Is there any need for further innovation in e-learning when we are not in lockdown?

Fiona Kempton, trust consultant teacher (digital strategy) at the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), outlines three principles digital leaders can use to give stakeholders a reason to keep going with edtech

Having moved so rapidly and mind-blowingly to a world where we can now create mobile, interactive learning experiences for students, educators would be justified in asking, “Is there any need for further innovation in e-learning?” and “Do we need to continue this when we are not in lockdown?” These are definitely questions that I have encountered this year when speaking to exhausted digital leaders and tech-fatigued teachers. So, in the words of Carrie Bradshaw, it got me thinking…

Let’s consider first, what it means to innovate or be innovative in our use of edtech. Innovation requires a practice, which at first feels new, to be adopted by a community. Disruptive innovation is a concept which can often only be seen after the normal way of working or living has been disrupted; it is rarely something which is chosen in advance. The move to online learning for all during successive lockdowns in the UK could definitely be seen as disruptive.

This way of teaching lurked in the background for many schools so cannot be seen as new knowledge, however, the demand for rapid training on how to virtually teach a class live illustrates how teachers saw the need to innovate in their practice when demand arose.

So, what do schools do after feeling the impact of disruptive innovation? First, there needs to be a period of recalibration, which is where I believe most schools currently are – still slightly reeling from their lockdown experience and considering where to go next. If we are to continue edtech innovation in schools, those responsible for driving this strategy will need to win the hearts and minds of all stakeholders – give them the reasons to use the edtech and, most importantly, the training to feel confident in the tools that they are using. How do we do this?

Learning at Norwich High School for Girls


Scan the edtech horizon

Three headlines from discussions at a recent OECD conference on this topic made me think about future edtech scenarios for the schools that I work with.

  1. The anywhere school – where edtech aids high levels of student autonomy, such as in how, where and when they undertake a task and how they demonstrate their learning – all of which lead to greater student agency. Schools may begin to gather their resources, made during lockdown, to form an online platform of learning resources for blended learning. Greater use of mobile tech would mean that learning does not have to happen in a specific classroom.
  2. Gamification in learning – use of apps which require students to compete, both with each other and their previous score as a motivational learning tool. Used in schools pre-lockdown and then used massively as a way to connect during lockdown, this will become even bigger in the near future and is beginning to be incorporated into learning management systems as one of the tools.
  3. Use of analytics built into platforms and applications – a possible workload reducer and a way to make currently invisible data more visible to teachers. Imagine AI combined with retinal scanning which could pick up if a student has lost focus and see if there is a correlation with lower attainment at that point in the lesson, and an intervention sent for homework.

Increase motivation for innovation with early adopters

Exciting times on the horizon, but how do we convince our educators in our schools to jump on board?

This is the everyday mission for those of us who aim to improve digitalisation in learning, and I can only speak to my experience, but I tackle this in three ways.

I explain to educators how it will save them time in the long run – teacher time is at a premium – if apps or approaches are seen as workload reducers, they are more likely to be adopted. Then, early adopters are encouraged to spread the word of a good idea amongst the staff room.

Imagine a set of three train carriages, each of them containing the teaching staff in your school.

Early adopters are in the foremost carriage, tech-resistant and wary are in the carriage at the back and the vast majority of your staff are in the middle carriage. The tech enthusiasts will attend training and begin using the approach and spread the word amongst the staff.

Some of the middle group will become more enthusiastic about the approach as they can hear about how it can be used in actual practice. They ask for and attend training and begin using the approach.

Other staff then see that it can be used by teachers not so different in tech confidence to themselves and the feeling of ‘if they can do it successfully, then I could too’ begins to filter. More staff ask for training and begin to use the new approach.

Celebrate staff who take a risk with a new innovation

In any way that you can. Encouraging them to speak at Teachmeets, writing about them in newsletters, highlighting their success in a staff briefing or sending an email to the head. Teachers have responded to new innovation in remarkable ways, particularly in the last 18 months, but the risks that they have taken in their practice needs to be recognised if this progress is to continue.

Invest in CPD

Great edtech innovations sometimes don’t have the impact they can because of lack of staff confidence with delivery. There is too much focus on purchasing the hardware and software, giving staff and students access to devices and applications with little idea of how they can be best utilised to augment, modify and potentially redefine learning. This is why training needs to be invested in, both in terms of time and money.

Innovation in action

It has taken time for us as a school and a trust, but we now use these principles when constructing most edtech training.

In the Teaching and Learning Community Programme that I run at Norwich High School for Girls GDST, we keep it short and practical by holding several 25-minute sessions aimed at empowering teachers to put one thing they have learned into practice straight away. We often repeat the same session multiple times throughout the term, so that as word-of-mouth spreads, there is the training in place to support those who want to give it a go.

Across the GDST, we have used this approach to CPD in the EdTech 25 programme. Since summer term 2020, 25 online, practical sessions, each 25 minutes in length with additional time for Q&A have been run for teachers across our UK trust to access.

To conclude, if we are to continue edtech innovation within our schools, those who lead it need to find ways to use edtech to help learning evolve in the future, motivate their educators and create programmes which guide them towards being the transformational forces that all great teachers can be.

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