How to take control of edtech change

When it comes to edtech in schools, we are all grappling with how to harness the momentum that has been built up during the pandemic. Al Kingsley – author of the new book My Secret EdTech Diary – explains how to take control of edtech change and make things happen

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Headteacher Update

Change is a journey that we are all on. And we have two choices about what we do with it. We can either just go with the flow and let things happen, or, we can be proactive, see its potential, channel our efforts and do something tangible to push things in the direction we want them to travel. We can all be part of shaping how edtech changes education – as educators, as vendors and as an education community. For me, that is really exciting – let’s take a look at what it means…

A catalyst for change

To progress, it is wise to look back and reflect before moving forward, especially as we have just experienced a massive shift in edtech use due to the pandemic. Despite its tragic and devastating effects, this vast social interruption accelerated technological change within education at a rate we could only have dreamed of beforehand. Granted, the wholesale switch to blended and remote learning was prompted by necessity, not planning, but it was not a new idea by any means.

This kind of learning was not ideal for everyone, but for some students it was a revelation. Schools and teachers did what they do best and learned from their experiences of the first lockdown – then adapted their practice for the second one. This large-scale learning, where all schools were literally in it together, prompted a mass sharing of ideas of what worked and what did not – far more than things ever would have progressed had every school been working to its own agenda.

With the forced move online, schools had to just get on and try things. And they found that, actually, some things worked out better. For instance, most schools will be retaining online parents’ evenings (so much more convenient for teachers and parents) and lots of teachers will continue the practice of giving audio feedback to their students. Many students and teachers are also now fans of video exemplars that allow students to revisit explanations as many times as they need to.

Another benefit from this Teams/Zoom period is that it helped to improve communication, especially between teachers. Conversations took place in and out of school hours, where they not only shared teaching ideas but supported each other’s wellbeing and boosted morale. Such things rarely happened when they were rushing between classrooms and staffrooms, so switching up communication in this way was a real success, even if it was enforced.

So, this unsettled time did see edtech prompting changes for the better. We should look to sustain this spirit of “let’s just do it” as we gradually return to something that looks more like normality.

Change, resistance and growth

Planning for change can be complex and daunting, especially if it involves spending a school’s precious funds. Change is generally initiated for improvement and a digital strategy fits that definition perfectly. But making those transformations will inevitably hit obstacles so it is helpful to be aware of models and theories that guide and support.

A great example is the eight-step process for leading change by John Kotter. In his book, Leading Change (2012), he outlines a model that creates a sense of momentum, helping you keep your project from stalling unnecessarily. His processes are:

  1. Creating a sense of urgency.
  2. Building a coalition.
  3. Ensuring a vision.
  4. Enlisting help.
  5. Removing obstacles.
  6. Generating incremental successes.
  7. Sustaining progress.
  8. Embedding the changes.

Creating our own edtech change

So how can we be proactive and push edtech in the direction we want it to go? Here are three approaches to consider:

Co-production: Schools can play a part in creating their own change by collaborating with edtech vendors to shape new solutions. Vendors have a wealth of knowledge about what has previously worked well in schools but need collaboration with schools so that they can tailor their products and deliver exactly what the teachers need. It is a win-win situation. The end product will have value not just to the schools the vendor has worked with, but others too – and, in turn, schools will gain a great solution that precisely meets their day-to-day needs. Of course, this is at the simplest level and there is a great deal of work involved on both sides, but the schools I have spoken to have found it amazingly valuable, as have the vendors.

Digital skills: The on-going mission is to improve teachers’ and students’ digital skills across the board. The last year has certainly turbocharged that aim! We must not drop this ball once “normality” returns – digital skills need to become second nature for everyone. I love this quote from digital innovation specialist and teacher Scott Hayden – @ScottDHayden – who says: “The sooner we stop thinking of edtech as ‘other’ (online/remote/digital etc), the better. Learners do not think ‘I’m doing online and digital learning now’ – they are ‘just learning’.”

Investing in training and boosting teachers’ edtech confidence and skills will eventually lead to teaching with technology being “just teaching”. This is a change well within our control.

Wellbeing: High on the list of aspirations for greater and better edtech use should be wellbeing. Student and staff mental health in schools has been declining for many years and the pandemic has only exacerbated the situation. Without wellbeing and equilibrium, it is doubtful that valuable teaching or learning will take place. Edtech has many roles to play in supporting wellbeing, whether it is providing a way for students to report worries to a trusted teacher, a means for teachers to survey how their students are feeling or monitor vulnerable students, or apps to provide mindfulness coaching or support for social, emotional and mental health needs. Creative use of wellbeing-focused edtech in schools will accelerate the change we desperately need in this area.

Of course, all change is subject to change and is an on-going process! We need to be brave with our ideas to modernise how we teach and learn, and future citizens are relying on us to deliver. Let’s rise to the challenge together.

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