A problem shared

The ICT and education industry need to work together to make sure best practice is easily shared, says Mark Byrne

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?

A. From my experience, teachers have been keen to embrace technology that can support teaching and learning. When technology isn’t used, the most common reason is due to it being overly complex.  Education technology shouldn’t be a challenging prospect, or require specific training which can eat into a teacher’s already stretched schedule. The edtech industry needs to encourage the use of technology in schools by creating tools and solutions that are both easy to use and useful to teachers and students. When we look at the range of content, software and hardware available, there are still too many that fall at the more complex end of the spectrum – an issue which the ICT industry must work to solve.

There are some brilliant tools out there, and the ICT and education industry need to work together to make sure best practice is easily shared and used by both teachers and pupils to encourage a wider uptake.

There are a huge range of ways technology can be embraced – one example is the Jaguar Maths in Motion Challenge, which we are proud to support. The challenge is designed to engage children from eight to sixteen in a stimulating project which puts their mathematical skills to the test as they design and race a virtual car on a specially designed portal. The programme is a great way to encourage the use of technology in schools as well as building on STEM skills, particularly engineering and maths.

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?

A. Budget restrictions continue to be an ongoing challenge for schools. The edtech industry needs to not only produce solutions that are useful and easy to utilise, but that don’t require additional time and energy for embedding into the school day and training staff. There are a multitude of products that the ICT industry offer at little to no cost and so when schools are reviewing their ICT spend I would urge staff to look at what they want to achieve and whether there is a more economical way to achieve this. We are currently working on a project to create a teacher toolkit which will bring together a range of no to low cost tools, making it easier for teachers to embrace technology as part of their lessons.

I wouldn’t necessarily agree that there is a digital divide between all students and teachers and we need to be careful not to pigeonhole these groups. From my experience, there are people who love technology and have grown up with it as part of what they do on a daily basis, never knowing a situation where they don’t have it. There are also those who have grown into technology as it wasn’t part of their upbringing. If intuitive, trouble-free edtech is provided which delivers a teaching and learning benefit, teachers will likely be more open to taking this approach to learning. 

Edtech needs to be relevant and simple enough to ensure teachers want to make the most of it

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?

A. When it comes to training staff to use the latest edtech, this shouldn’t involve taking teachers away from their day-to-day roles. Edtech needs to be relevant and simple enough to ensure teachers want to make the most of it. An example I regularly use is when I received my first smartphone at work. I didn’t have to go on a day’s training. I simply switched it on and it took me through a short introduction which meant I was up and running on the basics within 20 minutes. Edtech should aim to do the same – training should be short and insightful because if it is too time consuming or laborious to use, then it simply won’t be embraced.

I firmly believe that you can’t herd all teachers into one type of technology user. For example, it’s likely that you will have teachers that prefer visual tools whilst others prefer audio, depending on the type of classes they teach. Various tools are needed for different purposes and so it’s the responsibility of the edtech companies to ensure the appropriate resource is readily available, with clear guidance   on how they can be used throughout the school day. Time is so precious for schools and teachers, who may not have the opportunity to take extended training sessions to learn why these tools were created in the first place. How someone uses technology is often personal to the individual, so it’s the industry’s responsibility to serve these tools in an easy to use way, while it’s up to the teachers to decide how best these will benefit their students.

Q. Do you think tech suppliers should as standard supply teacher training on their technology products?

A. No. I believe edtech companies need to produce devices which are straightforward enough to use that it’s not needed. The ICT industry should be advocating teachers spending as much time as they can with students. If we were to introduce heavily involved training as standard, we would be adding another layer of time and energy that takes teachers away from the classroom.

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?

A. Social media is a part of our lives whether we like it or not. However, it’s important for students to understand how to use social media in an effective and responsible way. At a time when young people can be very impressionable, schools need to help students understand how to use this tool that is prevalent in the way people live, learn and work, ensuring they understand how to use it in a safe and sensible way. Whether teachers decide to use it or not as part of lessons is up to them. Schools, however, are the perfect place to influence how to use Twitter and Facebook in a mindful way.  

Mark Byrne is Head of Corporate, Education, Public Sector at Toshiba.

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