Damian Hinds is right – we do need an edtech revolution

But VR is not the place to start, says Dave Kenworthy, Director of Digital Services at CoSector – University of London

We’re constantly looking for new ways to improve our lives with technology and make laborious tasks simple and automated, particularly in the workplace. But it can take a while to change attitudes and adopt new processes within an organisation. Often this is down to the time it takes to overhaul a legacy system and train staff to use a new one. This shouldn’t be the case, and technology companies looking to implement these new solutions should be addressing this at the outset.

The same rings true for the education sector. Recently, Education Secretary Damian Hinds called on the tech industry to inspire an “education revolution”, challenging them to provide a solution to the current burden on teachers, and create a more efficient administrative process.

He mentioned how exciting new technologies would change the learning experience, claiming that he’d “been fortunate enough to see technology being used in revolutionary ways. Students are able to explore the rainforest, steer virtual ships or program robots from their classroom.” Whilst unquestionably fascinating, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) could be a long way off being adopted on a widespread scale by the sector, and it remains to be seen whether they will have long term value or are perhaps a novelty.

What we should be paying closer attention to is the latter part of his comments: the key areas where tech could provide innovative solutions to alleviate burden, e.g. providing better teaching practices, assessment processes, training and development. Here, Hinds is completely spot on; we need to be looking at each of these and the part they play in the learner’s journey as a whole. We also urgently need to improve the automation around these less interesting but crucial administration processes in order to free up resources, enabling a better standard of teaching and an enhanced learner’s journey.

Establishments need to be partnered with suppliers who will ensure that the infrastructure capability is in place when the latest technology is ready to be implemented, advising on upgrades down the line to future-proof the investment

So what would this look like? As simple as teachers being able to access records across a secure shared site; a system that can recognise and flag irregularities such as a student whose attendance has dropped; assessment processes that are more secure and easier to audit; and the creation of online teacher training programmes that will allow them to qualify remotely.

But, as vast as an educational institute can be, it’s unlikely they will have the infrastructure or IT team in place to support this amount of change in such a short space of time. Educational organisations need to ensure they are working with the correct managed IT suppliers to guarantee a validating strategy; not only supplying the software or equipment needed, but also supporting post-roll-out to ensure a smooth transition process with users who are fully trained. Furthermore, establishments need to be partnered with suppliers who will enable and manage this process long-term, ensuring that the infrastructure capability is in place when the latest technology is ready to be implemented, advising on upgrades down the line to future-proof the investment.

Encouragingly, Hinds noted that homegrown start-ups were in much the same position as such industry heavyweights as Apple and Google. They might actually have something more important to bring to the edtech table, perhaps a deeper understanding of the problems faced by educational facilities. So, it may be the Silicon Valley giants that will be the main providers of the exciting VR and AI tech that will prick the interest of students. Still, in terms of setting up the background mechanics to tackle the more pressing issues first, it’s down to the industry experts close to the institutions and who understand their practices to make this happen.