Tony Anscombe, Senior Security Evangelist at AVG
Simon Moyle, Head of Business Solutions at PC World Business
Rob Keenan, Head of Portfolio Management at Unify UK&I
Richard Wells, Group Schools & LGEM Sales Manager at Danwood
Richard Stephenson, Head of Client Experience at Firefly
Mark Chambers CEO at Naace
Amy Box, Head of Schools Liaison at Codio
Lynsey Jenkins, Marketing Director at LapCabby
Q. Is there still a reluctance to embrace technology in schools from a teaching point of view, and what can we do to help promote the use of edtech in all schools?
Tony Anscombe: Where schools are reluctant, it’s usually because they are concerned about the issues they may encounter when using technology in the classroom: will parents be happy allowing their children to access devices while at school? How can teachers ensure the online safety of their class during an internet-based lesson? One way to address these concerns is by establishing a school digital policy, detailing exactly what acceptable behaviour and usage looks like, for parents and students to sign. This can cover everything from what devices pupils are allowed to bring in to or use at school, the content/websites they can access online and the rules for supervision. With the right policy in place, schools and students can enjoy teaching through technology as it’s meant to be.
Simon Moyle: Schools are desperate to use the latest innovations, however they are unsure of what to go for and how to use it – sadly, in some instances they’re sold a solution which isn’t necessarily fit for purpose based on their individual requirement. Plus, schools often tend to take a piecemeal approach, buying technology on a project-by-project basis, rather than looking at how to adapt to changing curriculum demands with an overall ICT strategic plan.
Rob Keenan: What needs to be done is to look at how the school or college operates and make changes to improve. Whether this is by doing things better or faster is up to the institution, but they must differentiate themselves from other establishments in the area. This will help when competing for the best students and will assist them in meeting objectives set by Ofsted.
We hear a lot about overworked and stressed teachers, schools struggling to keep staff and workers overrun with paperwork. Technology can help solve this. By streamlining processes and providing easy to understand systems, schools and colleges can overhaul their entire operations for the better.
Richard Stephenson: We believe that the vast majority of schools are enthusiastic about technology. There’s an understanding that to prepare students for the future workplace and keep pace with the digital landscape, edtech in some form is a necessity. In turn, children will have access to tablets, mobiles and desktops, as well as SmartTVs, consoles and even IoT devices at home. Schools have a role to play in shaping students’ relationship with these devices.
This area is of real interest to us and, as such, we commissioned some independent research looking at tech adoption in state schools. Some users of edtech were stung in the past by poorly designed software or problematic roll outs. Our findings showed that schools should look beyond lengthy feature sets and consider how technology could genuinely assist their teachers’ day-to-day lives, cater for each student’s needs and enable key areas such as parental engagement. If the tech is a good fit and it works, then it’s more likely to be adopted and provide real value.
Mark Chambers: I don’t think there is a reluctance to embrace technology in schools as such, but there’s certainly an apprehension about making changes and adapting to new systems. The risk for the UK system is that we stagnate with increasingly ageing technologies rather than maintain the cutting edge in practice for which we had established an excellent international reputation. Also, because of the fragmentation caused by current education policy, it means that unless schools are in well-organised school-led organisations, such as academy chains or clusters, it’s up to them to find out what others are doing. Sadly, far too many schools are increasingly isolated and as a consequence are losing any momentum they had in driving forward the acquisition of digital competencies required for the third millennium. Schools need to work together to share advice and guidance on the best education technologies; Naace developed initiatives to bridge this gap and increase collaboration, which are being very well received.
Amy Box: I think that over the last 10–15 years a lot of progress had been made in this area. It is fair to say many teachers across the curriculum are now competent users of technology in the classroom. A lot of the current use of technology comes from the original ICT Across the Curriculum (ICTAC) policies. These approaches were designed so schools had access to the technology they needed and teachers were trained appropriately.
On a personal note, I took up the post of ICTAC co-ordinator in a large comprehensive school in 2006 when the use of ICT in all subject areas was high on the agenda in UK schools. I remember teachers of all subjects (even the reluctant ones!) really enjoying being trained in the use of technology in the classroom.
They embraced the changes as they could see the benefit using technology could bring to their core business – teaching and learning.
