Well spoiler alert....it can absolutely be a solution but only if we (teachers and the edtech people) know what all the problems are to start with.
In the teachers vs edtech arena I have had one foot in each camp for a very long time. I was a primary school teacher using a lot of tech. I loved it. I was the annoying one in staff meetings trying to tell everyone that podcasts ARE the future and not just for potentially bored celebrities during any possible lockdown.
I worked long and hard on implementing a VLE for our school which actually worked so well in the end that they refused to give it up even when I left. Even when the headteacher left and the new headteacher wanted to bring in all new things and change things, Fronter stayed.
That is one of my proudest achievements. Everyone who is the tech advocate in their school knows that when they leave a lot of it will fall by the wayside. So to discover that something I worked so much on was still standing at that the very staff who hated me at the start of that were ones who refused to let go of it. was a huge sense of pride to me. This for me is what every tech shiny person should be aiming for. Something which stands the test of time as a valuable resource for teachers and students.
Yet when others hear the word "Fronter" they will tell you it never worked. It was awful. It could never do the job. Yet ours did. Because of me. Sorry that is really big headed but also necessary information. It could easily have failed the first two years we had it. I could have given up many times. I cried. It was NOT as intuitive as I was told it would be. It was hard work. It was an endurance challenge. But when we turned the corner with it we never looked back. And it became a "we" project instead of an "I" project because people joined me in realising the potential and started to help instead of block. (and I must say for disclaimer that many tried to help all along but it was a marathon for us all)
I also never believed in one answer to everything. We gave loads of options for tech in the classroom and beyond and I believe in full on support so I was there for them. Sometimes 24/7 on a snow day. to support and guide and encourage with anything people needed. That was my role though. I came out of class to work full time on ICT across the school as we knew it would help unlock barriers to learning for some of our children specifically. Also it was a force for good for everyone to extend learning and offer chances for learning at home.
Access was an issue, we cannot pretend it wasn't, so we offered all sorts of help for that too. We reformatted and loaned old laptops and dongles for home. We made sure everything we did was as usable as possible on any device. However for the most disadvantaged there were huge gains from what we also offered in school. One child who had trouble writing down her thoughts would have the most amazing story ideas and poems. I gave her access to a portable dictaphone-type microphone and she frequently recorded her stories. She was then able to play them back so she could stop and write them down one line at a time. ICT was enabling her to go further with stories without being impeded by her lack of confidence over her physical writing skill.
We worked with loads of people to provide access to careers ideas; for even our Year 3s who had no idea what possibilities lay beyond the 1 mile radius of school. The internet allowed us to open up the world to them. That may sound like the cheesiest thing ever but it really did. I cried happy tears for those times when I saw their awe and wonder and when parents came to tell me the impact. We also ran parent sessions. I helped them to write CVs, and to move their payments online to save money on direct debits for utilities. And random skills they wanted for making wedding invites to save money; and one parent who went on to earn money making websites for local businesses after I showed him a few possible sites for that. It was transformational. But not in some magic out-of-the-box way. It takes time, energy, and strategy. And biscuits and bribes for the other staff sometimes. The payback is huge though. However, I wouldn't advocate doing all that in two weeks...
Now fast forward a few years and I ended up leaving school to try and help more schools. I was doing a lot of that around my work anyway and to be honest I didn't intend to leave teaching completely. But a lack of finding the right part time job to go alongside, and also being asked to apply for a job that suited me and helped me work with hundreds of schools, sent me into the realm of "ex teacher" status, working for edtech businesses instead. I got increasingly frustrated by claims of edtech companies, as well as seeing some really innovative (and exciting) new tools. Tools I would have loved when I was school based. I decided to become freelance to help bridge the gap between schools and edtech as I do think it can help when it goes right. I am a realist though so I know there is work still to be done.
The gap, indeed gulf at times, exists for a number of reasons:
1) Edtechs tend to be started by one of two types of people: tech people with no real education background past their own school days; and teachers/ex teachers who have great ideas for the classroom but very little business acumen or experience.
2) In 2010 all funding from the DfE was pulled which was backing a lot of edtech initiatives. Crucially this money was backing the time and money schools had to train staff and make tech any kind of priority.
3) Schools and teachers tend to distrust edtech as they fear the "snake oil" element of business. Edtech also distrust teachers often seeing them as luddites or blockers. Neither view is healthy or helpful but there are elements of actual truth in both.
Dealing with 1) is fairly easy and is my bread and butter in my line of work honestly. It is pretty easy to teach teams in edtech about how teachers and schools actually work. We can then put in place all sorts of training, as well as product developments, to ensure the workflow and content of systems actually matches what schools need. Slightly harder but still possible is creating adequate support for schools and teachers to embed these products well. This meets a bit of resistance due to 2) and 3) but is possible although is a longer term goal across the whole sector. It is a goal I am committed to trying to solve. Teaching ex-teachers to have more business acumen is also easy if teamed with the right investors and mentors. That might sound all very snake oil like already but money is needed to help edtech survive. And there should be a lot of enthusiasm from teachers around ex teachers making products - these are absolutely the most likely to be making something which works for schools as they understand them inside out. Unfortunately there is some resistance here though as the teacher is then seen as selling out or turning into the business people.
2) can only be sorted from a top-down approach again unfortunately and I do not see that happening any time soon. Ex Secretary of State for Education Damien Hinds seemed keen to do more to push edtech. His stance was fraught with potential mishap however. He focused heavily on edtech for efficiency and cost saving. Whilst I fully agree that is where edtech is kind of an unarguable force for potential good, it's not very .....exciting. Which makes it hard to drum up business that way. And, without the government also providing financial backing into the edtech sector, it means that in reality all the banners on the stands at BETT just change from "Will improve learning outcomes" to "Will save money and make your school efficient." It is just buzzword bingo in the edtech world sometimes. Everyone wants a piece of the pie at this stage. Edtech has suffered for years due to the devolved nature of school purchasing. Even the best products, which schools would all embrace if they saw them in action truly, have sunk without trace. There is just no foolproof way of getting your message out en masse when you compete with everyone else pushing the same message as you.
