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A year in edtech

Rebecca Paddick asks some of the sector's experts, was 2015 a success for edtech, and what developments can we expect over the months ahead?

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | December 14, 2015 | Technology

Contributors:

  • Shaun Eason, Assistant Head Teacher, Head of Computing, All Saints School
  • Ash Merchant, Head of Business Development for Education at Fujitsu Network Communications
  • Sam Pemberton, CEO, Impero Software
  • David Tindall, Managing Director, Schools Broadband
  • Reeza Awoodun, Consultant, Sonocent
  • Surjit Uppal, Learning Technologies Manager, Activate Learning
  • Paul Young, Head of Technical Services, UTAX (UK) Ltd

➙Technology in education is constantly evolving, what do you think was the most significant edtech development in 2015?

Shaun Eason: The increasing profile of coding at all levels. It’s become a hot topic in education technology. 

Ash Merchant: With edtech having been one of the fastest-growing tech sectors across Britain through 2015, there’s been a number of significant developments, but for us the leading one has been ubiquitous technology solutions driven by a collaboration between application-based learning and technology partners. There’s been significant growth in solutions that encourage virtual and distance learning with students having more control of their learning environment and educators being able to tailor their approach. This has led to a rise in connected institutions and a hybrid IT approach.

Part of this is also about bringing fun into learning via specific apps, some of which were highlighted at ISTE 2015, demonstrating that you can promote learning through gamification and offer a more impactful learning experience through innovative and creative approaches. 

Sam Pemberton: 2015 has seen some very encouraging developments in areas such as screen sharing, which gives teachers the confidence to allow pupils to work independently without diminishing their overall learning experience. Until recently, the UK trailed the US when it came to open access learning environments, so it’s good that we’re gaining ground in this respect.

David Tindall: From our perspective as an ISP, by far the biggest development was BT’s announcement that they’ll be deploying the next generation hybrid-fibre G.fast broadband technology across the United Kingdom from 2016/17.

At the moment, most primary schools receive their broadband via hybrid fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) technology, which delivers download speeds of up to 80Mbps. This works by running a fibre optic cable to the local street cabinet and then using the existing copper line from the cabinet to the school. G.fast works in a similar way but utilises a broader radio spectrum that will give download speeds of up to 500Mbps. This is going to give schools a real boost and they’ll be able to download large files much quicker and take advantage of more cloud-hosted applications.

Reeza Awoodun: Reading and writing skills have long been considered the markers of academic intelligence, but more and more we’re seeing this concept being challenged. Technology has rapidly advanced, allowing other forms of communication, such as speaking, to give students who perhaps struggled with writing an equal opportunity to showcase their ideas and understanding. For me, the most significant development in 2015 was that of technology that harnesses speech, which could have a far-reaching impact in the future classroom or in exams. 

Surjit Uppal: One of the significant developments is the use of collaborative software that supports peer-to-peer learning, greater communication and real-time learning. Using Google+, Google Glass and 3D printing is making the learning environment more responsive and lifelike to capture, explore and share learning as it happens. Capturing the environment allows greater communication, and students supporting each other builds teamwork skills.  

Paul Young: Uptake of cloud services was significant, both in terms of education sector specific technology and technology adopted from the business world. The ability to file, access, collaborate, edit and, of course, print via the cloud is being adopted by schools at a rapid rate, led by Google Cloud. Anywhere, anytime access of documents regardless of device is a huge positive for all schools – there’s no chance of the family dog destroying homework anymore! – while cloud technology brings added benefits such as space and cost-saving, scalability and ease of connectivity of multiple buildings and school sites. 

➙Were we successful in reducing the digital divide this year? How do you think we can improve on this in 2016?

Shaun Eason: I think we ought to make ICT a core subject for all students at GCSE. Ask businesses what they would prefer, they will tell you. Assuming students have the skills just because they use the internet and can write a Powerpoint is a bit naïve.