In 2016, the landscape of education has changed dramatically. The good work and foundations laid still stand. However, teachers are increasingly pressed for time and money to implement new ideas. My worry is that this could lead to two camps of teachers – those who are newly trained, and a second group who will continue to use PowerPoint presentations and SmartBoards.
I would love to see the role of ICTAC co-ordinator (maybe rebranded for this decade) reinstated in schools. I think it would improve the use of edtech amongst teachers.
Lynsey Jenkins: I feel there is a massive appetite to embrace technology in schools. However, there is also immense pressure on IT departments and teachers to choose the best methods and tools to deliver and enrich the wider digital curriculum. Therefore, the apprehension and reluctance often lies around choosing the best technology. What are the best methods, platforms and devices to accelerate learning? Furthermore, there is a growing concern over both student safety and data privacy within the parameters of education, which can galvanise technology resistance. Student safety should always be paramount when enabling online tools and access.
Knowledge sharing is critical between teachers, head teachers and school boards to enable the fastest route to best practice and the successful implementation of education technology across all age groups.
Q. Are budget restrictions a major factor as to why we are seeing a digital divide between teachers and their students? What can we do to improve this?
Simon Moyle: There is often a divide between technology in schools compared to what students have at home. Students may have worse computers, different operating systems, or they may not have the specific software available to do their studies at home, for example, Photoshop or InDesign for art students. To minimise this divide and help parents, we are currently looking to offer leasing options to alleviate some of the pressure on budgets.
Richard Wells: Budget remains a huge factor in schools, with a natural reluctance for schools to invest capital budgets in the latest technology when there are always so many other urgent requirements for a school’s finite resources.
This is often demonstrated as a digital divide between students who are aware of the technology available and the school which may not be providing the latest innovations that the students are so keen to use. The best example of this is BYOD (bring your own device) as students are used to having access to tablets, chromebooks and other smart tech such as wearables at home, but cannot use them at school. This tends to be most visible with schools lacking print solutions that are compatible with personal devices.
The common misconception is that the latest technology will eat into the school’s already stretched budget. However, the reality is that schools are constantly spending large sums of money maintaining and running old equipment in an effort to ‘make the most of their money’, when it would be far cheaper to scrap the old, faulty, and rundown equipment and replace it with state-of-the-art efficient technology with a revenue service and rental expense.
Schools are desperate to use the latest innovations, however they are unsure of what to go for and how to use it
Richard Stephenson: It was no surprise that our research showed budget cuts as a challenge to edtech adoption. But, the right tech can help schools overcome some of these obstacles. For example, some schools have chosen to move towards a paperless classroom, saving money on printing or student planners. Also, tech can save teachers time doing repetitive tasks like admin, so they can spend more time focused on what matters most – teaching.
The idea of a digital divide between teachers and students is controversial – digital immigrants versus digital natives. It’s true that today’s students have grown up with technology, whereas most teachers have had to adapt. But, it’s also important to consider the way technology is used. Regular use of Snapchat or Instagram doesn’t necessarily equate to digital literacy. It is for teachers to nurture their students’ understanding of how technology should be used, and leverage it as a way to enhance their learning.
Mark Chambers: To improve the budgetary situation, we recognise that budget increases are entirely unrealistic. There are things that can be done.
The first is to improve collaboration. A simple example might be schools working together on procurement to drive down costs. Another example is that we can avoid wasting money by sharing what works. A third example is using technology to create working efficiencies by school communications with stakeholders.
Q. How often should schools look at training teaching staff to use the latest edtech, or is it more important that educators show initiative and take responsibility in keeping up with new developments?
Tony Anscombe: As with any skill, teachers will have varying ability levels when it comes to using classroom technology. Some will be as savvy as their students, while others will need a helping hand. To tackle this, there should be an ongoing training plan that evolves per the individual requirements of the teaching staff.
Technology training cannot be a snapshot in time. Keeping teaching staff up to date with the latest technology innovation, methods and content will require a significant and ongoing portion of time. After all, we do not expect airline pilots to learn how to fly new planes without additional training – it’s no different here.
