The 3 ways technology needs to improve schools in 2017

A new year is upon us and predictions for what new technology breakthroughs we’ll see in education are flying thick and fast. I’ve already read articles talking about the role that virtual reality and machine learning will have in the classroom, and while they are both certainly exciting and innovative technologies, no school is suffering right now because they don’t have them. Instead of predictions for the year ahead I want to add a healthy dose of pragmatism to the debate about how technology should be used in education. Here are my top 3 insights for 2017.

 

1. Technology must be used to improve the capability of teachers

 

In the past 5 years UK schools have spent over £1 billion on technology, yet there has been no measurable impact on student progress. The reason why this is happening is that technology is skipping those who need it most; the teachers. In our technology laden world, the best determiner of a student’s academic progress is the quality of teaching they receive. Technology by itself is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if you put the latest interactive touchscreens into classrooms, buy hundreds of iPads or pick up the latest robotics gadgets. Technology is only as valuable as what you do with it, and for years we’ve done very little. The majority of school technology has simply substituted pre-existing tasks. That’s not to say that technology is irrelevant in the classroom. I know of dozens of schools who’ve transformed their teaching and learning with it because they have made the pedagogical and cultural changes across the whole school to realise its potential. That takes years of commitment, ongoing training and expertise, which is something that the majority of schools are not able to afford at this moment. 

The answer is to begin focusing the use of technology on enabling teachers to perform to a higher level. The way to do this is easy. Just ask them what they need! You’ll be surprised to learn that teachers don’t need touchscreen displays or classes full of tablets to improve their practice. They need tools to be able to work collaboratively, reduce their paperwork and provide more in-depth feedback. Most of all they need technology to be simple and effective. 

 

2. Technology must improve the productivity of the school

 

School staff are working crazy hours. It’s leading to stress, burnout and some to even leave the profession. At the same time budgets are drawing tighter. The Department of Education has earmarked cuts of £3 billion by 2020. Add to that an extra 1 million children needing school places by 2023 and you’ve got the makings of a perfect storm. 

Schools are faced with doing more with less and this is where technology comes to the fore. The good news is that there are huge gains to be made if you know how. Schools are very inefficient organisations because the limited technology that is in use is severely outdated. I’ve met some who operate on little more than spreadsheets, filing cabinets and Post It notes!

2017 has to be the year that schools begin investing in themselves. Cloud platforms such as Google Suite for Education, Showbie and Arbor can transform the amount of time staff spend completing day to day tasks, and they’ll save your school tens of thousands of pounds each year. With more time and more money at your disposal, meeting the challenges of the modern education system won’t look as daunting any longer.

 

3. Technology must be used to improve the consistency of lessons

 

If the lowest performing 10% of teachers in UK schools were brought up to the average level then as a country we’d see significant gains in student performance and attainment (and climb into the top 10 on the PISA rankings within 5 years). This is what is known as a power law distribution where activity is not distributed equally but at one extreme. This means that a small group of poor teachers disproportionately affect the great work done by the rest of the profession. The Sutton Trust further researched this problem and found that the difference between a good teacher and an average one is as much as one year’s progress for a student? 

The big challenge that schools have is in measuring teaching consistency. It’s by no means an easy job and the measures at the moment are slow and time intensive. The majority of schools I meet rely on a ‘triangulation’ method pulling together assessment data, book / work trawls and observation / learning walk findings. The weakness of this method is that it is time intensive and can take weeks to identify trends. If a school has nine excellent teachers and just one who is underperforming, students who fall behind in the latter’s class send ripples across the school. It makes the job of the excellent teachers more difficult as students come to their class below the expected progress level.

Technology can significantly impact on the ‘triangulation’ method that schools follow. Student assessment must go digital and live. Platforms such as Arbor give real time analytics into student performance because data goes into the system live. School leaders can identify students who are falling behind within days rather than weeks, and with the insights, grouping and analytic tools provided it is easy to identify trends such as underperforming teachers. Next book / work trawls need to go digital. It is too time intensive to assess hundreds of books manually. That data needs to be in an easily accessible centralised place, such as Google Suite. Finally observations / learning walks can be vastly improved by proactively influencing teaching quality. Again using a cloud platform such as Google Suite, lesson plans and learning resources can be shared with leaders to improve transparency across the school. And with a rich set of collaboration tools, teachers can begin working together remotely and pooling their collective knowledge. By using technology to make lesson planning and learning resources accessible, collaboratively and transparent you will have everything at your disposal to raise the consistency of the school’s lessons.

 

By focusing the use of technology on improving the capability of teachers, the productivity of the schools and the consistency of lessons, you’ll find that it becomes far more simple and effective. To get a better idea of where you’re at right now take the LearnMaker Scorecard by clicking here. It takes less than 10 minutes to complete and you’ll receive a customised report with your the findings along with insights in how to improve further. 

Jay Ashcroft

Entrepreneur. Author. Speaker. Cofounder of LearnMaker