Ash Merchant: Yes, the UK overall has taken steps towards this through 2015, and Fujitsu as an organisation has a keen focus on this. This year we published our Digital Inside Out research report, which shows that around a fifth (22%) of consumers believe that digital education should be part of the modern school curriculum, highlighting a real need to see investment at the beginning of the digital journey.

We launched our Education Ambassador Programme in January this year, aligned to the Education Technology Action Group, and designed to support in addressing the digital divide and promoting collaboration between technology experts and education establishments.

There is undoubtedly still work to be done, particularly focused on people from a more diverse background and a growing need for a more competitive digital experience. Our continued approach to this is to collaborate with institutions, enabling us and our business practice leads to understand and address the needs – particularly in respect of affordability and internet access issues. 

Sam Pemberton: Yes and no. It’s probably the same answer I’d have given last year: there’s been progress, but not quite enough. Teachers are doing their utmost to incorporate tech into their lessons in more thoughtful, innovative, and outright interesting ways than ever before, so I’m not going to argue that the digital gap isn’t closing.

But the basic problem remains the same: there’s not enough financial support for educational technology, and this has led to widely inconsistent experiences for pupils across the UK. In 2016, more investment in tech – and helping tech-savvy teachers – will do a lot to solve this problem.

I recall my own childhood – it was thanks to access to good tech that I learnt to code, got into software, and have ended up in the thriving UK tech sector.

David Tindall: With laptops and tablets now having reduced in price so significantly, they are now well within the budget of most UK households and many children now have access to their own tablet.

Whilst there’s still somewhat of a divide globally, this too is being alleviated by the availability of mobiles. 4G could mean that even those living in remote areas in developing countries can access the same cloud-hosted resources and systems that we have in the developed world.

 What seems to be lacking now, is not the technology itself but the knowledge on how to use it to its best effect. Whilst children seem to learn to adapt quickly to new technology, adults are often left behind and lack the knowledge to pass onto young people. This is becoming more and more the case as technology evolves at such a rapid pace. 

Many adults grew up in an age before the internet was even accessible and often don’t understand the potential dangers that can lurk online. They’re not always able to give their children advice on how to use the internet safely. Awareness courses for parents and government-funded IT training for adults would help us bridge that gap. 

Reeza Awoodun: The gap is closing but the digital divide is by no means eradicated. Up and down the country there are many students from underprivileged backgrounds that are without reliable access to a laptop, or internet at home. Yet, many schools seem to make the assumption that they do when setting homework. This puts them at a disadvantage to their peers.

Many adults grew up in an age before the internet was even accessible and often don’t understand the potential dangers that can lurk online

Equally, there is a digital divide between schools – those in the cities with good internet access versus rural schools who have to put up with lacklustre web performance. This can make a significant impact on what teaching and learning resources can be used. How do we tackle this? One solution could be that schools allow students to have unrestricted access to facilities and computer rooms out of school hours or provide loaner units. However, most importantly, the government needs to expedite infrastructure investment to put schools on an even playing field when it comes to internet connectivity. 

Surjit Uppal: I do feel that there is still a digital divide, and although necessary and needed, BYOD highlights this in a learning environment. Students who do not have access to their own devices become more noticeable. However, I do feel that the support mechanisms to borrow/loan a device help these students to still be included. Also, the development of learning zones/spaces, with drop-in accessibility to learning technologies encourages a more innovative approach to learning/sharing/support.

In 2016, I think we should continue to develop learning spaces that support learning with technology and allowing the sharing of knowledge in these areas, that actually create an environment that is needed to still develop communicational skills in the real world.  

Paul Young: A noticeable digital divide that UTAX sees revolves around the integration of solutions-based IT into a school’s ecosystem – some schools have embraced this approach, others haven’t. Paper remains an integral part of a school’s everyday life so schools need to be able to maximise the benefits of digital workflows and print by ensuring it’s an integral part of the school-wide IT thinking. For example, managed print solutions enable users to take control of print output and reduce costs through some simple rule-based printing. App-based software solutions, available on the latest multi-function printers, can also revolutionise the way schools work. UTAX’s Software Solutions are designed to help cut print output costs, increase data security and improve workflow efficiencies – all very welcome in schools today.

