Three fixes to make edtech betterPosted: August 13, 2016
I have long history of working with educational technology. In the mid-2000s I invested a lot of time learning how to use Flash. I created a couple of games and an animation of robot journeying to the Moon which demonstrated the difference between mass and weight. I recently looked for this animation on my hard drive and my current laptop couldn’t find an app to open it.
Fast forward a few years and I was a Deputy Headteacher at a high school in London. Part of my role was to get more staff using the school’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). I led by example, placed resources for my own classes on the VLE and used its apps to create tests and wikis.
These experiences have taught me much about how to improve edtech in schools. I offer three very basic fixes.
1. Easy to use
The VLE that I was encouraging teachers to use was not user friendly. You had to upload your stuff to the VLE and then additionally upload it into each of your classes – so every document had to be uploaded twice. In addition, the VLE took a dislike to some file names that Windows thought were fine. So there was a lot of renaming to be done.
The multiple choice quiz editor could only handle basic text – a problem for us science and maths teachers with our symbols. You could upload image files but who wants to write a question, screen grab it and then upload that (twice)? It became increasingly hard to justify all of this to time-poor teachers.
2. Solve actual problems
The biggest problem I face in teaching is not marking multiple choice tests. That’s a solution in search of a problem. My issues are more complex – for instance checking and monitoring homework completion. Adding a technical front-end to homework by insisting that students complete it and submit it electronically can potentially help here but it also creates a whole new level of homework excuses such as broken laptops, network access and forgotten passwords.
It’s also hard to submit your maths homework this way because of all those symbols.
A problem that edtech could really help me with is the creation of original assessment questions – not a bank of questions but a way of quickly generating graphs, calculations, blurbs and so on. At the moment, I’d probably still then print them out.
3. Sticks around
When I talk about my frustrations with past VLEs, I’m invariably told that the new one has none of these problems. Then about a year or two later I find out that the new one is being replaced by an even newer, even better one that has none of the problems of the new one.
This is a real issue. Why would a teacher invest time and effort in producing content for a proprietary system if they can only use it for a couple of years? I never got the mileage I had hoped for from my flash animations.
What’s more, many teachers see content as their own and want to trade it on websites or take it with them when they move schools (You have to be careful and check your conditions of employment before doing this because some schools claim this content as their intellectual property). A landscape of many different proprietory systems does not aid this and discourages buy-in. Providers would do well to develop transferable file formats that you don’t have to debug when moving from one system to another.
I now take a wait-and-see approach to new technology. I think we are over the craze for just throwing iPads at students and that’s a good thing. Hopefully, a more intelligent, teacher-focused form of edtech will emerge. The argument that recalcitrant teachers should engage with it, despite the myriad problems, because it’s the future; that argument has run its course.