The growth of education technology to support teaching and learning continues at an extraordinary rate.
A search of “education” in the iTunes app store delivers thousands of apps, and a visit to the education technology event Bett showcases hundreds of products and services designed to support teachers.
Furthermore, a recent survey by the British Educational Suppliers Association found that, despite the pressures on budgets, schools are forecasting that investment in ICT in the school year 2014/15 will be higher in cash terms than at any other time on record. The research found that secondary schools are expecting to spend more than £65,500 on ICT in 2014/15.
All of this can easily give the impression that everything a teacher might need is “there for the taking”. However, speak to many teachers and a different picture emerges which suggests that quantity doesn’t necessarily equate to quality. Products and services can be hard to use, add little value or be poorly tested.
Stephen Lockyer, deputy head at The Mead School in Kent, shared his experience: “An issue that often comes up is that companies have invented a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. Something like playground timetabling software is just not mission critical. Some of the best ideas come straight from the classroom and it’s this connection that’s so important.”
In the past two years there has been a dramatic increase the number of “edtech” start-up enterprises being founded. However, there is a significant lack of teachers involved in these businesses and that has an impact on likely success.
Richard Taylor, an education entrepreneur and investor, has worked with a wide range of start-ups. He explained: “If we want edtech to really help teachers to improve educational outcomes we need to strengthen the connection between the classroom and business.
“The successful start-ups with the brilliant ideas nearly always have a teacher as part of their core team and are pitching products and solutions based around serious educational issues.”
Mr Taylor has now teamed up with the examination board OCR to launch a new initiative called “ed-invent” that aims to reverse this trend and get teachers more directly involved in edtech. This autumn they are running a series of free workshops that invite teachers to tap into their own valuable experience and knowledge of education to identify gaps and develop new edtech products and services.
OCR first got interested in the edtech sector when it supported an initiative called Startup Weekend London Edu earlier this year. This was a 54-hour event where teams come together to develop edtech ideas over the course of a weekend. One of the challenges at the event was the lack of teachers taking part, which they felt needed to be addressed.
The ed-invent workshops will give teachers the chance to explore some of the major trends in edtech and find out about some of the successful teacher entrepreneurs from schools like Thomas Telford in Telford and companies including Zondle, Oddizzi, Night Zookeeper and edapt. They will also have an opportunity to present their own ideas for edtech products and services.
Alison Pearce, ICT curriculum lead at OCR, explained: “Teachers are highly creative and innovative, they’ve an intuitive capacity to think on their feet. We want to harness this talent to transform educational technology and inspire teachers to be more pro-active in creating the products and services of the future.”
At each workshop participants will pitch their ideas and everyone will then vote for the ideas they want to take forward. Participants will then form teams to quickly develop prototype ideas. At the end of the day each team will pitch their idea to Ms Pearce and Mr Taylor and a winning team will be selected. The winners from all of the workshops will be invited to a residential weekend to be held in Cambridge. Here they will work on their ideas supported by a team of experienced edtech entrepreneurs and on the final day they will pitch a fully developed idea to a panel of judges. The winner will receive a £3,000 cash prize and the runner up £1,000 plus a range of support to help take their ideas forward.
So will this approach make a difference? Matt Britland, head of ICT at Kingston Grammar School in London, hopes so: “Tech companies need to know what’s going on in the classroom. Without this knowledge they simply can’t meet the needs of teachers and students. I think it’s essential that companies directly involve teachers and students. That way they’ll be more successful and we’ll surely get the products that we all want.”
Further informationThe first ed-invent workshop took place last week in Manchester with further events scheduled for Birmingham, Plymouth and London in November and December. To book a free place and for more information, visit www.ed-invent.com
Anna Pedroza has worked in education and technology for more than 10 years and is currently working with ed-invent.