Simon Moyle: Teachers don’t always have time to spare for training – lesson planning, reporting, homework checking; they have enough on their plate as it is without technology training adding to it. However, given its importance, any new classroom deployment should have time allocated to train teachers on it. It is essential that teachers are fully trained and understand how to use the technology that their students are using. Often, pupils are more familiar with technology than their teachers are, another reason why teachers need to be properly trained. Plus, understanding of technology doesn’t stop at hardware; teachers also need support to learn how to use operating systems, software and apps. This training does not have to be a costly exercise, it can simply be a few training classes or even YouTube videos. In the long run, this will help to counter any issues that may arise during lessons, whilst also helping to cut costs by continuously having to rely on external IT support.
Regular use of Snapchat or Instagram doesn’t necessarily equate to digital literacy. It is for teachers to nurture their students’ understanding of how technology should be used, and leverage it as a way to enhance their learning
Richard Wells: It’s always difficult to try and pin responsibility of keeping up with edtech developments on either the school or the educators themselves.
As with many aspects of school life, I believe there is joint responsibility for the school to create and maintain an environment where staff can excel and deliver the most to students, but it is the responsibility of the staff to be aware of the resources they have and maintain them to the highest possible level.
A school culture that encourages staff to share any concerns when additional needs are not met in order to allow them to perform at the highest level should be encouraged. Whether that be suggesting the need for additional resources, flagging the desire for retraining or highlighting a more efficient use of the edtech already in place.
Amy Box: Teachers gain a lot from training sessions – particularly the fact that time is dedicated to CPD, away from the classroom and a long ‘to-do’ list of other jobs. Teachers appreciate being given time and space to learn new skills, along with the ‘group’ aspect of many CPD sessions (sharing ideas and good practice) which is very beneficial. Personally, I feel that I learn much more, and am far more likely to use a new strategy, idea or tool if I have been to a training session rather than having to just ‘go off and find out about it’ by myself.
I believe that it also significantly helps when a lead teacher is involved in ICT and tech. Schools don’t need to send all their staff on expensive training courses.
If one person has responsibility for leading on edtech and keeping everyone else ‘in the loop’, this could be much more effective. A lead teacher would be responsible for keeping up with new developments, filtering out what would be useful, and then sharing ideas and training staff. This could be done in twilight sessions or INSET days at minimal cost to the school. However, if this strategy is to work effectively, the lead teacher would need to be given plenty of time and access to resources.
Lynsey Jenkins: Technology alone does not solve a problem and it is not a replacement for teachers.
But equally, teachers need to be equipped with the skills to get the most out of new technologies within their classroom. So when embracing a digital initiative or deployment, education establishments must consider the wider picture.
The question that should be evaluated is: what budget is required for all the necessary technology resources, from hardware to software and services or all of the above? Additionally, and fundamentally, teacher training must be considered. How much time and budget is required to ensure teachers are adequately equipped to make this initiative a success?
Q. Do you think tech suppliers should, as standard, supply teacher training on their technology products?
Tony Anscombe: When businesses deploy new software systems in the workplace often it is policy to train staff to ensure all employees have a confident understanding of the changes. The same applies in a school environment. When acquiring new technology products, schools should consider the individual needs of teaching staff and their mixed abilities. With this in mind, a suitable training plan should be agreed with the supplier either as part of the package or separately. This will ensure both staff and students get the most out of the new equipment as is possible.
The likelihood is that these would be covered by different budgets, as one would be an operating expense and the other capital that is depreciated over time.
Rob Keenan: Suppliers and vendors can help, but educators, the government and other experts need to help. We need a clear programme of driving technology into schools where it can impact day-to-day life and enhance the learning experience. It cannot be simply a replacement for the notepad and whiteboard. Instead, it must revolutionise the learning process, the way in which teacher work and how the school operates.
This is wider than training, but understanding the effective use of technology is key. Before this schools need a clear plan for how the technology can help them and how they want it work. It needs to be piloted in real situations and the learnings taken onboard. Then a wider rollout should occur, including the vendor’s support in development of training, but, in the end, training delivered by the organisation using it is often best.
Richard Wells: It should never be assumed that, when it comes to training on technology products, one size fits all, with a standard level that will suit every school and every teacher. A sensible standard package should be delivered and included costs to provide a base level of understanding, with optional additional training available at either an advanced level or to reinforce the base level where and when required. This additional training should remain an available option throughout the life of the contract.
