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ETAG and the EdTech Strategy

Here is the comparison of elements of the new English Government's Edtech Strategy with the earlier Educational Technology Action Group that I made at the Westminster Education Forum on the 25th April 2019.

What I want to do today is compare some of the recommendations from the Education Technology Action Group with the recommendations from the EdTech Strategy.  I was involved with both, so I chaired one of the working groups for the Education Technology Action Group and I was involved in one of the workshops that the DfE ran on assessment and school administration feeding into the EdTech Stragtegy.

EdForum ETAG cf EdTech

You will notice that I know a bit more about the Educational Technology Action Group and how it proceeded.  That may be just I’m ignorant or it may be, a bit like the url, that the process for the EdTech Strategy development was a bit less transparent.

So let’s start with definitions, what do we mean by educational technology?

EdTech + ETAG definitions and aimsIt’s noticeable that ETAG talked about learning technology and we’ve already heard learning is a weak term so is excluded from the Strategy.  And I think the key thing here is that there’s a focus here for ETAG on doing things with teachers and kids in classrooms that change pedagogy and curriculum and assessment, whereas in the EdTech challenges it seems to be more a focus on supporting teachers outside the classroom and institutional management and administration.

And if you then look at the aims of the two documents, ETAG was very much about empowering teachers and learners and it was very much about changing practice and making practice more relevant to the 21st century, whereas the EdTech challenges are not about that, they are about improving attainment, but attainment using the same metrics, so no change in terms of curriculum or pedagogy or what we are assessing.

And of course there’s that focus on supporting the EdTech business, and I do have to wonder whether there’s sometimes a conflict between the interests of the business community and education community, I means we’ve heard about those cupboards full of stuff that should never have been bought or sold.

Okay so I’m going to focus on summative assessment.

Summative assessment matters

Summative assessment really matters because it does drive what happens in schools, it drives curriculum and it drives pedagogy, and anyone who has worked with schools will know this.

Assessment drives pedagogy and curriculum

I’ve been into many schools where they’re doing great stuff with 1:1 devices until 3 months before the exams when they put the devices away and get their pens out so they can get their handwriting muscles into shape for writing in a 3 hour exam.  That’s bonkers, it’s absolutely crazy, but teachers teach to the test because that’s what they’re held accountable against, so it’s what they should do.  If you measure the wrong things teachers will do the wrong things.

So then let’s look at the actual recommendations, and interestingly both documents had three recommendations around assessment.

EdTech cf ETAG recommendations

So ETAG was moving away from paper based exams to computer enabled assessment which allows you to assess things that you can’t assess in a paper based exam. It allows you to start dealing with some of the things that people keep talking about being important, like collaboration and communication and teamwork and resilience, and persistence, and creativity and all that stuff. You can’t measure those things very well in an exam where an individual is sat by themselves at a little table writing for 3 hours without being allowed to connect to anybody else.

The EdTech challenge is more about being efficient, saving time, stopping people cheating by using essay mills.

And then who were the recommendations aimed at?  Well ETAG aimed it at the people who controlled the assessment and accountability regime, the people who could actually change what teachers had to do in schools.  The EdTech challenge is aimed at people who can’t change those things.

Potential impacts on learning, sorry I know a weak term, potential impact on learning, potentially transformative, what ETAG was suggesting could potentially radically change what happens in schools in ways that couldn’t be achieved without new technology.  At best the EdTech challenges support current practice, they support a traditional 19th century model of schooling, it’s more efficient though, which is good.

So I started off trying to be really positive about this Strategy, a great leap forward for mankind because the DfE has avoided, as we heard, talking about technology or trying to provide a strategy for technology since Gove came in and destroyed things.

EdTech strategy a great leap forward

So I was really optimistic until I read it, and sadly the recommendations in the EdTech Strategy are a sad reflection, a sad shadow of what ETAG supported and recommended.

EdTech strategy a pale shadow of ETAG

The ambition seems to be to enhance UK plc and support 19th century models of practice.  Indeed it’s a lost opportunity and it may be counterproductive, it may lower the bar.  There are schools out there doing way better things than the strategy seems to support, and it may disincentivise schools from investing in educational technology to do the sorts of things that we say are important because they are not the sorts of things that this strategy is going to support us in doing.

I tweeted earlier about I wonder if the DfE had read the Decoding Learning Report NESTA put out which showed that new technology often doesn’t enhance learning outcomes if you’ve got current practice.

We’ve got to do better folks, you know, we really need to think about what is school for, how do we help prepare our kids to live in the world today and the world in the future and this Strategy is not going to do it.


This text has been adapted from the transcript of my input to the Westminster Education Forum on the 25th April 2019

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