Westminster Education Forum: new technologies for schools (part 2)

By | September 9, 2013

<note: coffee-time chat with Niel McLean from NfER about RCTs in education was useful – his view is that they have an important place but must be tightly bounded so that effects can be separated out>

Teacher training and development panel

David Weston, CEO, Teacher Development Trust

ITT entrants typically only last 5 years as teachers. The challenge of developing the existing workforce, based on a statistical understanding of the 50 years or so it will take technology-savvy teachers to filter throughout the system.

CPD currently has very little impact in schools. It needs to be targeted at real, current issues and should challenge thinking, promoting a better way of doing things. Very little evaluation of the success of CPD is routinely carried out.

His charity is bringing together advice and courses for schools.


Bob Harrison, Toshiba

Spoke about the Computing curriculum expert group and support materials for Initial Teacher Training (highlighting the lack of government investment in this voluntary work).


Miles Berry, University of Roehampton

Massive challenge for ITT in getting teachers ready to use technology, despite this being a great crop of new teachers ('the best ever'). Computing experience very low, confidence lower. Understanding of software and the Internet also not good. At Roehampton they expose all their trainees to general and specific training on what technology actually is (e.g. getting them to visualise and draw the Internet) to strengthen their concepts of how tech works. Also have projects on HTML and game making. Reflective blogging about this work is also used.


Richard Smith, Igloo

Consultancy and training organisation (former LA employee). Touched on use of students to lead teacher CPD in technology (Digital Leaders). Covered Edmodo and Nearpod as effective tools.


Questions from the floor:

  • Independent schools benefit (because they don't need teachers to have QTS) from IT professionals becoming teachers. What are thoughts on widening this transition?

Criteria of 'being a good teacher' is essential – requires appropriate training, but many are not suitable (Bob Harrison). School Direct is a route in, also Academies don't need to appoint QTS staff… The climate is changing (Miles Berry). Teachers who are really developing their use of technology are often the most flexible, least technical ones (Richard Smith)

  • You seem to think that people who train teachers (ITT) can't help here?

Still not enough being done, too few candidates with technical background coming through. Google have a programme to encourage this (but very little is known about it). In general the pictures fractured and patchy (BH). ITT is usually only one year – it's can only be the start of this, people emerge barely beginning their learning as teachers. Answer has to be schools delivering ongoing development on this area – which is a very substantial challenge (DW).

  • Is the reason we are struggling because we keep looking for the next thing, why can't we draw a line and come to a consensus about what works and what we should expect in the classroom?

Not easy to come to a consensus on wha trod teaching/ the desired outcomes are, let alone technology's contribution (DW). Ofsted have a huge role here but only 1 lead inspector is a technology expert, hence no subject inspections in this area this year (BH)

  • Delegate from the Netherlands: a standard of good teaching with technology, led by teachers, focussing on replicable practice, is needed

Lots of starting points like Educreations and Wordwall which can be a starting point to develop good practice (RS). Curiousity in trainees must be inculcated so tha they continue to investigate what works (MB). Colleague led rather than centralised research has more impact. Teachers learning from teachers, but can't assume that practices will transfer directly. TeachMeet, Twitter and Digital Leaders are 3 useful strategies… But are not enough and don't always encourage those who aren't already engaged (DW & BH). Discussion on the need for external challenge too so that the debate doesn't become a self-congratulatory loop of inertia.



Digital Assessment: new possibilities panel

Dr Abi James, British Dyslexia Association

6.5% of working population don't have qualifications. This is 19% for SEN students. In exams, human support is widely used (amenuenses, etc) but not technology. This isn't due to lack of access to technology, but a knowledge gap about how it will work (and confidence that it will). Scotland make digital exam papers available to schools, supported by case studies, and students now regulary sit these digital exams. Potential for e-assessment needs to be developed to remove all barriers, but this needs designing in from the start.

Justin Baron, SAM Learning

What is possible? SAM learning collects 100 million questions a year. Backwards tracking of student data makes for dry interesting findings. Challenge is to get teachers to look at this data – no one wants another initiative and another interface to a disconnected data set. Finance sector analyses complex data sets routinely and there is a company with this background developing a product for schools along these lines (Justin didn't name it though). An almost joined-up speech about the need for an MIS that actually has impact (see my earlier post).

Dr Sue Timmis, University of Bristol

Assessment is not fit for purpose as it doesn't keep pace with society. Narrow focus on measurable qualifications only. What does the research say? UoB looked into this and found very little use of tech for high stakes assessment, replications of traditional methods, widening gulf between out of school technology projects and those happening in schools. New forms of assessment found: tech supporting feedback as a dialogue between teachers and pupils or between peers, through authentic projects. Technology should help us rethink how and what we assess, but here are many policy barriers and government needs to work with teachers and students to address these

Martin Ripley, World Class Arena

Ministers have been talking about assessment using technology for a long time, but it seems more distant than ever. However, reasons to be cheerful: the next PISA in 2015 will be conducted entirely online – this will provide a lot of momentum. In the USA, legal students in many states take their high-stakes bar exams over 3 days on their own devices. Barriers aren't financial, capability or teachers, it's about the political will to make this happen. Too often our digital assement work is around mathematics, not the harder to measure things. A good speaker with an interesting message.

Stephen Fahey, Pearson UK

Healthcare is being changed by real time, user generated data (e.g. Fitbit, Wiithings Pulse) which can lead to real time interventions and self-informed improvements. Nothing equivalent to this in education, but is it on the way? Knewton is an example of this (an adaptive system). Lots of other systems gather usage data (e.g. SAM Learning) which could provide Big Data to transform learning (learning analytics). Data should put the learner at the cent, taking control and making successful, informed choices.

Questions from the floor

  • How close are we to some of these exciting things, e.g. real time useful feedback for teachers and students?

Not that close – still lots of patchy practice. It's not a technical problem, real time feedback isn't complex, it's about the way in which assessment is viewed (which is mostly summative).

  • What technologies are coming for formative assessment?

There was no real answer that I could discern from the panel's response.

  • Are we in danger of drowning in data and forgetting about children's learning?

Data, used well, should focus on the learning and make students want to continue. However, too much data in the classroom could be a distraction <my view is that we need to minimise the interfaces to these data sources (just 1!) and this system needs to do the heavy lifting for teachers, not provide an additional job to do>

  • High-stakes assessment barriers – you didn't mention accessibility, e.g. Getting a whole year group set up in exam conditions using technology

Storage and use of exam data needs to be carefully considered. Script scanning technology has been heavily invested in by exam boards – is this the root of the problem? Traditional methods (essay writing) robs many students of their ability to articulate what they know. Digital methods, including portfolios, should not be the product of high-stakes time-limited exams.


In summary this was a useful morning spent hearing from a wide range of experts on an equally broad number of challenges facing the educational technology sector. On a personal note, I found that live blogging kept me quite focussed and improved my listening skills!


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