EdTech – the crucial role of technology in the classroom

There’s no doubt that 2020 brought us a worldwide predicament in the form of a global pandemic that none of us will forget. Recurrent lockdowns and unprecedented ‘social distancing’ requirements in public spaces may have been stressful for many – but whatever one thinks of government responses, did the crisis also drive innovations that might otherwise not have arisen?

While by no means alone in its endeavours, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’ when it comes to the education sector.

2020 may well turn out to be the year that revolutionised the development and application of novel digital technologies in schools, colleges and universities across the UK (and internationally).

 

Here’s our exploration of the crucial role of technology in the classroom in the post-COVID-19 world.

 

The COVID-19-accelerated tech revolution in education

Teachers and lecturers in all tiers of the education sector (primary and secondary schools, further and higher education) have worked extremely hard to surmount the obstacles that the COVID-19 crisis posed to them and their pupils. Before the pandemic and the extraordinary public health measures implemented to contain it, most schools simply weren’t prepared for remote learning. Thankfully, cutting-edge education technology (EdTech) was available to help ease the problem as soon as the crisis struck.

In the UK, the government helped schools deliver online learning to pupils locked down at home through Google for Education and Microsoft’s Office 365 Education, and began providing connected equipment such as tablets and laptops to disadvantaged youngsters to help them keep up with remote learning programmes.

A door has now been opened that won’t close when the health crisis eases – a door that can reach out with a diverse range of media and content, not only to able students but also those with dyslexia and other learning difficulties. These solutions can tailor materials and learning methods to their capabilities (text-to-speech solutions and instructional videos are proving enormously valuable here) – a big improvement on expecting them to simply keep up with a pace and level of work that would otherwise be impossible for them.

 

Novel solutions for remote and classroom learning

England’s Department for Education (DfE) had paved the way for the crisis that befell education in 2020 almost a year earlier, with its ‘Realising the potential of technology in education’ strategy published in April 2019.

Measures in the strategy included overcoming barriers to the adoption of new EdTech solutions for schools, and encouraging EdTech providers and the education sector to work collaboratively to improve digital skills. The aim was to deliver comprehensive connectivity for online resources, and to safeguard pupils using digital educational technologies from inappropriate content and malicious software.

 

Here are some examples:

 

  • Artificial intelligence (AI)

AI is growing in utility in the education sector to help teachers and students alike. Its potential as a ‘teaching assistant’ is growing, allowing educators to pare down their workloads and refocus their talents on class time, as well as collecting data and even highlighting learning and behavioural patterns. Its potential for planning and grading is already being developed, and looks set to ease the major problem of skilled teachers leaving their profession in droves because they’re overwhelmed by unmanageable workloads.

 

  • Video teaching

New methods now available include learning through video, which can be offered both in class and at home. Children use more of their own inborn ‘sensory equipment’ when learning through video: research suggests that simultaneously processing images, text and voice/sound leads to improved comprehension and retention. Videos are also a most engaging way of demonstrating certain practical issues, from lab experiments to field trips, that the spoken word or text-only may only partially capture.

 

  • Educational gamification

Others include the use of ‘gamification’ – using the immediacy of rewards and ‘excitement’ (such as points, bonuses and badges, and intriguing ‘treasure hunts’ to find knowledge bounties) derived from the computer gaming industry. This is proving valuable in fostering engagement and even mobilising amiable competition through ‘learning tournaments’. The beauty of this is that many youngsters are already familiar with gamification methods, even if they don’t call it that, simply by playing games on their smartphone, PlayStation or Xbox.

 

  • 3D and other visualisation systems

These technologies allow students to immerse themselves in a virtual experience or location, even when they’re sitting at their home dining table or their classroom desk. As with video learning, evidence suggests that the simultaneous mental processing of multiple sensory inputs leads to deeper learning and longer retention.

 

Some challenges

Today’s pupils are vastly more familiar with software and a huge range of apps and devices than any previous generation. These represent the keys to the digital augmentation of teaching and learning. However, with multiple gadgets (iPads, smartphones, Interactive Flat Panel Displays, laptops, PCs, etc.), how do schools efficiently streamline their IT infrastructures without unaffordable expense?

Given the rapid profusion of EdTech solutions in 2020, this has become a problem. The task of making purchasing decisions for the responsible parties in schools, colleges and universities just got considerably more complicated. Hardware really needs to be compatible with existing systems if exorbitant and, frankly, unrealistic comprehensive upgrade costs are to be averted.

However, there are ways and means of developing efficient IT infrastructure in schools and colleges. Here are a few of them.

 

Cloud-based software

Forget about storing crucial information on a raft of easily losable USB memory sticks and CDs. There’s no need to compromise your security with ‘solutions’ like that when cloud-based software puts everything you and your students need – from video lessons to notes to lesson plans – safely and securely online. Students can have their own personal logins, so they can’t fall back on that old excuse of yore, ‘The dog ate my memory stick.’

 

Online security

With the shift to online and digital techniques of knowledge impartation, security becomes ever more crucial, and every school’s security policy needs to reflect that. Ownership of the policy needs to be clearly distributed from the highest tiers of the establishment, including governors, right down to the students themselves, who need to know clearly what the rules and limitations are. Security should also be device agnostic, given the multiplicity of gadgets that will inevitably be in place.

 

Hardware compatibility

Don’t get overexcited by a new educational technology – it’s going to be useless or drive up costs enormously if it turns out to be incompatible with existing hardware. All parties in a school or college need to be able to switch seamlessly from one device to another.

 

Develop an Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL)

This is invaluable and essential: it’s effectively a one-stop point of contact for all IT users in a school or college where they can obtain help for any tech problems that arise.

 

Future-proofing

Technological innovation, by definition, does not stand still. And, of course, students’ learning needs evolve as they move from one academic year to another. Since it’s not financially viable to splash out on new systems every few years, educators need to know when they do make purchases that the technology has future-proof features that allow it to evolve with changing learning requirements and remain compatible with students’ personal devices.

Related to the future-proofing theme, technological change is going to require much keener interest in the STEM field from coming generations of students to keep the innovative spirit alive. New subjects such as coding and robotics will be crucial to sustaining a vastly more tech-enabled world, as will relevant training for staff in new technologies and IT procurement as part of their Continuing Professional Development.

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