I always say that if these people were really in it for the money they absolutely would not be in the education sector. It is the absolute hardest sector to break. There is no quick win or easy sell. At all. If there was I would be utterly without a job or purpose. Yet I am not by a long shot and (much as I would love to big myself up ) it is simply because every single edtech is struggling one way or another. And I work with some great products. Exciting products. I also work with products who are not particularly different to all their competitors in the market but are cheaper. Business who, according to me, really great at their job and are the loveliest people. Even that will not push them to the front so we have to try all sorts of other things to get them ahead of the game. They will also be insulted every step with comments about them making money out of education as if they are ripping cash from the pockets of children. Such is the nature of social media. Such is the nature of the business vs teachers perspective.
It hurts. I see the long hours these people work. I see the founders with a wife/husband and children at home who have taken out a second mortgage on their homes and are paying their staff but taking no wage for themselves. You might say "well the business is not viable then" but in any other industry it would be. Any other. Edtech is hard. Really hard. It didn't used to be as hard as it is now.
So then...what is my point? Why am I writing this now? Well frankly we have now hit a crunch point that none of us wanted or asked for. And edtech will become more useful than ever if teachers let it. But so many are still not letting it, and a minority are even vocally fighting against it.
I am always stuck with a foot in two camps. I have my edtech foot who wants every edtech to succeed if they care enough about education. I also have the foot that still works free with any school I can. I try to help them to do things on the cheap and just get ICT embedded somehow. I know it will save them workload and time and money if we get it right. And that foot also doesn't like to hear edtech call teachers luddites or blockers. That foot knows how hard teachers work just to keep going and how little they need to have edtech thrown at them with very little support on a Friday afternoon or a Monday INSET. I believe it is the fact that I keep both feet active that makes me good at what I do. But it means I essentially end up never being happy!
I do not even have my foot in two camps anymore. I have a foot in three. I didn't even know I had a third foot until the lockdown happened. But I now have my parent foot. I have been a parent for 6 years. And a parent of two for 3 years. Yet only now am I seeing the extent to which edtech could impact my parenting past me just getting my child on Scratch Jnr and Purple Mash from time to time. Suddenly I am getting a daily text from school telling me to go to the website for links to learning for the day. Our school is pretty reasonable. And I am lucky (and it is luck I assure you) that my eldest is well ahead in school so we have no need to worry about lost progress. In fact it may be a blessing in disguise for his teachers in the long run!
I am imagining, however, if my child did need catch up. Or SEND support. And all of that has just disappeared. Yet I am being expected to maybe get them online all day for access to all kinds of constant bombardment of free resources, live lessons, edtech tools the school haven't learnt to use yet...and Joe Wicks making me pull muscles I didn't know I had. And I am weeping for those families. The government have just announced sorting laptops for Year 10 pupils to ensure they could get online. Yet I could not think of anything worse than being told "we gave you the laptop so you must be online from 8.30am to 4.30pm now." While I am trying to work from home, source food without leaving the house, and keep both children entertained yet also fulfilled with constant opportunities to broaden their horizons and experience with baking, gardening, bird watching...and scrolling the mums' Whatsapp group to see if I am keeping up with the Joneses.
It's exhausting. I am exhausted. I know what I am doing in this world of online learning but I am exhausted. Because I do not know what I am doing with the world of virus and working around my children 24/7 and worrying about family I cannot see. And keeping everyone happy and healthy. And missing people. And not being sociable. And my only contact with edu people is all online (and frankly the arguments have started between the sides and that is why I am now writing this!)
Imagine looking in at all this from the outside. I have seen everything from "just let the parents do what they think is best" to "we must ensure parents are mere facilitators while we provide all learning." Both extremes are going to create a massive gap. Not just rich to poor. But "techie" to "luddite". Working parent to non working parent. Rural to city dweller. Relaxed school approach to strict school approach.
Edtech can absolutely be a solution. Please find the way it is. I will help anyone I can. Many others of us love edtech but in very very realistic ways. We won't all shove the "online learning forever, no school ever again" stuff at you. We are best placed to advise. I say that not for any financial gain whatsoever. My whole reason for being edtech is all bound up in exactly this and I won't be selling that out for cash. I will help any school I can for free with advice. I cannot do much practically (as I have all the actual work parental stuff I mentioned!) But if I can help you make edtech the solution and not the problem I absolutely will. Edtech should not become the problem in this current climate. I can see where it is. But it shouldn't. It should be as innocuous as a calculator. You should know when to use it. We should never use it to deskill, only to enhance and improve. It will never replace the usefulness of mental maths skills or face to face contact.
And my one bit of actual edtech advice to you all: Video conferencing (Zoom et al) is not a good replicator of content delivery.... at best the online courses many of us have done are the ones to replicate - teacher videos or voice over on PowerPoint with text, and maybe a quiz, and a forum for questions is good for that. But video conferencing IS the best we currently have for replacing the face to face stuff - not for 30 people at once though. 1:1 or small group. Just like we all are doing with family and friends. Find the tech but also find what it works best for and do that. Nothing will hammer a round peg into a square hole even with a crisis and a steep learning curve.
Jodie Lopez is an ex-primary teacher who won multiple awards for her use of technology in the classroom. Since leaving the classroom she has worked for multiple education technology businesses, from the multinationals to the one-person start-ups. She uses her teaching experience and her previous life in sales and customer service to help companies to bridge the gap between edtech businesses and the classroom.