Educating the educators

As the classroom evolves to include the latest technological innovations, teachers of all subjects must be able to keep up with the kids. Rob Horgan speaks to the Channel to find out about its relationship with the educators.

Whatever the subject, whatever the level, teachers have to be tech savvy nowadays. Computer skills are no longer a pre-requisite reserved solely for ICT teachers. Be it maths or geography, primary school or university, educators across the board need to know how to use the latest technology at their disposal. 

The role of vendors, retailers and distributors involved in education-technology is much more than simply transforming the classroom with the latest technological gizmos. It is about transforming the way in which children receive their education. And the biggest factor remains the teachers. Therefore it is integral that the educators behind the technology know what they have at they are using and how to get the most out of it.

With everything from smartboards to drones now being used by schools on a daily basis, the edtech market has never been so ripe. Neither has it been so important for the Channel to build relationships with education bodies. As Paul Rambridge, founder of Sweethaven Computers, says: “There has never been a better time for education to embrace external supply and knowledge of IT as their own exposure is sometimes limited by the education channel. Outsourced and co-managed with inspirational direction and fully connected classrooms will have a very different feel.”

It rests with Channel partners to push this message. School budgets are tight, there is no getting away from it. It is important for the Channel to not only stress the importance of technology but also to find the best option for each given school. As Mark Whitfield, head of schools and local authority business at Stone Group, says: “The Channel must play a part in relationship management to make sure schools get the most out of their investment over the lifetime of the products – it’s not just about the initial sale. 

“Of course the Channel has to produce great products and distribute them at the right price, but being a trusted advisor is really important within the education sector. It is the duty of the Channel to provide good and transparent advice that will benefit the school and provide return on investment over a long period of time. Budget restrictions will probably not ease for schools in the short term so its paramount that any technology supplied will continue to be functional, even outside of its warranty.” 

“There has never been a better time for education to embrace external supply and knowledge of IT.” 
Paul Rambridge, Sweethaven Computers

One way to gain the trust of a school (and get them to spend) is to set out a plan of action. As Whitfield explains: “No school can afford to make costly mistakes when it comes to the procurement of technology. That’s why doing due diligence before any purchase is paramount.“ 

When working with the school you need to establish the desired end goal and benefits, whether that’s from students’ and/ or staff perspective before recommending the technology that best fits and meets these objectives. 

Whitfield adds: “You might demonstrate the product, provide training sessions once the technology is in situ and on the job training for technical infrastructure solutions. For instance, if they are looking at AV technology, we might take it into the school for a demonstration to show the staff how to use the product to get the most out of it, demonstrate how much easier it is than the solution they currently have. It is also important to explain to the teachers how pupils will be able to engage with the tech.” Demonstrations are key to the edtech market. Schools are not going to fork out for equipment they don’t know how to use. And it is integral that all staff and students are able to use the technology. Now there are various ways to tackle this. 

As Chris Green, senior consultant at Krome explains: “Informing teachers on how to use technology very much depends on the tech. Some products have a ‘whole school’ application which are typically promoted during an inset day where all teachers can be trained together. With more specific technologies, such as ones with a departmental relevance, it can be useful to identify an enthusiastic teacher who is keen to adopt the product. These teachers are usually effective in promoting the product and providing internal training to their colleagues.”

He adds: “As long as you can provide evidence that the technology will positively impact teaching, lessons and learning outcomes and results, then teachers are more than happy to embrace and integrate technology into their lesson planning and day to day working. 

“We find that resistance comes from either a lack of willingness to understand the technology or that there is a perception, whether right or wrong, that the technology will not enhance their ability to deliver educational outcomes.” 

As well as technology being rolled out across subjects, the curriculum has also been changed to match the times. Coding is now expected of schools. However, this poses its own problem with a major shortage of teachers qualified for the role. According to Raspberry Pi Trading CEO and co-founder Eben Upton, the change of IT syllabus has not been reflected in educating the educators themselves. And where the government has failed to provide the funding or training, companies such as Raspberry Pi have taken it upon themselves to pick up the mantel of responsibility. 

“Over the last five years we’ve gone from having a computing curriculum which is very focused on the likes of Excel and Powerpoint, to one which is very focused on programming,” he said. “That’s fantastic, but unfortunately the government’s investment in teacher training to support that has been wholly inadequate. You’ve got a shiny brand new curriculum which is really fit for purpose, and you are expecting people who don’t necessarily have quite the right skillset to go and deliver that in the classroom.

“That’s not fair on anyone. It’s not fair on the kids, it’s not fair on the teachers because they’re professionals and want to do their job. It’s massively demoralising for teachers to be expected to just be thrown in at the deep end with this new curriculum.”

As well as running Code Clubs and the recently merged-with CoderDojo sessions, Raspberry Pi also runs its Picademy program to ‘give teachers that grounding in what we mean when we talk about the modern notion of computing’. (read full interview with Upton here.)

And that is the key: the role of the Channel is to provide relevant products – and explain why they are relevant – for teachers and students alike. Drones, VR and AR are all good fun, but if teachers don’t know how to use them or don’t see the point, then schools won’t ever invest their time or money in them.

PCR’s Sector Spotlight on Education – in association with Westcoast – is running throughout August 2017 – click here for more articles

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