➙The computing curriculum has now been in place for over a year, has it proved to be a success so far, and how do you think we will we see this evolve in 2016?

Shaun Eason: I don’t think it will change much. There’s a wealth of information out there and everyone is getting in on the act with lots of great ideas and resources. If it’s going to change in any way it will mean more emphasis on raw materials such as programming software and less emphasis on applications software usage. Also, the programming of devices such as the BBC microbit
and pi-based technology.

Ash Merchant: We know that this is incredibly topical currently, given the recent announcement by Nick Gibb and what we’re seeing and hearing from policy makers in respect to the changes to IT GCSE and A-level qualifications.

We know from our conversations with those we work with in education, that they feel that the computing curriculum is beginning to drive a more future-employment focused approach towards skills development, however, we also know that 83% of ICT teachers say that they don’t receive regular ICT training or CPD. That’s the evidence for organisations like us that there is still a long way to go to make educators comfortable in teaching and delivering core computing skills in the classroom. We know that to address this it’s about a collaboration between education, industry and government. 

Sam Pemberton: I think the new curriculum speaks for itself, and much of the credit goes to those schools and teachers that have helped make it a success. Coding and programming in particular have been great for UK schoolchildren, and provide both an understanding of the underlying structures of much of the modern world and a potential launchpad for a future career in IT.

In the next year, I hope to see more female pupils getting involved with computing. I have seen for myself how incredibly valuable women in the workplace are, yet there is a serious shortfall of women in STEM roles at present. We can somewhat attribute this to wider misconceptions about women’s interest in tech roles, but that itself may partially originate from a general lack of encouragement in schools.

 

2016 would ideally see teachers receive more support and training with regard to the new curriculum. The aim should be to make every child in every UK school digitally literate – and to have the option of a career in IT and computing when they finish their studies. 

Reeza Awoodun: I think it would be a little early to call the computing curriculum a resounding success after a year – given how suddenly the initiative was pushed through government, the current quality of teaching varies significantly from school to school due to a lack of training and support. Many teachers were simply not ready to teach it yet.

However, despite this, schools seem to be doing a good job with the limited resources they have. Continued CPD is key to giving every teacher the confidence to teach the computing curriculum in the classroom, as well as ensuring it is engaging for students. In 2016, we will start to see more interesting computing languages being used in the classroom by schools, as programming-savvy teachers start to challenge their students. 

➙E-safety is still a key issue in schools, with cyberbullying presenting a huge problem. What steps can we take to tackle this?

Shaun Eason: There’s lots you can do and thankfully, most schools do it and are becoming more effective at combating this terrible issue. Firewalls, no name emails (we use the student’s roll number as part of their email), educating on the effects of cyberbullying and encouraging all students to come together in condemning the act are all things which occur right now. I think it’s worked out exactly right in that we have as much input from young people in tackling this problem as we do from adult professionals. Everyone needs to keep a lookout for evidence of cyberbullying and be prepared to act if it occurs, keeping a constant lookout for the signs.

Ash Merchant: This begins with an understanding of your digital footprint at early age. We know that social media use and use of digital channels continues to grow, particularly among young people, and as this happens, education establishments are under increasing pressure to educate and provide increased awareness for both young people and parents in the community.

We’re working with organisations like the Tablet Academy, supporting young people in making more effective and productive use of digital channels, but also ensuring that they understand the virtual trail that these tools leave behind.

With the government’s recent Prevent duty legislation, added pressure has been placed on educators, and as a core provide into education and to UK plc. We know that we also have a responsibility to support this with our expertise. One example of our work in this space is with Lancaster University, where we’re supporting their MSc in Data Science and providing real-world skills development linked into our own security expertise.

