So what’s going on with edtech in the UK then?

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Circle 5

The recent Bett Show gave me a perfect opportunity to take stock of what the burgeoning edtech space is focusing on in the UK currently. Here are some take aways from the show:

A top trend at Bett, and wider, is definitely VR. Perhaps because they were so prominent on the show floor or just because it is going to be the hot new “thing” in the classroom, a LOT of the conversation was about how to introduce great VR experiences in schools. Avantis (UK start-up with a tablet offering designed for schools prior to this expansion into VR headsets) showcased their new model with great examples of beating hearts popping out of the page (literally) and walks through the streets of Aleppo (an example of how to help children with a specific creative writing task). All well and good and certainly very impressive but I couldn’t help questioning whether this is really going to be a firm fixture in the classroom or just a great gimmick for us to get excited about? The reduction in funding for tech in state schools might have an impact on the outcome, and perhaps the offering needs to move a bit further forward than 360o views of dolphins swimming/ war-torn streets of Syria. Perhaps adoption outside of the classroom will also have an effect, after all, back in the day, we probably wouldn’t have considered most schools having iPads/ tablets as an almost integral part of the classroom set-up. 

Perhaps before we move whole hog to VR, offerings from the likes of Now Press Play offer a good stepping stone to full visual and sound emersion.

The one great thing that the likes of Avantis is doing is making sure the storage and charging of these devices is simple, neat and compact. This seems (and is!) such a basic point but full marks to them for really understanding the  fundamental issues teachers have in the classroom. Some teachers I spoke to just couldn’t speak highly enough of the wireless charging racks that the likes of Classcharge have built. Bye bye broken wires – a major issue for all ICT teachers.

Of course the STEM, or now STEAM (don’t forget the arts!) was a big section of the show and good to see the likes of Kano Computing and Makeblock there.

Personalised learning and connecting home and school is a clear growing trend, with both helping to bridge the achievement gap. Not physically at the Show but the likes of Newsela, Classdojo, Socrative and Nearpod are all ones that we will no doubt be hearing more about.

Then quite a lot of 3-d printing – again a great potential for the classroom but will schools invest in such a thing at this stage in the product development? Great if they can afford it, especially with the likes of Ultimaker which gets the students to build the printer before they can produce things.

Interestingly no chatbots really around. Considering class sizes are getting bigger and there is more and more strain on teachers, I would have perhaps expected more innovation being on show in this field.

All in all, I was blown away by the general buzz there is around the potential of technology in education and I can certainly see it hitting the quoted $525bn market size by 2020, easily. So far the focus seems to be, however, on how to use technology to fit with the current curriculum (and teaching practices). So how to teach phonics in an engaging and creative way through the medium of technology. Or how to get kids to complete their homework via an app. Or how to help kids in their creative writing by watching an immersive piece of footage. I don’t doubt all of these offerings have their benefits but I wonder when we are going to see the education world really being transformed in the UK, as you are seeing with the likes of Altschool, Tahoe Expedition School and Khan Lab School in the US? Aside from the limitations of the curriculum and the risk factor for everyone involved at moving away from that, it will also be a huge ask on the existing teaching profession – will they be willing to embrace real change? I’m certainly going to be watching to see.

Some personal edtech favourites for the younger demographic:

Kano Computing – you can’t not like these orange boxes of loveliness.

Kahoot – apparently now a verb “to kahoot” and I can see why it is taking off (or taken off, as the case might be) in classrooms. The UX is a bit bonkers with all the jumping from screen to screen but once you get used to that it is a simple and fun addition to classroom activities.

GoNoodle – a shame it is very US focused but apparently it is being picked up by UK schools now too.  I am all for a bit of movement during the day – an issue especially for central London schools.

Now Press Play – mentioned above but a really nice offering of wi-fi headphones which schools rent. Good teaching support materials apparently and the kids love the immersive effect of listening to the content. A great first step to that immersive and interactive experience we seem to want nowadays 

Maths With Parents – I’m going to include this even though it is super early in its development. Based on the premise that parents are nervous about helping their kids with their maths and also unsure about the methods now taught in school. User interface is a bit basic and it only caters to a fraction of the syllabus currently but it has potential and those schools/ parents who use it really like the results. One I am going to keep an eye on anyway.  

Doodlemaths  – if we must have an app that kids use to build their confidence in maths then I am much more pro this than the other major player in this field (not naming any names but anyone who has a primary school aged child will no doubt know who I am talking about!) Much more appealing look and feel, I personally prefer the non-competitive element to it and feedback from teachers and children seems to be very positive.

Detective Dot – I’m still waiting for my own user feedback on this but I love the idea of inspiring the next generation to be coders in this gender-neutral way. Pitched at kids aged 8+ integrating fun missions, gadgets and toilet humour….what more could they ask for!

Classdojo – started by a couple of (very clever) Brits who set themselves up in the US to build and launch this. Apparently a huge % of US schools now use it and it is catching on in the UK too. The Student Story element is a great idea for encouraging ownership of work, plus of course sharing what is happening at school with parents (gone will be the days of folders of work being sent home at the end of the year). It also focuses on the softer skills in life such as perseverance, empathy and gratitude which can’t be a bad thing can it?

Pobble – pitched as a “global classroom wall” this seems to be going down very well with educators. Kids love it as they see their writing is being published, commented on and shared. They take ownership of their writing while at the same time are inspired to write well. I don’t really know why they chose the name “pobble” but then you could say the same for Spotify and look where they are now.

Edsurge – basically a concierge service for educators to choose the right technology for their school/ learners. Started back in 2011 but definitely needed now there are SO many players in this space.


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