In an interview with Open Access Government, Murray Morrison, a leading education and revision expert and founder of Tassomai, shares his thoughts on the edtech revolution with reference to the benefits, costs, and how it can create a modern learning experience
What benefits can an edtech strategy bring teachers?
Teachers have long been focused on data – it’s how they measure everything from the efficacy of their schemes of work down to the attendance patterns of their students. But ultimately, the most important piece of data – what each student knows, and what they still need to learn – is very hard to get to.
Existing practices of data collection – formative and summative assessment – have historically been expensive, slow, and of limited use: the practice test, for example, might measure students’ knowledge on a slice of the curriculum, but it’s skewed by numerous other factors, takes hours or days to mark and feed back, and then persists as a static snapshot of the class for longer than it’s useful. In reality, student knowledge is a constantly changing picture, but it’s been almost impossible to continually measure that at scale.
Edtech like ours is changing that – simultaneously putting the laborious practice of creating differentiated formative assessment in the hands of the student, and putting the measurement and interpretation into the teacher’s hands.
People talk a lot about tech reducing workload – what I think is exciting is that it’s liberating workload, allowing teachers to spend the time they would have previously used on marking and spreadsheets into making a real and productive teaching connection with each of their students.
What benefits can edtech bring to students?
Directly, good edtech makes the process of learning more efficient. The ability of a program like ours to adapt and build well-researched methods of effective study into their daily practice means that they can focus on “doing” and “learning” instead of “planning” and “organising”. Students of all abilities will see benefits from learning via good edtech.
Indirectly, edtech is helping to develop transferable skills: students carry out self-directed tasks, work independently and reinforce knowledge so that class time can be more discursive. This is excellent preparation for the future world of work, where key skills will be flexibility, adaptability and application of knowledge into creative problem solving.
Will the edtech revolution provide new modern learning opportunities?
Absolutely – though I’m a traditionalist at heart. I worry that a move towards a tech-only classroom will mean we lose skills like penmanship and long-form reading and writing. I’m glad to say, however, that many schools are keeping a healthy balance between tech and trad in their culture. Each has something vital to offer.
But it is inevitable that, by the time our current cohort of students hit the jobs market, the world of work will be very different. Edtech’s role in supporting students’ efficient assimilation and embedding of knowledge means that their time in the classroom can be focused more on the application of that knowledge, the development of skills and the nurturing of creativity and critical thinking. It’s these skills that will see young people prosper in their working lives.
Will edtech replace the traditional teacher?
Absolutely not, though I see some fairly terrifying and misguided pitches from some platforms out there! Good edtech products are made for teachers, with the knowledge that many in the profession struggle to focus on the ‘teaching’ part of the job because they’re straining under the yoke of administrative and accountability measures.
The point of edtech is to facilitate good teaching by carrying out the mechanistic aspects of a teacher’s job. It’s something I think we can do extremely well – and to the benefit of teachers, students and families.
How can teachers/schools implement an edtech strategy?
We see schools implement edtech in myriad different ways. In my opinion, schools need to put a great deal of planning in place before investing in edtech: thinking about the strategies that will be employed and the structure of staff accountability to see that strategy through. It’s crucial, also, that edtech is supported not only by one or two ‘champions’, but that it is implemented consistently and enthusiastically across the faculty.
It’s only when good, cohesive use of any educative initiative, edtech or otherwise, becomes part of the school’s culture that it is allowed to realise its true value.
I’d always look at the costs of edtech in terms of value and return – and the opportunity cost that edtech can mitigate. Poor implementation can mean a wasted investment but if a school invests time into researching which edtech will work in their context and supporting its implementation properly, they will see a great return in terms of departmental efficiency and outcomes.
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