… By the time it’s published it’s out of date anyway… I write about evidence on my website and often no firm conclusions come out of this… Ultimately anecdotal evidence matters… Asking questions of what was this trying to solve, what worked, what didn’t… Question: does Donald agree with me.

DC: No!

Comment: We all know the digital age is coming, kids have to work with computers, how can schools prepare children for that work and keep traditional teaching too..?

MM: For me there are two aspects: digital skills like codeclubs, programming… The other side is that when we are in this world with automation, what sort of jobs will survive… We have a report at Nesta called Creativity vs Robots… Skills that are most robust are creative, collaborative, dexterous… Preparing kids for the future still requires factual knowledge but also collaborative and problem solving skills… It’s not that it doesn’t exist, we just really need to focus on that…

JG: Maybe controversially I will say that we don’t… We should teach flexibility and to learn. A few years back I wrote for TimeEd… I visited Harrow- relatively unlimited funding… They don’t teach computing… They don’t get there until Year 9… Prep schools don’t teach it… Not “academic” enough fpr A-level or GCSE. They do some ICT skills… I guess they will get jobs, good ones…But they don’t prepare them for that… They prepare them to be leaders and the elite… I’m not necessarily sold on the idea that you have to prepare kids to be the makers… We teach reading and writing, but not digital literacy… Or how to read a film or a computer game, why failure is important… We don’t teach that… We might teach them how to create the game… So in part “don’t” and in part “expand the curriculum”

Comment: For Mr Galloway… Why did you go to Harrow not Eton… They invest in innovation and you get to be amused at top hats and tails?

JG: Tube ride!

DC: It would be madness to ignore technology in schools… But coding is this year’s thing… ! Kids need skills when they leave school…

NK: I have great problems with the idea of 21st Century skills… We can’t train kids for jobs they don’t exist… Jobs from hundreds of years ago….

MM: There is a social justice aspect here… Mark Zuckerberg went to one of the top schools… If we don’t expose all children to technology opportunities they can miss out…

JG: In Harrow they don’t impose technology on teachers… but they get it if they ask for it. They also give kids Facebook account sand teach them how to use it…

Comment: When we think about technology in schools, when do we think about teachers perspective… can we motivate and engage students with 21st century skills and possibilities…

NK: With all the money in the world, yes. We are in the position where schools can barely afford the teachers… We have to live within their means…

DC: Are teachers the right people to teach these skills… Is that what teachers are best suited to that… Not sure subject orientated teachers are well placed for that.

JG: Teachers do teach collaboration. Social media is about relationships… It’s just a form of that… CPD for teachers is outside of school time and that means keen teachers engage there…

MM: Having some teachers into smartphones. Some who are not… Some teachers are into outdoor education and camping… Others are not… You would’t want to exclude kids from the experience of camping… That’s how you can think about the ideas of digital literacy here… Finding the enthusiasm and route in…

Comments: A lot of what we, in this room, know of technology is through past exposure and experience of technology. Children are sponges.. They can often teach the teachers, with scaffolding from the teachers, about this era of technology… The kids are often better and quicker at using the technology… We have to think about where this might lead them…

Comment: On procurement and evidence… Michael talked about small trials… Do we think specific and unique contexts with schools not justify that type of small scale trialling…

MM: I think context is key in trials… Even outside of tech… Approaches like peer learning have great evidence… But the actual implementation can make a big difference… But you have to weigh up whether your context is as unique as you think…

DC: That can also be an excuse… Having been involved in procurement in tech… You don’t throw tech about… You think about what the context is, do serious homework before spending the money… You need the strategy and change management to roll things out and sustaining the effort… That’s almost invariably absent in the school context… Quite haphazard… “everyone’s unique… Let’s just play with this stuff”

Comment, I’m the director of a startup empowering primary aged girls and augmented reality to encourage routes into STEM subjects.: In terms of costs and being a governor… Start ups are obsessed with evidence. One of the best things you can do is work with start ups, they really want that evidence… If you are worried about costs you can trial things… But it is a risk when you are teaching… You were also talking about jobs that don’t exist at the moment… That means new jobs in new fields… One thing that strikes me this evening is that no one has talked about science, technology, arts and maths…. And teachers don’t come in from that route into schools… We’ve been talking to Jim Knight. In primary schools you don’t get labs but you can use AR to do experiments… to look in this area… My point it you’ve been talking about technology, is it worth it… Would have been great to hear someone from positive experiences, or an Ed Tech company… This feels like a lot of slamming down of technology…

JG: Can I talk about positive experiences… Technology is life changing and amazing… removing technology from classrooms is a horrendous… Your example in not having enough good qualified science teachers is an important one…

DC: I am not sure about AR and VR… I’d be careful with some of these things… Hololens isn’t there yet… Leading edge tech is a bit of a honeytrap… I raise VR as its on every phone… and free…

Commenter: AR is on phones… !

KH: Thank you for a really lively discussion!

And with that the rather spirited discussions came to an end! Some interesting things to consider but I felt like there was so much that wasn’t discussed properly because of the direction the conversation took – issues like access to wifi; measures to use but make technology safe – and what they mean for information literacy; technology beyond devices… So, I’d love to hear your comments below on Ed Tech in Schools.

 June 21, 2017  Posted by at 10:23 pm Digital Education Tagged with: ,  No Responses »