Sam Pemberton: E-safety, and particularly cyberbullying, is a huge issue to tackle, and student engagement will be a central part of any successful strategy. They should also be involved in creating (and revising) a school’s acceptable online usage policies, as well as playing a role in the monitoring of these policies in a number of ways. Peer mentoring schemes and anonymous reporting tools give students the power to combat cyberbullying and promote a positive learning environment for themselves and their classmates. When issues do occur, restorative – rather than simply punitive – justice, where those involved are made to understand the impact of their behaviour, is key to preventing future incidents. It’s about good policies, good monitoring and good engagement, and placing students at the very heart of the process.It’s vital that all students feel comfortable and confident in the digital world, and safeguarding is a vital aspect to encouraging this.

David Tindall: Better education in schools about the impact of bullying and how it can affect children’s lives. Easier ways of reporting online bullying and clearly imposed consequences for those who do bully online. Better counselling for those who are feeling threatened. Having somebody to reach out to confidentially, away from the school may have helped many young people who have taken their own lives because they’ve been continually tormented.

Too often children are introduced to social media without developing important netiquette skills, for example what acceptable social skills on the internet are, or how to identify risky situations and report them

Reeza Awoodun: Too often children are introduced to social media without developing important netiquette skills, for example what acceptable social skills on the internet are, or how to identify risky situations and report them. Tackling e-safety now needs to start at a very early age – perhaps as early as KS1. This education also needs to include parents, as the barrier been school and home blurs. 

Surjit Uppal: E-safety needs to be a part of curriculum,  and everyone needs to understand skills of being respectful still apply when online. Digital citizenship skills and how to behave online needs to be addressed at an earlier age and rather than discouraging social media, if children are taught early by experts they may respect the technology. If they build their own profiles without the knowledge of the systems, that’s when the bullying develops as they don’t see it as a ‘real’ environment so it can’t be as harmful as real life.  

➙BYOD adoption continues to rise in our schools and universities. How can we ensure we further reduce the data security risks associated with this next year?

Shaun Eason:  We’ve been talking a lot about this at All Saints. We want it to happen but in a controlled fashion. Our idea is that students will be able to bring their devices but log into the school network with their school log in details. They are then under the control of school firewalls and policies etc. The only issue then is that we cannot control the texting and telephone aspect OR their independent use of the internet. 

Ash Merchant: In our discussions with education establishments we’ve seen that the majority of the issues in relation to data security arise from the fact that the employee or student owns and to some extent maintains the devices. This means that there needs to be a clear view and strategy from the start around things like ensuring there is not a merging of teaching and learning data with personal data; having a plan of action for loss of device or when students move on from one establishment to another, or then into employment. Organisations like ours can, of course, provide the technical and security expertise, but it’s also about the establishment having the right multi-disciplinary team in place internally to ensure data protection and security standards are adhered to and maintained. A clear policy and implementation plan, as well as ongoing audits are a must.

David Tindall: Schools need to be sure that their data is protected. There are many different products available on the market, but ideally schools should be looking for an enterprise-class firewall that includes anti-malware, anti-virus and intrusion prevention. A responsible use policy, web filtering and the ability to view who is accessing what on your network is also vital. 

Reeza Awoodun: The rise of BYOD certainly presents large data security risks to all manner of organisations, so it’s important that schools and universities approach this in much the same way a business would. Implementing a clear data policy covering all stakeholders within an organisation (in this case, students and teachers), outlining what data can and can’t be accessed via their devices, for example, is one step to minimising this. There are device management suites on the market that can help educational establishments maintain security by giving them certain levels of control over BYOD devices. They can also adopt secure cloud-based file storage services for those with BOYD devices to use for retrieving and saving files. 

