Education Secretary Damian Hinds has issued a challenge to the EdTech industry to launch an education revolution. To hear such language from the DfE is invigorating and signals long-overdue recognition of the potential for technology to positively transform classroom practice.
Among the five opportunity areas identified by the Education Secretary, there is mention of improved learning outcomes for all students, assessment models that are both more effective and efficient, flexible models of professional development and relieving the burden of administrative workload.
Whizz Education has been tackling these issues since 2004 through our groundbreaking virtual tutoring service, Maths-Whizz. We realised early on that one cannot separate the goals of equitable learning opportunities and teacher empowerment. It is why our conception of a virtual tutor has always been kept close to the notion of a virtual teaching assistant: as students benefit from the individualised support afforded by the online Maths-Whizz tutor, the same system feeds back key learning insights to teachers with the express goal of alleviating their workload and enriching their lessons. More traditional methods of instruction make this level of individualisation and insight highly impractical – perhaps even impossible – to address every student’s specific learning needs while also reducing teacher workload. But with the technologies of virtual tutoring and real-time learning analytics, this calculus is now an achievable reality.
Our experience also speaks to the importance of empowering teachers through professional development that transcends the mechanics of how to use a technology product. The introduction of EdTech can be perceived to increase teacher workload in the short term as they become acquainted with new tools. EdTech providers must clearly demonstrate how this upfront time investment will reward those teachers in the long term, and how the underlying product links with their educational objectives to achieve the desired results.
A word of caution
The history of EdTech teaches us to respond to calls for a revolution with some caution. Almost a hundred years have passed since Thomas Edison’s ill-fated prediction that motion pictures would result in the end of textbooks. Since then, classrooms have played host to countless new technologies that were imposed with little thought to how they would interact with pedagogy. Billions of pounds were spent on interactive whiteboards on the assumption that they would transform teaching. All they did, for the most part, was shift the delivery vehicle of instruction: chalk and talk simply went digital. The scepticism that many educators reserve for technology is understandable in the face of a legacy of unfulfilled promises.
Technology is only ever an amplifier of human effort: it has the power to create but also to destroy, to transform practices but also to perpetuate them. The potential of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality is undoubtedly huge, but it will only be realised when we act first as educators and underscore the pedagogical intent, and only then marshal these technologies in service of those goals. For the EdTech revolution to bear fruit, the Ed must precede the Tech.
Broad and balanced efficacy
To hold EdTech innovators accountable, the DfE should also emphasise the importance of efficacy. No EdTech initiative should escape the scrutiny of measurement. All providers can lay claim to evidence that their solutions work, but the definition and measurement of educational outcomes requires significant thought. Whizz Education was pleased to participate in the UCL-IOE EDUCATE programme, which helped us to refine our efficacy framework to reflect the broad and balanced educational outcomes we seek for students and teachers.
An education revolution is coming and Whizz is glad to be part of it. We continue to evolve our technology to ensure we remain accountable to raising standards in learning and teaching.