Bett: integrating technology within teaching and learning

Jo Golding asks independent school leaders how they use technology in their schools, what challenges they face and what stood out to them at this year’s Bett

Bett 2020 featured four jam-packed days of edtech innovation, where 34,000+ educators and leaders from the UK and overseas engaged with 800+ edtech providers. 

Experts in independent education shared their knowledge with visitors, including Gavin Horgan, headmaster of Millfield School, who talked about educating the workforce of the future, and Neelam Parmar, director of edtech, digital learning and innovation at Ashford School, who discussed creating shared purpose between IT teams and teachers.

Furthermore, Rachel Evans (director of digital learning and innovation) and Suzy Pett (assistant head, teaching and learning) from Wimbledon High School talked about how they implemented digital transformation at their school.

The talks provided incredible insight into each of these areas, but I was keen to find out even more about what these leaders think about edtech.

How does your school use technology?

Horgan says that technology has been a “game changer” at Millfield. “We use the accessibility and learning tools that technology now affords really well,” he said. “Many of our students make use of Microsoft’s Immersive Reader functionality on their iPads, laptops and computers. 

“This allows those students who have difficulties reading long passages of text to access the content by having it read to them. It also allows individual words or sentences to be highlighted within the body of the text. I would describe Immersive Reader as a game changer for many of our students.”

Evans and Pett from Wimbledon High School say 2018 to 2019 saw the school “embrace technology wholeheartedly” to enhance learning. They say: “Setting our use of technology for teaching and learning firmly within the context of pedagogy and our strategic direction, we formulated a digital strategy to be a key part of our holistic aims.

Written feedback is rich and effective, and enhanced by adding links and even audio and video comments

“Uppermost in our minds has been to equip our girls with the skills – academic and pastoral – to navigate a fully digital world. In seniors, under our bring your own device (BYOD) programme, every student brings their own laptop to every lesson, yet we have emphasised our overriding belief in ‘the human in the room’. Relationships between teachers and learners come first; we are not slaves to technology.

“Over 80% of senior teachers use OneNote. Marking and feedback takes place in a more organic way as the students work, particularly with smaller A-level classes. Written feedback is rich and effective, and enhanced by adding links and even audio and video comments. Students have found it more personal and immediate.

“The shorter feedback cycle leads to enhanced lesson planning, as teachers can more quickly identify an area of weakness across a whole group – or equally, a strong understanding – and tailor the next lesson appropriately.”

Bett saw thousands of educators descend upon the ExCeL London

Technical difficulty

While technology can have amazing benefits, there are always challenges along the way. Parmar from Ashford School says continuing to use technology “efficiently and effectively” is the biggest challenge. 

“We are well established in our digital strategy and our teachers are knowledgeable in how best to use the technology within their pedagogical practices,” she says. “However, as we know, technology is constantly evolving and with it comes new innovations. 

“One of our challenges is to continue innovating with technology both meaningfully and purposefully within education.”

At Wimbledon High School, the challenge is ensuring technology allows teachers to give pupils ‘future-proof skills’. Evans and Pett say: “The biggest challenge we face is the one which most schools face – how to ensure that we are giving the students opportunities to develop the ‘future-proof skills’ of creativity, collaboration and problem-solving against the constraints of the public examination system.

“We hope that our BYOD programme does make it easier for teachers to integrate digital skills seamlessly into their lessons.”

800+ edtech providers were showcased at Bett this year

Trends in edtech

Bett highlighted many trends for the year ahead, from management solutions to learning technology and personalisation, but for Parmar, there are a few she thinks will take centre stage. “Personally, some of the biggest edtech trends this year are data analytics and aggregation within major school systems, augmented reality applications and the use of smart bots in lessons,” she says.

What impact will technology have on education in the future?

Horgan says technology’s impact will always come down to how it is integrated within teaching and learning. 

“Undoubtedly, advancements in technology will allow for even more personalised learning experiences, with machine learning becoming even more prevalent. I can also see VR and AR being used in education more readily, although scalability will remain a challenge. 

“We need to be wary of the fast-moving pace of technology and adopting the next ‘big thing’, and instead we should focus on preparing our young people for their world beyond school and how technology will play a part in that world.

“By this I mean ensuring that our students are able to use technology to collaborate with one another on projects, that they are able to use technology to create new artefacts and that they can communicate effectively. 

“Finally, I believe technology will continue to have a huge impact upon the way in which professional learning occurs and I can see an increasing rise in digital learning both in schools and in the workplace.”

What stood out to you at Bett?

Evans and Pett were happy with the overall show themes, saying: “We were delighted at Bett with not any one product or talk, but the fact that there was so much emphasis on learning, teaching and hearing directly from so many educators.” For Horgan, it was a specific stand that made a lasting impact. He says: “The best experience for me was the Microsoft stand and the Microsoft classroom sessions. 

“Meeting MIEEs (Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts) who were full of enthusiasm for the Microsoft suite of applications and how they are using them in their schools was so useful. 

“It was also great to see Made by Dyslexia on the Microsoft stand as well.”

While technology can be vital, it’s clear that school leaders won’t purchase it for the sake of it. A clear strategy is key; it’s a good job there are hundreds of edtech experts on hand to help.

Bett will return from 20–22 January 2021

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