Mark Chambers: I think training should definitely be included. Training is one of three key things that schools need: they need to purchase the right technology in the first place; to be fully trained on how to use it and finally, ongoing support, in case anything goes wrong. But they are very unlikely to find the appropriate skill set in a tech supplier, to show the school how to maximise the impact of the purchase. What needs to happen is that the school, in making a purchase, needs to be satisfied that the tech supplier has the appropriate partnerships with learning specialists whose services can be built-in to the school investment, so that the impact is understood and achieved.
Amy Box: Training teachers on how to use a product is very useful if companies want teachers to get best use from a product, ultimately leading to continued custom. However, I do think this also depends on how and where the product will be used. The training supplied could be as simple as online help and docs for smaller products, ranging to whole school in-house sessions for large tools such as school data management and recording systems.
Lynsey Jenkins: I think vendors and suppliers have an obligation to provide dedicated training and support mechanisms for their products – no matter the industry in which they are used.
In the education technology environment, training forums can create a great platform for collaboration and knowledge sharing – however, this is not to say the onus is firmly on the manufacturer. The education establishment has a commitment to provide the adequate tools, training and knowledge to its teachers to enable them to deliver the best possible learning experience and outcomes for their students.
Q. How important is it that teachers embrace social media rather than shy away from it? Do the benefits of using Twitter and Facebook to engage with students outweigh the potential risks?
Tony Anscombe: Outside of the school gates social media is undoubtedly a huge part of everyday life for teachers, parents and students alike. For this reason, we see many schools setting up dedicated social media profiles – it’s certainly a great way to quickly and easily communicate important news, events or announcements. Communicating through multiple channels will also ensure higher engagement from parents and students which is a really positive thing.
However, there needs to be clear boundaries set for communication between students and staff on social platforms. Any student/school communication through social media should be conducted via a dedicated school page and not personal profiles – it’s obvious, but mixing a teacher’s personal social media with school life would be inappropriate.
Simon Moyle: Social media opens the door to potential risks and dangers to young children. However there are more secure platforms via suppliers such as Google that schools can use to have greater controls allowing a more secure communication between teachers to teachers, or teachers to children which is not accessible to the general public.
Learning must remain applicable to real life and social media is a huge part of any young person’s life
Richard Stephenson: Students will be on social media regardless of whether teachers are or not. Schools’ role is to train students how to use social media in a positive way, whether it’s online etiquette or how to deal with problems. Schools could, for example, use an edtech platform to create student blogs, forums or communities, building a safe place for online interaction.
There is understandable concern from teachers about keeping their personal profiles out of sight of their students (and parents), to such an extent that the ATL have provided guidelines on how to ensure appropriate privacy. The onus here falls on the teachers and school policy, as it’s hard – if not impossible – to dissuade students from looking up their teachers.
Schools have a responsibility to help shape students’ relationships with social channels. One such approach is through collaboration, letting students create e-safety guidelines, discuss or debate the value of social, and develop their own informed opinions with teacher guidance. Ultimately edtech should be there to facilitate, but not dictate – each school will know how best to approach social media training for their students.
Mark Chambers: It is not so important that teachers embrace social media, but instead, the most important thing to recognise here is children’s attitudes towards school and learning. If they cannot see that their school is making progress and staying relevant, they are less likely to be engaged in their learning and find it appropriate to them. Learning must remain applicable to real life and social media is a huge part of any young person’s life. It should be used appropriately in schools to support learning. Also, the only place young people will learn appropriate competences is in schools which, therefore, have a huge social responsibility to teach the safe use of technology.
Amy Box: I think that this is a tricky issue, and is best left up to individual teachers to decide. Personally, I find social media is a very useful tool in terms of keeping up-to-date with new ideas and tools, for networking. But I haven’t explored its possibilities in the classroom for teaching and learning. I know some teachers have done this very successfully. They have set up moderated accounts so students can take part in ‘virtual exchange’ activities and engage with other organisations and activities.
In terms of STEM and social media, many teachers and classes have become very involved with following astronaut Tim Peake on Twitter. I think this is an excellent example of the use of social media to broaden horizons and open up communication channels to students.
Like this feature? Read more roundtable discussions and debates at www.edtechnology.co.uk