[Category: Before Class]
The best educational apps to use with the equipment your school probably already has
by Nicole Ponsford
Formerly The British Educational Training and Technology Show, now known as The Bett Show, is an event many geeky educators like myself get very excited about. Despite wanting to attend every year, something has always gotten in the way (several school leadership crisis situations, three children and the inevitable January germ fest). This year, I was asked to be a speaker in the inspirational Futures Area. Despite just returning to work after having twins, I was determined to go. I sorted out an outfit, brushed up on my EdTech knowledge and donned sneakers – then off to London I went.
The panel discussion focused on ‘The best educational apps to use with the equipment your school probably already has (primary school sector)’. UK Schools, like schools all over the world, are facing huge budget demands. This topic was very appropriate due to my work with the educational charity, Achievement for All. In this role, I both coach schools and write training materials to support the most vulnerable students in our schools. I know first-hand the issues and was thrilled to be able to support this for others.
– Saving time on administration
– Encouraging student collaboration
– Communicating with parents
This session is not just for schools with 1:1 tablets; we also discussed tools that could be used with laptops and phones.
First we reviewed educational apps that support both saving time on admin and engaging parents, such as Remind and SeaSaw. We also considered school management systems and what educational apps are out there. All of the panelists were parents, meaning that they too were knowledgeable in what schools and parents wanted. The audience was excited to be able to write down some educational apps to take away with them.
I felt that the discussion needed to go further.
When I first wanted to go to Bett, there were hardly any software offers that schools could use. The teachers were hungry for tech. I believe they are still today, but I noticed that many teachers were walking right past the trade stands at Bett. It was the traders who were chasing the teachers. Why? Why was I on a panel with two educational app developers?
Well, educational apps are big business. Five years ago, getting a suite of tablets was the big news. But now in 2017, it is pretty …meh. The access we have to both downloading and even creating our own educational apps is pretty much universal. Therefore many educational apps are not created by educators but software designers. Thus the choice in educational apps is limited by a lack of understanding of what is needed in schools today (e.g., funding, universal usability for all students and intuitive tech). In other words, we need cheap/free resources, that support all learners and are easy for everyone to use. Would you agree?
Then why are we stuck in a rut?
Why were there teachers crazily scribbling down every educational app we mentioned? Mainly as there is too much out there. It is information overload – like a never-ending menu choice. Many of the budget holders in schools aren’t the most techie. This means decisions can be based more on a flashy presentation than the outcomes needed. Schools aren’t getting what they need – and every academic year there is a new educational app that ‘is going to save everyone lots of time’. Until the next one….
Let’s take parent engagement apps as an example. Many of these are designed by parents. They illustrate what is happening in schools so parents can engage their children in conversation. But is this the best we can do? Many ‘communication apps’ don’t equate with having a voice for all of the stakeholders. Many only allow teachers to inform parents about events and classroom activities, which equates to a glorified texting service. If you want parents to be part of the dialogue, they need to be able to contact you too.
At the end of the discussion, I felt that EdTech was changing. Or that it needs to. Now is the time for teachers to lead the way. We need to ‘flip’ the relationship between schools and technology. We need to personalise the technology – make sure it has a universal usability, serves a real purpose, and is something schools can afford.
Are you with me?
Nicole Ponsford is a Harvard author, educational speaker and school improvement coach. She is also the Co-Founder and Creative Director of the TechnoTeachers international EdTech consultancy group.