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Improving education with technology — easier said than done?

Does edtech have a bad reputation in your school? Find out why improving school attainment levels with technology is a missed opportunity.

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Used thoughtfully, technology and digital tools bring education and teaching to life. But is technology in education the silver bullet to improving school attainment levels? There are Tech evangelists who champion the use of technology in education to improve pupils’ digital skills and drive engagement in mixed ability classes. There are also skeptics, who believe technology has been oversold as the magic ingredient that will instantly improve the education system across the country.

How, then, can schools improve education with technology? It might be easier said than done, but there are small details that can transform your school’s ICT investments into a vehicle for enhanced performance and better results.

Growing investment in edtech

Technology plays an key role in children’s lives. It’s a vehicle for learning, a source of information, a distraction and a companion. When students use technology passively, to consume information, the impact is minimal. The active use of digital tools, however — as a platform to create, explore, understand and collaborate — can bring about an entirely transformative learning experience. Technology rarely comes for free, however, so how can SMTs ensure they make the right investments in our current financial climate?

The investment figures aren’t insignificant; according to tech analysts Gartner, the annual global spend on edtech in schools has been valued at £17.5 billion. In the UK alone, the spending on technology in schools is £900 million.

To get closer to SMTs’ opinions on these investments, we conducted research earlier in 2017. The results were telling. From insight from over 1,600 educators in the UK, many educators believe technology is integral to modern learning but there’s concern that budgets are incorrectly allocated.

Where are your tech budgets allocated?

Over half of learning time in UK classrooms is now spent using some form of technology — albeit more frequently in STEM classes rather than languages or arts. What’s more, 55% of teachers believe that technology in education improves behaviour and engagement levels.

It’s difficult for schools to make the best use of their available budgets, however. Only 36% of head teachers think that the IT investment in their schools is correct.

First, identify a need

A number of schools are embracing technology, according to our research, but it’s clear that not all institutions are witnessing the uptick in results they expected. This is leading to creeping despondency in the profession over the use of edtech.

Mindless ICT investment, however, will not answer the most common pedagogical problems. First, consider what issues in your school you’d like to address. Do you need to improve engagement across mixed ability classes, for example? Perhaps the biggest issue is school attainment levels across specific subjects.

Technology serves to enhance and improve education, but first schools should identify what gap or problem they are looking to solve.

Keep use of tech targeted

Once the unique needs of your school are identified, research the available tools to address them. Giving teachers the opportunity to engage their pupils an interactive volcano on an ActivPanel display, for example, could help them inspire those struggling to concentrate. Providing staff with virtual reality technology, such as allowing biology teachers to display a beating human heart, could help bring their subjects to life.

Our research has shown that many schools feel there is increasing pressure to invest in technology for technology’s sake, rather than making it relevant to learning. Flipping this on its head, solving real issues with the available technology, could improve IT budget allocation and result in an optimised use of edtech.

Train teachers on their tools

Technology in education is still primarily used in STEM classes. This could reveal a potential knowledge gap across other subject areas. Some staff feel they lack the insight on where it would most complement their teaching, or ease their administrative burdens.

This opinion is evident in our report; only 5% of teachers believe that they receive full training and support when it comes to the educational technologies at their schools. Worryingly, this number is 2% less than last year.

Allocating resources to training your staff on the benefits and features of available edtech — in your school and externally — will go a long way to improving the impact it has on your school’s performance. You’ll soon see a return on the investment.

Technology has a worsening reputation in schools, largely because it can’t solve the systemic problems in the education industry. What’s more, it strips money from tightening budgets, to boot. Tech can drive results, however, with carefully considered and focused use, backed up by solid knowledge and understanding.

Digital classroom displays, like the ActivPanel from Promethean, certainly involve an upfront cost. But, once the investment is made, the diverse selection of tools and intuitive controls for your staff are entirely targeted to enhancing their teaching capabilities.

The supplementary free software is designed to encourage collaborative learning, inspiring teachers to engage more pupils and improve results, even in mixed ability classes. Technology in education isn’t the silver bullet for school attainment levels, but it provides an opportunity to enhance the learning experience.