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Effective edtech needs to facilitate high-quality teaching 

Will Bickford Smith | Education Technology | 27 August 2017

This article was first published in Education Technology

Teachers in England are currently spending too much time on ‘unnecessary and unproductive’ tasks and not enough time on developing the knowledge and skills needed to help students progress. It’s causing them to become stressed and demotivated, resulting in teachers leaving the profession at the three year mark faster than ever before. So, could the solution to these challenges lie in education technology – commonly known as ‘edtech’? It’s one of the fastest growing areas of the digital economy.

The edtech landscape can be a complicated one to navigate. Choosing the ‘wrong’ sort of edtech risks wasting precious school budgets and taking up limited teacher time. School leaders will need a clear strategy for school improvement in place before procuring (or even trialing) edtech. In this review of what contributes to high-quality teaching, the authors identify content knowledge and quality of instruction as the two factors that have the strongest impact on student progress. With this as a starting point, there are three areas that school leaders should be looking for in an effective edtech solution.

Enhancing teachers’ knowledge

Effective edtech should help teachers gain a deep knowledge of the subjects they teach, and test and refresh it on an ongoing basis. It should also help them better understand how students are thinking about the content they’re delivering and identify common misconceptions. To do this, edtech should incorporate the latest insights from neuroscience on how the brain acquires and retains information, and create software that caters for this. For instance, adaptive learning technology stretches learners (in this case, teachers) by constantly adapting content to the appropriate level of challenge – including the sequence learners see it in. It also provides tailored feedback to help them address weaknesses. Content can be revisited and regularly retested, which is essential for transferring knowledge into long-term memory.

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Enabling higher-quality instruction

Effective edtech should also help teachers to hone their craft. In practice, this could mean using online platforms to share videos of expert teachers demonstrating specific activities and techniques. For instance, effective questioning or providing clear and precise explanations of key concepts. These videos would offer a meaningful structure for teacher training and continuing professional development by breaking down steps into bite-sized, demonstrable components. Doing this would help teachers see their progress much more clearly – vital for employee morale. The videos produced by the US educator Doug Lemov, and his team at Teach Like a Champion, are a useful starting point for what effective content should look like.

Reducing time spent on unnecessary, bureaucratic and unproductive activities

Teachers say three of the biggest areas that can lead to unnecessary workload are in data management, marking and planning. Efforts by Ofsted to dispel myths around what’s expected for school inspections have sought to cut this, but edtech can also have a positive effect. Pupil assessments need marking, yet this can be a heavily time-consuming, monotonous and low-impact process. Using an edtech solution incorporating machine learning algorithms to mark pupil’s work has the potential to provide objective and reliable grades instantaneously, identify common areas of misunderstanding and even provide tailored feedback. This would free up time for teachers to focus further on their knowledge and the quality of their instruction

The introduction of new performance measures of pupil progress and attainment means schools need to maintain a laser-like focus on ensuring teachers are performing well. But, any school looking to procure edtech should ensure they have an underpinning strategy; one that maximises the amount of time teachers spend developing their subject knowledge and delivering high-quality teaching, whilst reducing the amount of time spent on unnecessary activities. Once the ‘right’ edtech is identified, schools need a detailed transition plan that quickly creates buy-in from teachers, pupils and parents. Done properly, this should lead to a happier, more effective workforce and more knowledgeable young people.

Will Bickford Smith is an education expert at PA Consulting Group

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