Surjit Uppal: Security will always be an issue but being more aware of the dangers and knowing how to keep you secure may actually be taken on as serious if it is taught in a way that makes children aware of the risks they are placing themselves in when engaging with technology. I feel that the problem is that the virtual world to many feels like another existence and not related to the real world. If we do things online, it’s not really like participating in that activity in reality, so it’s secure. Using these devices at home, feels secure but the nature of the interaction may not be secure. The best approach is to make people aware that online is like conducting your business in public – would you carry out that transaction without checking the security of the environment?  

Paul Young: The recent security breaches at TalkTalk and Vodafone highlight the need for a belt and braces approach to security and data encryption. An often overlooked aspect of this is the information sent to print. With the increase in BYOD, data security has become essential and UTAX’s Security Pack includes options to encrypt the information on a device to prevent unauthorised access. After all, a digital printer is essentially a PC with a large hard drive and memory which is processing data that can remain on the machine and is vulnerable to cyber-attack.

➙MOOCs, BYOD, WYOD, gamification, are all popular terms and trends seen and used throughout the education sector. What trends will emerge over the coming months?

Shaun Eason:  I’ve seen exam boards with their own MOOCs and they are very helpful for the courses they support. WYOD might be something which the sciences could engage with but its early days yet. With new exam syllabuses and the demands which it places on subjects, I’d probable hedge a bet at saying that MOOCs will be the thing this year.

Ash Merchant: All of these are transforming our consumption of technology and offering a new approach to teaching and learning. We envisage a continued rise in MOOCS and WYOD in particular over the coming months, and linked to that is the Internet of Things (IoT).

This is an area where we and our partners, such as Intel, are investing a lot of resource as we see IoT technology as something transformative from an accessibility, collaboration and creativity perspective.

With that, we also see that technology will become ever more seamless, with everything becoming more connected and technology being seen as the fourth utility. It’s all about ensuring that barriers are removed and through this driving greater freedom to learn – something demonstrated by the success of MOOCS and the impact that has had on online learning. We envisage more digital disruption taking place and our young people leading the way. 

Sam Pemberton: I think there’s still a lot of emerging for these listed themes to do before we start to think about what’s next. The education sector can be very quick to talk about new trends and ‘game-changing’ technology, but adopting and embedding these things effectively will take time. It’s important that all students across the UK are given a consistent learning experience whichever school they go to, in whatever part of the country. I am passionate that technology has a pivotal role to play in this.

David Tindall: I think many schools will be looking at how technology can better aid children with special educational and behavioral needs. Also, could the dream of becoming a paper-free school actually become a reality?

Reeza Awoodun: 2016 will see schools move away from one-size-fits-all platforms, such as VLEs, to a patchwork quilt of different specialist cloud-based services, with a particular emphasis on integration to maximise productivity. The days of ‘enterprise systems’, which did everything, are gone. In higher education, there is an ever growing focus on using technology to better support students’ studies, especially for those who are more likely to struggle academically. Part of this will include looking not only at how information is delivered and captured, but also at how students will interact with that information. Universities must ensure that they implement the appropriate technology and skills training that students need to study more effectively.

Surjit Uppal: Virtual classrooms, and flipped learning moving towards flipped environment. The classroom is outside and you connect in via web facilities with a community online. Having just completed a Master’s in Usability for MOOCs and online learning, I also feel that learning online will be more interactive and community online-focused, not just a content repository but a whole real-life classroom environment that provides the supportive nature of being face-to-face.

Paul Young: We expect 2016 to follow a similar pattern to 2015 which means it will be about further uptake and development of cloud and software solutions related to the continuing integration of mobile devices and interactive technology. Convenient mobile printing will therefore be talked about as paper documents will still need to be printed.

At UTAX, we are also noticing an acceleration of interest in data security and the use of automated document workflows that ease pressures on staff and help budgets stretch further. We expect this to be a major talking point over the coming 12 months. Finally, we expect to see schools becoming much better at hearing from students on what they want from edtech, what tech they find useful and how we can make their experience of education better. 

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