At Futuresource’s #EdTechCollab2021 event, a session entitled ‘COVID-19: An Accelerant for Platform Integration and Maturity’ discussed the impact that the pandemic has had on the EdTech supply chain. Ecosystem development and opportunities for innovation following the crisis mode rollout of EdTech globally were also explored. Speakers included Jim Gardner, ICT Adviser at Department of Education, Howie Bender, VP K-12 at D2L, John Solomon, VP and GM at Chrome OS, Google and Jon Coleman, Co-Founder at Wonde.
View the Full Session Here.
Jim Gardner, Department of Education (DoE), opened the session by setting the scene, sharing details of the English Government COVID-19 Intervention Programme ‘Get Help with Technology’, which launched in March/April 2020. This initiative was initially to support children in social care and the disadvantaged. It involved making available 1.3 million devices and deploying over 74K routers, with 31K children/users benefitting from data uplift. Critically, the government also set up a grant-funded offer for all schools who needed a platform; this included the essential support of the ‘EdTech Demonstrators’ peer to peer network.
John Solomon, Chrome OS then took to the virtual stage, setting the scene from a global industry perspective, re-enforcing the theme that we have never before witnessed educational disruption on such a scale, elaborating further by stating that “the industry likes to talk about disruption, but we never really understand what disruption feels like until you have actually experienced it. This pandemic is a true disruption, where it literally upends everything as you know it in the system”.
Solomon shared how Google reacted to the challenges and how unprecedented levels of co-ordination and innovation were needed to unlock ecosystem capabilities, to help schools deliver powerful teaching and learning experiences from anywhere. Google took an integrated approach to add value for all users, across all markets. He discussed how they collaborated very deeply with industry leaders, government bodies, associations and across regions to overcome challenges and provide solutions, whilst at the same time going through a tremendous period of learning.
“This is a collective problem that we needed to attack together. With an unprecedented level of collaboration between government and private sector, this allowed for faster deployment and better solutions to attack the problem,” added Solomon. “What we believe happened through the pandemic is the telescopic view of where trends would have been in 5 or 6 years, has now been pulled through to the present. As an industry, it is our responsibility to innovate and meet the needs of end users going forward and continue to innovate,” added Solomon.
Rapid Roll Out, Crisis Mode and the End Users
As lockdown rapidly ensued in March 2020, the panel all shared the notion that the entire EdTech industry really had to step up to meet this surge in demand. Everyone moved into crisis mode, making decisions at lightning speed. Companies were sending staff to work from home, ensuring businesses remained operational, whilst at the same time, supporting schools at various stages of digital platform deployment.
Jon Coleman at Wonde took us back to almost a year ago and the challenges initially confronted: “We have a lot of 3rd party applications that use our SIS sync tool to connect and sync their services with the data inside of schools. Everyone was asking if we were staying open as a service. We rapidly improved our efficiencies, to be able to meet the sheer volume of demand. There were 1000s of schools asking if we could help them get connected”.
“As the days went on there was a period of reflection: actually we are all in this together and we all need to deliver and help each other. That’s when it started to settle. The whole ed tech sector needed to support schools through this challenging time,” added Coleman.
Howie Bender at D2L also shared his reflections and experience from the past year, echoing the themes and reactions of the other panellists. “The primary objective was finding something that could be easily and quickly deployed to make emergency online learning happen right away, connecting educators to students.
Over the year, Bender highlighted a shift in the end users mind set, with questions changing from ‘how do I keep my schools open’ or ‘how do I take my teaching online’ - to ‘how does technology align to help me improve student outcomes across different subjects?’ Other positive innovations and EdTech use cases that were cited included supporting safeguarding, parent teacher conferencing, recovery learning, competency and mastery-based learning.
“We learnt a lot about our clients in the market, whether schools and school systems were digitising their systems for the first time, optimising, or transforming them. So, the needs were different depending on where they were in the journey,” added Bender.
Gardner concurred, the DoE’s ‘Get Help with Technology’ programme in England was established partly as a collaboration between the private and public sectors “There were certainly positives, with the EdTech industry coming forward and asking how they could help. After all, we’ve all got an interest in education - this is a shared crisis.”
Furthermore, Gardner also reflected on some challenging aspects that emerged. “In England there is disparity in capability within trusts, practitioners and schools. Interestingly, 90% - circa 7000 schools on the Platforms programme - are primary schools and these schools often do not have sufficient technical support or capability internally to help deliver significant digital development.
The panel discussed the challenges of the different stages - everything from emails to parents, a total shift of curriculum, through to live teaching, learning online and everything in between, the latter being due to blended learning already being practiced. Gardner added, “it is important to build digital capability in this sector; if the education systems are going to invest and adopt digital and technology, they have to do it for the right reasons. This is a challenge and will continue to be so”.
Ed Tech Collaborative 2021
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